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Notions of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice

             Newman's critical essay, Portia's Ring: Unruly Women and Structures of Exchange in The Merchant of Venice, focuses on the structures of exchange as they exist Karen in Shakespeare's play. The play, she argues is told in the rhetoric of the commercial world, even, she notes, in Belmont where life is generally free of direct commercial involvement, but the love alliances forged there are a representation of exchange in the commodity of women.
             Before examining exchange in the play, Newman takes time to discuss the idea of exchange as it relates to anthropology. The first essay Newman names is that of Marcel Mauss who notes that one of the most significant exchanges is that of gift-giving. Mauss argues gift-giving's significance as it establishes social bonds between the giver and receiver. In his Elementary Structures of Kinship, Claude Levi-Strauss reworks Mauss's theory by citing marriage as the most significant gift exchange. Marriage, Levi-Strauss proposes, is a gift exchange that takes place, historically, between to men. The woman, being the commodity of exchange, serves to strengthen homeosocial bonds. Newman then recounts the French Feminist, Luce Irigaray's critique of Levi-Strauss, who argued that the exchange structure was crucial to social stability. Irigaray proposes consequences to the structure, first being the objectification of women, and, second, that the structure, and hence society, is dependent on a continuum of homosexual bonds, from platonic to homoerotic. .
             Newman explains that The Merchant of Venice offers circumstances of not only Levi-Strauss's exchange system but also the feminist criticism of it. The main subplot, Bassanio's acquisition of Portia, strengthens homosocial bonds between the ghost of Portia's father and as it is precluded by financial agreements between Antonio and Bassanio, it strengthens their bond, which Newman notes is often read as one of a homoerotic nature.

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