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, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

 

Crib Notes

Name: Justice - Shylock.

Dramatis Personae: Shylock.

Astrology: Libra, Capricorn, Saturn

Hebrew Letter: KAPH

 Text & Context: The Hebrew letter Kaph, meaning "palm", can either be open, as in benediction, or closed, as when tightly gripped. The symbol itself represents a hand, and has two orthographic variants: a dot (or dagesh) in the center, being held by the hand as it were, indicates a hard K, as in kike, while an empty hand without a dagesh indicates an X. As a verb, "palm" means 1. to conceal, especially as part of a trick or theft, and 2. to hit, with the palm of the hand. Pilgrims who decorate themselves with palm leaves are called "palmers", in honor of the palms which were laid down before Christ as he entered Jerusalem to be sacrificed at Passover. The word Kaph originally derives from the Phoenician Kāp, in whose false cognate Cape can be seen a head covering, or Portia and Nerissa's vestments as Balthazar and Stephano. In Kaph's false friend we hear the Biblical Calf, as in "fatted" from sacrifice or "golden" from God aped [Egyptian Apis].

  The figure of Justice is often depicted as willfully blind-folded, indicating its inability to see prejudice. Much of what we know of Shylock is derived from comments made about him, even before we see him on stage, and - as with Othello - even before we enter the theater. The Merchant of Venice then concerns itself with blindness, the kind that results from an eye for an eye and otherwise.

  The Venice of the play's setting was in its day a financial dynamo which depended on its Jewish community, the Giudecca, to carry out the lending of money at interest, without which the city's more complex financial structure could not exist. Not given the full rights of a Venetian citizen, Jews were however permitted to dwell on an island in the city called the Ghetto. Central as usury was then to the financial infrastructure of Venice and thus bridled toleration of the Jew there, the oceans of ink spilt by commentators expounding on the role of usury in this play reveals their own bias, for the bond devised between Shylock and the merchant is not strictly speaking usurious.

   Written today, The Merchant of Venice might be called The Venture Capitalist. The man in question is, as a homosexual, an outsider like Shylock. But a Christian one. In giving Bassanio money he didn't have to wed a fabulously wealthy wife, Antonio sacrifices his own love and lays on the altar his own life. A life, it turns out, saved by a quibble, one which may hold up in a theater but never in a court of law. And when Antonio shows Shylock more mercy than the law courts of Venice, by compelling the Jew to convert to Christianity, the quality of mercy becomes decidedly strained. In forcing Shylock to deny and betray his inmost essence, Antonio's charity mirrors Christian society which in turn forces him, Antonio, to deny his own inmost sexual identity.

 

  From the start, Shylock is vilified, and from the gentle Antonio himself. Antonio openly declares hatred for the Jew, even while using him and denying his own actions. He mocks the Jew's customs, refuses him an ounce of credit, and vows to never hesitate from any future chance to publicly ridicule the Jew.  In this way, Antonio - himself an outsider - represents two-faced Christian Venice by internalizing its double standards and enacting them. Shylock's resentment, then, is legitimate. So, too, his bond. That he is betrayed by his daughter and robbed in the night by a contrivance of Antonio's fellow Christians fleshes out not just his emotional state but his ethical righteousness. Meanwhile, Gratiano's ungracious calumnies in court and immediate back-turning on mercy belie the true sentiments of Christian Venice. The scales of justice which turn on Shylock tear his heart from his chest in a parody of charity. Nor should it be forgotten that Shylock's fate is stage managed by the malpractice of a fraudulent Doctor of Law.

  Grace, then, is a luxury item. It is determined by privilege. True Grace, as true Justice, is the purview of God - what humans call grace and justice is a human built facade. Nowhere, from Venice to London, is there liberty from prejudice.

 

  In the end, Shylock is shattered by justice. Not Justice writ large, but mere mortal justice. The Justice Shylock seeks is mine, saith the Lord. The rest is silence, a blind I, and best served cold.

Intertext: Crowns 9 Portia; Knight of Crowns Jessica; Cups 4 Antonio

Justice XI Shylock