Monday, September 28, 2015

The Serpent of Venice

I must have been in a strange mood. Picked up Christopher Moore's 'The Serpent of Venice' at the library. It was literary satire put together from Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Othello- the Moor of Venice', and Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Cask of Amontillado'(Reviews hereherehere, and here.)

In the author's hands, these three plays became an absurd raunchy story set in Venice in 1299, a time secveral hundred years eqrlier than the source texts. It was hilarious. What fun! The plot had me in stitches with each twist and mishap. Christopher Moore stated,

The point of this, I suppose, is that I don't intend The Serpent of Venice to be a story about discrimination, although discrimination is manifest among the characters. For me, it's a story about hypocrisy and greed, courage and grief, anger and revenge. But most important, I wanted it to be a story that shows how cool it would be to have your own dragon, which I have wanted since I was five.

The author brought in Pocket the Fool from his earlier work and made him the protagonist. Then "there's always a bloody ghost" flitting around. The line came up in every other chapter. In this case, it is often the ghost of Pocket's beloved Cordelia. Well, there is a reptilian serpent slithering through the Venetian canals and waterways that has pledged allegiance to Pocket and his many quests for revenge. Those tangled him up in the city folks' murky plots, and in Shylock's daughter Jessica eventually running away with him twice. Yeah, instead of Lorenzo.

Bassanio opened the door. "There's a monkey at the door with Gratiano's hat." 
"A monkey?" 
"He says his name is Jeff." 
"He says that?" Antonio liked monkeys. He almost looked. "The monkey says that?" 
"Well, no, there's a collar around his neck, and on it there's a brass tag, and it says 'Jeff.' Oh look, there's a letter in his hat. Not the monkey's hat. Gratiano's hat." 
"What's the letter say?" 
"What's the letter say?" Bassanio asked the monkey. 
"No Bassanio, read the letter, don't ask the monkey." 
"Oh, right. He probably only reads Hebrew." 
Antonio pulled the blanket off his head and said, "What in the name of Saint fucking Mark are you talking about?"
The monkey screeched and bounded off down the stairs.  
Bassanio closed the door and turned slowly to his friend, the letter in hand. "I didn't want to tell you, since they failed so miserably ... but I hired the thieving Hebrew monkeys of La Giudecca to fix the caskets to win Portia in marriage. See here, the menorah pressed into the sealing wax, that is their sign. Funny he didn't have on a yellow Jew hat, but a little black harlequin's hat. Perhaps it's a Jewish holiday."

What a fun mash-up! The first few chapters of the story are based on 'The Cask of Amontillado'. For many reasons, I never liked The Merchant of Venice or Othello. Christopher Moore's version, I like. The writer had some fun with the language and narrative, playing with literary convention, ensuring that reading the book becomes a jovial matter. Also in the 'Afterword', the author mentioned his exasperation with Shakespeare's naming of the characters,

Further, it was annoying reality that Shakespeare named two of Antonio's associates Salarino and Salanio. A modern novelist would never do this., as the eye confuses the two similar names almost by habit. (They teach that on the first day in author school.) And in The Merchant of Venice, the two serve exactly the same function and appear to share a personality. One transcription of the play I found even added a third, Solanio, because it just wasn't confusing enough, I suppose. Thus I tried to kill off one of the Sals as soon as possible. It should be notd, however, that Shakespeare wrote the plays to be performed and not read., and each of the Sals would have been distinguished by the actor who played him, so having like-sounding names wouldn't have presented as much of a problem in the theater.

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