Saturday, February 11, 2012

Analyze the Riddle

I've come to realize that, while I've posted about first being intrigued about the riddle, and even finding the social revenues of continuing riddle research, I have never done any analysis myself. Well, that seems foolish, considering I will need to analyze the riddles in order to come up with a working thesis. And while I'm still going back and forth about IF I want to do riddles--there's a chance I might do something about fanfiction, which, because I haven't gone into what fanfiction is yet, that probably makes no sense to you--I still want to at least take a little while to scrutinize the riddles.

So, in The Merchant of Venice, there are (as you know) three riddles. There are also three reasons for choosing a riddle revenue and three riddle answers, but for now I just want to focus on the original riddles themselves. In order to remind us all, I've bullet-ed them here.

  • "Who chooseth me shall gain what men desire." -- Gold
  • "Who so chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves." -- Silver
  • "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." -- Lead
When I first started reading these, I had two thoughts. To make it simple, I'll break it into two different analyses. One will focus on word play, while the other will focus on (woman's) common sense.

So, word play... I focused on three separate words in the riddles: gain, get, and give. The way I looked at it, I saw three distinct interpretations, which then pointed to whether they were the correct answer or not. First, look at gain and get: I suppose one would think, looking at these, that it seems the logical choice. They are trying to receive (i.e., get or gain) a wife. But they are also limiting: By gaining something, or getting something, you have set the relationship on unequal ground--you haven't done anything to demonstrate YOUR commitment. Give, on the other hand, demonstrates a level of care and devotion. One may be hesitant to GIVE away something when he is not certain of a return, but (generally speaking) giving tends to lead to something better. Just by looking at these words, one would think the answer would be clear. 

But it that's a little chancy, I also looked at the riddles in a second way: the logical way. IF (And I suppose I am making some presumptions here, because I'm thinking of today's equivalent of a good father and a good marriage) a father is forced to give away his father, wouldn't he want the best care for her? By making his daughter a desire, he limits the amount of time she will be wanted. Bodies age, after all. Men can be flighty, and lose desire for something they are supposed to love if something younger and 'more desirable' comes along. By making his daughter something a man deserves, no one would ever get her! In a father's mind and heart, no one is ever good enough for his daughter. But by making his daughter valuable enough to be given everything for, it requires the potential husband to PROVE that the daughter is worth more than the world. Then, and only then, would a father possibly be willing to let his daughter go. 

But again, this is looking something from a woman's dreamy, idealist perspective. Things might have been different for Shakespeare. But that's the good thing about literature and dead people: in the end, it doesn't matter what they intended anymore. They're dead, they have no say. And we have the power to believe and state whatever we wish to, meaning that no thesis is a wrong thesis. So there.

1 comment:

  1. I love this evaluation. I hadn't thought about the word give as being so important, but I suppose it makes sense. When I read the riddles, I was thinking more about the words 'desire' and 'deserves.' I think the characters, too, were probably thinking about the results that would come from each box, so they paid more attention to what the riddle implied would happen after they opened the box, than what was required of them according to the riddle. Good reading! Let us know when you have a rough draft so we can see your ideas fleshed out a little more.