chapter  1
18 Pages

Sprezzatura and Embarrassment in The Merchant of Venice

ByHarry Berger, Jr.

This chapter shows that Helen is characterized as a stage player who interprets and applies Bertram's 'passport'-letter as a double, indeed two-step prompt, a truly theatrical cue emphasized by the repeated chiastic utterance of "Till I have no wife I have nothing in France". The crucial differences lie in the transfer of medium, from the page of the novella to the stage of the play, and in the possibilities for theatrical representation made available during the late 1500s and early 1600s. The bi-gendered English performance practice might have augmented as well as complicated, or perhaps dissipated, the metatheatrical effects of the 'diva' or 'prima donna innamorata' playing assertive and deceptive roles. At the least, and quite ironically, Helen's Italianate theatrical imagery sets in motion a mythic paradigm that will ultimately raise her bourgeois doctor's daughter self into Bertram's aristocratic orbit.