Simanaitis Says

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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE IS right up there with Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett in writing memorable crime fiction. Here are examples, acknowledging inspiration from Dwyer Murphy’s CrimeReads piece on this topic. Part 1 today discusses crime families and a courtroom drama. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll examine the inheritance con and murder noir.

William Shakespeare, 1564–1616, English playwright and poet extraordinaire.

Crime Families. You know how it is with crime families the world around. Even Verona’s Montague and Capulet servants get into brawls (see Romeo and Juliet, Act I Scene 1).

It’s bad enough that the two families are rivals, but, of course, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love. She’s only 13, by the way. Think Lolita, Verona Style; and The Godfather, Part Minus DCCXVII Years; and West Side Story on the Adige.

Courtroom Drama. Can there be a more compelling courtroom scene than in The Merchant of Venice? At issue is Jewish merchant/money lender Shylock’s deal guaranteeing a pound of Antonio’s flesh in exchange for default on a loan made by Bassanio.

Pause here to consider the irony of Antonio getting stuck, literally, for actions of his deadbeat friend Bassanio. Toss in the complication of Antonio’s courtroom defense being handled by Balthazar, who’s really Bassanio’s wife Portia in disguise. Portia’s waiting maid Nerissa cross-dresses as well.

Subtle points of noir legality abound in the Duke of Venice’s court. Shakespearean legalese such as “the bond thrice” and “in open court” get tossed around as well. I like to think the courtroom crowd gasps occasionally, and the Duke has to call for order.

Shylock’s trial. Image from

Shylock is granted Antonio’s pound of flesh. But, asks Balthazar/Portia, can it be extracted without loss of blood? Otherwise, Venetian law condemns the blood letter to forfeiting “lands and goods.”

Then the Christian/Jew card is played. The Renaissance may have been a rebirth of learning, but granting equal rights to all was another matter entirely. As noted in Wikipedia, Balthazar/Portia “cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an ‘alien,’ having attempted to take a life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government and half to Antonio….”

When the Duke says he’ll waive the state’s share, Balthazar/Portia contends that the half-forfeiture due Antonio still stands.

No doubt, another gasp.

Finally, Shylock converts. Hardly a PC resolution, but this is only the Renaissance, after all. Besides, wouldn’t you think Balthazar/Portia would have recused him/herself?

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see a rich guy get taken by two-thirds of his daughters and a whole family go more or less noir. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

2 comments on “WHO DOTH DUNIT PART 1

  1. Tom Austin
    August 11, 2020

    Can’t wait for part 2!

    • simanaitissays
      August 11, 2020

      Thanks, Tom, for your encouragement. As with occasional topics here at the website, this “daily” one grew out of hand and calls for two-day treatment. Indeed, Shakespeare’s crime fiction could go on and on: identity theft, plain old theft, extortion, murder, political skullduggery, golly, even cannibalism in Titus’ revenge cuisine.

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