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Bruce Boehrer on The Merchant of Venice:

[I like him] very vildly in the morning, when he is sober and most vildly in the afternoon when he is drunk. When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worse, he is a little better than a beast. And the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall make shift to go without him. (1.2.86-91)

The insult here is one that Shakespeare turns to again and again in his work, in ways that the present document seeks to document and explain. In effect, Portia’s words register a slippage of identity. As she seeks to understand the Duke of Saxony’s nephew in terms of the venerable and fundamental distinction between man and beast, the distinction sifts through her fingers, and she is left instead with an unresolvable ambiguity. On the one hand, the German suitor behaves in a way that Portia refuses to acknowledge as human; on the other hand his form and breeding and articulacy unquestionably exclude him from the animal world. The result is that he ends up in a sort of ontological indeterminacy–a linguistic in-between land whose existence is both denied and enabled by differential constructions of human and animal nature.

Work’s Cited

Boehrer, Bruce Thomas. “How To Do Things With Animals.” Shakespeare among the animals nature and society in the drama of early modern England. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

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One of the things that frustrates me about recent cinematographic efforts currently used to advocate for animals is that they fail to fully anticipate the hyper-critical, already well practiced defenses that non-sympathizers are likely to have at their disposal in today’s age of relentless commercial and political media bombardment. Animal advocacy  films tend to employ a whole host of rhetorical devises and dramaturgical effects, such as voice-over, labeling, music, etc. These layers of argument, though well meaning, do a disservice to our movement because they provide easy and ample material for constructing the types of abstractions that allow people to keep their emotional distance from the visual and auditory portrayals of the daily happenings many viewers have likely never witnessed before.

I found a montage of such footage (for advocates to both use and improve) with as little mediation as possible. It’s seven minutes and forty-two seconds long, a time signature which encodes backward (like Hamlet’s crab) the all encompassing temporality that aptly describes the relative frequency with which the violent events portrayed in the sequence occur in today’s world:

Another piece I found, in a kind of parody of hyper-mediated rhetoric, takes this layering to a new extreme via a disorienting use of superimposition: Footage taken of over a 1939 animated version of “The Ugly Duckling.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djI6w9aKMlE