Forgiving the Gift
The Philosophy of Generosity in Shakespeare and Marlowe
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Duquesne University Press
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Acknowledgments constitute a distinct genre, as Daniel Pennac shows to hilarious effect in his monologue, Merci. If I frustrate generic expectations, it is not because I fear acknowledging my debts. On...
Prologue: The Satanic Pact
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The central and initiating event of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is an exchange. The episodic plot achieves narrative unity in following “the form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad,” as the prologue...
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Marlowe’s Faustus makes a reciprocal exchange the basis of its plot but also presents exchange as the diabolical opposite of saving grace. In our own time, by contrast, few things attract suspicion as reliably as generosity, which we dismiss almost reflexively...
1. The Venice of Merchants
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In his moment of triumph, immediately after choosing the correct casket, Bassanio turns to Portia: “Fair lady,” he defers to her, “by your leave, / I come by note, to give and to receive.” He refuses to believe his...
2. Romans and Venetians on Grace and Exchange
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Few readers would dispute the importance of Christianity in The Merchant of Venice. Biblical references suffuse the play, providing Shylock with Old Testament citations and his Christian interlocutors with New Testament counterarguments. Critics may nevertheless...
3. “Nothing Will Come of Nothing”: Avoiding the Gift in King Lear
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Mauss insists not only upon the ubiquity of exchange but also that a belief in pure generosity obfuscates it.1 This assumption governs a number of readings of King Lear. William Flesch, for instance, cites...
4. Speaking and Betraying Love
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Despite a great deal of commentary, the nature of Antonio’s love for Bassanio remains opaque. Antonio himself expresses bewilderment at his own emotions in the play’s opening line: “In sooth, I know not...
5. The “Dearest Friend” in Edward II
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The theme of friendship commands attention in Marlowe’s Edward II. The words “friend,” “friends” or “friendly” occur a total of 55 times, compared to 37 times in the combined parts of Tamburlaine and...
6. Listening to Lavinia: Emmanuel Levinas’s Saying and Said in Titus AndronicusM
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King Lear and Faustus reveal exaggerated faith in the reciprocity of exchange as a tragic error. Even in the comedic world of The Merchant of Venice, the rejection of free gifts implies also the rejection of a doctrine of salvation...
7. Returning to the World: Prospero’s Generosity and Power
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“‘The true life is absent,’” Levinas writes, quoting Arthur Rimbaud, in the opening words of Totality and Infinity. “But,” Levinas continues in his own voice, “we must live in the world. Metaphysics arises and is maintained...
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To the frustration of biographical criticism, Shakespeare writes almost entirely in the voices of characters. In response, James S. Shapiro turns away from Shakespeare’s psychology and personal views to “what can be known with...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012