Monday, February 12, 2007

Pg. 69: "Shylock Is Shakespeare"

Kenneth Gross, Professor of English at the University of Rochester, is the author of, most recently, Shylock Is Shakespeare.

I asked him to put his book to the "page 69 test," and here is what he reported:
The book tries to get at Shylock in his rawness, his unfathomable singularity, his opacity. The instance on page 69: a Venetian judge demands that Shylock explain why he will have no mercy on Antonio, the merchant whose pound of flesh is forfeit to him. With weird bravado, Shylock says he is like people made mad by the mere sight of cats, rats, and gaping pigs, or who “cannot contain their urine” when they hear a bagpipe’s squeal. His hatred of Antonio is like that, automatic, irrational. He makes himself seem repugnant to others -- very like those maddening animals -- but for a strange purpose:

Listen to how Shylock describes the person who cannot bear the sound of a bagpipe. Such a man is one who “of force / Must yield to such inevitable shame, / As to offend, himself being offended.” This curiously inverts Lorenzo’s account in act 5 of music’s power to pacify or humanize wild animals. Shylock’s words suggest that the man he describes, unable to contain his urine at the bagpipe’s whine, is somehow content knowingly to piss himself in public in order to express his own offense at the offensive sound. This reads to me as Shylock’s half-voiced account of his own situation: to offend, himself being offended. Shylock thus implicitly acknowledges something of his own shame, humiliation, and terror in this scene, his willful abandonment of human dignity and answerability in the process of making his revenge “inevitable.”

Shylock’s rage has real sources (which he does not mention in court), but there’s also a grim, abject kind of clowning in his posture on stage -- something actors rarely dare to show. He risks looking an animal or idiot before the Christians, but in order to command the proceedings, to make the court his own theater, in which he acts a strange part. He makes himself the very irrational, malicious, demonic, and bestial Jew the Venetians say he is. Wresting their prejudicial images from their control, he turns these against them. Still, is not quite clear what this gets him:

Shylock’s argument, his posture of rage and resentment, can feel curiously vulnerable, both in what he gives voice to and in what he keeps silent about. It is hard to say if Shylock himself knows exactly what satisfaction he seeks in the courtroom, hard to know not simply what he thinks but what he is feeling. Does he know how this imaginary cut will answer his real losses? Does he know what he will cut at all? How does he imagine, and ask us to imagine, what it will be like to touch Antonio’s skin with his knife, that blade which he whets, as vicious Gratiano says truly enough, “not on thy sole, but on thy soul”? (What, after all, do we imagine is in Abraham’s mind as he prepares to drive his knife into his son’s throat? What terror, hope, or sense of witness?...)

There’s indeed something self-destructive in Shylock’s clowning. He hazards all, pushing to the limit theater’s powers of exposure and concealment, testing himself and those who listen.

The book’s larger argument is that Shylock’s rage at the Christians translates Shakespeare’s rage and resentment before his own audience, the audience whose emotions he so brilliantly manipulates, but to which he remains bound, a slave. He is dependent on those who know nothing of him. He wants their hearts out.
Many thanks to Ken for the input.

Read an excerpt from Shylock is Shakespeare.

Among the praise for the book:
Shylock Is Shakespeare is a book whose risk-taking, even obsessive plunge into the living character of Shylock has succeeded in reinventing a mode of criticism long thought derelict and abandoned. Shakespeare’s power as a magician—a conjurer able to call forth and release spirits into the world—has rarely seemed as palpable or disturbing as it does in Kenneth Gross’s bold and original response.”
--Stephen Greenblatt

“Most currently available books about Shylock keep the discussion of this Shakespearean character within the context of the play The Merchant of Venice and seek to illuminate how Shakespeare uses him within the dramatic unity of Merchant. Gross frees Shylock from the play and provides a wide-ranging, extended essay considering that character and his continuing existence in Western consciousness as revealed by his representation in post-Shakespearean performances, fiction, and criticism.”
--Library Journal

“Anyone interested in how one of the most talented Shakespeareans at work today confronts the question ‘What next?’ will want to read his Shylock Is Shakespeare, as innovative and reckless a critical study to appear in a very long time. Like Shakespeare revamping old plots, Gross takes something unfashionable—Victorian character criticism—and turns it into something entirely new: a deeply considered, often-dazzling exploration of Shylock’s ‘singularity.’ Gross shows us—grippingly and often profoundly—what Shylock has come to mean in our time.”
--James Shapiro, Bookforum

"[A] dazzling new book.... To drive home his central argument — that the key to understanding the character of Shylock from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” is to view him as the voice of the playwright himself — he, too, revives his subject, but not as mere listener. Gross’s resurrected Shakespeare struts to the center of the stage and speaks."
--Gabriel Sanders

“The mysteries surrounding Shylock naturally attract scholars. A couple of dozen modern books analyze his puzzling role in Shakespeare's imagination. The latest, Shylock Is Shakespeare … by Kenneth Gross of the University of Rochester, a virtuoso critic, identifies the moneylender with the playwright, making Shylock a character into whom the greatest of all writers poured his own ambivalence, anger and insecurity.”
--Robert Fulford, National Post
Kenneth Gross is also the author of Spenserian Poetics: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and Magic (1985), The Dream of the Moving Statue (1992), and Shakespeare’s Noise (2001).

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Trinie Dalton, Wide Eyed
Barbara J. King, Evolving God
Patrick Anderson, The Triumph of the Thriller
Linda R. Hirshman, Get to Work
Lynne Tillman, American Genius, A Comedy
Patrick Radden Keefe, Chatter
Dana Stabenow, A Deeper Sleep
Siobhan Roberts, King of Infinite Space
Erin McKean, That's Amore!
Michael Lowenthal, Charity Girl
Niraj Kapur, Heaven's Delight
Keith Dixon, The Art of Losing
David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old
Mary Sharratt, The Vanishing Point
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue