Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Bloody Business

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. New York: Dover, 1995. Title.
Another thing I should have noticed long ago is just how much blood there is in Merchant of Venice. The center of the central plot revolves around a document that fails to mention blood—but blood is mentioned copiously throughout the rest of the play. Here are the key lines:
Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,
Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster?

The brain may devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree

Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
And let us make incision for your love,
To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.

I'll be sworn, if thou be Launcelot, thou art mine own flesh and blood.

But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners.

My own flesh and blood to rebel!

I say, my daughter is my flesh and blood.

Madam, you have bereft me of all words,
Only my blood speaks to you in my veins.

Here is a letter, lady;
The paper as the body of my friend,
And every word in it a gaping wound,
Issuing life-blood.

The Jew shall have my flesh, blood, bones and all,
Ere thou shalt lose for me one drop of blood.

This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood.

But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

Therefore prepare thee to cut off the flesh.
Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more
But just a pound of flesh

For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music.
All that is the beginning of a thesis—or of another essay question to let my students think about!

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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