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Iconology in "The Merchant of Venice".

Gambling, Stella; (1990) Iconology in "The Merchant of Venice". Doctoral thesis (Ph.D.), University College London. Green open access

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The Merchant of Venice has been, to a great extent, isolated from serious iconographic work. Most critical analyses tend to return to the same themes, for example the character of Shylock. The study of visual imagery in Shakespeare attracted research which peaked in the 1960s, gaining fresh impetus from the emergence of a new approach which redirected iconographic interpretations with reference to the emblem books and Elizabethan pageantry. Interest then decreased, although the subject was by no means exhausted. In 1973 N. Alexander commented 'it seems time for a more substantial demonstration' of the theatrical and iconographic approach to Shakespearean imagery, but to date this has not happened. Some studies have dealt with the iconographic pictures of Portia as the New Law and Shylock as the Old, and some have explored, although not in great depth, some emblematic themes in the casket scenes3. Until this thesis no one, as far as I have been able to discover, has yet given a picture of the whole play in terms of its imagery, emblematism and iconography; yet it presents its material with an unusual visual emphasis, not only in the overtly emblematic casket scenes, but throughout the play. Shakespeare's use of iconology in this play can teach us much about his methods generally: for example, it reveals a wide range of sources and influences which include the popular emblem books, philosophical tracts, the Bible, folk-tales, paintings and topical issues of contemporary life (such as the ethics of anatomy) some of which have not been, until now, related to the play. One reason why critics have avoided treating the play in a comprehensive way may be the very richness of its themes, especially those dealing with paired opposites such as Love/Money, Mercy/Justice, Love/Friendship, Appearance/Reality and Familiar/Alien. In addition the play deals with a subject which in the latter half of the twentieth century we are at pains to minimise; that of anti-Semitism. To further complicate things, the genre of the play is hard to determine. This thesis explores new insights into the iconographic elements which give emphasis to the stage pictures presented, in a comprehensive study of the whole play, both in the richness of its language and imagery, and in its thematic content and its implications beyond the contemporary theatrical world. What emerges from such a study falls into sections in the thesis on Emblems, the Caskets, Rings, Antonio as an Anatomy Subject, The Jew as Alien and Usurer and Justice and Mercy. The principal appendix outlines the History of the Science of Anatomy.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D.
Title: Iconology in "The Merchant of Venice".
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by Proquest
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10108282
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