Obed Rodrigues de Souza

"Creio para compreender, compreendo para crer melhor." Agostinho de Hipona


The Merchant of Venice - A call to otherness

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heavens. (Matthew 5:45a)

The other concerns me despite myself.
(Emmanuel Levinas, Humanism of the Other)1

       What is the ground on which our feelings towards the other stand? Do we really see the other through? Do we really respect the other? To what extent is the other our mirror image?
       Money, commerce, and trade - How can these three elements interfere in human affairs?
       What´s the role of true love in Human History? Is it just a rhetorical device or the only way justice can be accomplished? Is there justice on earth? On what kind of social contract does society really stand? Is not our ‘self-presumed-justice’ simply prejudice in disguise?
       Christians are meant to love - To love God above all and their fellows. Love is the greatest commandment. Jesus set the golden rule, but is it fully understood and practiced by the western civilization?
       Justice is meant to set the rules that hold steady relationships. Justice is meant to build a sense of respect toward the other, but does this really take place within the walls of earthly courts of law?
       Can stereotypes hide true identities and distort the true value of a human being?
        What´s the role of language and rhetoric to carry justice out in earthly courts of law?
       These are some of the themes raised in this Shakespearean play I will venture to address in this essay.
       More than being a portrait of Christians and Jews, I assume that Antônio and Shylock represent the human beings and their misconducts. They are the two sides of a coin: the human heart.
       Venice, at that time, the marketplace of the world, a melting pot of different cultures2 is the setting for this drama/comedy that looks into the issue of justice as a means to ease differences and conflicts.
1. Emmanuel Levinas, Humanism of the Other ( Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 57  2.www.shakespearesglobe.com/uploads/files/2014/11/venice_in_shakespeare_s_time.pdf. Accessed 20 August 2016.
Original sin – Human Condition and Bond to a Heavenly Debt
       The first aspect of the play that takes our attention is how human beings are connected to one another, regardless of the differences. Failure is a driving force that runs through the heart of human achievements what disqualifies them to run for perfection. Failure is a kind of bond to bind humankind to a common set of mistakes. Despite this striking feature, however, most people claim to be better than others, mainly those who are different.
       Furthermore, as stated by John Donne “No man is an island” 2 (1.1). We relate to others in various ways. The level of respect we deserve to these relationships shape our society and can bring about many conflicts.
       “All human beings are created equal” rings in the ears of post-modern society. That´s true, biologically all of us are flesh and blood. Therefore, each of us is unique. Justice then tries to make equal the unequal. Likewise, justice stands that “Each man and woman is equal before the law”3. Notwithstanding the beauty of these statements, sometimes earthly courts of law have just proved the contrary.
       What is it that makes us so insensitive to the other? Would that be the case that we are products of our culture and beliefs? Culture helps us understand the world that surrounds us. Culture shapes our lives and our self. But culture can also cover our very essence, thus, setting us apart. Most of us see the world through the lenses of our feelings, the community we are involved with, and the way we perceive things. Furthermore, culture sets the ground on which we build our identity. Behind and beyond the stereotype built upon cultural patterns, lies the real person, most of us cannot see, so, stereotyping is the worst way to refer to someone. Stereotypes attached to a context and intention can deprive the person of his/her very essence, as stereotypes rise out from culture backgrounds we take for granted.
       According to Soellner “Even generally sympathetic figures like Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice reveal tendencies that make us think of them at least on occasion as less than ideal when, for instance, the former spits at Jews and the latter mentions Portia´s legacy before her beauty and virtues” (29).
       The web of hate seizes one off from mercy; as we can see, the Christian, as the Jew just carried on prejudices they live under - a view of life that doesn´t take into account the other´s feelings.
2 Meditations XVII https://web.cs.dal.ca/~johnston/poetry/island.html https://web.cs.dal.ca/~johnston/poetry/island.html
3 http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/Article 1. Accessed Sep. 26, 2016.

Labeling people
       The two main characters are “a Christian and a Jew”. Many times in the play Shylock is addressed as “Jew”, and Antônio as “Christian” , not by their names.
       When Antonio tries to solve his friend´s problem by accepting the bond, a connection is set, in the web of life, a thread between the Christian and the Jew is woven. Though he hates the Jew, he accepts his ‘dirty’money. As Shylock says, ‘... I´ll buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so on, but I won´t eat with you, drink with you, or pray with you’ (I.III.30-33).
       Both men make a living from trading. Money is a common good in either hand. There is a co-dependence, there´s no trade without money. As Shylock says, “And thrift is blessing if men steal it not” (I.III.85).
       Throughout the centuries Western History events have displayed hypocrisy hand to hand with religion. Greed and profits have played major roles in the development of the civilized world. The east, on the other hand, has been a fertile ground where we can see bigotry and violence on the rampage. ‘Profetically’, Shakespeare was able to envisage the clash of cultures that has originated so many social conflicts in our post-modern society and the modern concept of alterity.

       Bloom, (1998 cited Shaphiro, 1996)1:
I have tried to show that much of the play´s vitality can be
attributed to the ways in which it scrapes against a bedrock of
beliefs about the racial, national, sexual, and religious
difference of others. To avert our gaze from what the play
reveals about the relationship between cultural myths and
peoples´ identities will not make irrational and exclusionary
attitudes disappear. Indeed, these darker impulses remain so
elusive, so hard to identify in the normal course of the things,
that only in the instances like productions of this play do we
get to glimpse these cultural faultlines.
       The text emphasizes the acts of people labeled with a tag of “Jew” and “Christian”. A tag of “religious” people who act as if they did not depend on the God they claim to know. A society that preaches the gospel but lives without depending on its very message. Christians who hold their fellow as slaves; a Christian who spits in the face of a Jew. That discrepancy is stated by Portia:
If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do,
chapels had been churches and poor men´s
cottages princes´palaces. It is good divine that
follows his own instructions. I can easier teach
twenty what were good to be done than one
of the twenty to follow my own teaching. ( I.II. l2-17 )
       All the way through the text, we are confronted with the Christian merchant´s and the money lender´s faults. This fatal condition is described in the Bible: “… Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (New International Version, Rom. 3:9).
       Shylock, who represents the Jews, holders of the law would not accept to be merciful, because he wanted revenge, as his daughter eloped with a Christian. Antonio, the Christian, on the other hand, built a wall between sinners and saints, giving free course to prejudice and misconducts. They are the two faces of a coin: the portrait of the human heart.
       According to Bloom “Antônio, as so many critics observe, is Shylock´s mirror image, bonded with him in mutual hatred, and no more cheerful than Shylock is” (177)1. Nevertheless, the need for money makes both hands dirty – the Christian´s and Jew´s alike. At the beginning, Antonio spits in Shylock´s face and call him a dog, but money makes him ask for the Jew´s favor.
       Shakespeare describes human beings behind the masks of stereotypes. More than depicting a ‘Christian” or a “Jew”, he portrays people who make the same kind of mistakes, despite the “good intentions” of their religious beliefs. In other words, he is talking about people who fail, who are imperfect, people who are apart from God, despite their good deeds. People who live in the same community as enemies but united by a common good: MONEY. In the thread of life in Venice, money, not love is what creates the bond among citizens.
       To Professor Cantor, this plays “mentions a new notion of community-based on low things… The language of commerce saturates everything in the text. Friendship is a ‘bond’1. Love and marriage depend on money.
       The Christian and the Jew resemble each other. If we look beyond the stereotype, we find prejudice hidden beneath the surface of both Shylock´s and Antônio´s acts.
       They are alike because they live on the surface, as pounds of flesh only, disguising themselves under certain biased behavior learned from the society they live in. They are incapable of seeing beyond the label imposed by the appearance society embraces as social behavior.
       A deeper layer of meaning rises out from Shylock ´s and Antonio´s acts, as being portraits of the human condition. Shakespeare, as the master of literary devices, is not for Antônio or against Shylock, both are emblems of the misery of the human heart. By juxtaposing the character defects of two ‘apparently’ different people, he reveals the fatal flaw under which all humans live.
       Hitler and the Nazi loved this play. They couldn´t realize the irony behind the words. After all, this text is also a comedy, originally. The Nazi were people as described by Lorenzo:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;The motions of his spirit are dull as night And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music (V.I.83-88).
       Religious people who do not know Grace is incapable of true love. The ability to love the other and respect what seems to be different is not found in hollow Christianity.
       “Dark affections” made the way to the gloomy night of the Holocaust… A crime perpetrated by intellectuals, engineers, doctors and politicians of a highly civilized Christian society.
Being a Christian means to act like one not only to talk like one.

1. Harold Bloom, “ Shakespeare: the invention of the human. (New York. Riverhead Books, 1998), 177.
2. Paul Cantor . “Shakespeare and Politics. The Merchant of Venice.” thegreatthinkers.org.shwww.youtube.com/watch?V=62-vFxa7kyA Accessed June 29, 2016.

Rhetorical  Devices and Justice
       Portia stood her case by Rhetoric devices and confirms that Grace is justice carried out in the full meaning of its purpose. ‘But mercy is above this sceptred sway/ It is enthroned in the hearts of kings an attribute to God himself’ (IV.I.191-193).
       The law which would lead the Jews to inherit the kingdom of God, caused them crucify Jesus - They stumbled over the law.  It was under Roman law that the Jews sentenced Jesus to death.
       Earthly justice lies in the realm of ‘language’. Those whose discourse convinces the audience, stand their case. Rhetoric has always had his part as a way to accomplish justice and to promote humanism. According to Lourenço, “How every fool can play upon the word! I think the best grace of wit shortly turn into silence, and discourse grows commendable in none only but parrots” (III.V. 38-40).
       Portia was able to solve the riddle of the pound of flesh, as she “played upon the word” and justice was achieved, nonetheless, the force of the law was demonstrated by the content of the words expressed in the contract.
       According to Thomas Hobbes “It is not wisdom, but Authority that makes a law”1.
       Portia was very wise, indeed. But the force of the law was demonstrated by the content of the words expressed in the contract. Thus, the interpretation of the text was responsible for carrying out justice. We can infer that logic and reason are the scaffolding that supports justice on earthly courts of law. But would justice be just a question of Hermeneutics? If Portia wasn´t able to reason on the meaning of the missing element - the “ shedding of blood” Antonio would have died.
       The expression “shedding of blood” made all the difference. So, justice is subjected to one´s interpretation, which can lead to many sorts of conflicts. In a society where everybody claims a kind of ‘truth’ and “interpretation” of facts, what is justice for someone can be condemnation for others. Today, when every person has the power to voice his/her point of view, justice will be more and more complex and difficult to achieve, if it is not rooted in a greater truth. Justice claims to make justice available for every person, but each person is unique, thus claiming a ‘particular’ kind of justice.
       That´s why Shylock was shattered, the unpredictable turns and twists brought upon him by Portia´s discourse, made him prey to the logic of the argument.
       Portia´s wit symbolizes reason and its role in the unfolding of Human History events. Secular courts of law will never attain justice but subject “interpretation” of case studies.
       As it  dominated the trade with the East, Venice represents the link between the East and the West, in this way, in court both the East/the Jews and the West/the Christians stand for the judgment of civilization.
       Portia disguised as a man is an emblem of how human justice looks like, it tells us that, somehow, all earthly courts of law are ‘make-believe”, because earthly judges will never resemble the greater Legislator – God.
       God showed his holiness through the law and mankind have proved itself disqualified to obey it, then God provided a substitute for our sins: Jesus Christ. That´s why Grace is the only way justice can be achieved. The same way Portia disguised as a man, all of us, according to the biblical account, will stand before the Father, “… and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew…but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Col. 3: 10-11).
       Portia talks about a greater light, under which dimmer lights shine:
Portia. That light we see is burning in my hall.How far that little candle throws his beams!So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
Nerissa. When the moon shone, we did not see the candle.
Portia. So doth the greater glory. A substitute shines brightly as a king Until/ a king be by, and then his state/Empties itself, as doth an inland brook Into the main of waters. Music! Hark! (V.I.89-97)
       Reason is a dim light, compared to what humankind does not really know yet. This reminds us that “ self-knowledge, for Calvin as for Saint Augustine, was merely God´s light shining upon man” (Soellner, 18).
       Good deeds, the wisdom of the educated, science, fine arts, all these great achievements of humanity pale before a “greater glory” yet to come, revealed by love.
       The blood of the Christian Antonio could not be shed since human beings cannot provide justice by themselves; Christians believe Christ alone is Savior. No acts of justice on the part of the sinner can promote God´s justice. ‘In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation’. ( IV.I.188)
       Bassanio and Antonio have a bond of love, so does God loves humanity. This play is a parallel of God´s perfect covenant and human´s imperfect love. Antônio, as a father, loved Bassânio, the way God loved us and sent Jesus to die in our place. According to Smith:
Antonio is an older relative of Bassanio who has taken him under his wing. He loves Bassanio in the way a father loves his son. In the original Italian story that Shakespeare borrowed, the character corresponding to Antonio is the grandfather of the character corresponding to Bassanio. Bassanio has been orphaned and his kind grandfather takes him in and provides for him. Shakespeare has simply incorporated in his play the relationship from the original story though without explaining it. (49)2
       God`s greater act of justice from is love. Contrary to rhetoric devices used by earthly justice, God´s justice is action. Jesus in flesh died for us. God chose to save us by Grace because He knew we would never be able to achieve justice; intellectual assent is not enough, but ‘revelation’ that comes from eternity can reveal Grace.
       In our post-modern society, as Philosophy and Science are not worried about truth, chaos is likely to set in; theses and anti-theses will abound, but no syntheses will be available because there´s no truth to stand on. As the rights are based on human desires and demands, not on God´s will, post-modern society is surfing on the waves of man´s philosophy, sailing adrift, in the ocean of “free thinking’.
       God´s justice stands in his own person; the truth in the Bible is a person, not a rhetoric device.

1. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common- Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil. Prepared for the McMaster University Archive of the History fEconomic Thought, by Rod Ray.socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/hobbes/Leviathan.pdf. Accessed Sep. 20,
2. Ralph Allan Smith. Shakespeare the Christian – The Bible in Shakespeare´s Plays, 2011. pdf.www.berith.org. accessed Sept.2015, 49.

When Reason Is Not Enough
       Shakespeare describes the truth that rises out from the human heart, be it a Christian´s or a Jew´s. He depicts persons whose acts may differ deeply from what they should do. The ideal and the real are unbridgeable in          Shakespeare´s texts. All the dramatist´s efforts to building images that can bring this ambiguity out from the scenes are what made him great and timeless.
       “Conventional forms of thought about man and the universe were being challenged in Shakespeare´s time” (Soellner, 44).
       The conflict between the Christian humanist philosophy and the new skepticism brought by the Renaissance is blatant in Shakespeare´s view of humanity.
       According to Cantor “ Shakespeare always sees two sides of any question. That´s what makes him such a great dramatist.”
       Shakespeare would not live to see the enlightenment, but he lived in a time that set forth the principles that gave birth to modern man. Shakespeare grasped the spirit of his time. A time full of contradictions and paradox - the Renaissance of Reason: the conflict between faith and reason, the questioning of the authority of the church, and the freedom brought by free thinking.
       Today, through the internet, we can voice our opinion, in the 16th century the printing press allowed the citizen to have their own interpretation of the scriptures, made available, printed and handed down to everyone who could have access to it. Books then were available; this was a great revolution. The printing press helped spread knowledge, it helped empower the citizen, as in our days the Internet does.
       Plato´s analogy of man as a monarch, with reason, as the head, controlling all his bad instincts (the lower members) so that he could succeed, reminds us of Portia, as a woman of wisdom, trying to bridge the gap between the law and the grace. Portia´s speech in the play represents the role of human intellect and wisdom.
       Erasmus, as a humanist described the self as an enemy, which had to be suppressed. For Renaissance humanists, though, self-knowledge makes one capable of controlling his instincts by reason, God´s grace assisting, as Soellner says:
Calvinism was a major ingredient in the religious climate of Shakespeare´s time and must not be neglected in this review of the theological implications of nosce teipsum. ( … ) For Calvin, we might say, man had already lost the warfare of life, which Erasmus thought he could win. His hope for regeneration lay only in the grace of God. But it was fortunate in this respect that God had put man in a turbulent, unquiet, and uncertain world. Thus man could realize that heaven and not earth was his real home… Luther considered reason a whore. (18)

       According to Soellner, Shakespeare was also influenced by Montaignes´s criticism of the Christian humanists; his approach on how to know man differs from the Christian humanists.
Montaigne saw the peculiar nature of the self, emerging in the subjective, unpredictable, and even irrational moments that Erasmus disregarded. ( …) he was motivated more by nostalgia than belief. He felt at odds with the picture, and he found men in general too diverse to be classified satisfactorily. In viewing the whole human scene, he was struck by the discrepancies between act and effect and by events shaping themselves without, and counter to, human agencies. ( …) he took a skeptical view of the received portrait of man. (29)
       Later in the 18th century with the French Revolution, reason was seen as the great platform on which freedom would build his kingdom. Reason promised man paradise on Earth, with an altar enthroned in his mind. Guided by the light of reason, civilization would jump to a higher condition; dark instincts would be burned down in the same bonfire with all the gods he once worshipeed. However, The French Revolution that promised unleash man off from the ties of oppression, by the hands of reason, produced the guillotine. The unfolding of the events ended up with Napoleon risen to power.
       Now, at post-modern times, once more reason has proved incapable of setting humankind free from prejudice and violence, as well. More than ever, despite all social media apparatus, men cannot live peacefully. The world is a place where someone who holds a different opinion on social media can be considered an enemy. East and West, Muslins and Christians, Europeans and immigrants, blacks and whites in America, throughout the world man is divided – no one seems to understand one another. Society claims for tolerance, love, and respect.
       Shakespeare doesn´t believe human efforts can bring redemption to earth. According to Soellner, Shakespeare “gives us no comforting belief that man can perfect himself if he only uses his reason” (28).
Portia´s handled language to release Antônio from death, showing that language can be a tool for survival in a universe of ambiguities. Reason sometimes works for the purpose of logic only, not salvation from death.
       The Cartesian presuppositions were that to apprehend the true vision of an object, you should have a method. However, more important than a method, it is the “standpoint”, the closeness or the distance from the object that can  make all the difference. The longings and unpredictability of one´s feelings will, somewhat, at some point, blurs one´s vision. According to Portia: “the brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o´er a cold decree” (I.II.17-18).
When Good Turns Bad
       We feel pity for Shylock, though we know he deserved it. As he denied mercy to Antônio, the law denied him Grace, thus leaving the court humiliated.
       In court both the Jew and the Christian stand for the judgment of the human heart.
         The civilized Venetian Court destitute Shylock of everything, including his own identity; the merciless voice of the law was capable of stripping Shylock of his selfhood and ‘force’ him to become a “Christian”.
        As stated in Romans 7:7-8 “… Is the Law sin? Certainly not ... But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment produced in me every kind of covetous desire ”.
       The Law could not provide salvation for the Jew Shylock. Likewise, the Law was the hindrance for the Jewish people to know God. Law without love is revenge… Law based on cerebral arguments only cannot lead one to Heaven.
       The law is perfect, it is sharp and precise; as a surgeon, it removes the wounded organ from the body, the law points to the crime and punishes it. The written text is the tool the ruler manages to exercise authority over those whom they rule. 
       God chose not to judge us because a fallen humanity is incapable of perfecting its ways by obedience to the Law. So, later on, with Christ, a new law was prescribed, love could set new rules and standards on which we would organize our society. Love is the ideal of the ideals, “But mercy is above the sceptred sway”( IV.I.191). Through grace, people would be better equipped to ease tensions, as Grace empowers us not to follow our basic instincts; Grace is a decision to choose love and forgiveness over hate. Neither reason nor feelings can save man, love can, Jesus in flesh the perfect argument reason can´t figure out, is Grace in action. The empty grave teaches us that a new man risen out from the spirit can love.
       In the 19th century, the nation that prided itself as the cradle of modern philosophy was able to kill more than five million people. Why? Because reason without love is madness. Reason alone cannot attain satisfaction of the soul. Ruling power based upon rhetorical devices only, cannot produce happiness and self -fulfillment.
      Science brought forth only by reason without ethics can lead man to mass destruction. Reason and rhetoric alone are not enough to bring perfection to this weary world.
Portia: Good sentences and well pronounced
Nerissa: They would be better, if well followed.” (I.II.10-11)
       Bloom states “In Shakespearean ambivalence, there can be no victories.” (190)
       In the end, it is proved that ‘in the course of justice none of us should see salvation’. (IV.I.197-198)
       Shylock misunderstood the essence of justice. When he proposed the pound of flesh as the forfeit, it was just an expedient. Through the law, he thought Antonio would respect him and he would have the opportunity to hold Antonio´s life in his hands. He would have never imagined ending up prey to the law. Shylock was humiliated by the law.
The Emblematic “pound of flesh”
Shakespeare´s attitude in these matters owed as much to observation as to theory. He had the advantage of seeing aristocrats at close range, and he knew that some of them thought that what in mean men was entitled patience was cowardice in noble hearts. But his humanistic education had also prepared him to understand deeply and sympathetically the democratic equality of all flesh. Clay and clay may differ in dignity, but their dust was all alike.
                            (Rolff Soellner, Shakespeare´s Pattern of Self-Knowledge)1

       The pound of flesh, reveals Shylock´s desire to be loved, as he lived in a ghetto imposed by a Christian society. He wanted a little from Antonio; he did not want all his body because he didn´t want to be another person, he just wanted Antonio to share of his person with him, the Jew, he wanted some kind of connection. Shylock didn´t want to be seen just as the “other”, he wanted to take part in a society that denied him the right to be himself. As he says, ‘a pound of man's flesh taken from a man is not so estimable, profitable neither… I say, to buy his favor, I extend this friendship…’ (I.III. 161-164)
       Why a pound of flesh? The pound of flesh is common to all creatures, it is the biological bond that ties all of us in a single destiny: death. It is the bell ringing in, visible to all that are flesh and blood that someday our body will rot away. If we could paraphrase, we would say ‘All humankind is created flesh, therefore all of us are equal’. The flesh is the common element among all, as stated by shylock:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subjected to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? ( III.I.51- 56).
       Shylock wanted to be accepted in a society that made him a marginal, a society who would trade with him, but did not welcome him into its heart. A Christian society which would enslave men and buy them as objects, and even more, would not feel ashamed of calling him ‘dog’. Christian lords held slaves while preaching the justice of the Gospel.
       Under the cross of Christ, Kings and countries have perpetrated human injustice in the name of God. Kings and queens constructed lush and skillfully designed cathedrals as representations of their own ego in the name of God, leaving behind them a trail of blood and hatred – all in the name of Christ. Warriors of God have forged entrance to the Kingdom of God by the power of money and the blood of innocents.This is a bill to pay. “I am not well; send the deed after me/And I will sign it” (IV. I. 393-4). How will one pay it some day? The Bible says God will judge all men: great and small alike, but before this can happen, Grace is offered freely. Meanwhile, humanity lives as if there were no accounts to settle; this old fashioned law still applies, although it doesn´t suit post- modern patterns of thinking.
       The pound of flesh demanded by Shylock at the beginning, (it seems he was more or less sure that Antonio would succeed in paying the debt), was meant to create a bond of love between Antonio and Shylock. Shylock, by means of  the law, wanted Antonio to come closer to his nature and his person.
       Job once asked God “Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees? ( Job 10:4)
    Thus, God dwelt among us, in “Jewish flesh” as an answer to all hopelessness of those who suffer; Jesus, the son of God and son of man, our brother, is the highest form of respect for the other possible; the Divine turned to flesh, walked among us wrapped in a mortal body, as a human being.
       However, Jesus was found guilty of a criminal offense for claiming to be the ‘Son of God. Jesus was a complete ‘other’ for the Jewish people. The law made him a stranger to his fellows.
       Shylock´s speech is the voice of the other, the other who has hands, but who is no one, the other who has eyes, but who is not seen as a human being, as next of kin. He is the voice of the Ghetto. He is the voice of ‘otherness’.
       Shylock is also the one, whose sins, turned God, the father into “the other”. He is also the voice of men and women destitute from God´s grace, who made themselves strangers to the father. Since the fall in Eden, fleshly feelings and desires built a wall of separation between humanity and his creator. The most important relationship ever was broken. Luckily, this wall was restored with Christ, in flesh.
       There´s a call to relationships deep in the human heart. It´s the longing for a paradise lost. It´s the longing for the father departed from the heart. Bassânio´s love for Antônio represents this. Love as the greatest commandment to restore peace among men, is the perfect Law that can set humans free.
       Shylock as a Pharisee, as many critics claim he is, is the face of religion without mercy. He is the portrait of those who obey the rituals of the law without knowing the essence of it.
       For centuries Christian lords have held their fellows under captivity – black people were despised and still are till these days. Bigotry has become a kind of political element in some countries around the world.
        A true Christian or a true Jew should see the ‘other’ beyond the guise of their cultures and stereotypes.
       In a time of great technological advancements, most of us still don´t know how to communicate with the “other”. By hating one another, men forfeited their right to become God´s image.
       Shakespeare´s text makes us think of the ‘other” as our mirror image; the way I treat the other builds up my character and my real self.
       The uniqueness of the gospel is that if one is not able to empathize and sympathize with the other, they won´t resemble God, as Jesus explained: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar; First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mat. 5:23-24)
       There´s no difference between Shylock´s false conversion and the Christian Merchant´s decision, of imposing his faith over the Jew: both are indebted to the God of love. The absence of mercy on a men´s worldly business made all men debtors of God.
       Only Mercy itself, if ‘enthroned in the heart of men, the missing element in the soul of all earthly justice, ‘... a quality of God himself' (IV.193) would turn mere pounds of flesh into true sons of God. Antonio could never do that. Humans cannot conceive justice out of self-sacrifice. Eternity made us all strangers when sin set in.
     The Jewish Philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, mentions the human condition as:
Echo of the permanent saying of the Bible: the condition – or –
incondition – of strangers and slaves in the land of Egypt brings
man closer to his fellow man. Men seek one another in their
incondition of strangers. No one is at home. The memory of
that servitude assembles humanity (66).
       Our highest hope lies in the promise that God will judge great and small alike. One day, we will stand before God, having Jesus as our defense lawyer, the only who shed his blood to pay for our debt. The One who suffered in his own flesh the cost of sin is the Only One capable of paying our debt.
Reason found a way out of death for Antônio, there was no way out for Christ.
According to Smith:
Only Christianity offers a worldview in which tragedy
makes sense and tragedy as a literally genre is edifying
… the fact that salvation can only come through
suffering is part of the theology of tragedy. In a fallen
world in a world of suffering there are no simple
solutions. The problems of sin cannot be solved by
comic means. It takes death to remove death (49)2.
       The cross is the ultimate truth no human argument can resist. There´s no weapon against eternity, love in the heart of man is paradise on earth. Those who truly love are already dead for fleshly feelings and deeds; those who live in Christ do not feel the pain of death.
       Love is the only possible justice to save a man. Only by Jesus’ blood, we will be able, to stand shamelessly before the heavenly father, and see justice carried out forever over all evil.
       After the fall, the human History is told by survivors of wars, whose earthly thrones are stained by the blood of innocents. All earthly thrones are accountable by the defeat of the enemy. Yet, Christians believe in a heavenly kingdom that is built not upon the death of the other, but upon the life of the only one capable of loving the enemy. Jesus is the only one who defeated death.

1 Rolf Soellner, Shakespeare´s Patterns of Self-Knowledge ( Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1972), 21.
2 Ralph Allan Smith, Shakespeare the Christian - The Bible in Shakespeare´s Plays, 2011. Pdf.www.berith.org accessed Sept. 20l5. 49.

I´m not Feeling Well ...

       According to Soellner, while at Grammar School, Shakespeare must have got in touch with Christian humanist philosophy of man and the Nosce Teipsum,(“Know thyself”). “Several of these stressed the difficulty of knowing oneself, the obligation to improve oneself, and the need to observe others in order to understand oneself” (3).
       The Renaissance, however, questioned the humanist approach of “self-knowledge” – Nosce Teipsun. This conflict can be seen in his characters, as Shakespeare portrays the unpredictability rather than the received portrait the humanists left, they are just human beings, not heroes.
       The final scenes at Belmont are loaded with a feeling of nostalgia and silence, to prove the vulnerability of our state of being, she is not feeling victorious. With daybreak pouring through Portia´s house, her words are impregnated with an existential void. ‘Nothing is good” (V.I.99).“This night methinks is but the daylight sick” / “It look a little paler”/“Tis a day” /”such as the day is when the sun is hid” (V.I.124-6). “Let me give light but let me not be light” (V.I.137). ‘‘it is almost morning”/And yet I am sure you are not satisfied/ of these events at full. Let us go in” (V. I. 311-13). Jessica: “I´m never merry when I hear sweet music”(V.I.75).
       Silence is loaded with words not pronounced by Portia´s wit. Human History stands in amazement before this silence. How can we explain the world that surrounds us, if we do not even know our own feelings? “ … I think the best grace of wit shortly turn into silence,/ and discourse grow commendable in none only but parrots” (III.V.38-40).
       In the face of tragedies, we stand speechless before the great contradiction of our existence; reason is not enough, how could reason explain words not uttered, but felt deep in the heart?
       Portia and Nerissa should be rejoicing because justice was achieved, but why aren´t they feeling victorious? It seems that Portia had missed something; she is not ‘satisfied of these events at full’. Portia supposed to have all the events under control. Suddenly, she realizes she doesn´t know either her husband and herself in depth. When addressing Bassanio and Antonio Portia´s words are wrapped in subtle irony.
       The play starts with Antonio feeling sad… and ends with all characters feeling incomplete. What emerges out of the trial scene teaches us that good intentions, logic, and wisdom is not sufficient to promote satisfaction, because when we look into ourselves, there´s a void no words can fill.
       The wives took their husband´s love for granted. But Bassanio introduces Portia to Antônio as “This is the man, this is Antônio, to whom I´m so infinitely bound”(V.I.134-5). Just then, Portia realizes there´s someone else between them. She comes across with this unexpected guest: a greater love Bassânio cherishes. Eternity with its prying eyes on us, is an alien to spoil one´s natural expectations, but, at the same time, it can lift one up to the level where the veil is lifted and he or she can penetrate the true nature of things, beyond social appearances and worldly perceptions.
       Belmont, as the place of the educated and well-intentioned people, is also the place of nostalgia, and self-examination. There´s a longing for a true relationship in man´s heart, a longing for the father´s presence. There´s a discomfort in our existence. Shylock says “I´m not feeling well;/
“send the deed after me/ And I will sign it”( IV.I.393-4). This bill is written with our acts and Jesus paid it with the utmost act of love ever demonstrated.
       Existence may be a painful experience. As Ross states, “ Existence is a standing out and in this “being out” there is implied something “out” of which the standing itself is (45)1. As Christians, we believe the moment Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, they fell prey on their own arguments, standing out there, as strangers. Since then, heart and reason have been crying out for meaning, in a strange world, far from home.
       Arthur Schopenhauer once said “It would be better if there were nothing. Since there is more pain than pleasure on earth, every satisfaction is only transitory, creating new desires and new distresses, and the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer”
       Eternity can be eiher a devourer of man´s pleasure on earth... or it can bring all this pleasure back into the heart of the humanity.
     The Human History is full of great and extraordinary achievements, nevertheless, humans haven´t found answers for simple questions in life. The void in the heart of our civilization cannot be filled by fine Arts, Science, and Technology only. As science denies the blatant words of silence in the human heart, the only thing it can conceive is sleeping pills for those days when ‘logic’ is not enough.
       What to say about hate, bigotry, hunger, illnesses and people who still kill others in the name of a god? Some claim God has left us alone, but wouldn´t this be that human beings decided to slam the door on the Father and lock Him out of their world?
       As Christians we believe we mirror our maker´s image, looking for the beauty of His face. The more we seek our Creator´s image in his creation, the more we love the face of the other, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. And when the creator becomes a father, then, we can see others as brothers, not strangers.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed de wall of hostility by abolishing in his
flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His
purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the
two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile
both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to
death their hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16).
       After four hundred years of Shakespeare´s death, East and West are still facing each other as strangers. But differently from Portia´s ideal Belmont, where they are sensitive to a greater beauty that surrounds life, post-modern times have tried to cast away the father´s presence, as if it were possible to erase the poignant law of the Divine in our hearts, to whom our self and History are eternally bound.
1. David A. Ross. The Poetics of Philosophy [a reading of Plato] Newcastle – UK. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Web. 45.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: the invention of the human. New York. Riverhead Books, 1998. Print. 175, 190
Cantor, Paul. “Shakespeare and Politics. The Merchant of Venice.” thegreatthinkers.org.shwww.youtube.com/watch?V=62-vFxa7kyA Accessed June 29, 2016.
Hamlin, Hannibal. The Bible in Shakespeare. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press, 2013.Print.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan or the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil. Prepared for the McMaster University Archive of the History of Economic Thought, by Rod Ray. socserv2.socsci.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/hobbes/Leviathan.pdf. Accessed Sep. 20, 2016.
Leithart, Peter J. Brightest heaven of invention: a Christian guide to six Shakespeare plays.Moscow, ID. Canonpress, 1996. Print.
Levinas, Emmanuel. The Humanism of the Other. Urbana and Chicago. University of IllinoisPress, 2006. Print.
Marx, Steven. Shakespeare and the Bible. New York. Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. London. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2011.Print.
Shaphiro, James. 1599: Um ano na vida de William Shakespeare. São Paulo. Ed. Planeta doBrasil LTDA, 2011. Print.
Smith, Ralph A. Shakespeare the Christian - The Bible inShakespeare´s Plays, 2011. Pdf.www.berith.org accessed sept. 20l5. 49-104.
Soellner, Rolf. Shakespeare´s Patterns of Self-Knowledge. Ohio State University Press, 1972. Print. 3, 18, 29-28, 44
Ross, David A. The Poetics of Philosophy [a reading of Plato] Newcastle – UK. CambridgeScholars Publishing, 2009. Web. 45
The Holy Bible. New International Version. Michigan, USA. Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.
www.shakespearesglobe.com/uploads/files/2014/11/venice_in_shakespeare_s_time.pdf. Accessed 20 August 2016.

Obed Rodrigues de Souza
Enviado por Obed Rodrigues de Souza em 02/10/2016
Alterado em 16/02/2021


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