Abstract

Abstract:

Why another reading of Shakespeare's famous play, buried under so many strata of commentaries? Because, from its distant past, The Merchant of Venice seems to have anticipated today's generalization of financial derivatives. A derivative is "an asset . . . whose value is based on that of another asset." And in "contemporary finance," as Arjun Appadurai puts it in Banking On Words, these "chains of links" have become "indefinitely long," with the selling and re-selling of packages made of promises of promises of promises. . . . Shakespeare's play appears in retrospect as a draft of these derivative promissory chains, with its debt derived of a debt (Bassanio indebted to Antonio indebted to Shylock) or with its marriage derived of a marriage (Gratiano and Nerissa marrying if Bassanio and Portia marry). If today's financial concepts somehow "read" The Merchant of Venice, then, conversely, the play might be "reading" the crucial role that time plays in contemporary finance. Indeed, drawing on Freud and Sarah Kofman, following their derivative comments, I try to show that what is at stake is "the very riping of the time" (act 2, scene 8).

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