Counterfeit Professions: Jewish Daughters and the Drama of Failed Conversion in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
Brett D. Hirsch
University of Victoria
Brett D. Hirsch. “Counterfeit Professions: Jewish Daughters and the Drama of Failed Conversion in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.” Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 19 (2009) 4.1-37 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-19/hirscoun.html>.
is a joke that asks the difference between a Jew and a Rottweiler.
Told to a contemporary audience, the punch line—that eventually a
Rottweiler lets go—is meant to be an amusing take on the stereotype
of the overbearing, guilt-inducing Jewish mother, seemingly unable to
ever forget how you should have finished your Law degree instead of
pursuing an unforgiving career as a literary scholar. To an early
modern audience, without the benefit of Seinfeld and Woody Allen, the joke may have provoked laughter for different
7 June 1594 Roderigo Lopez, physician to the Queen, was “hanged,
cutte downe aliue, holden downe by strength of men, dismembred,
bowelled, headed and quartered” at Tyburn (Stow 4O8v). The
chronicler William Camden, writing of the event some three decades
later, recounted that Lopez, “a Iewish Sectary,” was convicted of
having “conspired to make away the Queene by poyson” for “50
000 Crownes” from the King of Spain. At the trial Lopez claimed
“hee neuer thought any hurt against the Queene” and that “hee
neuer intended more then to deceiue the Spaniard, and cousen him of
his money.” At his execution, Lopez professed “that hee loued the Queene as well as Christ
which being spoken by a Iew, as it was, was but onely laughed at by
the people” (Camden 103-5).
have challenged the historical accuracy of Camden’s account,
arguing that Camden was not an eyewitness to the execution, that
Lopez’s “secret” Judaism was not widely known, and that this
version of events is uncorroborated by other sources (Berek; Edelman
“Which is the Jew” and “The Strange Case”; and Orgel). While
such efforts to dispel “a fiction that has seriously misled
generations of readers about the nature of Elizabethan society and
its reception of The
Merchant of Venice”
are of great importance (Edelman, “The Strange Case” 111), the
authenticity of Camden’s report is not my concern. Even if Camden
was not an eyewitness to the event, the inspiration for his account
did not arise in a vacuum: it is clear from the description of
Lopez’s execution that the idea of a converted Jew professing love
for Christ was understood to be laughable by Camden and, presumably,
his readers as well. Thus, like the Rottweiler joke, Camden’s
report of Lopez’s execution is of interest because it draws upon a
longer narrative tradition that stresses the inability of Jews to
“let go,” to completely renounce their Judaism. In the minds of
many in early modern England, such as those allegedly laughing at
Lopez on the scaffold, a Jew could never entirely cease to be a Jew.
as James Shapiro has shown in his illuminating study Shakespeare
and the Jews,
“this increasing sense of the impossibility of sincere Jewish
conversion in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”
occurs “at precisely the same time that apocalyptic belief in the
imminent conversion of the Jews was on the rise,” leaving a “sharp
and disturbing division between the two positions” (20). How these
competing and contradictory impulses have shaped and informed the
representation of Jews in the literature and drama of the period has
been the subject of much scholarly debate, with critics expanding and
enriching the discussion by drawing attention to the ways in which
these representations are further complicated by considerations of
race, nation, and gender, and by situating the texts within a
volatile climate of political unrest, religious conflict, nascent
capitalism, and colonial expansion.1 Moreover, focus on the dramatic texts of the period have brought to
light questions of theatrical practice and performance and, more
recently, an argument asserting that Jewish daughters in these plays
should be viewed as exceptional figures, able to pass easily between
Jewish and Christian faiths, identities and communities. Mindful of
the early modern English millenarian desire to convert the Jews in
order to expedite Christ’s return, in this article I wish instead
to focus broadly on Christopher Marlowe’s The
Jew of Malta and William Shakespeare’s The
Merchant of Venice as informed by the blood logic and incipient racial thinking that
cemented Jewish identity as immutable and essentially different; and,
in particular, to interrogate the argument that Jewish daughters in
these plays are exceptional figures. In this article I argue that
whether on the scaffold, stage, or page, the sincere conversion and
successful assimilation of all Jews in the early modern English
imagination was ultimately treated with suspicion or as a joke,
regardless of whether they were male or female, father or daughter.
and critics have pointed to the institution of the limpieza
de sangre (cleanness of blood) in Spain and later Portugal as signaling the
birth of modern racism, inasmuch as the doctrine is predicated on the
belief that “the impurity of their blood made [Jews] incapable of
experiencing a true conversion,”2 since “degenerate Jewish blood was impervious to baptism and grace”
and, if intermingled with Christian blood, “would contaminate
subsequent generations” and “continue to do so indefinitely”
(Friedman 16). “Jewishness” within this intellectual framework,
as Jerome Friedman has argued, “was not a statement of faith or
even a series of ethnic practices but a biological consideration”
incipient racial antisemitism3 was not exclusive to the Iberian Peninsula: in Germany, the “popular
[medieval] belief that Jewishness inhered so deeply that it could
never be effaced by baptism” persisted into and “took distinctive
forms in early modern German culture,” resulting in a comparable
form of biologically-inflected prejudice against the Jews and a
concomitant suspicion of converts (Carlebach 34). For example, the
assertion of unchangeable Jewish nature is to be found in many of the Fastnachtspiele (carnival plays), broadsides, ballads, and crude jokes that suggested
drowning as the only effective baptism for Jews.4 In depicting the Jews as monstrous and removed from the rest of
humanity both spiritually and biologically, Martin Luther’s later
polemics (in particular his Von
den Jüden und iren Lügen)
clearly also belong to this intellectual framework.5
developments in Germany, the Iberian Peninsula, and elsewhere in late
medieval and early modern Europe are of immense importance in the
history of race and antisemitism, their impact on contemporary
English attitudes toward the Jews is easily overstated. Likewise, it
is easy to underestimate the influence of the native medieval English
antisemitism as it was absorbed into later English culture. To
briefly summarize, early modern English culture inherited a wealth of
medieval antisemitic textual and visual narratives that figured the
Jew as physiologically distinct and beyond the pale of humanity. Jews
were characteristically of a darker skin, had large noses, red or
dark curly hair and beards; Jews were also said to have their own
identifiable stink (the foetor
as well as diabolic horns and monstrous prehensile tails; and Jewish
men were reputed to menstruate.6 In addition to these perceived physical traits, allegations that they
murdered Christian children and used Christian blood for ritual
purposes further estranged the Jews as inhuman monsters.7
suspicion that Jews were incapable of sincere conversion,
that so plagued the Iberian Peninsula during the early modern period,
was already evident in medieval England prior to the expulsion of the
Jews in 1290. In his study of Jewish converts in thirteenth-century
England, Robert Stacey has argued that by this time “there was
clearly an irreducible element to Jewish identity in the eyes of many
Christians, which no amount of baptismal water could entirely
eradicate” (278). In undergoing baptism, “converts from Judaism
became Christians, but this did not mean that they had entirely
ceased to be Jews in the eyes of their brothers and sisters in
Christ” (Stacey 278). Likewise, Jonathan Elukin has argued that
twelfth-century Christian culture “created a way of thinking about
the immutability of Jews” which initially drew “largely from
religious ideas rather than from conceptions of the biological
distinctiveness of Jews,” but later combined with “the emphasis
on lineage and the embryonic idea of the physical distinctiveness of
the Jews” to produce a framework in which it was “easier for
Christians to imagine that Jews were incapable of being assimilated
into Christian society” (184).
support their claims, both Stacey and Elukin examine the treatment of
Jewish converts in England, paying special attention to the records
of the Domus
a hospice established in 1232 by Henry III for the maintenance of
judaica pravitate (from Jewish depravity).8 The records suggest that the suspicion about the efficacy of
converting Jews had direct economic implications, since the Crown was
reluctant to provide adequate funding for the maintenance of converts
living in the Domus.9 Individual benefactors were similarly uncharitable when it came to
Jewish converts: as Lauren Fogle has shown, while “there were many
Londoners who left bequests to other London religious houses, to the
poor, to the lepers, and to other pious causes,” there is “no
evidence of any Londoner leaving money, property, or chattels to the Domus
or to any individual convert, in the medieval period” (110). Given
the lack of sufficient and ongoing financial support for the Domus,
religious houses were pressured to take on converts—couched in
terms of welcoming the Jews into the fellowship of Christ, of
course—which suggests that the Crown either “could not or would
not support the converts itself.” In turn, “converts were not
always well received by the institutions of the Church,” and “many
were forced to wander from monastery to monastery before they were
finally accepted,” leading Elukin to conclude that “hesitancy
about accepting converts was thus widespread,” and that this
“reluctance derived from Christian ambivalence about the true
identity of converts from Judaism” (176).
presence of Jewish converts raised disturbing questions about
Christian and Jewish identity: were they Christians, Jews, or
something in-between? How effective is baptism? Is sincere conversion
possible, and more pressingly, is it permanent? The suspect status of
Jewish converts, evidenced by the reluctance of government and
ecclesiastic bodies (as
well as individual benefactors) to support and maintain them
financially, was reinforced by the concomitant reluctance to fully
erase their former identities, since “documents from medieval
governments and the institutions of the Church identified Jewish
converts in ways that preserved the memory of their conversion”
(Elukin 174). Thus, while Jewish converts were no longer required to
wear the tabula-shaped badge that had previously identified them
externally as Jews, at their baptisms they were given surnames like le
convers to signal their status as former—and potentially present—Jews
Stacey and Elukin are reluctant to assert that the suspicion
surrounding medieval converts identified in their studies is
identical to that of early modern Spain and Portugal: for Stacey, the
medieval attitude is a “version” of the later Spanish incarnation
(281), and Elukin is similarly anxious to distance what he calls a
medieval “sensitivity to ethnic identity” from the “biologically
defined racism of modern Europe” (184). Recently, Stephen Kruger
has suggested a possible way around this quagmire, asserting that
“medieval religious difference is intimately intertwined especially
with constructions of gender and sexuality,” with “religion,
gender, and sexuality all together constituting a space of embodied
a space that is “analogous but not identical to modern, biologized
ideas of race” (68). In his astute analysis of Jews in medieval
texts, Kruger argues that it is “a difference constructed in the
body and emphasizing especially anomalies of gender and sexuality”
that renders Jewish conversion not simply difficult, but ultimately
as “a contradiction in terms” (169, 167).
the medieval construction of the Jews belongs more to the modern
conception of race or the conceptual space of embodied otherness suggested
by Kruger, it is clear that Jewish difference was not simply
conceived of as a theological distinction. It is equally clear that
even though the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, they left
behind a rich cultural and material legacy, and their presence was
felt long before their de
facto readmission under Cromwell in the 1650s. Thus, any discussion of the
representation of Jews in early modern English culture has to take
into account the attitudes surrounding fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century Germany and Iberia, as well as the indigenous
antisemitic textual and visual narratives inherited from England’s
seed of Christian doubts about the efficacy of baptism and the
sincerity of Jewish converts—planted
in the Middle Ages, nurtured in part by the rise of nationalism and a
concomitant hardening of racial and ethnic categories on the one
hand, and the attendant crisis of identity of the various
Reformations on the other—bore bitter fruit by the early modern
period. Christopher Marlowe’s The
Jew of Malta offers a sustained engagement with these issues as it stages
Christian fears and fantasies of Jewish infidelity, immutability, and
barbarity. Written in 1589-90, The
Jew of Malta enjoyed over 36 performances in revival between 1592 and 1596,
including two performances within ten days of the execution of
Roderigo Lopez in 1594, which Stephen Orgel concedes “is unlikely
to have been accidental” (151). As Michelle Ephraim insightfully
audiences that flocked to the theater, The
Jew of Malta played out in high theatrics, like Lopez’s body drawn and quartered
in a London courtyard, a retributive strike against the Jewish body,
a symbol of treachery and blood miscegenation. (115).
efficacy of Jewish conversion is a question at the heart of The
Jew of Malta.11 Conversion in The
Jew of Malta serves mundane and profane purposes: recovering hidden monies,
assuaging guilt, and facilitating revenge. When the Turks come to
collect their tribute (now in arrears), the Christian governor of
Malta turns to the Jews of the island to foot the bill. Refusing to
pay half of his estate and to convert to Christianity, Barabas, the
eponymous rich Jew of Malta, has all of his goods seized. To add
insult to injury, the Christians “Conuert his mansion to a Nunnery”
(C2r, 1.2.130).12 In order to recover a stash of gold hidden away in his house, he
convinces his daughter Abigail to feign conversion in order to gain
access to the nunnery that has taken its place. Abigail is hesitant
at first, recognizing that “they will suspect [her] there” (C4r,
1.2.283), both as a Jew and as a previous occupant, to which her
Let ‘em suspect, but be thou so
been duly instructed by her father in the art of “counterfet
profession” (C4r, 1.2.292) and prepared to do “whate’er it be
to iniure them / That haue so manifestly wronged vs” (C4r,
1.2.274-75), Abigail gains an audience with the Abbess and, under the
guise of seeking a life of quiet penitence, is admitted for a nun.
Once inside, Abigail locates the hidden gold and throws it out of the
window to her waiting father. The money recovered, Abigail undergoes
a reversion of faith, and when she next appears it is not as a nun
but as a dutiful daughter answering the door to her father’s new
home (E2v, 2.3.223).
As they may thinke it done of
Intreat ‘em faire, and giue
them friendly speech,
And seeme to them as if thy
sinnes were great,
Till thou hast gotten to be
entertain’d. (C4r, 1.2.284-88)
reaction to this turn of events is telling: Mathias greets Lodowick
with news that he has seen “The strangest sight, in my opinion, / That euer I
beheld” in witnessing Abigail “strangely metamorphis’d [into a]
Nun” (D1v, 1.2.374-75, 379). In an entry dated 1596 in his travel
journal, Thomas Platter remarked, “has it ever been known, in the
memory of man, that a Jew has been converted?”13 The Christians of Malta seem to share Platter’s skepticism, since
Abigail’s return to Judaism fails to elicit surprise or comment
until she seeks to be readmitted later in the play: as a Jew,
Abigail’s apparent desire to convert arouses suspicion—her
perceived inability to do so does not.
Abigail seeks to re-enter the nunnery later in the play, her motives
again lack divine inspiration: informed of the deaths of Mathias and
Lodowick, Abigail recognizes her role in their demise and seeks
conversion in order to assuage her guilt. Acknowledging her boldness
in asking Friar Jacomo to allow her to enter the sisterhood again,
Abigail promises that her next conversion will be more permanent:
Then were my thoughts so fraile &
And I was chain’d to follies of
But now experience, purchased
Has made me see the difference of
My sinfull soule, alas, hath
pac’d too long
The fatall Labyrinth of
Farre from the Sonne that giues
eternall life. (F3r, 3.3.62-68)
Friar, right to be suspicious, doubts the sincerity of these words
and asks, “Who taught thee this?” (F3r, 3.3.69). Despite
admitting that she is parroting the words of the “Abbasse of the
house,” Abigail insists on her sincerity and claims that her
failure to commit to a life of piety previously “was my father’s
fault” (F3r, 3.3.69, 75). Still doubtful of her motives, the Friar
allows Abigail to return to the nunnery, but insists that she “change
no more” (F3r, 3.3.73) and is constant in her adopted faith.
is precisely this proven inconstancy that moves Barabas to poison his
daughter (and the other nuns) since, no longer in a position to
assert his patriarchal authority over her, he cannot rely on his
“False, credulous, inconstant Abigail”
not to betray him (F3v, 3.4.27). But betray him she does: in the
course of her dying confession she asks that Friar Bernardine
“Conuert my father that he may be sau’d, / And witnesse that I
dye a Christian” (G2r, 3.6.39-40). The Friar, a contemptible figure
at the best of times, seems more concerned with the waste of her
flesh than the salvation of her soul, lamenting that she died “a
Virgin too, that grieues me most” (G2r, 3.6.41). Implicating her
father, Abigail’s confession spurs the Friar’s thoughts to turn
from lechery to greed. Unable to satisfy his lust—we assume, if not
hope—the Friar now treats Abigail’s corpse as an inconvenience:
he asks another Friar for “helpe to bury this,” not bury her,
“then goe with me / And helpe me to exclaime against the Iew”
Barabas realizes that he has been undone by Abigail’s confession
and that the Friars seek to blackmail him, he uses their greed to his
advantage: after boasting the extensive catalogue of his worldly
possessions, Barabas proposes that “All this I’le giue to some
religious house / So I may be baptiz’d and liue therein” (G3r,
4.1.75-76), sparking a competition between the Friars which results
ultimately in their deaths. Whether cast as a penalty for refusing to
pay manifestly corrupt taxes, a cover by which hidden goods are
recovered, a means of obtaining sensitive information with which to
blackmail, or as a bait with which to catch greedy clerics, Jewish
conversion in The
Jew of Malta,
as Michelle Ephraim observes, “is merely a guise for mercenary
exchanges of resources” (126).
critics have argued that Abigail’s final conversion is sincere:
Paul Whitfield White, for example, characterizes Abigail as
“genuinely pious” and asserts that “the sincerity and
inward-centered nature of her faith” provides a sharp contrast with
“her father’s dissembling and atheism and the Friars’
avaricious, lecherous, and vow-breaking actions” (86, 77). Joan
Ozark Holmer goes as far as describing Abigail as a “heroine who is
loved and admired by Christians surprisingly before as well as perhaps less surprisingly after she actually converts to Christianity” (107; see also Beskin). Such
readings, however, endow Abigail with a purity that simply is not
there,15 or willfully neglect her complicity in her father’s machinations,
and ultimately fail to account for the play’s refusal to “recognize
her as a figure of Christian conversion,” particularly since
Marlowe casts her as “most explicitly a bodily object of desire at
the moment when she appears to yearn most ardently for spiritual
transcendence” (Ephraim 128). Barabas’s mocking reaction at the
news of her second conversion—“What, Abigall become
a Nunne againe?” (F3r, 3.4.1)—thus gives voice to a cynicism
undoubtedly felt by the play’s early audiences. Like the boy who
cried wolf, Abigail is the Jewess who cried nun—her repeated
attempts at conversion, to indulge in another pun, are not treated as
an audience witnessing Abigail’s inconstancy—her feigned initial
conversion and her parroted professions of faith later—as well as
her father’s numerous empty promises to be baptized, it is clear
that sincerity is in short supply in Marlowe’s Malta. Conversion is
never prompted by spiritual impulses: it is a form of punishment; a
disguise which “hides many mischiefes,” mercenary or otherwise,
“from suspition” (C4r, 1.2.281); or, a feeble effort to assuage
guilt and rebel against patriarchal authority. Jewish infidelity, a
popular topic for sermons and stories, would have been as
unsurprising to Marlowe’s audience as it was for the Christian
characters in the play itself. This was all the more topical in June
1594 after the Lopez execution when, if Camden’s account is to be
believed, both scaffold and stage featured Jews professing
Christianity to spectators convinced otherwise.
Gentle And No Jew
Merchant of Venice,
we find another example of a Jewish daughter professing to have
successfully converted to Christianity, but in this instance the
ostensible conversion is predicated on marriage and manners, and the
convert attempts to elide bodily difference. A number of critics have
shared Jessica’s optimism, contending that since she lacks the same
external markers of Jewish identity that encumber her father—his
“beard” (445, 1.3.116), his “Iewish gaberdine” (440,
1.3.111), his suggestive “badge of all our Tribe” (438, 1.3.109)
and, most importantly, his circumcision—Jessica is able to
successfully shed her Jewish identity for a Christian one and
assimilate into Venetian society through marriage.17 To paraphrase Lara Bovilsky, the implication is that “Jessica is
capable of leaving her Jewishness behind” because she is
effectively “seen as less Jewish than her father” (82-83). For
example, M. Lindsay Kaplan argues that unlike their male counterparts
Jewish women were easily convertible and that “in all of the
instances of racial Jewishness persisting after conversion, none of
the converts are female” (17-18). As
part of her discussion of Jewish somatic difference, Kaplan argues
that “the Jewish woman is whiter in both flesh and blood than the
Jewish man,” and that “the idea of Jessica’s fairness is
iterated throughout the play” (20). This argument, which has been
put forward by a number of scholars before,18 rests entirely on descriptions of Jessica as “fair” and “gentle,”
suggesting a racial fluidity that simultaneously brings her closer to
the Christian gentle/gentile community she longs to join whilst
distancing her (physiologically and literally) from her father. Ania
Loomba, for example, has declared that “in fact all of the
converted women on the Renaissance stage are remarkably fair, and
their skin colour is essential to their convertibility”
(Shakespeare 157). While I agree that “fair” is a loaded term in early modern
English use, and that examples can be cited to show that “fairness”
is often used in reference to complexion and skin colour,19 I do not find it convincing in Jessica’s case. As I have argued
elsewhere, this reading of the word “fair” in The
strained, occluding an arguably more sensible reading centred on
Venetian puffery and mercantile exchange (Hirsch 2006). To the
Venetians in the play, women are “fair” as long as they offer
financial benefit. Portia is “faire, and, fairer than that word”
(171, 1.1.162) because she is “a Lady richly left” (170,
1.1.161), and Portia and Nerissa are “Faire Ladies” (2723,
5.1.294) when they deliver the generous proceeds of the trial to
Lorenzo and Jessica. Jessica is only “fair” when she has
something to offer—that is, her father’s money. Once she has
eloped and the funds have dried up, so too has the need to stress her
“fairness.” Instead, she is subjected to Launcelot’s taunts
that her hopes of conversion are “damned” by her lineage
(1818-20, 3.5.1-16) and she is otherwise dismissed as Lorenzo’s
“Infidell” (1567, 3.2.216). Jessica seems to recognize that the
earlier descriptions of her “fairness” were simply part of
Lorenzo’s swearing “he lou’d her well, / Stealing her soule”
with his rhetorical flourishes and fancy semantics, including “many
vowes of faith, / And nere a true one” (2428-29, 5.1.18-20).
Shakespeare’s Venice, Christian men are liberal with their praise
as long as the subjects of that praise are equally liberal with their
purse. When Shylock agrees to provide the necessary funds, Antonio
calls him a “gentle Iew,”
remarking to Bassanio that “This Hebrew will turne Christian, he
growes kinde” (507-8, 1.3.176-77). When he is later invited to join
the Christians for dinner, Shylock knows full well that he is “not
bid for loue” but that his invitation is merely to “flatter”
him (850-51, 2.5.13). Of course, “these curtesies” (455, 1.3.126)
cease to be forthcoming once the money has been put to use, and the
Christians return to more familiar epithets: “damn’d, inexecrable
dogge” (2037, 4.1.127), “deuill” (2202, 4.1.284), “currish
Iew” (2207, 4.1.289), “infidell” (2251, 4.1.331). Likewise,
when Portia is “a Lady richly left” she is “faire, and, fairer
than that word” (170-71, 1.1.161-62), but as soon as Bassanio has
secured her hand (and all of her worldly possessions) there is no
longer any need for flattery and she is thereafter referred to
plainly as his “wife.” Indeed, newly cashed-up, he can make the
flippant offer in court to “loose all” he has, “life it selfe,
my wife, and all the world,” and to “sacrifice them all” to
“deliuer” Antonio (2197-2202, 4.1.279-84). The ring he wrongfully
parts with so casually is also just “a trifle” (2351, 4.1.427),
something “giuen me by my wife” (2362, 4.1.438). It is only when
confronted with the loss of the ring that Bassanio returns to
flattery in order to placate his “Sweet Portia”
(2616, 5.1.193), “sweete Lady” (2639, 5.1.215), and “good Lady”
way of a final example of the mercenary motives behind the Christian
use of both “fair” and “gentle” in the play, consider the
scene in which Jessica throws down her father’s caskets and gilds
herself with more ducats before eloping with Lorenzo. Witnessing
this, Graziano exclaims “Now by my hood, a gentle and no Iew”
(952, 2.6.51), but this granting of “gentle” status is hollow and
laden with a cruel irony: at this precise moment Jessica is not
herself but “transformed to a boy” (940, 2.6.39), disguised
(presumably as a Christian) to enable her escape. Moreover, with its
pun on “hood,” Graziano’s sardonic remark reminds the audience
of the foreskin that marks him as a Christian, a mark that Jessica
does not and cannot have, “Euen in the louely garnish of a boy”
(947, 2.6.45).20 Lorenzo’s comments are equally duplicitous:
Beshrew me but I loue her
series of conditional statements suggests that Jessica’s “fairness”
is contingent on Christian assessments of her merits, negating any
assertions of her “fairness” being innate. She is not “fair”
in and of herself, but only when “she hath prou’d her selfe,”
which in this instance is accomplished by the deceitful “exchange”
(936, 2.6.35) of her appearance, and, more importantly, her father’s
property. Furthermore, making Jessica’s “fairness” contingent
on the truthfulness of his “eyes” is particularly problematic at
this moment in the play, precisely because the “louers cannot see”
each other (937, 2.6.36). Jessica, “glad ‘tis night” (935,
2.6.34), is unable to identify Lorenzo by sight, and instead relies
on her sense of hearing: “Who are you? tell me for more certainty,
/ Albeit Ile sweare that I do know your tongue” (926-27,
2.6.26-27). Whilst repeated remarks such as these about Jessica being
“fair” and “gentle” earlier in the play suggest a
malleability and a potential for successful conversion and
integration into the Christian community of Venice, her later
treatment—ignored, alienated as “yond stranger” (1590,
3.2.237),21 and no longer a ready source of funding—seems to suggest instead
that her status as an outsider and a Jew is essential and
For she is wise, if I can iudge
And faire she is, if that mine
eyes be true,
And true she is, as she hath
prou’d her selfe:
And therefore like her selfe,
wise, faire, and true,
Shall she be placed in my
constant soule. (953-59, 2.6.52-57)
Jessica’s hopes of successful conversion aren’t bolstered by a
supposed “fairness,” could her gender have assisted her instead?
It has recently been suggested that in The
Merchant of Venice “women are seen as more authentic in their conversions, not despite
of their gender, but because of it,” since “Neo-Aristotelian
concepts of gender provide a biological justification for female
inferiority and lack of maternal contribution to offspring” (Kaplan
17). In other words, Jewish women do not pose a threat to patriarchy
or to Christianity, since as women they are inferior to men and their
lack of maternal input allows for a clean slate, because a Christian
father will contribute solely to the formative makeup in
reproduction, thereby producing Christian offspring. Although I agree
that the (Neo-)Aristotelian model of reproduction (in which the
mother simply functions as a vessel for the male seed) was “current
and widely circulated in the sixteenth century” (Kaplan 24), I
would argue that there is more evidence to suggest that the Galenic
model (in which both male and female seed contributed to the
formation of the child) was favoured by Shakespeare.23 In Julius Caesar,
Cassius refers to “that rash humour which my Mother gaue me”
(2103, 4.2.174), suggesting that he has inherited his quick temper,
understood in humoral terms as physiological, from his mother.
Likewise in The Two
Noble Kinsmen, in
their assessment of the disguised Arcite, Emilia and Hippolyta
comment on both maternal and paternal contributions to his
appearance: while “His mother was a wondrous handsome woman, / His
face me thinkes, goes that way” (E4v, 2.5.20-21), “But his body /
And fiery mind illustrate a brave father” (E4v–F1r, 2.5.21-22).
One of Falstaff’s many tactless jokes in 2
Henry IV plays
Shadow’s (self-evident) maternity against his doubtful paternity:
“Thy Mothers sonne: like enough, and thy Fathers shadow: so the
sonne of the Female, is the shadow of the Male: it is often so
indeede, but not of the Fathers substance” (1663-66, 3.2.127-30).24 Although Leontes tells Florizel that “Your Mother was most true to
Wedlock, Prince / For she did print your Royall Father off, /
Conceiuing you” and “Your Fathers image is so hit in you”
(2879-82, 5.1.123-26), both sentiments that would support the
Aristotelian argument, the resolution of The
Winter’s Tale also
relies on Perdita’s “Maiestie … in resemblance of the Mother”
(3045-46, 5.2.35-36) being recognized.
in his Sonnets, where the poet is often seen as pandering to the male
fantasy of self-replication in order to convince the young man to
marry, Shakespeare acknowledges the mother’s formative and material
contribution to her offspring when he writes that “Thou art thy
mothers glasse and she in thee / Calls backe the louely Aprill of her
prime” (3.9-10). Shakespeare may be suggesting that the mother sees
an image of the father in the son, or that she is reminded of her
youth, but it may also be that she sees herself in her child, as if
looking in a glass/mirror. Editors often only follow one reading in
their annotations: for example, Colin Burrow prefers a reading that
suggests that a child is a mirror to its father in his Oxford
Shakespeare edition (386), while G. Blakemore Evans reads “glass”
as a mirror “in which she [the mother] sees herself reflected as
she once was” (118) in his edition for the New Cambridge
Shakespeare. While it is unclear whether Evans’s reading is limited
to the mother seeing her youth in her son and not herself,
it makes as much sense to read it literally as the mother seeing herself and not simply her youth in her son.25
other examples, from Shakespeare and other writers of the time, make
similar use of the Galenic model of reproduction, drawing on the
understanding that offspring inherit attributes—physical or
otherwise—from both parents, not just their fathers. One particular
example from outside of the Shakespeare canon seems pertinent, since
it deals with the offspring of a cross-cultural, inter-racial
relationship. In Thomas Dekker’s The
Honest Whore, the
melancholic Hippolito admonishes the harlot Bellafront on the moral
bankruptcy of her profession, since “as base as any beast that
… body is ee’ne hirde, and so
is a prostitute, and a Christian. While the point of the slur is that
Bellafront will sleep with anyone—Jew, Moor, Tartar, Christian,
Devil, and morbidly unattractive alike—provided they have
sufficiently lined pockets, Hippolito’s suggestion that she would
allow a Jew to “get [her] with christian” simply does not make
sense within the Aristotelian model. Such a model would expect to see
the Jew “get” Bellafront with a Jew, since the male seed is the
exclusive factor in Aristotelian generation—but this is not what
Dekker, and presumably his audience, would have understood.
For gold and sparkling iewels,
(if he can)
Youle let a Iewe get you with christian:
Be he a Moore, a Tartar, tho his
Looke vglier then a dead mans
Could the diuel put on a humane
If his purse shake out crownes,
vp then he gets,
Whores will be rid to hell with
golden bits. (D4v)
does all of this leave Jessica? She acknowledges that she is her
“Fathers childe” and “a daughter to his blood,” but “not to
his manners” (788-90, 2.3.17-19). Jessica stakes her claim to
conversion on her optimistic hope that Jewish difference is a matter
of “manners,” that is, of theological and cultural difference.
However, as I have been arguing, by the early modern period
Jewishness was conceived less as a “statement of faith or even a
series of ethnic practices” and more as a “biological
consideration” (Friedman 16), an “embodied otherness” (Kruger
68) and a “physical distinctiveness” that effectively rendered
of being assimilated into Christian society” (Elukin 184). Thus, Kaplan is right to read this statement as Jessica
not perceiving “a racial difference” between her father and
herself (20); however, this is inconsistent with her subsequent
assessment of Salerio’s comment to Shylock — that “There is
more difference betweene thy flesh and hers, then betweene Iet and
Iuorie, more betweene your bloods, then there is betweene red wine
and rennish” (1252-54, 3.1.35-37) — as contrasting “Shylock and
Jessica in terms that clearly denote racial difference in both skin
color and blood” (Kaplan 20). Surely we are dealing with hyperbole
here, not an accurate physiological description of Shylock and his
daughter. To read such remarks literally when they are clearly
figurative is to run the danger of having to take Graziano’s
suggestion seriously: that the soul of a wolf “Infus’d it selfe”
in Shylock when he lay in his “vnhallowed dam” (2045-46,
4.1.135-36). Save for Shylock’s howling defeat at the close of the
trial scene, the play offers no reason to trust Graziano on his word.
recognizes the shortcomings of asserting Shylock’s “blackness”
in her footnote, where she writes that “Jewish racial difference
can coincide with the assertions that Jewish men are black in
countenance,” as opposed to actual appearance (20n51). Whether
substituting “countenance” for “appearance” is convincing or
not, there is little to suggest that Shylock is in fact darker in
complexion than his daughter.26 Readings that draw on Jessica’s description of Chus/Cush (the
biblical son of Cham/Ham) as one of her father’s “Countri-men”
(1642, 3.2.283) are somewhat over-determined, since Shylock cannot be that different in appearance to Antonio: at the trial Portia still has to
ask “Which is the Merchant heere? and which the Iew?” (2082,
in the play, Launcelot taunts Jessica by telling her that she is
“damned,” and that she has “but a kinde of bastard hope”
(1818-20, 3.5.5-7) that she is not a Jew and therefore able to
successfully convert to Christianity. Launcelot begins by suggesting
that Jessica should hope that her “father got you not,” that she
is “not the Iewes daughter” (1822-23, 3.5.9-10). For Kaplan, this
question of paternity is “the key to Jessica’s identity as a
Christian and as a future mother of Christians” (26). But, as
Jessica reminds Launcelot in her reproach, to do so would be to lose
sight of her mother’s role in the whole affair—that “the sins
of my mother should be visited vpon me (1824-25, 3.5.11-12)—to
which Launcelot replies that “Truly then I feare you are damned
both by father and mother: thus when I shun Scilla your father, I fall into Charibdis your mother; well, you are gone both waies” (1826-29, 3.5.13-16).27 The argument for an Aristotelian framework, with its emphasis on the
supposed lack of maternal contribution in the early modern
understanding of reproduction, does not account for Launcelot’s
final comment. Apart from being proverbially caught between a rock
and a hard place, Jessica is told that she is “gone” both ways,
that she is damned to be (and remain) a Jew by both her mother and
father, that even to hope or deny the contribution of the one exposes
the contribution of the other. Launcelot’s comment echoes an
earlier remark by Lorenzo, that Jessica is, and always will be,
“issue to a faithlesse Iew”
(832, 2.4.37). A Jew by blood, both by her mother and her father, in
effect Jessica is damned unless she denies both parents. Instead of
launching into a defence of the “sins of [her] mother” (1825,
3.5.12), or a simple dismissal of Launcelot’s words as
meaningless—he is the play’s fool, after all—Jessica instead
offers her hope that she will be “sau’d by [her] husband”
despite her lineage, that Lorenzo “hath made [her] a Christian”
(1830-31, 3.5.17-18).28 Even this, as evidenced by the play’s later treatment of Jessica,
does not appear to be efficacious. For example, Lorenzo’s immediate
counterargument that he “shall answere” his marriage to Jessica
“better to the Commonwealth” than Launcelot can “the getting vp
of the Negroes bellie” (1848-50, 3.5.35-37), does not inspire much
faith in his wife’s conversion. Rather, it suggests that their
elopement is an answerable offence, which, as Shapiro reminds us, has
legal precedent: “there were English laws dating back to the
thirteenth century, technically in effect three centuries later, that
condemned to death Christians who had sex with Jews” and “linking
this activity to the comparable crimes of sodomy and bestiality”
fate, then, would appear to rest on her assertion that she differs
from her father in “manners” if not in “blood.” But Jessica’s
statement in her melancholic exchange with Lorenzo in the play’s
last Act that “I am neuer merry when I heare sweet musique”
(2481, 5.1.69), recalls Shylock’s earlier injunction against
Christian revelry, to “Let not the sound of shallow fopperie enter
/ [His] sober house” (871-72, 2.5.35-36), which begs the question
of just how successful her attempt to distance herself from her
father’s manners has in fact been. Jessica’s echoing of her
father’s sentiments extends to her shared use of the word “merry.”
As the late Tony Tanner observed, although the word “merry” is
“an unequivocally positive word” in ordinary usage, it loses its
innocence and assumes a more sinister guise in the play through
Shylock’s description of the “merrie bond” (502, 1.3.172) of
flesh signed in a spirit of “merrie sport” (474, 1.3.144).
Turning to Jessica’s use of the word, Tanner concludes that
“something has happened to ‘merry-ness,’ and although Belmont
is, distinctly, an abode of ‘sweet music,’ a note of un-merry
sadness lingers in the air” (48). Suggestions that this exchange
instead emphasize Jessica’s differences from her father fail to
address these verbal and tonal echoes.
Carlebach has noted, “long before the aesthetics of ‘looking
Jewish’ became a marker for identifying Jewishness, those of
‘sounding Jewish’ became the most important significant sign of
Jewish birth,” where “Europeans regarded distinctive sound
patterns as ineradicable components of Jewish identity” (157-58).
For example, in an account of the Jews of Venice in his Coryats
Coryate describes the reading at the Sabbath service as
… pronounce[d] before the
congregation not by a sober, distinct, and orderly reading, but by an
exceeding loud yaling, vndecent roaring, and as it were a beastly
bellowing of it forth. And that after such a confused and hudling
manner, that I thinke the hearers can very hardly vnderstand him.
his report, Coryate focuses as much on the appearance of Venetian
Jews—which famously moves him to reject the “English prouerbe: To
looke like a Iewe” on account of the number of “elegant and
sweete featured persons” he witnessed (232)—as on their
distinctive sound, characterizing their religious services as full of
“a very tedious babbling, and an often repetition of one thing,
which cloied mine eares so much that I could not endure them any
longer” (233). A number of scholars have observed that Shylock’s
“repetition becomes, paradoxically, one mark of his singularity,
crucial to the building up of his peculiar idiom or dramatic
idiolect” (Gross 55),30 and Jessica’s verbal echoing of her father’s words taps into this
notion of a distinguishable Jewish pattern of speech. As much as
Jessica might like to imagine that she is only “a daughter to his
blood” and “not to his manners” (789-90, 2.3.18-19), echoing
her father’s words suggests that she has also inherited his manner
of speaking—like her father, she sounds Jewish.
outlined in detail earlier, the unease at the close of the play is in
keeping with the findings of historians who have brought to light the
difficulties and distrust faced by actual Jewish converts to
Christianity in England and elsewhere. To argue that Jessica is
somehow “whiter and brighter” than her father is to place too
much weight on the dubious praise she receives from the Venetians as
“fair,” since their use of the word is so clearly linked with the
promise of financial gain. An analogy might be drawn from
Shakespeare’s other Venetian play, Othello—in
the same way that Iago is constantly (and increasingly inaccurately)
described as “honest,” simply labelling Jessica as “fair” or
“gentle” does not necessarily make her so. Moreover, the argument
that Jessica’s threat as a Jewess is obfuscated because she
“contributes nothing to the race of her child” (Kaplan 27) is
based on an assumption that Shakespeare accepted the
(Neo-)Aristotelian model of generation wholly and exclusively, while
evidence from his other works would suggest otherwise. As such, the
assertion that “Jewish men are seen as possessing a racial essence
that resists conversion and is sometimes represented in terms of skin
color,” while “Jewish women are not distinguished racially from
Christians, and the sincerity and efficacy of their conversions are
not called into question” (Kaplan 19-20) appears to be challenged
rather than affirmed by the text. Just as Abigail’s flights of
fancy were treated with suspicion, Jessica’s belief in the
ascendency of “manners” over “blood” appears equally
Fictions And Flesh Fantasies
English converts were no longer forced to wear the Jew badge, but
fears that convert Jews might be covert Jews demanded that they be contained (such as in the Domus
and otherwise branded as suspect, identified as prior (and
potentially persistent) Jews in official documents and at baptism.
This fear, exaggerated by the more recent events in Spain and
Portugal, perhaps explains Shylock’s ambivalent status at the close
Merchant of Venice—at
once “content” to “presently become a Christian,” yet still
referred to as “the rich Iewe,” as if neither his defeat at trial
nor his forced conversion has been sufficient enough to erase his
problem appears to be that religious conversion is not enough to
efface somatic, (proto-)racial differences. According to Robert Clark
and Claire Sponsler, the earlier medieval romance tradition tackled
this issue by combining stories of religious conversion with
“fantasies of bodily change … in order to signal full
assimilation” (74). In the anonymous romance The
King of Tars,
for example, the union of a Christian princess and Saracen sultan
produces a monstrous “rond of flesche” (l. 580) that lacks “blod
& bon” (l. 582) and “noiþer [neither] nose no eye”
(l. 584), but when the shapeless lump is baptized it is transformed
into a beautiful baby boy, complete with “limes [limbs] al hole &
fere” (l. 705).32 The sultan, moved by this miraculous transformation, undertakes
baptism himself, at which point his skin “þat blac &
loþely was” becomes “Al white … & clere” (ll.
928-30).33 Tales about the efficacy of baptism in removing the foetor
judaicus or Jewish stench similarly attest to the notion of a Christianity
that, according to Geraldine Heng, “possesses a spiritual essence
with the power to reshape biological fleshly matter” (229).34 “By undoing the concept of fixed, unalterable identities,” as
Guari Viswanathan has argued, “conversion unsettles the boundaries
by which selfhood, citizenship, nationhood, and community are
defined, exposing these as permeable borders” (16). In these
medieval tales, the anxiety that Viswanathan suggests arises from
conversion is alleviated by the fantasy of complete incorporation and
assimilation, body and soul—the reshaping of biological fleshly
matter not only testifies to the sincerity of the convert’s inward
spiritual conversion, but functions to obliterate any somatic/racial
differences that may hinder their successful assimilation.35 However, as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen reminds us, “outside of fantasy
spaces like romance,” baptism is not a simple act whereby
individuals enter as outsiders and leave as Christians, miraculously
transformed “completely, soul and body”
the English stage, the conversion of Jews is not manifested by an
outward physical transformation. The
Jewish daughters in The
Jew of Malta and The
Merchant of Venice do not undergo any bodily transformations as a result of their
conversion: Abigail remains a virginal object of carnal desire even
at the moment of her death, and by the end of the play Jessica is
neither “fair” nor “gentle” but a “stranger” and
“infidel.” If Barabas were to undertake conversion in The
Jew of Malta,
and if he was in fact played with a red wig and beard like Judas in
the mystery cycles,36 would he exchange them for alternatives of a more Christian colour at
the baptismal font (another possible use for the cauldron)? Would the
“Bottle-nos’d knaue” (F2r, 3.3.10) have his prosthetic beak
similarly vanish at baptism? Likewise, if Shakespeare had allowed
Shylock to return to the stage after his defeat at court, would he no
longer be marked as a Jew with his “beard” (445, 1.3.116),37 his “gaberdine” (440, 1.3.111), or his “badge” (438,
these stage representations seem to echo the historical record which
suggests that Jewish conversion is a matter of doubt and suspicion,
if not impossibility—without the aid of miraculous bodily
transformation, after baptism, something Jewish remains. In some
instances, this lingering Jewish identity is not only evident in
performance, but also in print. For example, the earliest extant text
Jew of Malta,
the 1633 Quarto, prints the prefixes “Iew.”
and “Bar.” at different points of the play to
indicate Barabas’s speech. Modern editors have sought to explain
this inconsistency (along with many other deficiencies that plague
the quarto text) by arguing that these “authorial mistakes” were
already present in Marlowe’s manuscript or “foul papers”
(Bawcutt, ed. 44-45) or are otherwise the result of “some sort of
intentional revision or accidental alteration in the more than four
decades that had elapsed since Marlowe wrote his play” (Bevington &
Rasmussen, eds. xxix). A conclusive bibliographical explanation
notwithstanding, it is possible to speculate about the effect of
these interchanging speech prefixes on early readers: in addition to
reinforcing his racial/cultural identity as a Jew and highlighting
his opportunistic character, the Quarto’s inconsistent use of
and mirrors Abigail’s spiritual inconstancy, already conceived of
as a Jewish trait in the play. Also echoing her father’s speech
prefixes is the way that Abigail is always referred to as a “Iew”
(as opposed to a “Iewess”) in the playtext, reminding readers of
her shared Jewish identification.
more has been made of the analogous case in The
Merchant of Venice,
where both the 1600 Quarto and the 1623 Folio texts variously use
and “Iew.” or
as prefixes to indicate Shylock’s speeches. Modern editors
uniformly standardize these speech prefixes, with the exception of
Leah Marcus’s recent Norton Critical Edition of the play, in which
she asks the provocative question, “What would the effect of this
generic labeling, which becomes increasingly consistent in the Trial
Scene, have been on early readers of the play?” (76). One
possibility, offered by Emma Smith, is that “the unspoken words of
the text,” that is, “the speech prefixes which name the
protagonists in the courtroom, reveal that this is a cultural
struggle not between individuals but between the named Christians and
the archetypal Jew” (61). Coming to the question from the position
of bibliographer, Richard F. Kennedy argues that the variable speech
prefixes in the 1600 Quarto are not the product of any cultural or
ideological agenda, but the result of Elizabethan compositorial
practice in the process of textual production: Shakespeare’s
manuscript probably used Iewe throughout, but a shortage of italic capital I types
meant that the compositors had to set Shy/Shyl to substitute.38 Combining the two approaches, John Drakakis suggests that “while
having its practical cause in a series of identifiable
type-shortages,” the “oscillation between ‘Jew’ and ‘Shylock’
… traverses also the gulf between stereotype and individual”
(110). Thus, early readers as well as audiences would not have been
surprised to read or hear of Nerissa’s “speciall deed of gift”
from “the rich Iewe” (2721, 5.1.292) at the close of the play,
since Shylock is routinely identified as a “Iew(e),” in
performance and print, even after his apparent conversion.
Remains / Remaining Jewish
number of reasons might be offered to explain why the figure of an
inconvertible Jew was so appealing to an early modern English
audience. The Reformation and the crisis of faith that swept Europe
in its wake and aftermath is undoubtedly a factor: in an England
where a single generation saw the official Church change back and
forth between Catholicism and various forms of Protestantism,
conversion was not simply a matter of individual concern and topical
but of life and death. In this context, the figure of the Jew—fixed
and unchanging, unaffected by conversion—projected the desire for
stability in religious identity during a time of uncertainty. The
paucity of Jewish converts also lent itself to polemics, with various
groups blaming each other for the failure to win the Jews over to
Christianity. As attested to by the events in Spain and Portugal and
the emergence of similar sentiments elsewhere in Europe, this was a
period that saw the hardening of racial categories and the birth of a
modern, biologically inflected racism. Consequently, antisemitic
textual and visual narratives suggesting that the Jewish body was
different imparted a new sense of permanence that had not previously
been emphasized: Jews were no longer simply members of a misguided
faith, but were estranged as a species apart whose bodies were
radically different and resistant to baptism. This was also an age of
exploration, where “throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries Muslims and Jews together dominated the role of English
Christianity’s Other,” and, according to Jonathan Burton, “as
images of Muslims became more elastic,” due to increased trade and
political alliances with the East, “the figure of the Jew …
remained rigidly confined by derogatory, oppositional terms” in
order to compensate and “to mediate relations between Christians
and Muslims” (198, 200).
in early modern England (or indeed, in any persecuting society) the
anxiety of being unable to readily identify the aliens in their
midst, of being unable to immediately ascertain, like Portia, “Which is the Merchant … and which the Iew” (2082, 4.1.171),
gestures towards an explanation of the projection of a stable,
immutable, and visually identifiable Jewishness; an essence that even
survives those processes of inclusion and assimilation: marriage,
exchange, and conversion. As Janet Adelman has observed, even though
they were “allegedly physically unmistakable, Jews throughout
Europe were nonetheless required to wear particular styles of
clothing or badges,” as if “they were not quite different enough”
Father’s Blood” 10). In the same way that these practices of visually enforcing the
Jews’ supposed physical unmistakability with hats and badges
alleviated the anxiety of identifying them, so too did the fiction of
the inconvertible Jew allay fears of alien incorporation, since it
suggests comfortingly that Jews are and always will be Jews, no
matter how they try to disguise themselves. The practice of
identifying Jewish converts as former (or present) Jews—whether by
baptizing them with the surname le
or by referring to them as “Iew” in performance and print—not
only signals the fear that converts might still be Jews, but, more
alarmingly, that they might even pass as Christians.
is no way of knowing for certain whether audiences witnessing or
reading the The
Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice left
the performances or closed the playbooks doubting the sincerity of
the converted Jews depicted therein. For some, perhaps, these
conversions were valid and assimilation was possible, if only in
theory—but even so, as James Shapiro observes, “each successful
conversion narrative seems to have had concealed within it the latent
threat of apostasy” (157). For many, these plays must have
confirmed their fears and fantasies about Jews and their inability to
“let go” of their Jewishness, even after baptism; fears and
fantasies that had entered into and remained in the English
imagination—in sermons and songs, stories and jokes, literature and
drama, visual and popular culture, and even everyday speech—long
after the expulsion of the Jews in 1290.
wish to thank Gabriel Egan, Lisa Hopkins, David McInnis, Helen
Ostovich, and Chris Wortham for their insightful comments and kind
1 Representative recent studies include Achinstein; Adelman “Her
Father’s Blood” and Blood
Boose; Bovilsky; Burton; Ephraim; Hall; Harris; Greenblatt; Kaplan;
Lampert; Loomba “Delicious Traffick” and Shakespeare;
Metzger; Shapiro; and Vitkus.
2 Fredrickson 31. See also Chazan; Langmuir; Yerushalmi; and Poliakov.
3 I follow Anthony Bale in preferring antisemitism to anti-Judaism,
since the narratives under consideration here do not refer to real Jews but “only
deprecatory non-Jewish ideas about Jews,” as opposed to narratives
that aim to attack real Jews or the Jewish religion on a practical level. Like Bale, I have
not hyphenated the term since “outside linguistics, there is no
such thing as a Semite; it is only a negative category forced onto
Jews, and others” (Bale 3).
4 Carlebach 34-35. The examples cited by Carlebach include the ditty
“When the cats are gobbled up by mice, Jews will become true
followers of Christ” (Wenn
die Maus die Katze frisst, Wird der Jud ein rechte Christ)
and a number of broadsides and sayings, reiterating the uselessness
of baptism for Jews. On the representation of Jews in the Fastnachtspiele,
5 This is, of course, the subject of ongoing debate. For a useful
historical overview and discussion of the literature, see Lindberg;
6 On the medieval pictorial representation of Jews generally, see
Higgs Strickland; Schreckenberg; and, Mellinkoff, Outcasts.
On red hair and beards, see Mellinkoff, “Judas’s Red Hair”;
and Gow. On the “Jewish” nose, see Gilman. On the foetor
tails, and other diabolical associations, see Trachtenberg and
Poliakov. On Jewish male menstruation, see Resnick; Katz; Johnson;
and Cuffel, esp. 160-82.
7 On the blood libel, see Dundes; Hsia; Trachtenberg 140-58; Roth; and
Strack. On the related narratives of host desecration, see Rubin.
8 For a detailed account of the Domus and its later development, see Adler.
9 For example in 1255, a peak year for conversions, there were 150
converts farmed out to approximately 125 religious houses. On the
problem of financial support for the Domus,
10 Elukin identifies additional references to converts in official
documents as conversus and quondam judeus (174).
11 As Lisa Hopkins has noted, Jewish conversion is at the heart of the
history of Malta itself: “Malta owes much of its fame, some of its
place-names, its distinguished Christian ancestry and, legend avers,
its freedom from snakes, all to one very famous Jew: St Paul” (n.
12 All references are to the 1633 Quarto cited by signature reference,
followed by the corresponding act, scene, and line numbers from the
Revels Plays edition of N. W. Bawcutt (1978) for ease of reference.
13 Platter 75. Platter makes the remark after describing how the Jews
of Avignon are forced to attend Jesuit sermons on penitence every
While it might be charitable of Marlowe not to extend the Friar’s
abhorrent behaviour to necrophilia, at least overtly, there may in
fact be a bawdy pun here on bury
See, for example, the sustained use of this bawdy conceit (burying
fingers, coffins, and worms) in Thomas Middleton and William
15 Lukas Erne, for example, calls Abigail “innocent” (197).
16 Shapiro, although allowing for the possibility of sincere
conversion, suggests that Abigail’s “very need to insist that
she is no apostate draws attention to the popular belief that, with
death imminent, Jewish converts repudiated the Christianity they had
once willingly embraced” (158).
17 All references to Shakespeare are taken from the First Folio of
1623, and are cited parenthetically throughout as Through Line
Numbers from The
Norton Facsimile, 2nd
ed. (1996), followed by corresponding act, scene, and line
references from the Oxford Complete
Works (1986) for ease
18 Representative examples include Boose; Callaghan “Re-Reading”;
Hall; Loomba “Delicious Traffick” and Shakespeare;
19 See, for instance, Kim F. Hall’s illuminating discussion of the
“fair” in English Renaissance lyric poetry (62-122).
20 On Graziano’s use of “hood” as a bawdy pun for “foreskin,”
see Fienberg; and, Rubenstein 128.
21 Even when Jessica is addressed by name, such as when Portia returns
to Belmont after the trial and sends Nerissa to warn the servants
not to give the game away, she addresses Lorenzo first, and then
almost as an afterthought includes Jessica: “No note at all of our
being absent hence, / Nor you, Lorenzo, Iessica nor you” (2539-40, 5.1.120-1). Jessica, perhaps having been put in
her place, says nothing from this point on, even after Nerissa
offers the deed of gift to her and Lorenzo (2719-24, 5.1.290-95).
22 I am indebted to Adelman’s insightful studies (“Her Father’s
Blood” and Blood
persuasively argue that rather than supporting her chances of
successful conversion, statements flirting with the idea of Jessica
as gentle/gentile in the play in fact insist on Jewishness as a
racial category and therefore accomplish the opposite, functioning
to limit Jessica’s ability to effectively distance herself from
her father and his blood.
23 For a more detailed discussion of the medieval and early modern
reception and response to these models of reproduction, see Maclean;
Russell; Cadden; and López-Beltrán.
24 Weis glosses this passage in his Oxford edition as “a rather
heavy-handed joke about Shadow’s doubtful paternity. Falstaff
agrees that he is his mother’s son and suggests either (a) that
his father was called Shadow, or (b) that he is a shadowy reflection
of his father, because male children are often insubstantial
replicas of their fathers; and because his father is called Shadow,
he is the shadow of a Shadow” (201).
25 Callaghan also notes “the lineage in this sonnet is entirely a
maternal one” (Sonnets 43).
26 Certainly, there were contemporary authors who commented on the
swarthy appearance of Jews. For example, Henry Butts, the son of
Henry VIII’s physician, reports in his Dyets
Dry Dinner that “the Iewes are great Goose-eaters: therefore their complexion is passing
melancholious, their colour swort, and their diseases very
perillous” (K8r). Of course this excerpt from what essentially
amounts to a table-talk book has to be tempered by evidence from
travellers’ reports, such as Thomas Coryate’s, discussed in
detail later in this article.
27 It is unclear whether the “sins” referred to by Jessica include
the adultery required to deny Shylock’s paternity, or her mother’s
status as a Jew and infidel, or a combination of these. At any rate,
her mother’s status as a Jew, like Jessica’s, is never
questioned. Assuming that “Leah” (1332, 3.1.113) is Jessica’s
mother, this may shed some light on Jessica’s sale of the
turquoise ring “for a Monkie” (1330, 3.1.111). Monkeys, like
goats, were emblematic of lechery, and in this way Jessica’s sale
of the ring becomes a sort of symbolic substitution: is she
substituting her parents (the ring) for a monkey, or is she
commenting on herself as the monkey-child by using her parents’
love-token to obtain a childlike ape? Or, in keeping with the
rhetorical debasement of minorities commonly at work in texts of the
period, is the exchange of the ring for a monkey Jessica’s attempt
to disassociate herself from her parents’ subhuman relations?
Whatever the case may be, this hardly equates to an “insistence on
the irrelevance of Leah’s Jewish identity” in the play (Kaplan
30). Moreover, as Lara Bovilsky has suggested, “despite the
functional opposition between Shylock and his daughter, her
conversion is attended with intense and anxious rhetoric within her
new Christian community,” a rhetoric “providing her with a
persistent stigma as Jew” (87).
28 De Sousa argues that, “since it is Launcelot rather than another
more serious character who raises the issue, the conversation
diffuses a very important point,” that is, “the question of
Jessica’s betrayal of her father and people” (84). However, as
De Sousa seems to imply (83), the question of Launcelot’s
seriousness is partially mitigated by the relationship of trust and
openness that he has with Jessica: in addition to being the trusted
messenger between her and Lorenzo, he reminds Jessica that he “was
alwaies plaine” with her (1816, 3.5.3).
29 Shapiro cites a reference in Sir Edward Coke’s posthumously
published Institutes to the “ancient law of England, that if any Christian man did
marry with a woman that was a Jew, or a Christian woman that married
with a Jew, it was felony, and the party so offending should die
burnt alive” (89).
30 On Shylock’s use of repetition, see especially Palfrey & Stern
193-96; Rosen; and Freeman.
31 Thus I cannot agree with the Hirschfeld’s recent reading of the
play, which suggests, “suspicion in Merchant is not the opposite
of belief in Jewish conversion but its ally” (63).
32 All quotations are taken from Perryman’s 1980 edition. For a
comprehensive critical reading of this episode, see Gilbert.
33 For different but equally illuminating discussions of the text in
terms of the fantasy of bodily change and categories of race and
religion, see Heng 227-39; and Calkin.
34 On the foetor judaicus and tales of its miraculous loss at baptism, see: Trachtenberg 47-50
35 Clark and Sponsler point to additional examples, including an
episode in Cursor
Mundi, a Middle
English poem, where the black skins of deformed Saracens are turned
white when anointed with branches from the Tree of Jesse by King
David, and in versions of the adoration of the magi story, where the
skin of the Ethiopian magi Caspar/Gaspar is similarly whitened (74).
36 Although the text refers to Barabas as having a beard—the quarto’s
“sterd” is usually rendered as “beard” by modern editors
(H2v, 4.2.111)—there is no reference to its colour, and there is
no internal evidence to support the theory that he was played with a
red wig. Scholars, like Michael Hattaway, assume that the actor
playing Barabas “probably wore a red wig, as actors playing Judas
had traditionally done” (81).
37 Like Barabas, Shylock may have been played with a red wig and red
beard, but again the evidence is wanting. Critics who argue for a
red-wigged Shylock point either to Barabas as an exemplar of the
“Elizabethan stage Jew,” a tradition dismissed as a fiction most
persuasively by Charles Edelman and Stephen Orgel, or to references
in works of questionable authenticity (such as John Payne Collier’s
forged elegy for Richard Burbage) or substance (such as Thomas
Jordan’s ballad, “The Forfeiture,” printed in 1664) is hardly
convincing evidence of Elizabethan theatre practice. See Edelman
“Which is the Jew” and Orgel.
38 Kennedy, esp. 191-202. Noting that the variations remain in the
Folio edition, and that a “shortage of capital letters in
Jaggard’s printing shop is unlikely,” Jay Halio suggests in his
Oxford edition that perhaps “’Jew’ and ‘Shylock’ became
synonymous for those engaged in printing the text as well as for the
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© 2009-, Matthew
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