The Columbia University Shakespeare Seminar's next meeting will be April 13th. Patricia Akhimie (Rutgers-Newark) will give a paper titled "'Qualities of Breeding': Race, Class, and Conduct in The Merchant of Venice."
The event will be held in Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive. As usual, social hour will be from 5-6, dinner 6-7, and the talk 7-8:30. The cost for dinner, payable by check only, is $30. When you RSVP please indicate whether or not you plan to come to dinner (by Tuesday April 3).
The processes by which people prove their worth—beyond the immediate gifts of high family rank, or wealth that some receive from birth—involve not only their marketable skills, but also their more decorative achievements of comportment and style, the art of conducting oneself in such a way as to acquire the admiration of others. These are skills that go beyond the salable, that are desirable and admirable rather than useful. These are the “qualities of breeding” of which the Prince of Morocco boasts and which he hopes will outweigh any aversion to his “complexion” (MV 2.7.33). The Prince of Morocco believes himself to be a catch; rich “in birth . . . in fortunes, / in graces and in qualities of breeding,” he has rank, wealth, and cultivated behaviors, “qualities”—exercises, activities, or behaviors that are appropriate for men of rank and thus indicative of that rank (2.7.32-33). He fails to understand that he is not in a position to judge his own worth. Similarly, Shylock is deemed unable to understand the difference between being “good” and being “sufficient”—between a reputation for gentility and the mere accumulation of wealth. For Shylock and Portia’s suitors in The Merchant of Venice, as for all people in a culture of conduct, carefully cultivated behavior has as much to do with identity and relative worth as does nation, religion, or phenotype. A breach of the conduct code may thus represent an insurmountable and, indeed, a racial difference.