Month: October 2021

Bassanio as an Emotional Conman

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling like you got played? It might be that you spoke with someone much like Bassanio.

I’m not simply referring to the way Bassanio seems to drain Antonio’s bank accounts dry. That requires more than a few pretty words and empty promises. More, it requires a level of emotional intelligence to weasel his way into a place of Antonio’s friendship (and, arguably, his heart).

And when the play begins, that’s where we start. Straight away, we witness the connection between Bassanio and Antonio. It’s deep and genuine. These two truly know each other. Even their other friends must know this, as they leave the two to be alone with each other. Lorenzo tells Bassanio, “…since you have found Antonio / We two will leave you…” (I.i.69-70). This could imply that Bassanio and Antonio are so close that others might feel like a third wheel. Either way, their friends know and even acknowledge that Bassanio and Antonio are close.

This, as we can see in Act I, Scene 1, enables Bassanio to manipulate Antonio by redirecting the conversation. After Antonio enquires about the lady Bassanio is so interested in, he responds:

‘Tis not unknown to you, Antonio,

How much I have disabled mine estate

By something showing a more swelling port

Than my faint means would grant continuance.

-Bassanio, I.i.122-125

And he continues to explain how he owes Antonio the most “in money and love” (I.i.131), but he needs more. Note that he uses the word love, thereby placing emphasis on their friendship. After all, what kind of friend would deny their friends in need? Especially a friendship like Antonio and Bassanio, who obviously care for each other. By consciously choosing to say “love,” he exploits the friendship between him and Antonio. It could be argued Antonio carries a homoerotic love for Bassanio, and Bassanio knows that and uses it to get what he wants, but that’s for another analysis, though still worth considering.

how bassanio asked antonio for money, probably

All this manipulation does not negate the fact that Bassanio does care for Antonio. Take, for instance, his response to Shylock’s bond, in which Antonio agrees to repay his debt with a piece of his flesh. He tells Antonio, “You shall not seal to such a bond for me; / I’ll rather dwell in my own necessity.” (II.i.147-148) It could be read that Bassanio is being humble as a farce in manipulation, but that would disregard his actions further into the play.

For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, Bassanio receives a letter detailing Antonio’s situation, unable to repay Shylock. Portia describes the letter stealing “…the color from Bassanio’s cheek…” in line 242. He pales at the thought of Antonio’s pain, and not for worry of losing Antonio’s money—he’s already guaranteed Portia’s, so his concern lies solely with Antonio’s wellbeing.

Portia also falls victim to Bassanio’s manipulations. In Act 3, when Bassanio first arrives at Belmont, he purposefully evades Portia’s questions. After his dramatic declaration that he feels tortured, Portia implores him to “…Then confess / What treason there is mingled with your love.” (III.ii.26-27) Bassanio insists there is no treason for him to confess, but Portia is not satisfied with the response.

Ay, but I fear you speak upon the rack,

Where men, enforced, do speak anything.

-Portia, III.ii.32-33

Simply put, she doesn’t believe him. Bassanio quickly changes course in conversation, asking to try his luck at the caskets, and Portia allows it. By redirecting the topic of the conversation, he has manipulated Portia’s attention to something more considerable. With the caskets being a deciding factor in her marriage, it is a priority for Portia. And for Bassanio as well—without Portia’s marriage, he’ll lose any access he could have had to her family’s money.

But does Bassanio care for Portia as much as he does Antonio? After giving the lawyer Portia’s ring (which he swore to keep as an oath), Bassanio must make amends with Portia. She tells Bassanio to take the ring and keep his commitment better than before. Antonio acts as a guarantee again, this time offering his soul instead of his flesh.

I once did lend my body for his wealth,

Which but for that had your husband’s ring

Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again,

My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord

Will never more break faith advisedly.

-Antonio, V.i.249-253

And so Bassanio takes the ring from Antonio for Portia. Not only is Antonio offering up himself for Bassanio’s good again, but Bassanio also takes it, even after the court battle with Shylock. Bassanio officially accepts Portia, at the risk of Antonio once again, who we know Bassanio loves in one way or another. So, I would argue that this is no longer about Portia’s money anymore. Bassanio must genuinely care about Portia in some way for him to risk the soul of someone he’s been shown to care about.

So, Bassanio may actively manipulate those around him to get what he wants, much like a conman, but I argue here he does have some compassion. Thus, the duality of Bassanio in the Merchant of Venice.

 

Stereotypes in Venice

 

 

Although The Merchant of Venice is noted as a comedy play, it brings to mind the idea of being a play about ethical ownership. The characters each face a different quandary, whether that be financial, marital, or rightful justice. With any comedy, old or new, the premise of the story is that it comes full circle for the main characters. In this play, the “protagonists” get their happy ending. But is it rightly deserved? Throughout this blog, we will focus on the history of the play, the four main characters, and how it is seen through a modern lens.

A background of the period in which the play was written, The Merchant of Venice was written in 1598. It is labeled as a Comedy play due to the way in which the story comes full circle and the status quo is restored. Though many critics throughout later history have labeled the play as antisemitic and racist, resulting after the events of World War II and the way in which they treat Portia’s suitors. At the time of the play, many of the English people were Protestant, due to Elizabethan reign. This preferred religion looked down upon other religions. As we can see in The Merchant of Venice, the Christian and the Jewish characters were very much against one another. This is especially true for Shylock’s character. He vehemently hates his Christian counterparts due to their treatment toward him and of course, his religious views. Though to be fair to Shylock, many of the “Christian” characters are extremely hypocritical. An example of this is the Christian’s lack of forgiveness toward Shylock.

To summarize the play, The Merchant of Venice is a comedy play centered around four main characters in Venice, Italy. These four titular characters must fight for money, love, and their lives as they go against the odds to reconcile their good fortunes. For Antonio, his love and loyalty to his dearest friend, Bassanio, is put to the test when his ships are rumored to be gone; his hide is literally on the line. For Bassanio and his future wife, Portia, it does seem to be a joining of love; if it is, it is one-sided. The fourth main character, Shylock, is a Jewish merchant and is portrayed as the villain during Shakespeare’s time. Though as the play is seen in modern times, it is evident he is the victim. 

 

 

The character Antonio is a successful merchant in Venice, he is melancholic throughout the play and has very strong feelings for his closest friend Bassanio. This love for Bassanio even goes as far as putting his flesh on the line as collateral for Bassanio to take out a loan from Shylock. In this scene in the play, Shylock seems to be joking about this form of collateral, he is obviously playing into Antonio’s antisemitic opinions about Shylock and his religion. 

Act 1, Scene 3:

SHYLOCK

Why, look you, how you storm!

I would be friends with you and have your love,

Forget the shames that you have stain’d me with,

Supply your present wants and take no doit

Of usance for my moneys, and you’ll not hear me:

This is kind I offer.

BASSANIO

This were kindness.

SHYLOCK

This kindness will I show.

Go with me to a notary, seal me there

Your single bond; and, in a merry sport,

If you repay me not on such a day,

In such a place, such sum or sums as are

Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit

Be nominated for an equal pound

Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken

In what part of your body pleaseth me.

ANTONIO

Content, i’ faith: I’ll seal to such a bond

And say there is much kindness in the Jew.

BASSANIO

You shall not seal to such a bond for me:

I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.

ANTONIO

Why, fear not, man; I will not forfeit it:

Within these two months, that’s a month before

This bond expires, I do expect return

Of thrice three times the value of this bond.

SHYLOCK

O father Abram, what these Christians are,

Whose own hard dealings teaches them suspect

The thoughts of others! Pray you, tell me this;

If he should break his day, what should I gain

By the exaction of the forfeiture?

A pound of man’s flesh taken from a man

Is not so estimable, profitable neither,

As flesh of muttons, beefs, or goats. I say,

To buy his favour, I extend this friendship:

If he will take it, so; if not, adieu;

And, for my love, I pray you wrong me not.

ANTONIO

Yes Shylock, I will seal unto this bond.

SHYLOCK

Then meet me forthwith at the notary’s;

Give him direction for this merry bond,

And I will go and purse the ducats straight,

See to my house, left in the fearful guard

Of an unthrifty knave, and presently

I will be with you.

ANTONIO

Hie thee, gentle Jew.

Exit Shylock

The Hebrew will turn Christian: he grows kind.

Shylock has been villainized throughout the play up until this point. He is offering this loan out of kindness without interest, his joke of offering flesh plays into how greedy the Christian characters have stereotyped the Jewish people. To which he knows this and he continues stating on being spit upon by Antonio. The hypocrisy of Christians is also known as hypochristians (imo).

 

For the characters of Bassanio and Portia, it is hard to determine whether it is actually a marriage of love. If it is a marriage of love, it is most certainly one-sided. In the beginning of the play, Bassanio is speaking with Antonio about marrying a pretty girl who comes with a nice fortune. Antonio questions Bassanio on if he loves her, to which Bassanio never answers; his only concern is her wealth. It is evident Bassanio does not love Portia, he needs the money to pay back Antonio. If he did love her, he would not have given her ring to the clerk, a ring he promised he would never part from; which she forgives him for and leads to a happy ending. However, he doesn’t seem to have kept his promise. Which is essentially what the play is about. Sticking to promises and agreements. Transactions. Ironic that both men go into binding contracts and get themselves out of them, in a way. Bassanio leaves Portia to come aid Antonio when his ships are said to have sunk. If he loved her, he would have stayed with her. Antonio and Bassanio are constantly saving each other. Portia is also clearly an intelligent character, however with Portia’s intelligence, her inability to see the love between Antonio and Bassanio comes in to question. Or how she doesn’t seem to be able to read between the lines that Antonio is willing to sacrifice himself for Bassanio. 

Shakespeare definitely plays with the notion of stereotyping, especially Jewish people. He makes Shylock a greedy character only consumed with money. While his Christian characters are allegedly solely focused on that of love. Which is ironic, considering they are all greedy for money and Shylock only really wants justice. The Christian characters seem to be inconsistent with their plights of love. Anti-semitic when it comes to Shylock rather than caring about him as a human being. This is evident in his soliloquy with Salarino in Act 3, Scene 2:

SHYLOCK

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else,

it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and

hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my

bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine

enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath

not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with

the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject

to the same diseases, healed by the same means,

warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as

a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison

us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,

what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian

wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by

Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you

teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I

will better the instruction.

Shylock seems to be mourning the loss of his investment, but it is the loss of his daughter and the ring that he mourns as well. The ring which has more sentimental value to him rather than anything else. This does not match with his alleged greediness. 

In conclusion, this play does come full circle for some of the characters. At the time Shakespeare wrote this play, the people of England considered it a win to have Shylock convert his religion. In modern times, we see how this is wrong on numerous levels. It is easy to see how Shakespeare was weaponized to fit certain agendas and narratives, especially with this work. 

Works Cited:

MLA. Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. The Merchant of Venice. Harlow, Essex, England :Longman, 1994.

Merchant of Venice image: https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-merchant-of-venice/about-the-play/dates-and-sources

Merchant of Venice image: https://www.weloveteachingenglish.com/en/free-english-graded-reading-comprehension/graded-reading-2018/434-shakespeare-s-merchant-of-venice-still-relevant-to-today-s-audience.html

Shylock image: https://teachingshakespeareblog.folger.edu/2016/05/11/recognizing-shylocks-humanity-merchant-venice/

 

Bassanio’s Heart: Where Does it Land?

Within the Merchant of Venice, we witness Bassanio’s ongoing, and growing, relationships to two separate characters. First, we are introduced and shown his relationship with Antonio. This relationship seems to be set in “friendship,” however, the subtext between the two may cause some to believe there is more between the two. Additionally, we see a bond form between Bassanio and Portia in act three.

In the first act, when Bassanio arrives to Antonio, his original plan is to ask for more money. However, Bassanio states, “To you, Antonio, / I owe the most in money and love, / and from your love I have a warranty / to unburden all my plans and purposes / how to get clear of all the debts I owe” (I.i.130-134). By looking at this line, it is possible to infer that Bassanio feels something deeper than friendship to Antonio. As we progress in the play, we learn Bassanio is in need of a loan. Antonio, with his money tied up in his merchant ships, offers a solution: to ask Shylock. While this decision to ask Shylock brings Bassanio the money he needs to impress Portia, and potentially gain her hand in marriage, it comes at a deep price for Antonio.

Antonio and Shylock agree, there will be no interest on this loan, and he will have three months to give the loan back – there’s a catch. With no loan, there has to be something to wager, and the two gentlemen agree upon an answer: a pound of flesh. Shylock seems to offer this solution as a joke, shown better in the 2004 movie. However, Antonia agrees, despite Bassanio’s objection.

 

Antonio: Content, in faith I’ll seal such a bond / and say there is much kindness in the Jew.

Bassanio: You shall not seal to such a bond for me; / I’ll rather dwell in my necessity.

Antonio: Why fear not, man: I will not forfeit it. / Within these two months – that’s a month before / this bond expires – I do expect return / of thrice three times the value of this bond.

 

By looking at the conversation between the two gentlemen, it is clear to see the trust – and seemingly, affection – Antonio has for his friend, Bassanio. To the point he would gladly sacrifice a literal piece of himself to allow his friend the opportunity to gain a better, wealthier future.

As we progress further into Act 3, we will learn of Antonio’s fallen ships, and Shylock’s desire to collect his loan – or rather, Antonio’s flesh. It doesn’t take long for Antonio to agree to Shylock’s demands, taking the Duke will not allow it not to happen. His last words in Act 3, scene 3, are as follow: “Pray Bassanio come / to see me pay his debt, and then I care not.” These words spoken before Antonio knows he will lose a pound of his own flesh, to me, seems as though he cares less of losing his flesh, and more of seeing his friend before the possibility of losing his own life.

During the moment of Antonio agreeing to pay the debt for his friend, we learn of Bassanio’s luck with Portia. We are shown the rapid way the two speak, and how they seemingly try to one up one another. However, Portia allows young Bassanio to pick from the three caskets laden from her father. At this point, we know of two previous suitors who picked both the silver and gold casket – leading them both back out the door. However, Bassanio has better luck, as he picks the lead casket, and in turn wins the young maiden’s hand. Bassanio promises his future wife to never part with his ring, stating:

 

“Madam, you have bereft me of all my words. / Only my blood speaks to you in my veins, / and there is such confusion in my powers / as, after some oration fairly spoke / by a beloved prince, there doth appear / among the buzzing please multitude, / where every something being blent together / turns to a wild of nothing, save of joy / expressed and not expressed. But when this ring / parts from this finger, then parts life from hence, / O then be bold to say Bassanio’s dead.” (III.2.175-185)

 

Before scene 2 has played out, Bassanio receives a letter, informing him of Antonio’s fate. He immediately comes clean to Portia about his exaggerated state of being and informs her of his friend’s outcome. Upon seeing the worry of her near-husband for his friend, she offers to give him the money needed to repay the loan. By Portia offering to save Bassanio, I believe this shows her love for him – rather that love be romantic or platonic is hard to say.

The deeper we dive into each relationship, it is clear to see the love from Bassanio for both characters. Though to me, it seems as though he has the same type of feelings towards both. Knowing Shakespeare has written poems for another male, it definitely sways my mind to think it’s possible for Bassanio to feel similar ways about the two characters,

Lady Macbeth And An Anti-Feminist Narrative- S.Wright

Lady Macbeth can be seen as a strong female character in Macbeth, in fact she’s one of the strongest female characters in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Her influence in Macbeth’s bloody plan to become king can make some people think that she’s a feminist character. Although she’s proved to be stronger than Macbeth in some scenes, I believe that Lady Macbeth is an anti-feminist character and that her character is used specifically to demonstrate misogynistic values in an ironic way. I will talk about four scenes in the play to demonstrate why Lady Macbeth is a catalyst for Misogyny.

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Act 1; Scene 5: In this scene a messenger comes to Lady Macbeth and relays to her the news of Macbeth’s title change and his encounter with the witches. Lady Macbeth is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that Macbeth seizes the crown, but she expresses doubt of him being able to do it. She states, “Yet I do fear thy nature; It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” ( Shakespeare 1.5. 14-15). Because of this doubt, she explains in her soliloquy that she must set aside her feminine nature and values to complete the bloody deed that she must do which would be to kill King Duncan.

“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty!…Come to my woman’s breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers” ( 1.5. 38-46).

Lady Macbeth believes that in order to murder King Duncan she needs to “unsex” herself and take on savage and murderous tendencies and behavior. As a woman, she can’t bring herself do such foul deeds but making herself more aggressive, which tends to be a masculine trait, will help her succeed. This in of itself is an anti-feminist narrative.

Act 1; Scene 7: in this scene, Lady Macbeth finds her husband to find out if he succeeded in killing King Duncan.

“What beast was’t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man” (1. 7. 47-51).

Lady Macbeth finds out that Macbeth did not kill King Duncan and is having doubts about it. Lady Macbeth gets upset and she calls him a coward. She emphasizes that he was acting like a man when he planned on killing King Duncan, but he would be more of a man if he killed him. This demonstrates how according to lady Macbeth, what makes a person a man is killing someone. Masculinity seems to be a major topic in this play and it’s something Lady Macbeth tries to achieve herself. There’s nothing valuable about femininity in this play and it’s not mentioned. Someone could interpret Macbeth’s doubts and fears to be feminine if not masculine. Lady Macbeth dogging on her husband for not being a man plays a part in this anti-feminist narrative concerning her.

Masculine vs. Feminine Test! | LGBT+ Amino

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Act 3; Scene 2: in this scene Lady Macbeth learns of Macbeth’s plan to kill his best friend Banquo and his son, Fleance. In this moment the tables have turned, and the roles are switched.

“How now, my lord? Why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What’s done is done” ( 3.2. 8-12).

Lady Macbeth has become the fearful and doubtful one and tries to convince Macbeth to not kill anyone else. Perhaps she’s beginning to realize the moral repercussions for this. Since Lady Macbeth herself fueled Macbeth’s murder rampage by being more of a man, he sticks to that mindset and insists on continuing forward with the plan. Macbeth is the manly man and of course Lady Macbeth reverts to her passive and meek ways as a female which totally counteracts her manliness when she pushed Macbeth to kill King Duncan. Her reversing her actions and becoming the unmanly character again further illustrates her use of pushing this anti-feminist agenda.

Act 3; Scene 4: in this scene, Lacy Macbeth, Macbeth, and the thanes have dinner in the dining hall after Banquo’s death. Macbeth is convinced that he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his seat at the head of the table and starts talking to it and asking if the other lords see him. Lady Macbeth gets embarrassed by this outburst and once more questions his manhood. Macbeth affirms his manhood as he continuously acts insane.

“This is the very painting of your fear;
This is the air-drawn dagger which you said
Led you to Duncan. Oh these and starts,
Imposters to true fear, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authorized by her grandam” ( 3.4. 63-67).

Lady Macbeth is beside herself and told Macbeth that this story of hysterics is just like “a woman’s story at a winter’s fire.” She thinks he’s being hysterical and compares him to the hysterics of a woman which in this context is seen as frowned upon. It’s not surprising that historically, women were seen as hysterical, and they were often overlooked because of this. It’s also ironic how Lady Macbeth as a woman is telling her husband that he’s acting like a woman telling this ghost story and it’s very upsetting and embarrassing. How wild! This once again further demonstrates how anti-feminist ideas and stereotypes are brought to life through Lady Macbeth.

Hysteria: The disturbing history - Kindle edition by Scull, Andrew. Health,  Fitness & Dieting Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Hysteria-disturbing-history-Andrew-Scull-ebook/dp/B006H07PYQ

Although Lady Macbeth had influence on Macbeth and his bloody agenda, the manly action of killing people still casts Lady Macbeth in a bad light. She ultimately realizes this and dissolves into insanity before taking her own life. Either way, Lady Macbeth is frowned upon and used for an anti-feminist narrative. It’s almost like she’s not only manipulating Macbeth to commit murder but she’s also manipulating the audience into seeing the anti-feminist values and stereotypes through her. Whether that was intended by Shakespeare or not definitely reflects the social climate of the times and its appearance is unmistakable.




Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Shakespeare; Essential Plays and Sonnets. Third ed., Norton & Company, Incorporated, W.W., 2015.

 

An Optical Illusion- Macbeth

According to the English Oxford Dictionary an optical illusion is: “something that deceives the eye by appearing to be other than it is”. The image I used as an example seems to be a painting of a mans head, however this is an illusion. The painting is not just a mans head. The big picture is a man and women on a prairie with two houses behind them. The women’s hat is the ear, the man is the nose, while the eyes are two houses in the background. Not everyone sees the head first like I did, some may see the man and women, but the point is people see what they want to see first. Big pictures can be hard to recognize when the brain is being tricked. This very much reminds me of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s famous play, The Tragedy of Macbeth. The true tragedy, in my opinion, is that, like this optical illusion, Macbeth was tricked into showing his true colors and he was not who he thought he was.

Vincent Van Gogh

The illusion was guided by three witches, and the first encounter was simple. They approach Macbeth with confidence saying: “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!” Macbeth was not thane only thane of Glamis. Then the third witch says: “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” Macbeth and Banquo, who was with Macbeth, had so many questions, but the three witches vanished. Moments later messengers from the king arrived with this message:

And, for an earnest of a greater honor,
He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor:
In which addition, hail, most worthy thane,
For it is thine.
This instantly proved that the three witches were telling the truth, and somehow they could predict
the future. Macbeth is left with so many questions and has another encounter with the witches to get
more information. But first the witches mistress becomes angry at the three witches for helping Macbeth because he has shown to be such an evil person and devises a plan to trick Macbeth:
I’ll catch it ere it come to ground.
And that distilled by magic sleights
Shall raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion
The witches then trick Macbeth by giving him a false sense of hope the next time they talk:
Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
This is the illusion because Malcolm, who kills Macbeth in the end, was cut out of his mothers instead of being born the traditional way. Macbeth is so into his own pride that he would not be able to figure out this riddle. Like the optical illusion, his brain is focussing on something else until he can open his eyes at the end.

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble"(4.1.10-11). This chant is said by all three witch… | Macbeth witches, Three witches, Witch drawing

 

It can be hard to see the big picture sometimes like when looking at an optical illusion. Macbeth only heard he would be king, but did not stop to see that big picture. The three witches never said he had to do anything to become king, he became Thane of Cowdor without killing people or taking action. He was told that no man born from a women’s womb could kill him, but heard no one could ever kill him. Macbeth only heard what he wanted to hear, his brain tricked him. He saw the head but did not step back to see the prairie.

Image Credits:

https://www.boredpanda.com/optical-illusion-paintings-oleg-shupliak/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

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