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:>.

  1. There 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 reasons.

  2. On 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 Iesus; which being spoken by a Iew, as it was, was but onely laughed at by the people” (Camden 103-5).

  3. Scholars 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.

  4. However, 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.

    Medieval Legacies

  5. Historians 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” (16).

  6. This 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

  7. While 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 judaicus), 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

  8. The 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).

  9. To support their claims, both Stacey and Elukin examine the treatment of Jewish converts in England, paying special attention to the records of the Domus Conversorum, a hospice established in 1232 by Henry III for the maintenance of converts de 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 Conversorum, 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).

  10. The 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 (Fogle 110).10

  11. Both 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 otherness”; 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).

  12. Whether 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 medieval past.

    A Counterfeit Profession

  13. The 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 observes,
    For the 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).
    The 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 father replies:
    Let ‘em suspect, but be thou so precise
    As they may thinke it done of Holinesse.
    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)
    Having 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).
    Christian 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.

  14. When 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 & vnconfirm’d, And I was chain’d to follies of the world: But now experience, purchased with griefe, Has made me see the difference of things. My sinfull soule, alas, hath pac’d too long The fatall Labyrinth of misbeleefe, Farre from the Sonne that giues eternall life. (F3r, 3.3.62-68) The 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.

  15. It 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” (G2r, 3.6.45-46).14

  16. When 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).

  17. Even so, many 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 Gospel.16

  18. To 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.

    A Gentle And No Jew

  19. In Shakespeare’s The 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 Merchant seems 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).

  20. In 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” (2643, 5.1.219).

  21. By 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 heartily.
    For she is wise, if I can iudge of her,
    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)
    This 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 unchangeable.22

    A Bastard Hope

  22. If 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.

  23. Even 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

  24. Numerous 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 beares,” her
    … body is ee’ne hirde, and so are theirs.
    For gold and sparkling iewels, (if he can)
    Youle let a Iewe get you with christian:
    Be he a Moore, a Tartar, tho his face
    Looke vglier then a dead mans scull,
    Could the diuel put on a humane shape,
    If his purse shake out crownes, vp then he gets,
    Whores will be rid to hell with golden bits. (D4v)
    Bellafront 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.

  25. Where 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 Jews “incapable 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. Indeed, Kaplan 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, 4.1.171).

  26. Later 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” (132).29

  27. Jessica’s 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.

  28. As 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 Crudities, Thomas 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. (231).
    In 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.

  29. As 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 fanciful.

    Pulp Fictions And Flesh Fantasies

  30. Medieval 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 Conversorum) 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 of The 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 former identity.31

  31. The 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” (28).

  32. On 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, 1.3.109)?

  33. Rather, 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 of The 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 “Iew.” and “Bar.” foreshadows 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.

  34. Much 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 “Shy.” or “Shyl.” and “Iew. or “Iewe. throughout 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.

    Jewish Remains / Remaining Jewish

  35. A 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 interest, 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).

  36. Perhaps, 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” (“Her 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 convers, 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.

  37. There 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.


I wish to thank Gabriel Egan, Lisa Hopkins, David McInnis, Helen Ostovich, and Chris Wortham for their insightful comments and kind suggestions.


1 Representative recent studies include Achinstein; Adelman “Her Father’s Blood” and Blood Relations; Berek; 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, see Martin.

5 This is, of course, the subject of ongoing debate. For a useful historical overview and discussion of the literature, see Lindberg; and, Kaufmann.

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 judaicus, horns, 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, see Greatrex.

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. pag.).

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 Saturday.

14 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 Rowley’s The (E4r).

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 of reference.

18 Representative examples include Boose; Callaghan “Re-Reading”; Hall; Loomba “Delicious Traffick” and Shakespeare; and Metzger.

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 Relations) which 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 and Geller.

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 author” (89-90).

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