NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, September 3rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Andree Seu Peterson now on what a house and a soul require to achieve the highest purpose.
ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: The unraveling of Shylock’s life in The Merchant of Venice is as painful a story denouement as has ever been depicted. It is the account of the removal, one at a time, in rapid succession, of everything Shylock held fast to for life.
He leaves home one evening with his daughter, his ducats, and his dignity intact. He returns to find his daughter has eloped—to the enemy’s side. More, she has absconded with his ducats as a dowry. Reeling and staggering, he cannot take in the enormity of his misfortune: from wealth to woe in 24 hours. “Oh my ducats, my daughter. My ducats, my daughter,” he moans like a man concussed.
What he has left in the world is his vengeance, which he nurses and cherishes like a beloved pet lizard. But lo, another striptease of soul awaits him before the Duke of Venice. The hellish pleasure that remains to vindictive Shylock is extracting his pound of flesh, yet he loses his legal case and in final ignominy has the tables turned so that he himself becomes the groveling debtor to his nemesis.
Shakespeare does not explicitly say so at this point—it is not necessary—but Shylock will die shortly hereafter, either by his own hand or by the simple inability of his heart to break.
Call me Shylock—the man who has built his house on all the wrong things again, and now sees its flimsy materials being dismantled before my eyes. How do I keep slipping off the solid Rock?
Speaking of houses: The protagonist in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce finds himself in a curiously depressing town of flimsy houses in perpetual cheerless evening. He meets the Intelligent Man, who would like to sell them substantial houses, but there is a problem: “The trouble is they have no needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it.”
“But look here,” asks the bewildered newcomer. “If they can get everything just by imagining it, why would they want any real things, as you call them?”
“Eh? Oh well, they’d like houses that really kept out the rain.”
“Their present houses don’t?”
“Well, of course not. How could they?”
“What the devil is the use of building them then?”
“Safety again,” the Intelligent Man mutters. “At least the feeling of safety. It’s all right now; but later on….you understand.”
“What?” asks the protagonist.
The Intelligent Man leans and whispers: “It will be dark presently.”
We have the choice: houses of our own making, made of the flimsy material of ducats and daughters and social prestige that can be lost to the first stiff rain, or to rust that consumes and thieves that break in and steal.
Or the houses that God offers, built with everlasting materials and planted on an immovable rock.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.