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Title page for ETD etd-11182016-171613
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||"The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind": Reimagining Community in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
||Master of Arts
|Date of Defense
In light of the effluence of Islamophobia, targeted violence against black peoples, and hate speech against the Other monopolizing contemporary US political rhetoric, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice seems disturbingly prescient, compelling us to question and rework our conception of what constitutes a stable, working community and expand our understanding of the capaciousness of interpersonal bonds.
This essay argues that the bond between Shylock and Antonio, one easily dismissible as destructive, violent, and hostile, is unexpectedly intimate, vulnerable, and desirable. Through the terms of the bond, The Merchant of Venice mobilizes an imaginative possibility that cannot be naturalized as an idyllic reparative transaction, but rather suggests that there is something about the mutually-willed spillage of blood and infliction of wounds that precipitates a genuine fellowship between individuals. Antonio’s impenetrable melancholia both desires and incites violence against his integral being, while the correlative consumptive desire on Shylock’s end can be read as the proper response requisite to enter into a true interpersonal union. These two adversaries forge a communion that refuses idealization—one founded on shared risk with the always-looming potential of both self- and other-directed destruction. The terms of the bond bring to the fore of the supposedly seamless intra-social Venetian community a vocabulary of intimacy predicated on violence that can no longer remain suppressed. The suppressive social orthodoxy of the play is rendered feeble and impotent when confronted with the radical reimagining of the communal that commitment to such a violent bond engenders.
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