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The Merchant of Venice and the Paschal Moon

Authors
  • Usher, Peter D.1
  • 1 Pennsylvania State University, USA , (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Pólemos
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Apr 21, 2020
Volume
14
Issue
1
Pages
183–195
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/pol-2020-2011
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
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Abstract

The Merchant of Venice contains a puzzling passage by Lancelot Gobbo that refers to Ash Wednesday and Easter Monday, two dates in the Christian religious calendar. The passage is nonsensical, yet it is a commonplace that the utterances of Shakespeare’s clowns are often noteworthy. This paper notes that Lancelot refers to an unusual four-fold coincidence of Passover with Easter Monday, the former on the correct Gregorian calendar, the latter on the outdated Julian calendar. The interpretation is tested and leads to the determination of the dramatic time of the play which with other evidence from the script suggests that the paschal moon of 14 Nisan 5357 (April 2, 1597) is a crux of the play. The resulting timeline is consistent with events in the script and leads to a new interpretation for Old Gobbo’s dish of doves. The timeline leads also to a solution for a question on equity and the law.

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