And here I was, staring at the screen, quite at a loss about what to write… So very much at a loss that I asked for help.
“Write about the opaque days between around the end of the year,” Lady’s Mantle said. “Not enough of 2016 left, not yet 2017…” Which strikes me as a fitting theme for poetry, rather than a post.
“Write about the lovely sunsets we get whenever the fog allows it,” said Mother. Pretty, but not quite like Scribblings…
And so here I sat, staring at the screen and even more at a loss than before, when Rodolfo called, ordering me to turn on the telly, and have a look at a thing called Perché Shylock, that is Why Shylock.
And so I did, and caught the final part of… well, would you believe it? An appeal against the decision of Shylock vs. Antonio in The Merchant of Venice – with none other than US Supreme Court Justice Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg presiding. If I understand correctly, the thing is part of a complex project, involving a special production of the Merchant, created and performed in Venice’s ancient Ghetto, complete with a sort of Making Of film, and this appellate court, that was held in the Scuola di San Rocco…
Alas, there seems to be no way to watch the whole thing again, and so I must confine myself to telling you about what I heard. Shylock’s Counsel claimed the reversal of the old decision, the rejection of the forfeiture of Shylock’s property and the forced conversion, and the payment of four hundred and something years of interest in the bargain. Another Counsel for both Antonio and the Most Serene Republic of Venice, of course, strongly objected, insisting that the trial court had done nothing but fully apply Venice’s Alien Statute – whose rigorous application was essential to the coexistence of Venice’s minorities and therefore, the survival of the Serenissima…
I can’t help feeling that Shylock’s Counsel nicely cornered himself by trying to argue that the pound-of-flesh penalty did not automatically make the contract null and void because it was not forbidden by the law of the relevant time period and, at the same time, that the forced conversion should be rejected on the grounds of the changed perception of human rights… This quite muddled the question of applicable law – as Justice Ginsburg pointed out – but still, the final decision was mostly in favour of Shylock, if for entirely different reasons.
The forfeiture of property was rejected as a kind of penal measure applied to a civil trial without Shylock having prior knowledge of the possibility; the conversion was rejected as imposed by the defendant – quite unheard of; and it was the Court’s opinion that Antonio should pay back the loan, or be found guilty of undue enrichment at Shylock’s expense. Only Shylock’s claim to the payment of interests was rejected – on the grounds that no interest at all was asked in the first place, and four hundred and something years exceeded every reasonable notion of term.
I found both the arguments and the decision quite interesting and refreshing. The idea of discussing Shylock’s case again was a clever notion, but it could so easily have slid down the politically correct slope… Instead – and in spite of an attempt or two in that direction – everything was discussed and reasoned in terms of law… I’m very sorry I lost the digression about the possibly conflicting concepts of (Biblical) Justice and (Evangelical) Mercy – but on the whole, it was a well made, intelligent and thought-provoking take on Shakespeare, his world, the links between his mindset and ours, justice, law, human nature, and history in general.
One wishes there could be more like it… Meanwhile, after four centuries, I think Shylock may be reasonably satisfied.