Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In His Opinion



It was around Ohio when I realized the trip was going well.  Six hours into our 18 hour trip back to Ottawa, and the four-year-old and two-year-old were silent in the back, enjoying their second movie before 10 a.m., the baby had fallen asleep, having surrendered all hope of getting out of her car seat, and my husband hadn’t abandoned us at the last pit stop.

Thanking God for the peace and my husband for having insisted on the dvd player in the car, I found my place in my Ignatius Press Critical Edition of The Merchant of Venice and polished off the play before Cleveland.

I put the book in my lap, closed my eyes, and sighed.  Oh, so good, I thought.  Such a great story.  And like always after having read Shakespeare, I was left wishing that I could say things like:  “Beshrow your eyes, / They have o’erlook’d me and divided me: / One half of me is yours, the other half yours—/ Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours” (III.2.14-17) I was feeling every bit part of what James Bemis in his critical essay “The Merchant of Venice on Film” refers to as “today’s semiliterate society”.

I was surprised, though, by what most moved me in the play:  Portia’s speech to her beloved suitor Bassanio after he correctly chooses the one casket from three that has her picture in it.             

After Bassanio correctly picks the leaden casket, not having been deceived by the more beautiful caskets, Portia says to him, “Though for myself alone / I would not be ambitious in my wish / To wish myself much better, yet for you, / I would be trebled twenty times myself, / A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich, / That only to stand high in your account, / I might in virtues, beauties, livings, (possessions) friends, / Exceed account.” (III.2.150-157)

I was stunned. Here, Portia the wise, prudent, loyal, beautiful, and witty heroine of the play desires that she could be even more so for her husband so that she could “stand high” in his account, and my thoroughly modern mind was shocked that she would care so much about his opinion of her.  How often we today are told that our spouses are here to accept us as we are and make us feel good about ourselves and how seldom we’re encouraged to think about how we look in their eyes and grow in virtue for their sake.

 And yet hearing this beautiful woman wanting to become better on the inside and out for her husband was so inspiring that I wanted to as well.  Right then.  Not knowing where to start, I pulled out my makeup, thinking that maybe I could begin with looking a little less frightening to my beloved traveling partner.

My husband noticed, chuckled, and told me to put away the makeup because I was already beautiful—which I was not, not even a little, after having been in the car since 4 that morning.  But I was happy that he thought so, at least.    

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Deconstructing My Bachelor of Anti-Art

I picked up the shiny Ignatius Press Critical Edition of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that my husband had ordered for his summer book club at our diocesan center.  The cover was a beauty with its Renaissance painting of Justice.  But, wait, what was this on this on the back?  Just as beautiful as the cover was a description of the scope and aim of this critical edition series:

“The Ignatius Critical Editions series represents a tradition-orientated approach to reading the Classics of world literature.”—Tradition-orientated approach, I thought, I’ve never heard such a thing in all my B.A., or, rather, my Bachelor of Anti-Art—“While many modern critical editions have succumbed to the fads of modernism and post-modernism”—Memories of my college English classes came to mind, which had all been drenched in the sadness and despair of this kind of bleak, weak literary analysis.—“this series concentrates on critical examinations informed by our Judeo-Christian heritage as passed down through the ages—the same heritage that provided the crucible in which the great authors formed these classic works.”

I cheered.  I did a fist pump and a little victory dance because here in my hand was a beautiful, erudite Catholic response based on reason, fact, and history—one that I never could have hoped to have given in class, but one which I had felt deep in my soul, even back then, must exist—to all of my college English professors who also chose to portray the classics in a post-modern, feminist, nihilistic “light”.  After all those dark, depressing lectures that had left us in the seats—we who so needed something beautiful and challenging to aspire to, something true to ruminate upon—with the conviction that, indeed, there was no higher truth than our own opinion, nothing more to reach for than simply laughing at the irony of the world, here it was—vindication. 

How I wished I could go back to class—perhaps poorly disguised in my old stretch pants and Uggs—book in hand, and stop the professor after he’d painted Portia, the obedient heroine of The Merchant of Venice who honors her father’s will by accepting in marriage the suitor who can correctly pick the casket in which her picture lay, as a victim of the patriarchical structures and gender stereotypes of the day. 

I’d pull down my glasses, clear my throat, and say, “Do you think it’s possible, Professor, that instead of languishing as a helpless victim of society, Portia here is instead freely and valiantly choosing to do her father’s will in a supreme act of selfless love”, stealing a few thoughts from Joseph Pearce of Ave Maria’s introduction, “not unlike our own Savior and His mom, and maybe we all here could learn a little from them about the beauty of obedience and fruits of self-sacrificial love.”  And my hair would be perfect.

My fantasy ends with the bell ringing and me turning on my woolly heel and marching off to Mass, leaving behind a roomful of grateful converts.

I held the book in my arms.  I supposed I couldn’t go back to class—the old gams just aren’t fit for stretch pants anymore--but I could read this book and begin my own re-education in the classics.  Time to de-Uggly my B.A.