"The Merchant of Venice" + the Sun


Published on

The basic methodology is to use the allegory of Man and the Sun that I found in "Romeo and Juliet" and see how another allegory with the Sun, Coal, and mankind can be found in "The Merchant of Venice".
I myself also must hold out my hat and beg my audience for their support....
Please help support my research into solar energy themes in Shakespeare's other plays by buying my e-novel "Juliet is the Sun" (about $8 on Amazon). (Thank you very much!)

Published in: Education, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

"The Merchant of Venice" + the Sun

  1. 1. “None but a holy hermit”: the Hermetic Solar Allegory in The Merchant of Venice and its Relevance to the Global Debt Crisis In addressing the topic of “Shakespeare and the Debt Crisis”, one option to consider. is that Shakespeare had actually given some thought as to what might cause a debt crisis, a progressive and negative discontinuity in the status quo of an economy, and that he wrote about this in his plays. In this paper, I shall show how this is the case, although it has been concealed in a coded form. All economies run on energy. If it is an aboriginal society in the forest, all materials and resources are gotten indirectly or directly, through the sun. Waterfalls, rivers, fish, leaves, wood, animal skins or meat, roots, fruits, are all traceable back to the sun’s energy (causing photosynthesis, wind, weather) and without the sun’s energy, these resources would not exist for these aboriginal people. But, for a modern society, an economy depends on more than just the sun to drive the flows of necessary materials, and in fact, it is well known that modern economies consume millions of barrels of oil and millions of tons of coal every day. What is not well known is that Shakespeare (1564-1612) himself was present at one important inflection point that heralded the birth of the modern global economy, when England turned, in 1603, from being predominantly a wood-burning society to being a predominantly coal-burning society1 ,(the first, but not 1 Freese, “Domestic coal use surged in the 1570s, and before the end of Elizabeth’s reign, in 1603, coal had become the main source of fule for the nation, though not without complaint.” (pp. 32-3) 1
  2. 2. the last country in the world to do this). The changes leading up to this transition were most intense in London, where he was living, in the decades leading up to the end of the century: deliveries of coal to London increased more than three-fold between 1580 and 1591 (1580: 11,000 tons; 1591: 35,000 tons).2 And shipments of coal from Newcastle grew from 33,000 in 1563-64, when Shakespeare was born, to 163, 000 tons in 1597-983 , the year he wrote Romeo and Juliet in London. In fact, Shakespeare starts off Romeo and Juliet with two lines about coal: Sampson: Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals Gregory: No, for then we should be colliers. (I.i.1-2) Thereafter, Gregory and Sampson rather awkwardly drop the topic of coal, and until very recently, no critic wondered seriously what these lines were doing, if anything, in such a prime position in the play. However, recently, in a paper entitled “’Juliet is the sun’: the Secret Anti-Coal Play in Romeo and Juliet and the Cosmic Heliocentrism of Giordano Bruno”4 and published in 2012, the radical opinion has been put forward that Romeo and Juliet is an allegory that conceals a special history of mankind and the sun and coal. Man leaves the sun to live in exile from it while he uses coal, then returns to the sun, just as Romeo goes into exile from Juliet then returns to her. The secret inner play is delineated by the absence of interaction between the lovers with other characters when they are together. What follows is a quick summary of the findings of this original paper, which is necessary to understand as a basis for any further investigations into any other plays, such as The Merchant of Venice. 2 Weimann, Robert. p. 164. 3 Weimann p.164 4 Kimura, Marianne, p. 106. 2
  3. 3. Summary of the Secret Play in Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet have five scenes together. Symmetrically, the first two and the last two, are set apart: in these scenes, they always play virtually alone, with other characters calling off-stage (or dancing nearby at the mask) but not fully interacting with the couple as long as the couple is together. Thus Romeo and Juliet seem to exist in a separate realm where just the two of them are permitted ontological seclusion. Their ontological isolation is delineated structurally with an absence (not a total absence, more like a functional one) of interaction with other characters. Take this together with the fact of their allegorical identities as Man and Sun, and it is logical to conclude that their scenes, always conducted in private, have another theatrical dimension: the hidden morality play. The first scene of where Romeo and Juliet play together (demonstrating the first stage of Mankind`s relationship with the Sun) is characterized, naturally, as one of worshipper and god. Thus when Romeo and Juliet meet, they exchange puns along religious lines: she is a “holy shrine” (I.v.94); his lips are “two blushing pilgrims” (I.v.95) and so forth. It is important to note that Romeo doesn`t know Juliet`s name in this part of the anthropological pageant Shakespeare attempts to portray: Mankind is still operating without many skills or scientific knowledge. Theatrically, that is to say structurally within the play, this scene is one of introduction and one of reverence. The second stage of the relationship between Mankind and the Sun is shown in the long and famous “balcony” scene (the second scene where Romeo and Juliet play together). Juliet is aloft, 3
  4. 4. symbolizing her position as the sun in the sky above Man. (Note that her place on the balcony is another theatrical device, not a literary one). He knows who she is and understands her importance, but she is no longer a god. That is to say that Christianity has removed direct nature worship from people’s everyday lives. He swears fidelity. She explains that she`ll “prove more true than those that have more coying to be strange”(II.ii.101) (That is, the sun will not become depleted.) Man has not yet started using fossil fuels---ie, being unfaithful to the sun. This scene corresponds to the Middle Ages, a time of faith kept in agricultural ways of life. But an uneasy feeling “I am afeard…this is all but a dream” (II.ii.139-140) pervades. Can Mankind really be satisfied to stop his progress? Juliet says she “would have him gone---/And yet no farther than a wanton`s bird/That lets it hop a little from his hand/Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gives/And with a silken thread plucks it back again” (II.ii.176-180). It almost seems that wild freedom---even bringing calamity---might be preferable to imposed limits. The third stage of the pageant is the morning after the (secret) wedding night in Act III, scene v. (The fourth scene where Romeo and Juliet play together). Romeo has “chosen” Mercutio by killing Tybalt in revenge. This action symbolizes Man’s action in choosing fossil fuels: an expedient to forestall a competitor from gaining competitive advantage. It is the start of fossil fuel consumption (becoming exiled from the sun-based economy, as the Elizabethans were rapidly becoming as they stopped using wood as a fuel with the depletion of forests). Romeo says, “I must be gone and live, or stay and die” (III.v.11), indicating Man’s predicament as he faced a stark choice to continue to use more coal--- 4
  5. 5. depleting it yet more---or suffer hardship. “O, think`st thou we shall ever meet again?” (III.v.51) asks Juliet after she says “..I shall be much in years Ere I again behold my Romeo!” (III.v.46-47). The separation of the man and the sun (as primary energy source) is to be protracted, but the outcome of this separation is certain: when the coal is depleted, man will go back to the sun. In the fourth scene, Romeo (Mankind) dies by suicide, symbolic of an economic collapse, caused by his own hands through emergence. (It is important to note that a real collapse process could take centuries: Romeo’s suicide is an artistic and figurative illustration only.) What about the only scene where Romeo and Juliet interact together fully and functionally with one other character? Friar Lawrence shares one brief scene with the couple (their third scene together) (II.vi.16-37). (This brief scene occurs directly before their secret wedding). He is the only character briefly permitted into their ontological “magic circle”(i.e. he can interact with them when they are together as no other character can) because, as a stand-in for Shakespeare, he is in on the secret. He is therefore called “ghostly” (“ghostly father”, “ghostly confessor”) four times in the play, (three times by Romeo and once by Juliet) to underscore his ability to cross through partitions such as the one of the secret play. The Importance of the Letter and Friar Lawrence Friar Lawrence writes a letter to Romeo while Romeo is in exile from Juliet. The letter is to inform Romeo that Juliet, despite what he may have heard, is not really dead. Here we see the technique of microcosm/macrocosm, which was so important on the Renaissance, being used in a Hermetic way. 5
  6. 6. Shakespeare, concealed behind the mask of Friar Lawrence, writes a missive (his play Romeo and Juliet) to Man, still in exile from a sun economy, about the vitality and possibility of the sun. Another microcosm/macrocosm then is the important first line of the play, “Gregory, upon my word, we’ll not carry coals”. The line, besides Hermetically announcing the theme of the play, also functions to subtly broadcast Shakespeare’s own concealed (“on my word”) refusal to “carry coals”, that is, to extol a coal-driven economy.5 Yet, he recognizes that humans, collectively, do not have a choice but to “carry coals”. And he sympathizes with our plight. Friar Lawrence is a sympathetic, but objective, character, one who has wisdom. Friar Lawrence says to Romeo, “Romeo, come forth, come forth, thou fearful man: Affliction is enamor’d of thy parts/And thou art wedded to calamity.” (III.iii.1-3) (my emphasis), thereby revealing Hermetically that Romeo is mankind, driven to solve problems, but in the process, creating others. From the start, Friar Lawrence is aligned and allied with daylight and the sun, and his entrance, with his own words that seem incidental but actually are of great importance in conveying vital information about him, heralds the banishment of darkness as the sun comes up: The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night, Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light, And fleckled darkness like a drunken reels 5 My husband, Dr. Takeshi Kimura, suggested that “we’ll not carry coals” is a Hermetic indication of Shakespeare’s preference for a sun-driven economy. Two years before my husband made this suggestion, I had noticed the first line of Romeo and Juliet was about coals, and it took my nine months of wondering and researching about the history of coal in England before I could understand that the line “Juliet is the sun” was pointing to a hidden allegory for human energy use in history. 6
  7. 7. From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels (II.iii.1-3) The “fleckled darkness” is also a secret code for coal and the sun’s advance in this passage heralds not just an ordinary dawn, but the dawning of the play’s secret and passionate project, the re-dawning of the solar economy. Another Play About the Sun Romeo and Juliet is a good outline of the human economic transitions that occur as the planet undergoes progressive depletion of important powerful coal resources (or other fossil fuels), but, for specifically addressing the current global debt crisis per se it’s useful to turn to another of Shakespeare’s plays. That is to say, in the difficult transition back to the sun, we may perceive the transition partly as a debt crisis, which is an effort by governments, lenders of last resort, to fund things that have gotten too expensive as depletion makes extraction of oil and coal ever more costly, and it seems that Shakespeare may have anticipated this state of affairs. This other play is a comedy, one exactly about another ‘debt crisis’ of a sort, and also conceals a sun figure, like Juliet, and coal. The play, famously about the difficulties of the repayment of a debt, The Merchant of Venice, is fortuitously set in Italy, which is currently one of the main countries of the Eurozone experiencing serious problems with its sovereign debt. In fact, Bassanio’s words in Act I echo the current debt crisis: ‘Tis not unknown to you, Antonio How much I have disabled mine estate, 7
  8. 8. By something showing a more swelling port Than my faint means would grant continuance, Now do I now make moan to be abridg’d From such a noble rate, but my chief care Is to come fairly off from the great debts Wherein my time something too prodigal Hath left me gag’d. (I.i.122-130) Bassanio’s financial debt then becomes Antonio’s lethal, bodily one, demonstrating how debt may grow in burden and danger as it gets shifted onto the next lender, threatening and compromising the happiness and well-being of everyone. The Holy Hermit Figure Act Five of The Merchant of Venice starts with romantic poetry, but the melodious exchange is suddenly interrupted by the entrance of a messenger with news: Messenger: Stephano is my name, and I bring word My mistress will before the break of day Be here at Belmont. She doth stray about By holy crosses, where she kneels and prays For happy wedlock hours. Lorenzo: Who comes with her? Messenger: None but a holy hermit and her maid. I pray you, is my master yet returned? (V.i.28-34) 8
  9. 9. Portia, who has carried all her plans to victory, is now seen in the mind’s eye of the theater audience, though not on the stage, to be praying, accompanied by a mysterious “holy hermit”. And he is never mentioned again: when Portia appears, accompanied by Nerissa, some 60 lines later, the obscure religious figure has vanished. Portia’s “holy hermit” has been totally ignored in conventional scholarship, but I would like to propose a correct name for this mysterious monastic figure. Moreover, his identity is of great importance to the play and the guidance he implicitly, but so briefly, delivers has a parallel in the whole central thematic concept of The Merchant of Venice, which is another in the series of allegories Shakespeare wrote to celebrate, extol, and reify the sun-driven economy. The “happy wedlock hours” bespeak the union of the Sun (Portia) and Mankind (Bassanio in the allegory) in a solar-based economy. This is the constant project of all the “holy hermit” figures in Shakespeare, including Friar Lawrence: to bring together Man and the Sun, and, by doing so, to implicitly banish and purge Coal. Portia’s “sunny locks” Portia is first described first by Bassanio as having “sunny locks” (I.i.169): In Belmont is a lady richly left And she is fair and, fairer than that word, Of wondrous virtues. Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages. Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia. 9
  10. 10. Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth, For the four winds blow in from every coast Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks Hang on her temples like a golden fleece, Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis’ strond, And many Jasons come in quest of her. (I.1.161-172) This first characterization of Portia, spoken in her absence, functions as a litany of words from classical mythology and the religion of Antiquity (temples, golden fleece, Jason, Colchis, sunny) as well as giving her an aura of being tremendous beyond a human scale (wide world, four winds, wondrous, speechless messages, sunny). The presentation of her secret identity as the sun is through the interaction of the two worlds: the Classical world, tied to its nature gods, and the cosmic world of vastness. The word “sunny” is the only direct iteration of her hidden identity, and it connects both the cosmic, huge world, and the world of Antiquity. “Nor is the wide world ignorant of her worth” also clues us in to the notion that the sun is the base of economies everywhere, and the Elizabethans had some knowledge of the presence of other countries and regions in the world. Later, in Act Five, after Portia has defeated Shylock in court, and is on her way back to Belmont, she says to Nerissa: So doth the greater glory dim the less: A substitute shines brightly as a king Until a king be by….(V.i.93-5) 10
  11. 11. Of course, Portia, by implication is the “king” whose true power has been revealed, in comparison with Shylock’s, to be much greater than his. She has underscored her status as a “king” (a cosmic king, that is, the sun) in her famous “the quality of mercy is not strained” speech (IV.i.) where she uses a heavy and notable abundance of words like “awe”, “majesty”, “throned monarch”, “kings”, “mightiest in the mightiest”, “God”, “power”, all words of supreme power which all get associated with her, whose voice utters them. The Magic of Golden Rings Golden rings are used throughout Shakespeare’s plays to both denote and convey the power of the sun. Sometimes gold rings, merely by being mentioned, constitute a piece of poetic, though hidden verbal magic: through the hearing or voicing of the words “gold” and “ring” together, a troubled character with a deficit may be “cured” or else achieve a new status which brings him or her closer to the sun. Sometimes actual gold rings, exchanged by the characters, serve a similar purpose. Whether they are mere words or real objects seen on the stage as props, gold rings transmit the power of the sun in Shakespeare’s plays. The intention and the result are magic of a certain kind. But what kind of magic? To understand better how the “magic” of the golden rings in Shakespeare works, we should first examine some of the theory behind the rise of the Hermetic study of magic that occurred in the Renaissance: The potentialities open to human ingenuity were greatly enhanced by the tide of Neoplatonism 11
  12. 12. which swept through Renaissance Europe. The revival of this, the last school of ancient pagan philosophy, fostered a disposition to blur the difference between matter and spirit. Instead of being regarded as an inanimate mass, the Earth itself was deemed to be alive. The universe was peopled by a hierarchy of spirits, and thought to manifest all kinds of occult influences and sympathies. The cosmos was an organic unity in which every part bore a sympathetic relationship to the rest. Even colours, letters and numbers were endowed with magical properties. The investigation of such phenomena was the primary task of the natural philosopher, and their employment for his own purposes was the distinguishing mark of the magician. Three main types of magical activity thus lay open: natural magic, concerned to exploit the occult properties of the natural world; celestial magic, involving the influence of the stars; and ceremonial magic, an appeal for aid to spiritual beings. (Thomas 265) Although the author, the noted British historian Professor Keith Thomas, clearly regards the premise behind the catalogue of magical practices here to be without any scientific basis, and modern scientists would generally agree, there is one line in his dismissive summary that cannot be totally rejected by modern scientists. That line is “The cosmos was an organic unity in which every part bore a sympathetic relationship to the rest.” We know through studies of ecology and environmental science, as well as quantum mechanics, how the many parts of our planet are influenced by a myriad of factors, emergent interactions of all of the other parts, including subatomic particles. And out of all the 12
  13. 13. relationships that cause influences on the other parts, one relationship has an out-sized importance and value. This relationship-----the Earth-Sun relationship----stands as qualitatively different from all the others, because so much---actually everything--- for us on Planet Earth hinges on it. By dwelling on the implications of the real relationship of the two celestial bodies, Giordano Bruno, Shakespeare’s secret hero, was the first to outline a vision of the solar system and the larger universe so modern and fundamental that it is still with us today: All celestial bodies are either hot or cold, luminous or opaque, throughout the infinite whole the cold and opaque bodies will necessarily circulate around the hot and luminous ones, in order to guarantee the infinite and eternal process of generation and corruption, that is, the infinite process of life. (Gatti 125) Further, in Operelatine, Bruno showed how a fundamental understanding of the relationships--- what was dependent on what in the cosmos----could bring clarity and avoid confusion in thinking down here on earth when he wrote, “When you conform yourself to the celestial forms, ‘you will arrive from the confused plurality of things at the underlying unity’. For when the parts of the universal species are not considered separately but in relation to their underlying order----what is there that we may not understand, memorise and do?” (Bruno, qtd in Yates 219) These words express Bruno’s underlying vision of unity in the universe (the underlying order) and this idea can show how Keith Thomas’ sentence “The cosmos was an organic unity in which every part bore a sympathetic relationship to the rest” might also be considered a valid scientific statement, and 13
  14. 14. moreover it might be considered a partial paraphrase of Giordano Bruno’s own view of how magic works through “the art of memory”, where the “real point was to order sense perceptions, imagination, and, ultimately understanding to reflect the basic harmony of the world itself.” (Rowland 125) (my emphasis) We should therefore understand Shakespeare’s use of verbal magic as something that: first, is broadly aligned with Bruno’s basic concept of the relationships of the sun and the earth within a larger infinite cosmos, and that: second, relies primarily on the principle of analogy, since “all magic, whatever its level of sophistication, worked on the principle of analogy.” (Rowland 119) For Bruno, “Real Magi were wise men, not tricksters, and their art derived its power from understanding how the world worked.” (Rowland 117); and this same understanding is the basis of Shakespeare’s art, as well as its underlying claims to transmit images, enact processes, or model the world’s unseen natural secrets. Shakespeare’s “magic” is simply the secret recognition ---and verbal transmission and reverent expression in obscure and esoteric symbolic forms---of the primary cosmic relationship that affects us most, and as such, though innately and indirectly, defines us. As the Elizabethans in London were necessarily turning away from this fundamental relationship, through the coal economy, and they ceased gradually to depend on the sun and collect the sun’s energy in many ways6 , Shakespeare sought to secretly preserve, protect, and glorify this original, resilient, and primary 6 Of course, we now know that coal and oil (fossil fuels) are stored solar energy, since these fuels were formed by the plants which grew on the earth millions of years ago. Nevertheless, although they are technically “solar energy” in some form, they cannot be considered as direct solar energy. 14
  15. 15. relationship in his work because he recognized (through the fundamental relationships between celestial bodies as Bruno described them) that any deviation in the economy (the set of flows of matter and energy that lead from the cosmos through human bodies) away from one that reflected the fundamental Sun-Earth relationship would be only temporary and fragile. When the fossil-fuel based economy finally started to buckle under the weight of its own contradictions, depletions, and impossibly costly exigencies, he secretly posited that the importance of the fundamental Sun-Earth relationship would be necessarily re-recognized. Thus a robust, encompassing awareness of the supreme cosmic importance of the sun is the basis for Shakespeare’s magic. He aligns his art with recognized supreme powers (“a king”), which he knows, through the cosmology of Bruno, to be the Sun. He demonstrates and enacts this process of recognition or transmission of “the power of the sun” in his plays in esoteric ways. The magic involves the human- cosmic relationship, and we can say that the magic is totally dependent on our historic relationship with the sun, a relationship historically celebrated with festivals, music, songs, rituals, prayers, rites and festive performances that form the raw cultural materials Shakespeare worked with and altered in complex ways. Antonio The turning point in the play, is the climax where Portia and Nerissa successfully battle the threatening, 15
  16. 16. damaging and destructive force located in the character of Shylock. But who is cured? Not Bassanio, who is ‘safe’ by then. The answer to this question is the key to the whole underlying dynamic of the play. That is why Shakespeare starts off this play with the words of Antonio, who states the key problem (although it is in allegory): In sooth, I know not why I am so sad; It wearies me, you say it wearies you; But how I caught it, found it, or came by it, What stuff ‘tis made of, whereof it is born, I am to learn. And such a want-wit sadness makes of me, That I have much ado to know myself. (I.i.1-7) The first lines in Shakespeare’s plays are coded messages that announce the theme. Here we have an “injured”, or rather a “sad” protagonist. How will he get cured if he doesn’t even know the reason for his misery? The theme is psychological depression and mental agony. How to find joy in such a situation? Furthermore, if Shakespeare’s plays are allegories, then who is hiding behind the mask of Antonio? Who is this mysterious, isolated and sad figure? Once again, in Antonio, we can see a hermit (lonely and isolated) character working assiduously ‘behind the scenes’ to bring Bassanio (the mankind character) together with the sun (Portia). It is Antonio who borrows money from Shylock in order to give Bassanio the means to visit Portia and win her hand. Antonio is Shakespeare, and to know this 16
  17. 17. gives us a new perspective on the notion of Antonio’s “merchandise”(I.i.45). His ships, his wealth, all are ventures, not unlike plays, risky vessels launched in expectation of success. So it is possible to see, through the relationships delineated in allegorical terms, a fascinating dynamic process: Shakespeare sees his role like this: he helps Man to win the Sun (that is to reclaim the Sun economy) through a special process whereby he gives his wealth (his plays) to Man. The whole complex mechanism is a kind of “Art of Memory”, or theater of memory, and goes straight back to Giordano Bruno’s description of the “practice of artificial memory as ‘clever application of thought’ to ‘presenting, modeling, noting, or indicating in the likeness of painting or writing, in order to express or signify’.”(Rowland 123) A microcosm (Rowland 123) is one arrangement that Bruno lists as way to convey “sublime ideas in physical form.” (Rowland 122) By looking closely at these practices that Bruno recommended, we can note their basic structural and functional similarity to the designs of Shakespeare’s plays, cosmic allegories in which important cosmic ‘statues’ (figures or representations) move about in a specially designed microcosm, an artwork of cosmic proportions and implications. Shylock Who is Shylock in the world of the microcosm in this play? Who is this dark figure who is so important and so necessary? For, if Portia did not defeat the seemingly invincible Shylock, we would never understand her potency, nor see her brilliance as a true “king”. If Portia is the Sun, then Shylock must necessarily be “the substitute”, the energy source that seems at first as if it has no rival, but is then 17
  18. 18. revealed by the light of the sublime sun to be a mere pretender. Shylock, in short, is coal. The word coal is not used, since the play is a Hermetic presentation, but subtly transmitted through a substitute word “stones”, repeated with intense feeling, three times in three lines, in Shylock’s emotional cry (reported second-hand by Solanio): And jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones, Stol’n by my daughter! Justice! Find the girl, She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats. (II.viii.20-22) The cry is one of agony, revealing the underlying insecurity people felt in leaving the sun, and coupled with “ducats”, money, explaining how “stones”, coal, were economic necessities. The use of “stones” as a substitute for coal, goes back to Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Lawrence groups them with resources like plants and herbs, leading to the possibility that they are coal, which looks like stones: O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies In plants, herbs, stones and their true qualities; For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give; Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use, Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse. (II.iii.15-20) Friar Lawrence also mentions that the stones “strained from” their “fair use” might be used in such a way that stumbles on “abuse”, which is a veiled reference to the heavy pollution from coal smoke in London at this time. 18
  19. 19. Later, in The Merchant of Venice, the Duke also uses the word “stone” to characterize Shylock: A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch, Uncapable of pity, void and empty From any dram of mercy. (IV.ii.4-6) Shylock’s character famously has many human dimensions and also stands complexly and thoughtfully in reference to the anti-Semitic traditions of the time, but underneath it all, in the allegory, he is simply something actually ‘inhuman’, coal. This does not mean that Shakespeare implies that Jews are not human, of course; the allegory plays on the stock character of the “Jew” as outsider, outcast, counterpoint. To Shakespeare, it was not Jews, but fossil fuels that were the alien, counterpoint to the sun. And the total necessity of using coal without regard to the future consequences (a fact which our economies today even imply) is analogized (in a concealed way) as the Venetian “law” which Shylock constantly seeks to have upheld, and which other characters, including Antonio, also all agree is necessary. In Antonio’s words: The Duke cannot deny the course of law; For the commodity that strangers have With us in Venice, if it be denied, Will much impeach the justice of the state, Since the trade and profit of the city Consisteth of all nations. (III.iii.26-31) In other words, England cannot refuse to use coal, its own resource, because then, eventually, someone 19
  20. 20. else would use it. The system “consisteth of all nations”, (now, we call it the “global economy”) in the way vaguely described by Antonio. The Renaissance, of course, as we know, already had heavy reliance on trade as stimulator to economic activity. Britain, in particular, was on the rise. Antonio then gets in debt to Shylock, and then (in the words of Portia) “stand(s) within his danger” (IV.i.180). The dynamic in this microcosmic world is clear: Shakespeare must rely wholly on the fossil fuel economy in the creation, transmission production and performance of his plays. A whole economic structure, which included the theater industry, the court, myriad other industries and economic pathways, was reliant on coal. Without coal, permanent theaters would probably not have been built in London, starting in 15677 . Shakespeare knew quite well that he “owed” his success and wealth to coal. He understood that the economic process entangled everyone, including himself, in complex ways that were not always unpleasant, though their long term implications may yet be. It is of course Portia who so eloquently states “Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew?” (IV.i.174), echoing Antonio’s lament “that I have much ado to know myself”. In fact, Shakespeare risked the annihilation of his own identity, or his solar-based principles, in a glittering, complex place which progressively---even, happily--- abolished the sun economy. But Shakespeare’s certain knowledge that ever-depleting coal could not and would not keep penury away one day from the world at some future time must have given him a fully modern 7 Greenblatt notes, “…it was not until 1567 that a prosperous London grocer, John Brayne, put up the city’s first freestanding public playhouse, the Red Lion, in Stepney”. (p. 182) 20
  21. 21. sense of alienation and irony, the original feelings that became, in a coded way, Antonio’s “sadness” in The Merchant of Venice. Antonio is sad, even before he undertakes to borrow money from Shylock. In a sense, it is the presence and the power of Shylock that creates a mood and an atmosphere where Antonio must be sad and Bassanio must be poor. In allegory, we can say that Shakespeare is pointing to the fact that a coal- powered economy created conditions where large numbers of poor people lived in urban conditions that were much less healthful and abundant in food than the simple rural villages that had preceded the coal- based economy. More generally, Bassanio’s penury points to the overall stress a fossil-fuel-economy- based society faces as it constantly compensates for the depletion of its main supporting fuel. The Mechanism of the Rings Gratiano has this to say about the ring that Nerissa gave him: About a hoop of gold, a paltry ring That she did give me, whose poesy was For all the world like cutler’s poetry Upon a knife, “Love me, and leave me not.” (V.i.147-150) The first line, with its occurrence of both the words “gold” and “ring” signal the presence of Shakespearean magic about to be performed. The magic is a kind of hidden, though direct, and therefore unobtrusive pathway to the mind of the listener, where these two words create a round gold flashing symbol that is then followed by the words “for all the world”, indicating the cosmic significance of the 21
  22. 22. event, and then ending in the valediction: “Love me, and leave me not”, that is to say, mankind should stick with the sun economy. All the games and play with the rings, the comic mix-ups, the fuss, the farcical accusations with their sexual innuendos, the dramatic tension generated and dissipated, are all an attention-deflecting ruse for this one perfect and magical moment of truth-telling, where Shakespeare lets slip his real and didactic intentions in a bit of comedic dialogue spoken by a subordinate. Gratiano. But let us not forget one salient fact about him, a compass point that indicates Gratiano’s position: Gratiano is a Fool (in sophisticated Venetian dress) and the Fool is ever the character to tell the truth (though the truth he tells is generally unrecognized as such) because he also retains a closeness to ritual and festivity, which is to say, to the Sun. Before leaving the important topic of the gold rings, I would like to trace their route through the play. The paths they follow is intrinsic to the message of the power of art as a device to restore the sun economy to man. First, we have to remember that the golden rings originate with Portia and Nersissa, the Sun Figure and her assistant. That is totally appropriate and expected. That the sun shines is the inciter of all the action for anything. And at the end of the play, Bassanio and Gratiano have the rings, (unlike Romeo, who dies without his, though he searches for it in the tomb where Juliet is comatose, a defunct sun economy). In The Merchant of Venice, the sun economy is restored to man through the actions of the comedy. It is the Sun (Portia) who saves Antonio-Shakespeare by providing inspiration and an ultimate “answer” to coal. Thus though Shakespeare risked being compromised by having to 22
  23. 23. “carry coals”, (as someone working in a place where coal had become the primary fuel), by secretly enshrining and validating the sun economy he could save himself from moral and artistic annihilation. Through the sacrificial action of Antonio the rings come to be given to Portia and Nerissa who can then return them to Bassanio and Gratiano. Shakespeare (through identification with Antonio) is a catalyst in the process to circulate the rings, symbols of the sun, and through their circulation the rings generate and express fellowship, gratitude, understanding, forgiveness, laughter, and recognition of the values that create communal bonds. Probably these are the very same qualities we need in our own current, and very modern, struggle against the modern debt crisis. References: Freese, Barbara. Coal: A Human History . London: Penguin Group, 2003. Gatti, Hilary. Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U. Press. 1999. Greenblatt, Steven. Will in the World. New York, NY: W.W. Norton&Co., 2004. Kimura, Marianne, “’Juliet is the sun’: the Secret Anti-Coal Play in Romeo and Juliet and the Cosmic Heliocentrism of Giordano Bruno”, in Area Studies Journal, March 31, 2012. Tsukuba University. pp. 93-120. Rowland, Ingrid. Giordano Bruno: Philosopher, Heretic. Chicago: U. of C. Press. 2008. Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet in The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. Levin, Blakemore et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. Thomas, Keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. London: Penguin Books. 1971. (reprinted 1991) 23
  24. 24. Weimann, Robert. Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1978. Yates, Frances.A. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 1964 (reprinted 2009). 24