Antonio’s sad flesh

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2100-01-01
Date
2022-08-18
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Source Title
Shakespeare
Print ISSN
Electronic ISSN
1745-0926
Publisher
British Shakespeare Association
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Pages
1 - 17
Language
English
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Abstract

This article examines different meanings attached to the adjective ‘sad’ in the 1590s in order to reinterpret the sexual politics of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The play’s title character Antonio famously proclaims that he performs ‘a sad [part]’ on the world’s ‘stage’. Critics have related this apparent declaration of melancholy to Antonio’s love for Bassanio and the heartbreak he may experience when the latter marries Portia. However, by examining the word's largely forgotten physiological meanings, I show that ‘sad’ was also a non-judgmental term for a man who lacks interest in procreation. Antonio’s embrace of this label has implications both for the play’s sexual politics and for its representation of putatively non-generative market economics.

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