Las Ruinas Circulares – Jorge Luis Borges

Nadie lo vio desembarcar en la unánime noche, nadie vio la canoa de bambú sumiéndose en el fango sagrado, pero a los pocos días nadie ignoraba que el hombre taciturno venía del Sur y que su patria era una de las infinitas aldeas que están aguas arriba, en el flanco violento de la montaña, donde el idioma zend no está contaminado de griego y donde es infrecuente la lepra. Lo cierto es que el hombre gris besó el fango, repechó la ribera sin apartar (probablemente, sin sentir) las cortaderas que le dilaceraban las carnes y se arrastró, mareado y ensangrentado, hasta el recinto circular que corona un tigre o caballo de piedra, que tuvo alguna vez el color del fuego y ahora el de la ceniza. Ese redondel es un templo que devoraron los incendios antiguos, que la selva palúdica ha profanado y cuyo dios no recibe honor de los hombres. El forastero se tendió bajo el pedestal. Lo despertó el sol alto. Comprobó sin asombro que las heridas habían cicatrizado; cerró los ojos pálidos y durmió, no por flaqueza de la carne sino por determinación de la voluntad. Sabía que ese templo era el lugar que requería su invencible propósito; sabía que los árboles incesantes no habían logrado estrangular, río abajo, las ruinas de otro templo propicio, también de dioses incendiados y muertos; sabía que su inmediata obligación era el sueño. Hacia la medianoche lo despertó el grito inconsolable de un pájaro. Rastros de pies descalzos, unos higos y un cántaro le advirtieron que los hombres de la región habían espiado con respeto su sueño y solicitaban su amparo o temían su magia. Sintió el frío del miedo y buscó en la muralla dilapidada un nicho sepulcral y se tapó con hojas desconocidas.

El propósito que lo guiaba no era imposible, aunque sí sobrenatural. Quería soñar un hombre: quería soñarlo con integridad minuciosa e imponerlo a la realidad. Ese proyecto mágico había agotado el espacio entero de su alma; si alguien le hubiera preguntado su propio nombre o cualquier rasgo de su vida anterior, no habría acertado a responder. Le convenía el templo inhabitado y despedazado, porque era un mínimo de mundo visible; la cercanía de los leñadores también, porque éstos se encargaban de subvenir a sus necesidades frugales. El arroz y las frutas de su tributo eran pábulo suficiente para su cuerpo, consagrado a la única tarea de dormir y soñar.

Al principio, los sueños eran caóticos; poco después, fueron de naturaleza dialéctica. El forastero se soñaba en el centro de un anfiteatro circular que era de algún modo el templo incendiado: nubes de alumnos taciturnos fatigaban las gradas; las caras de los últimos pendían a muchos siglos de distancia y a una altura estelar, pero eran del todo precisas. El hombre les dictaba lecciones de anatomía, de cosmografía, de magia: los rostros escuchaban con ansiedad y procuraban responder con entendimiento, como si adivinaran la importancia de aquel examen, que redimiría a uno de ellos de su condición de vana apariencia y lo interpolaría en el mundo real. El hombre, en el sueño y en la vigilia, consideraba las respuestas de sus fantasmas, no se dejaba embaucar por los impostores, adivinaba en ciertas perplejidades una inteligencia creciente. Buscaba un alma que mereciera participar en el universo.

A las nueve o diez noches comprendió con alguna amargura que nada podía esperar de aquellos alumnos que aceptaban con pasividad su doctrina y sí de aquellos que arriesgaban, a veces, una contradicción razonable. Los primeros, aunque dignos de amor y de buen afecto, no podían ascender a individuos; los últimos preexistían un poco más. Una tarde (ahora también las tardes eran tributarias del sueño, ahora no velaba sino un par de horas en el amanecer) licenció para siempre el vasto colegio ilusorio y se quedó con un solo alumno. Era un muchacho taciturno, cetrino, díscolo a veces, de rasgos afilados que repetían los de su soñador. No lo desconcertó por mucho tiempo la brusca eliminación de los condiscípulos; su progreso, al cabo de unas pocas lecciones particulares, pudo maravillar al maestro. Sin embargo, la catástrofe sobrevino. El hombre, un día, emergió del sueño como de un desierto viscoso, miró la vana luz de la tarde que al pronto confundió con la aurora y comprendió que no había soñado. Toda esa noche y todo el día, la intolerable lucidez del insomnio se abatió contra él. Quiso explorar la selva, extenuarse; apenas alcanzó entre la cicuta unas rachas de sueño débil, veteadas fugazmente de visiones de tipo rudimental: inservibles. Quiso congregar el colegio y apenas hubo articulado unas breves palabras de exhortación, éste se deformó, se borró. En la casi perpetua vigilia, lágrimas de ira le quemaban los viejos ojos.

Comprendió que el empeño de modelar la materia incoherente y vertiginosa de que se componen los sueños es el más arduo que puede acometer un varón, aunque penetre todos los enigmas del orden superior y del inferior: mucho más arduo que tejer una cuerda de arena o que amonedar el viento sin cara. Comprendió que un fracaso inicial era inevitable. Juró olvidar la enorme alucinación que lo había desviado al principio y buscó otro método de trabajo. Antes de ejercitarlo, dedicó un mes a la reposición de las fuerzas que había malgastado el delirio. Abandonó toda premeditación de soñar y casi acto continuo logró dormir un trecho razonable del día. Las raras veces que soñó durante ese período, no reparó en los sueños. Para reanudar la tarea, esperó que el disco de la luna fuera perfecto. Luego, en la tarde, se purificó en las aguas del río, adoró los dioses planetarios, pronunció las sílabas lícitas de un nombre poderoso y durmió. Casi inmediatamente, soñó con un corazón que latía.

Lo soñó activo, caluroso, secreto, del grandor de un puño cerrado, color granate en la penumbra de un cuerpo humano aun sin cara ni sexo; con minucioso amor lo soñó, durante catorce lúcidas noches. Cada noche, lo percibía con mayor evidencia. No lo tocaba: se limitaba a atestiguarlo, a observarlo, tal vez a corregirlo con la mirada. Lo percibía, lo vivía, desde muchas distancias y muchos ángulos. La noche catorcena rozó la arteria pulmonar con el índice y luego todo el corazón, desde afuera y adentro. El examen lo satisfizo. Deliberadamente no soñó durante una noche: luego retomó el corazón, invocó el nombre de un planeta y emprendió la visión de otro de los órganos principales. Antes de un año llegó al esqueleto, a los párpados. El pelo innumerable fue tal vez la tarea más difícil. Soñó un hombre íntegro, un mancebo, pero éste no se incorporaba ni hablaba ni podía abrir los ojos. Noche tras noche, el hombre lo soñaba dormido.

En las cosmogonías gnósticas, los demiurgos amasan un rojo Adán que no logra ponerse de pie; tan inhábil y rudo y elemental como ese Adán de polvo era el Adán de sueño que las noches del mago habían fabricado. Una tarde, el hombre casi destruyó toda su obra, pero se arrepintió. (Más le hubiera valido destruirla.) Agotados los votos a los númenes de la tierra y del río, se arrojó a los pies de la efigie que tal vez era un tigre y tal vez un potro, e imploró su desconocido socorro. Ese crepúsculo, soñó con la estatua. La soñó viva, trémula: no era un atroz bastardo de tigre y potro, sino a la vez esas dos criaturas vehementes y también un toro, una rosa, una tempestad. Ese múltiple dios le reveló que su nombre terrenal era Fuego, que en ese templo circular (y en otros iguales) le habían rendido sacrificios y culto y que mágicamente animaría al fantasma soñado, de suerte que todas las criaturas, excepto el Fuego mismo y el soñador, lo pensaran un hombre de carne y hueso. Le ordenó que una vez instruido en los ritos, lo enviaría al otro templo despedazado cuyas pirámides persisten aguas abajo, para que alguna voz lo glorificara en aquel edificio desierto. En el sueño del hombre que soñaba, el soñado se despertó.

El mago ejecutó esas órdenes. Consagró un plazo (que finalmente abarcó dos años) a descubrirle los arcanos del universo y del culto del fuego. Íntimamente, le dolía apartarse de él. Con el pretexto de la necesidad pedagógica, dilataba cada día las horas dedicadas al sueño. También rehizo el hombro derecho, acaso deficiente. A veces, lo inquietaba una impresión de que ya todo eso había acontecido… En general, sus días eran felices; al cerrar los ojos pensaba: Ahora estaré con mi hijo. O, más raramente: El hijo que he engendrado me espera y no existirá si no voy.

Gradualmente, lo fue acostumbrando a la realidad. Una vez le ordenó que embanderara una cumbre lejana. Al otro día, flameaba la bandera en la cumbre. Ensayó otros experimentos análogos, cada vez más audaces. Comprendió con cierta amargura que su hijo estaba listo para nacer -y tal vez impaciente. Esa noche lo besó por primera vez y lo envió al otro templo cuyos despojos blanqueaban río abajo, a muchas leguas de inextricable selva y de ciénaga. Antes (para que no supiera nunca que era un fantasma, para que se creyera un hombre como los otros) le infundió el olvido total de sus años de aprendizaje.

Su victoria y su paz quedaron empañadas de hastío. En los crepúsculos de la tarde y del alba, se prosternaba ante la figura de piedra, tal vez imaginando que su hijo irreal ejecutaba idénticos ritos, en otras ruinas circulares, aguas abajo; de noche no soñaba, o soñaba como lo hacen todos los hombres. Percibía con cierta palidez los sonidos y formas del universo: el hijo ausente se nutría de esas disminuciones de su alma. El propósito de su vida estaba colmado; el hombre persistió en una suerte de éxtasis. Al cabo de un tiempo que ciertos narradores de su historia prefieren computar en años y otros en lustros, lo despertaron dos remeros a medianoche: no pudo ver sus caras, pero le hablaron de un hombre mágico en un templo del Norte, capaz de hollar el fuego y de no quemarse. El mago recordó bruscamente las palabras del dios. Recordó que de todas las criaturas que componen el orbe, el fuego era la única que sabía que su hijo era un fantasma. Ese recuerdo, apaciguador al principio, acabó por atormentarlo. Temió que su hijo meditara en ese privilegio anormal y descubriera de algún modo su condición de mero simulacro. No ser un hombre, ser la proyección del sueño de otro hombre ¡qué humillación incomparable, qué vértigo! A todo padre le interesan los hijos que ha procreado (que ha permitido) en una mera confusión o felicidad; es natural que el mago temiera por el porvenir de aquel hijo, pensado entraña por entraña y rasgo por rasgo, en mil y una noches secretas.

El término de sus cavilaciones fue brusco, pero lo prometieron algunos signos. Primero (al cabo de una larga sequía) una remota nube en un cerro, liviana como un pájaro; luego, hacia el Sur, el cielo que tenía el color rosado de la encía de los leopardos; luego las humaredas que herrumbraron el metal de las noches; después la fuga pánica de las bestias. Porque se repitió lo acontecido hace muchos siglos. Las ruinas del santuario del dios del fuego fueron destruidas por el fuego. En un alba sin pájaros el mago vio cernirse contra los muros el incendio concéntrico. Por un instante, pensó refugiarse en las aguas, pero luego comprendió que la muerte venía a coronar su vejez y a absolverlo de sus trabajos. Caminó contra los jirones de fuego. Éstos no mordieron su carne, éstos lo acariciaron y lo inundaron sin calor y sin combustión. Con alivio, con humillación, con terror, comprendió que él también era una apariencia, que otro estaba soñándolo.

Carta de Despedida – Gabriel García Márquez

“Si por un momento Dios se olvidará de que soy una marioneta de trapo y me regalara un trozo de vida, posiblemente no diría todo lo que pienso, pero en definitiva pensaría todo lo que digo. Daría valor a las cosas, no por lo que valen, sino por lo que significan. Dormiría poco, soñaría más. Entiendo que por cada minuto que cerramos los ojos perdemos sesenta segundos de luz. Andaría cuando los demás se detienen, despertaría cuando los demás duermen, escucharía cuando los demás hablan y ¡cómo disfrutaría de un buen helado de chocolate!
Si Dios me obsequiara un trozo de vida, vestiría sencillo, me tiraría de bruces al sol, dejando descubierto, no solamente mi cuerpo sino mi alma. Dios mío, si yo tuviera un corazón, escribiría mi odio sobre el hielo y esperaría a que saliera el sol. Pintaría con un sueño de Van Gogh sobre las estrellas un poema de Benedetti, una canción de Serrat sería la serenata.
Regaría con mis lágrimas las rosas, para sentir el dolor de sus espinas y el encarnado beso de suspétalos…
Dios mío si yo tuviera un trozo de vida… no dejaría pasar un solo día sin decirle a la gente que quiero que la quiero. Convencería a cada hombre o mujer de que son mis favoritos y viviría enamorado del amor. A los hombres les probaría cuán equivocados están al pensar que dejan de enamorarse cuando envejecen, sin saber que envejecen cuando dejan de enamorarse. A un niño le daría alas, pero le dejaría que él solo aprendiese a volar. A los viejos les enseñaría que la muerte no llega con la vejez sino con el olvido.
Tantas cosas he aprendido de ustedes, los hombres… he aprendido que todo el mundo quiere vivir en la cima de la montaña, sin saber que la verdadera felicidad está en la forma de subir la escarpada. He aprendido que cuando un recién nacido aprieta con su pequeño puño, por vez primera, el dedo de su padre, lo tiene atrapado por siempre. He aprendido que un hombre sólo tiene derecho a mirar a otro hacia abajo cuando ha de ayudarle a levantarse. Son tantas las cosas que he podido aprender de ustedes, pero realmente de mucho no habrán de servir, porque cuando me guarden dentro de esa maleta, infelizmente me estaré muriendo.
Siempre di lo que sientes y haz lo que piensas. Si supiera que hoy es última vez que te voy a ver dormir, te abrazaría fuertemente y rezaría al Señor para poder ser el guardián de tu alma. Si supiera que esta fuera la última vez que te vea salir por la puerta, te daría un abrazo, un beso y te llamaría de nuevo para darte más. Si supiera que ésta fuera la última vez que voy a oír tu voz, grabaría cada una de tus palabras para poder oírlas una y otra vez indefinidamente. Si supiera que estos son los últimos momentos que te veo, diría TE QUIERO y no asumiría tontamente que ya lo sabes.
Siempre hay un mañana y la vida nos da otra oportunidad para hacer las cosas bien, pero por si me equivoco y hoy es todo lo que nos queda, me gustaría decirte cuanto te quiero, que nunca te olvidaré. El mañana no le está asegurado a nadie, joven o viejo. Hoy puede ser la última vez que veas a los que amas. Por eso no esperes más, hazlo hoy, ya que si el mañana nunca llega, seguramente lamentarás el día que no tomaste tiempo para una sonrisa, un abrazo, un beso y que estuviste muy ocupado para concederles un último deseo. Mantén a los que amas cerca de ti, diles al oído lo mucho que los necesites, quiérelos y trátalos bien, toma tiempo para decirles lo siento, perdóname, por favor, gracias y todas las palabras de amor que conoces.”

Juan López y John Ward – Jorge Luis Borges (relato)

Juan López y John Ward

Les tocó en suerte una época extraña. El planeta había sido parcelado en distintos países, cada uno provisto de lealtades, de queridas memorias, de un pasado sin duda heroico, de derechos, de agravios, de una mitología peculiar, de próceres de bronce, de aniversarios, de demagogos y de símbolos.

Esa división, cara a los cartógrafos, auspiciaba las guerras. López había nacido en la ciudad junto al río inmóvil; Ward en la ciudad por la que caminó Father Brown. Había estudiado castellano para leer El Quijote.

El otro profesaba el amor de Conrad, que le había sido revelado en un aula de la calle Viamonte. Hubieran sido amigos, pero se vieron una sola vez cara a cara, en unas islas demasiado famosas, y cada uno de los dos fue Caín, y cada uno, Abel.

Los enterraron juntos. La nieve y la corrupción los conocen.

El hecho que refiero pasó en un tiempo que no podemos entender.

                                                                   (25 años de la guerra que nunca debió ocurrir)

 

The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder

Plot Summary

Part One: Perhaps an Accident

The first few pages of the first chapter of The Bridge of San Luis Rey explain the book’s basic premise: this story centers on an event that happened in Lima, Peru, at noon of Friday, June 12, 1714. A bridge woven by the Incas a century earlier collapsed at that particular moment, while five people were crossing it. The collapse was witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk who was on his way to cross it. Curious about why God would allow such a tragedy, he decides to take a scientific approach to the question. He sets out to interview everyone he can find who knew the five victims. Over the course of six years, he compiles a huge book. Part One foretells the burning of the book that occurs at the end of the novel, but it also says that one copy of Brother Juniper’s book survives and is at the library of the University of San Marco, where it sits neglected.

Part Two: the Marquesa de Montemayor

The second section focuses on one of the victims of the collapse: Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor. She was the daughter of a cloth merchant, an ugly child who eventually entered into an arranged marriage and bore a daughter, Clara, whom she loved dearly. Clara was indifferent to her mother, though, and married a Spanish man and moved across the ocean. Doña María visits her daughter, but when they cannot get along, she returns to Lima. The only way that they can communicate comfortably is by letter, and Doña María pours her heart into her writing, which becomes so polished that her letters will be read in schools for hundreds of years after her death.

Doña María takes as her companion Pepita, a girl raised at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas. When she learns that her daughter in Spain is pregnant, Doña María decides to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of SantaMaría de Cluxambuqua. Pepita goes along as company and to supervise the staff. When DoñaMaría is out at the shrine, Pepita stays at the inn and writes a letter to her patron, the Abbess, complaining about her misery and loneliness. DoñaMaría sees the letter on the table when she gets back and reads it. Later, she asks Pepita about the letter, and Pepita says she burned it because it was not brave to write it. DoñaMaría has new insight into the ways in which her own life has lacked bravery, but the next morning, returning to Lima, she and Pepita are on the bridge when it collapses.

Part Three: Esteban

Esteban and Manuel are twins who were left at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas as infants. The Abbess of the convent, MadreMaría del Pilar, developed a fondness for them as they grew up. When they became older, they decided to be scribes. They are so close that they have developed a secret language that only they understand. Their closeness becomes strained when Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole.

The Perichole flirts with Manuel and swears him to secrecy when she retains him to write letters to her lover, the Viceroy. Esteban has no idea of their relationship until she turns up at the twins’ room one night in a hurry and has Manuel write to a bullfighter with whom she is having an affair. Esteban encourages his brother to follow her, but instead Manuel swears that he will never see her again.

Manuel cuts his knee on a piece of metal and it becomes infected. The surgeon instructs Esteban to put cold compresses on the injury: the compresses are so painful that Manuel curses Esteban, though he later remembers nothing of his curses. Esteban offers to send for the Perichole, but Manuel refuses. Soon after, Manuel dies.

When the Abbess comes to prepare the body, she asks Esteban his name, and he says he is Manuel. Gossip about his ensuing strange behavior spreads all over town. He goes to the theater but runs away before the Perichole can talk to him; the Abbess tries to talk to him, but he runs away, so she sends for Captain Alvarado.

Captain Alvarado goes to see Esteban in Cuzco and hires him to sail with him. Esteban agrees. He wants his pay in advance in order to buy a present for the Abbess. The Captain offers to take him back to Lima to buy the present, and at the ravine, the Captain goes down to a boat that is ferrying some materials across the water. Esteban goes to the bridge and is on it when it collapses.

Part Four: Uncle Pio

Uncle Pio acts as Camila Perichole’s maid, and, in addition, "her singing-master, her coiffeur, her masseur, her reader, her errand-boy, her banker; rumor added: her father." The story tells of his background. He has traveled the world engaged in a variety of businesses, most related to the theater or politics, including conducting interrogations for the Inquisition. He came to realize that he had just three interests in the world: independence; the constant presence of beautiful women; and work with the masterpieces of Spanish literature, particularly in the theater.

He becomes rich working for the Viceroy. One day, he discovers a twelve-year-old café singer, Micaela Villegas, and takes her under his protection. Over the course of years, as they travel from country to country, she becomes beautiful and talented. She develops into Camila Perichole, the most honored actress in Lima.

After years of success, Perichole becomes bored with the stage. The Viceroy takes her as his mistress, and she and Uncle Pio and the Archbishop of Peru and, eventually, Captain Alvarado meet frequently at midnight for dinner at the Viceroy’s mansion. Through it all, Uncle Pio is faithfully devoted, but as Camila ages and has three children by the Viceroy she focuses on becoming a lady, not an actress. She avoids Uncle Pio, and when he talks to her she tells him to not use her stage name.

When a small-pox epidemic sweeps through Lima, Camila is disfigured by it. She takes her son Jaime to the country. Uncle Pio sees her one night trying hopelessly to cover her pock-marked face with powder: ashamed, she refuses to ever see him again. He begs her to allow him to take her son and teach the boy as he taught her. They leave the next morning. Uncle Pio and Jaime are the fourth and fifth people on the bridge to Lima when it collapses.

Part Five: Perhaps an Intention

Brother Juniper works for six years on his book about the bridge collapse, trying various mathematical formulae to measure spiritual traits, with no results. He compiles his huge book of interviews, but a council pronounces his work heresy, and the book and Brother Juniper are burned in the town square.

The story shifts back in time to the day of a service for those who died in the bridge collapse. The Archbishop, the Viceroy, and Captain Alvarado are at the ceremony. At the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, the Abbess feels, having lost Pepita and the twin brothers, that her work will die with her. Camila Perichole comes to ask how she can go on, having lost her son and Uncle Pio. Doña Clara comes: throughout the book she has been in Spain, and no one in Lima knows her. As she views the sick and poor being taken cared for at the convent, she is moved. The novel ends with the Abbess’s observation: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Themes

Search for Knowledge

After witnessing the collapse of the bridge, Brother Juniper does not embark on a quest to find the physical causes that would explain why a structure that has stood for a thousand years would give out at that particular time. He takes such tragedy as a part of life, like disease and old age. Instead of concerning himself with physics, which is not his field of expertise, Brother Juniper takes a theological approach. He is determined to use scientific methods to try to understand God’s will. He creates a scale for measuring such abstract moral values as piety and goodness, and he applies his scale to people who have suffered from tragedy and those who have not, in order to find the proper relation between them. Because the bridge collapse is such a freak accident with a limited number of victims, he feels that the event poses a rare opportunity to conduct his study with a manageable sampling.

Even though the lives of five people represent a small group, Brother Juniper finds out that there are so many minute facets to their lives that nothing can be measured. He compiles thousands of pages of information but is not able to draw any satisfactory conclusions from them. He does not find commonality between the lives of those killed and so is not able to point to any particular characteristic that would mark these individuals for tragedy.

Though Brother Juniper’s line of inquiry is fruitless, the book does not leave the search for knowledge completely unfulfilled. It ends with the suggestion that there is, after all, some reason for an otherwise senseless tragedy: the event brings together people such as Doña Clara, Camila Perichole, and the Abbess of the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, who would otherwise not have any relationship to each other, and it gives hope that the Abbess’s work with the poor and suffering will be continued. Though this knowledge gives meaning to an event after it has happened, it is no good for predicting, as science attempts, when a similar event is going to occur.

Parental Love

Another theme in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the relationship between doting parents and ungrateful children, is established early in the novel, in the story of the Marquesa de Montemayor, who leads a lonesome life in Lima, pining away for attention from her daughter, Doña Clara, even though she receives no love in return. This parental devotion is reflected in the relationship between Camila Perichole and her son, Don Jaime, whom she treats kindly but holds at a distance. Wilder does not show her to be unloving, but she is more concerned with appearances than with expressing her affection.

The fathers in this novel present similar contrasts. Captain Alvarado is explained to be ruled by the memory of his dead daughter, so devoted to her that even in her absence she is the driving force behind his every moment. The Viceroy, on the other hand, is unmoved by the death of his son Don Jaime in the bridge collapse, concerning himself with public appearances at the memorial service, wondering how much sorrow to show.

The story is also filled with symbolic parent-child relationships. The Abbess, of course, since she is in charge of the orphanage, has a parental role in the upbringing of Pepita, Manuel, and Esteban. Uncle Pio behaves like a father to Camila and, at the end of his story, is ready to assume a similar role toward her son Don Jaime: ironically, Camila rejects him as strongly as Doña Clara rejects her own mother, also out of social embarrassment. The orphans attach themselves to parental figures when Esteban lets himself fall under the guidance of Captain Alvarado and Pepita becomes fiercely devoted to the Marquesa, although she treats Pepita badly.

Epiphany

In literature, an epiphany is a sudden realization that allows a character to view the world in a completely new way. Some of the characters in this book have epiphanies before their deaths, and some do not. For instance, just before going to the bridge, Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor, realizes that she has not been brave in the past, an insight that cuts through the self-delusions that allowed her to hide her embarrassing lifestyle from herself. Similarly, the novel hints that Captain Alvarado’s explanation to Esteban that "Time keeps passing by" appears to have stopped Esteban’s suicide and given him a reason to go on in spite of his grief for his brother Manuel, even though a catastrophe takes his life just minutes later. Madre María del Pilar, the Abbess, is falling into despair that her life’s work will be for nothing before realizing, in a flash, that the appearances of Doña Clara and Camila Perichole at the convent constitute a sign that there is a connection between all people dead and living.

The one notable exception in this book is Brother Juniper, who devotes his life to the search for understanding and, in the end, receives none. Though he compiles his book with good intention, the accusations of the religious tribunal that finds against him make him doubt his own motives. He prays for someone to believe in him, but dies without knowing that a delegation supporting his views has come. Upon his death, he is even afraid to call out to God, being too unsure of his right to do so because he might be evil.

 

Characters

Captain Alvarado

Captain Alvarado is a world traveler, known to many of the characters in the novel. Uncle Pio brings him into the group that has frequent midnight dinners at the estate of the Viceroy, and the Marquesa de Montemayor writes about him in a letter to her daughter. The Abbess of the Convent Santa María Rosa de la Rosas sends for him when she hears that Esteban is grieving the loss of his twin brother Manuel, knowing that both boys have sailed with the Captain before. The Captain goes to Esteban and convinces him to not commit suicide, consoling him, "It isn’t for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You’ll be surprised at the way time passes."

The force driving Captain Alvarado is that he once had a daughter, who died while he was away at sea. The Marquesa says about him in her letter, "You will laugh at me, but I think he goes about the hemispheres to pass the time between now and his old age."

Archbishop of Lima

The Archbishop is an epicure, more concerned with good food and good wine than with salvation. He is part of the group that meets at the Viceroy’s mansion each evening for long, all-night dinners, to discuss politics and philosophy. He considers himself to be an amateur philologist, so when he hears about the secret language that Manuel and Esteban use for speaking to each other, he calls them to teach it to him, but when he sees how embarrassed they are about it he allows them to leave.

Doña Clara

Clara is the daughter of Doña María. DoñaMaría loves her dearly and centers her life on her daughter, though Clara is, for the most part, disinterested in her mother and even somewhat embarrassed by her. When she is old enough to marry, Clara weds a Spanish nobleman and moves to Spain. Her mother visits her there once, but they do not get along, so their primary means of communication is through letters, which take six months in transit each way by ship.

Doña Clara makes her first appearance in the book at the very end, when she shows up at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas on the day that there is to be a memorial for her mother and the other victims of the bridge collapse. Following the Abbess through the convent, she sees the sick and old people who are cared for there. The Abbess expects her to leave, but she stays, looking at the wretched people whom she has never been so near in her privileged life, learning about suffering that she never understood before.

Conde Vincente D’abuirre

The husband of Doña Clara has little to do in this novel. At one point, his amusement at the letters written by his mother-in-law, the Marquesa de Montemayor, is mentioned. Also, the Viceroy forces his mistress, Camila Perichole, to apologize after she has made fun of the Marquesa because he has business in Spain and he knows that Conde Vincente is a very powerful figure there.

Marquesa de Montemayor

See Doña María

Don Andrés de Ribera

The Viceroy, Don Andrés, has had a hard life, and is a broken-down old man with a high title. He is crippled with gout, a widower without children. He hires Uncle Pio to look after secret affairs for him, and through Uncle Pio he meets Camila Perichole and takes her as his mistress. She adores him.

When she sings a song that insults the Marquesa de Montemayor, Don Andrés forces her to apologize for three reasons: to keep peace in Lima; to humble his mistress because he suspects her of cheating on him with a matador; and to curry favor with the Spanish court, to which the Marquesa’s son-in-law belongs.

At the memorial service for the victims of the bridge collapse, the Viceroy is very conscious of people looking at him, expecting for him to grieve for his dead son Don Jaime. He wonders where the boy’s mother, the Perichole, is, having no contact with her.

Abbess Madre María Del Pilar

The Abbess, head of the Convent SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, is instrumental in the stories of two victims of the bridge collapse. In addition to being in charge of the orphanage, she runs a hospital for the old, sick, and infirm. The narrative refers to her as "that strange genius of Lima."

The Abbess raises the orphan Pepita and decides to give her a chance at a worldly education by sending her off to be the companion of the Marquesa de Montemayor. She also raises the twins, Manuel and Esteban, of whom she is very fond, even though she is not generally fond of men.

After the bridge collapse kills Pepita and Esteban, the Abbess is left forlorn. She has lost two of her favorite people, and she foresees that, once she herself is dead, there will be no one to run the convent and care for the poor. This conclusion becomes uncertain at the end, though, when the previously haughty actress Camila Perichole comes to her for consolation and the rich Doña Clara, who ignored her own mother most of her life, shows an interest in helping the poor. The Abbess sees how a tragedy can bring together people who would otherwise have no connection.

Esteban

Esteban and Manual are twins who were abandoned at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas as infants. They are inseparable, traveling the world as sailors and developing a secret language that is understood only by them.

One day, when the Perichole comes to their house to request Manuel write a letter for her to her lover, Esteban notices that Manuel is in love with her. This drives a wedge through their close relationship, but Esteban tells his brother to follow her; instead, Manuel declares that his infatuation with her is over and that he will never see her again.

Later, an injury on Manuel’s leg becomes infected. Manuel is in so much pain that he curses Esteban’s efforts to heal the wound, damning him to hell. Manuel eventually dies, and Esteban acts crazy, shunning all people and giving his name as "Manuel" when asked.

An old friend, Captain Alvarado, finds Esteban drinking in a restaurant and invites him to sail the world with him. Esteban agrees, as long as he can be kept constantly busy, so that he will not be reminded with his brother. The next morning, he says that he has changed his mind and that he cannot leave Peru, but the Captain reminds him that he had expressed interest in buying a present for the Abbess of the orphanage who raised him. He goes to his room, and the Captain follows him there just in time to stop him from hanging himself. They leave, and while Esteban is on the bridge it collapses and he is killed.

Don Jaime

Don Jaime is the only son of the Perichole. He is a sickly child, which is the main reason that his mother remains at her villa in the mountains, away from Lima. He dies in the bridge collapse when Uncle Pio is taking the boy to Lima to live as his student for a year.

Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper is the focus of the first and last chapters of the novel. He can be considered the protagonist of the book, even though his appearances are few and brief. He is a Franciscan monk, in Peru to convert Indians to Catholicism when he witnesses the collapse of the bridge. Being a religious man, he wonders why God would make such a tragedy occur, and he sets about to explore the lives of the victims of the collapse so that he can better understand what standards God holds for humanity.

Brother Juniper has a scientific mind, and he believes that theology should be held to the same standards of inquiry as the other sciences. A talk with an old school friend who has become a hardened skeptic leads him to devise a chart that rates people according to goodness, piety, and usefulness, a system that he tries out during a plague at the town of Puerto, calibrating his scale by applying the same standards to people killed by the plague and people who have survived. He finds out that no such standard is helpful in measuring the moral attributes of those who die early.

After his inquiry into the bridge collapse has proven inconclusive, a panel of judges examines Brother Juniper’s work and declares it to be heretical. The book is burned in the town square, and Brother Juniper is sentenced to be burned too. The night before his execution, he thinks about why he is being punished when all he wanted to do was to help the church. He finds no reason for his death, and the narrator says that there were many in the crowd who believed in him. He goes to his death thinking that St. Francis, at least, would support his work.

Manuel

Manuel and Esteban are twins who were abandoned as infants at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas. In childhood they developed a secret language that no one but the other twin can understand. They are scribes. While copying a script at the theater, Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole. She has him write letters for her to her lovers.

When his twin brother finds out that Manuel is in love with the Perichole, Manuel is so embarrassed that he swears he will not see her again. He proves good to his word when she sends a servant for him and he refuses to go.

Manuel cuts his knee and it becomes infected. The doctor tells Esteban to treat it with cold compresses. Every time Esteban puts a compress on the wound, the pain is so intense that Manuel curses at Esteban, damning him to hell, even though they have always been inseparable. Eventually, Manuel dies of the infection.

Doña María

DoñaMaría is the first of the bridge collapse victims to have a section of the book dedicated to her. She is introduced as a legendary figure, famous for her letters, which now, two hundred years after her death, are well-known examples of the writing of her time. The grand obsession in her life is her daughter Clara who, as soon as she is old enough, marries and moves away to Spain.

Doña María is known around Lima as an eccentric. She is a secret drinker. The Abbess Madre María del Pilar looks at her and sees a "grotesque old woman." When the Perichole sings an insulting song about her at the theater and is forced to apologize, she initially thinks that DoñaMaría is being gracious when she claims to know nothing of the incident, but, as the scene continues and Doña María makes a fool of herself, it becomes clear even to the Perichole that the old lady really is oblivious.

Doña María takes a girl from the orphanage, Pepita, as her companion. Pepita can see how the other servants take advantage of the Marquesa, mocking her behind her back and stealing from her, but Doña María remains ignorant of what they think of her until one day, when her entourage is at a shrine in the hills praying for the baby, which she has heard, almost casually, that her daughter had. There, Doña María happens upon a letter Pepita has written, explaining how unhappy she is. Doña María later offers to mail the letter for her, but Pepita says that she burned it because writing such a letter was not courageous: from this, Doña María receives sudden insight into courage, and she realizes just how much her own life has lacked courage. She decides to start living differently just as the bridge collapses beneath her and Pepita, killing them.

Pepita

Pepita was left as an orphan at the Convent Santa Maria Rosa de la Rosas. The Abbess grooms Pepita to be her successor, and in order to give her a broader education and introduce her into wealthy society the girl is sent to be a companion at the house of the Marquesa de Montemayor. Pepita hates it there. Not only is her mistress a vain, drunken, ignorant woman, but Pepita is left to deal with the household staff’s dishonesty as they steal from the Marquesa, make fun of her behind her back, and use her house for their own pleasures. They pick on Pepita and make her the victim of practical jokes. Still, she remains faithful to her duty.

The day before her death, Pepita is so miserable about her life with the Marquesa that she writes a letter to the Abbess, detailing her complaints. She destroys the letter, but not before the Marquesa has seen it on the table. When the Marquesa asks why she did not send the letter, Pepita holds tight to her suffering and says that the letter betrayed a lack of courage in her.

Camila Perichole

Wilder bases this character on the title character of La Perichole, a Jacques Offenbach opera that opened in Paris in 1868 (more than a hundred years after The Bridge of San Luis Rey takes place). It concerns a Peruvian street singer who is brought to the palace to amuse the Viceroy. Her last name means "half-breed [b―]." Her first name is taken from the 1848 novel Camille: The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils (the younger).

Throughout the story, the woman born Micaela Villegars is referred to as, alternately, "Camila" or "the Perichole." She is discovered by Uncle Pio at the age of twelve in a café, and he decides to make her a singing star. He trains her and takes her around the world, so she can sing in different countries while honing her craft. When they end up in Lima she is lauded as the best singer and actress in Peru. Through her relationship with him she meets the Viceroy, who is a much older man; she becomes his mistress and has three children, a boy and two girls, with him.

The Perichole is a vain social climber. During a break in a concert, she sings a song making fun of the Marquesa de Montemayor, a rich eccentric, mocking her for the drinking she thinks is secret and her devotion to her daughter. At age thirty, the Perichole decides to quit the stage and be a lady. She stops associating with Uncle Pio, and she makes up family members with classy social backgrounds.

Her vanity is assaulted when she contracts smallpox, which leaves her face pockmarked. She tries unsuccessfully to hide the scars with makeup. She agrees to allow Uncle Pio to take her son Jaime to Lima, to train the boy as he trained her, but they are killed in the bridge collapse.

In the end, the Perichole is humbled, arriving at the Convent SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas without makeup, kneeling before the Abbess there to ask for religious counsel.

Uncle Pio

Uncle Pio is the subject of the fourth section of the book. He is a successful, self-made man, having been in a variety of businesses and traveled the world. He does secret work for the Viceroy. Still, nothing makes him happy until he takes young Micaela Villegas under his control and trains her to be the popular singer, Camila Perichole. His association with her allows him to follow his three interests: being a free and independent man; being surrounded by beautiful women; and working in or near the theater.

He brings the Perichole up in society, introducing her to his friends. Eventually, she decides to turn her back on her singing career, and she distances herself from Uncle Pio. He finds excuses to see her. Once, after her looks have been marred by smallpox, he comes upon her trying to cover up her scarred face with makeup, and she tells him that she does not want to ever see him again. He makes up elaborate schemes in order to see her, once hiding in her garden at night and crying like a little girl, hoping that it will affect her subconsciously and make her more compassionate. When that does not work, he asks to take her son Jaime to Lima and train the boy as he trained her. The bridge collapses as they cross it en route to Lima, and Uncle Pio and the boy die.

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

Plot Overview

 Antonio, a Venetian merchant, complains to his friends of a melancholy that he cannot explain. His friend Bassanio is desperately in need of money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress who lives in the city of Belmont. Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan in order to travel in style to Portia’s estate. Antonio agrees, but is unable to make the loan himself because his own money is all invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. Antonio suggests that Bassanio secure the loan from one of the city’s moneylenders and name Antonio as the loan’s guarantor. In Belmont, Portia expresses sadness over the terms of her father’s will, which stipulates that she must marry the man who correctly chooses one of three caskets. None of Portia’s current suitors are to her liking, and she and her lady-in-waiting, Nerissa, fondly remember a visit paid some time before by Bassanio.

 

In Venice, Antonio and Bassanio approach Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, for a loan. Shylock nurses a long-standing grudge against Antonio, who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews for their usury, the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest, and who undermines their business by offering interest-free loans. Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest. Shylock adds, however, that should the loan go unpaid, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s own flesh. Despite Bassanio’s warnings, Antonio agrees. In Shylock’s own household, his servant Lancelot decides to leave Shylock’s service to work for Bassanio, and Shylock’s daughter Jessica schemes to elope with Antonio’s friend Lorenzo. That night, the streets of Venice fill up with revelers, and Jessica escapes with Lorenzo by dressing as his page. After a night of celebration, Bassanio and his friend Graziano leave for Belmont, where Bassanio intends to win Portia’s hand.

 

In Belmont, Portia welcomes the prince of Morocco, who has come in an attempt to choose the right casket to marry her. The prince studies the inscriptions on the three caskets and chooses the gold one, which proves to be an incorrect choice. In Venice, Shylock is furious to find that his daughter has run away, but rejoices in the fact that Antonio’s ships are rumored to have been wrecked and that he will soon be able to claim his debt. In Belmont, the prince of Aragon also visits Portia. He, too, studies the caskets carefully, but he picks the silver one, which is also incorrect. Bassanio arrives at Portia’s estate, and they declare their love for one another. Despite Portia’s request that he wait before choosing, Bassanio immediately picks the correct casket, which is made of lead. He and Portia rejoice, and Graziano confesses that he has fallen in love with Nerissa. The couples decide on a double wedding. Portia gives Bassanio a ring as a token of love, and makes him swear that under no circumstances will he part with it. They are joined, unexpectedly, by Lorenzo and Jessica. The celebration, however, is cut short by the news that Antonio has indeed lost his ships, and that he has forfeited his bond to Shylock. Bassanio and Graziano immediately travel to Venice to try and save Antonio’s life. After they leave, Portia tells Nerissa that they will go to Venice disguised as men.

 

Shylock ignores the many pleas to spare Antonio’s life, and a trial is called to decide the matter. The duke of Venice, who presides over the trial, announces that he has sent for a legal expert, who turns out to be Portia disguised as a young man of law. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, but he remains inflexible and insists the pound of flesh is rightfully his. Bassanio offers Shylock twice the money due him, but Shylock insists on collecting the bond as it is written. Portia examines the contract and, finding it legally binding, declares that Shylock is entitled to the merchant’s flesh. Shylock ecstatically praises her wisdom, but as he is on the verge of collecting his due, Portia reminds him that he must do so without causing Antonio to bleed, as the contract does not entitle him to any blood. Trapped by this logic, Shylock hastily agrees to take Bassanio’s money instead, but Portia insists that Shylock take his bond as written, or nothing at all. Portia informs Shylock that he is guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen, which means he must turn over half of his property to the state and the other half to Antonio. The duke spares Shylock’s life and takes a fine instead of Shylock’s property. Antonio also forgoes his half of Shylock’s wealth on two conditions: first, Shylock must convert to Christianity, and second, he must will the entirety of his estate to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death. Shylock agrees and takes his leave.

 

Bassanio, who does not see through Portia’s disguise, showers the young law clerk with thanks, and is eventually pressured into giving Portia the ring with which he promised never to part. Graziano gives Nerissa, who is disguised as Portia’s clerk, his ring. The two women return to Belmont, where they find Lorenzo and Jessica declaring their love to each other under the moonlight. When Bassanio and Graziano arrive the next day, their wives accuse them of faithlessly giving their rings to other women. Before the deception goes too far, however, Portia reveals that she was, in fact, the law clerk, and both she and Nerissa reconcile with their husbands. Lorenzo and Jessica are pleased to learn of their inheritance from Shylock, and the joyful news arrives that Antonio’s ships have in fact made it back safely. The group celebrates its good fortune.

 

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

 

Themes

 

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Self-Interest Versus Love

 

On the surface, the main difference between the Christian characters and Shylock appears to be that the Christian characters value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. The Christian characters certainly view the matter this way. Merchants like Antonio lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk for those they love, whereas Shylock agonizes over the loss of his money and is reported to run through the streets crying, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” (II.viii.15). With these words, he apparently values his money at least as much as his daughter, suggesting that his greed outweighs his love. However, upon closer inspection, this supposed difference between Christian and Jew breaks down. When we see Shylock in Act III, scene i, he seems more hurt by the fact that his daughter sold a ring that was given to him by his dead wife before they were married than he is by the loss of the ring’s monetary value. Some human relationships do indeed matter to Shylock more than money. Moreover, his insistence that he have a pound of flesh rather than any amount of money shows that his resentment is much stronger than his greed.

 

Just as Shylock’s character seems hard to pin down, the Christian characters also present an inconsistent picture. Though Portia and Bassanio come to love one another, Bassanio seeks her hand in the first place because he is monstrously in debt and needs her money. Bassanio even asks Antonio to look at the money he lends Bassanio as an investment, though Antonio insists that he lends him the money solely out of love. In other words, Bassanio is anxious to view his relationship with Antonio as a matter of business rather than of love. Finally, Shylock eloquently argues that Jews are human beings just as Christians are, but Christians such as Antonio hate Jews simply because they are Jews. Thus, while the Christian characters may talk more about mercy, love, and charity, they are not always consistent in how they display these qualities.

 

The Divine Quality of Mercy

 

The conflict between Shylock and the Christian characters comes to a head over the issue of mercy. The other characters acknowledge that the law is on Shylock’s side, but they all expect him to show mercy, which he refuses to do. When, during the trial, Shylock asks Portia what could possibly compel him to be merciful, Portia’s long reply, beginning with the words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” clarifies what is at stake in the argument (IV.i.179). Human beings should be merciful because God is merciful: mercy is an attribute of God himself and therefore greater than power, majesty, or law. Portia’s understanding of mercy is based on the way Christians in Shakespeare’s time understood the difference between the Old and New Testaments. According to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the Old Testament depicts God as requiring strict adherence to rules and exacting harsh punishments for those who stray. The New Testament, in contrast, emphasizes adherence to the spirit rather than the letter of the law, portraying a God who forgives rather than punishes and offers salvation to those followers who forgive others. Thus, when Portia warns Shylock against pursuing the law without regard for mercy, she is promoting what Elizabethan Christians would have seen as a pro-Christian, anti-Jewish agenda.

 

The strictures of Renaissance drama demanded that Shylock be a villain, and, as such, patently unable to show even a drop of compassion for his enemy. A sixteenth-century audience would not expect Shylock to exercise mercy—therefore, it is up to the Christians to do so. Once she has turned Shylock’s greatest weapon—the law—against him, Portia has the opportunity to give freely of the mercy for which she so beautifully advocates. Instead, she backs Shylock into a corner, where she strips him of his bond, his estate, and his dignity, forcing him to kneel and beg for mercy. Given that Antonio decides not to seize Shylock’s goods as punishment for conspiring against him, we might consider Antonio to be merciful. But we may also question whether it is merciful to return to Shylock half of his goods, only to take away his religion and his profession. By forcing Shylock to convert, Antonio disables him from practicing usury, which, according to Shylock’s reports, was Antonio’s primary reason for berating and spitting on him in public. Antonio’s compassion, then, seems to stem as much from self-interest as from concern for his fellow man. Mercy, as delivered in The Merchant of Venice, never manages to be as sweet, selfless, or full of grace as Portia presents it.

 

Hatred as a Cyclical Phenomenon

 

Throughout the play, Shylock claims that he is simply applying the lessons taught to him by his Christian neighbors; this claim becomes an integral part of both his character and his argument in court. In Shylock’s very first appearance, as he conspires to harm Antonio, his entire plan seems to be born of the insults and injuries Antonio has inflicted upon him in the past. As the play continues, and Shylock unveils more of his reasoning, the same idea rears its head over and over—he is simply applying what years of abuse have taught him. Responding to Salerio’s query of what good the pound of flesh will do him, Shylock responds, “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (III.i.6061). Not all of Shylock’s actions can be blamed on poor teachings, and one could argue that Antonio understands his own culpability in his near execution. With the trial’s conclusion, Antonio demands that Shylock convert to Christianity, but inflicts no other punishment, despite the threats of fellow Christians like Graziano. Antonio does not, as he has in the past, kick or spit on Shylock. Antonio, as well as the duke, effectively ends the conflict by starving it of the injustices it needs to continue.

 

Motifs

 

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Law

 

The Merchant of Venice depends heavily upon laws and rules—the laws of the state of Venice and the rules stipulated in contracts and wills. Laws and rules can be manipulated for cruel or wanton purposes, but they are also capable of producing good when executed by the right people. Portia’s virtual imprisonment by the game of caskets seems, at first, like a questionable rule at best, but her likening of the game to a lottery system is belied by the fact that, in the end, it works perfectly. The game keeps a host of suitors of bay, and of the three who try to choose the correct casket to win Portia’s hand, only the man of Portia’s desires succeeds. By the time Bassanio picks the correct chest, the choice seems like a more efficient indicator of human nature than any person could ever provide. A similar phenomenon occurs with Venetian law. Until Portia’s arrival, Shylock is the law’s strictest adherent, and it seems as if the city’s adherence to contracts will result in tragedy. However, when Portia arrives and manipulates the law most skillfully of all, the outcome is the happiest ending of all, at least to an Elizabethan audience: Antonio is rescued and Shylock forced to abandon his religion. The fact that the trial is such a close call does, however, raise the fearful specter of how the law can be misused. Without the proper guidance, the law can be wielded to do horrible things.

 

Cross-dressing

 

Twice in the play, daring escapes are executed with the help of cross-dressing. Jessica escapes the tedium of Shylock’s house by dressing as a page, while Portia and Nerissa rescue Antonio by posing as officers of the Venetian court. This device was not only familiar to Renaissance drama, but essential to its performance: women were banned from the stage and their parts were performed by -prepubescent boys. Shakespeare was a great fan of the potentials of cross-dressing and used the device often, especially in his comedies. But Portia reveals that the donning of men’s clothes is more than mere comedy. She says that she has studied a “thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks,” implying that male authority is a kind of performance that can be imitated successfully (III.iv.77). She feels confident that she can outwit any male competitor, declaring, “I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two, / And wear my dagger with the braver grace” (III.iv.6465). In short, by assuming the clothes of the opposite sex, Portia enables herself to assume the power and position denied to her as a woman.

 

Filial Piety

 

Like Shakespeare’s other comedies, The Merchant of Venice seems to endorse the behavior of characters who treat filial piety lightly, even though the heroine, Portia, sets the opposite example by obeying her father’s will. Lancelot greets his blind, long lost father by giving the old man confusing directions and telling the old man that his beloved son Lancelot is dead. This moment of impertinence can be excused as essential to the comedy of the play, but it sets the stage for Jessica’s far more complex hatred of her father. Jessica can list no specific complaints when she explains her desire to leave Shylock’s house, and in the one scene in which she appears with Shylock, he fusses over her in a way that some might see as tender. Jessica’s desire to leave is made clearer when the other characters note how separate she has become from her father, but her behavior after departing seems questionable at best. Most notably, she trades her father’s ring, given to him by her dead mother, for a monkey. The frivolity of this exchange, in which an heirloom is tossed away for the silliest of objects, makes for quite a disturbing image of the esteem in which The Merchant of Venice’s children hold their parents, and puts us, at least temporarily, in Shylock’s corner.

 

Symbols

 

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Three Caskets

 

The contest for Portia’s hand, in which suitors from various countries choose among a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, resembles the cultural and legal system of Venice in some respects. Like the Venice of the play, the casket contest presents the same opportunities and the same rules to men of various nations, ethnicities, and religions. Also like Venice, the hidden bias of the casket test is fundamentally Christian. To win Portia, Bassanio must ignore the gold casket, which bears the inscription, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (II.vii.5), and the silver casket, which says, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (II.vii.7). The correct casket is lead and warns that the person who chooses it must give and risk everything he has. The contest combines a number of Christian teachings, such as the idea that desire is an unreliable guide and should be resisted, and the idea that human beings do not deserve God’s grace but receive it in spite of themselves. Christianity teaches that appearances are often deceiving, and that people should not trust the evidence provided by the senses—hence the humble appearance of the lead casket. Faith and charity are the central values of Christianity, and these values are evoked by the lead casket’s injunction to give all and risk all, as one does in making a leap of faith. Portia’s father has presented marriage as one in which the proper suitor risks and gives everything for the spouse, in the hope of a divine recompense he can never truly deserve. The contest certainly suits Bassanio, who knows he does not deserve his good fortune but is willing to risk everything on a gamble.

 

The Pound of Flesh

 

The pound of flesh that Shylock seeks lends itself to multiple interpretations: it emerges most as a metaphor for two of the play’s closest relationships, but also calls attention to Shylock’s inflexible adherence to the law. The fact that Bassanio’s debt is to be paid with Antonio’s flesh is significant, showing how their friendship is so binding it has made them almost one. Shylock’s determination is strengthened by Jessica’s departure, as if he were seeking recompense for the loss of his own flesh and blood by collecting it from his enemy. Lastly, the pound of flesh is a constant reminder of the rigidity of Shylock’s world, where numerical calculations are used to evaluate even the most serious of situations. Shylock never explicitly demands that Antonio die, but asks instead, in his numerical mind, for a pound in exchange for his three thousand ducats. Where the other characters measure their emotions with long metaphors and words, Shylock measures everything in far more prosaic and numerical quantities.

 

Leah’s Ring

 

The ring given to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, who is most likely Shylock’s wife and Jessica’s mother, gets only a brief mention in the play, but is still an object of great importance. When told that Jessica has stolen it and traded it for a monkey, Shylock very poignantly laments its loss: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (III.i.101102). The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position and to view him as a human being capable of feeling something more than anger. Although Shylock and Tubal discuss the ring for no more than five lines, the ring stands as an important symbol of Shylock’s humanity, his ability to love, and his ability to grieve.

 

 

Sonnet 17 – Pablo Neruda

Sonnet 17
by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way
because I don’t know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I nor you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep
it is your eyes that close.

Miguel de Unamuno

(Bilbao, 1864 – Salamanca, 1936) Escritor, poeta y filósofo español, principal exponente de la Generación del 98.

Entre 1880 y 1884 estudió filosofía y letras en la universidad de Madrid, época durante la cual leyó a T. Carlyle, Herber Spencer, Friedrich Hegel y Karl Marx. Se doctoró con la tesis Crítica del problema sobre el origen y prehistoria de la raza vasca, y poco después accedió a la cátedra de lengua y literatura griega en la universidad de Salamanca, en la que desde 1901 fue rector y catedrático de historia de la lengua castellana.

Inicialmente sus preocupaciones intelectuales se centraron en las cuestiones éticas y los móviles de su fe. Desde el principio trató de articular su pensamiento sobre la base de la dialéctica hegeliana y más tarde acabó buscando en las dispares intuiciones filosóficas de Spencer, Sören Kierkegaard, W. James y H. Bergson, entre otros, vías de salida a su crisis religiosa.

Sin embargo, las contradicciones personales y las paradojas que afloraban en su pensamiento actuaron impidiendo el desarrollo de un sistema coherente, de modo que hubo de recurrir a la literatura, en tanto que expresión de la intimidad, para resolver algunos aspectos de la realidad de su yo. Esa angustia personal y su idea básica de entender al hombre como "ente de carne y hueso", y la vida como un fin en sí mismo se proyectaron en obras como En torno al casticismo (1895), Mi religión y otros ensayos (1910), Soliloquios y conversaciones (1911) o Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos (1913).

El primero de los libros fue en realidad un conjunto de cinco ensayos en torno al "alma castellana", en los que opuso al tradicionalismo la "búsqueda de la tradición eterna del presente", y defendió el concepto de "intrahistoria" latente en el seno del pueblo frente al concepto oficial de historia. Según propuso entonces, la solución de muchos de los males que aquejaban a España era su "europeización".

Sin embargo, estas obras no parecían abarcar, desde su punto de vista, aspectos íntimos que formaban parte de la realidad vivencial. De aquí que literaturizase su pensamiento primero a través de un importante ensayo sobre dos personajes clave de la literatura universal en la Vida de don Quijote y Sancho (1905), obra en la que, por otra parte y en flagrante contradicción con la tesis europeísta defendida en libros anteriores, proponía "españolizar Europa". Al mismo tiempo, apuntó que la relación entre ambos personajes cervantinos simbolizaba la tensión existente entre ficción y realidad, locura y razón, que constituye la unidad de la vida y la común aspiración a la inmortalidad.

El siguiente paso fue la literaturización de su experiencia personal a fin de dilucidar la oposición entre la afirmación individual y la necesidad de una ética social. El dilema planteado entre lo individual y lo colectivo, entre lo mutable y lo inmutable, el espíritu y el intelecto, fue interpretado por él como punto de partida de una regeneración moral y cívica de la sociedad española. Él mismo se tomó como referencia de sus obsesiones del hombre como individuo. "Hablo de mí porque es el hombre que tengo más cerca."

Su narrativa progresó desde sus novelas primerizas Paz en la guerra (1897), y Amor y pedagogía (1902) hasta la madura La tía Tula (1921). Pero entre ellas escribió Niebla (1914), Abel Sánchez (1917), y sobre todo Tres novelas ejemplares y un prólogo (1920), libro que ha sido considerado por algunos críticos como autobiográfico, si bien no tiene que ver con hechos de su vida, sino con su biografía espiritual y su visión esencial de la realidad: con la afirmación de su identidad individual y la búsqueda de los elementos vinculantes que fundamentan las relaciones humanas.

En ese sentido, sus personajes son problemáticos y víctimas del conflicto surgido de las fuertes tensiones entre sus pasiones, y los hábitos y costumbres sociales que regulan sus comportamientos y marcan las distancias entre la libertad y el destino, la imaginación y la conciencia.

Su producción poética comprende títulos como Poesía (1907), Rosario de sonetos líricos (1912), El Cristo de Velázquez (1920), Rimas de dentro (1923) y Romancero del destierro (1927), éste último fruto de su experiencia en la isla de Fuerteventura, adonde lo deportaron por su oposición a la dictadura de Primo de Rivera. También cultivó el teatro: Fedra (1924), Sombras de sueño (1931), El otro (1932) y Medea (1933).

Sus poemas y sus obras teatrales abordaron los mismos temas de su narrativa: los dramas íntimos, amorosos, religiosos y políticos a través de personajes conflictivos y sensibles ante las formas evidentes de la realidad. Su obra y su vida estuvieron estrechamente relacionadas, de ahí las contradicciones y paradojas de quien Antonio Machado calificó de "donquijotesco".

Considerado como el escritor más culto de su generación, fue sobre todo un intelectual inconformista que hizo de la polémica una forma de búsqueda. Jubilado desde 1934, sus manifiestas antipatías por la República española llevaron dos años más tarde al gobierno rebelde de Burgos a nombrarlo nuevamente rector de la universidad de Salamanca, pero fue destituido a raíz de su pública ruptura con el fundador de la Legión. En 1962 se publicaron sus Obras completas y en 1994 se dio a conocer la novela inédita Nuevo mundo.

Anteriores Entradas antiguas