Now by My Hood, a Gentle and No Jew: Jessica, The Merchant of Venice, and the Discourse of Early Modern English Identity
"Now by My Hood, a Gentle and No Jew": Jessica, The Merchant of Venice, and the Discourse of Early Modern English Identity
Mary Janell Metzger, Western Washington University
Jessica, the other Jew in The Merchant of Venice, is doubly distinguished.1 Unlike her father, Shylock, she is said to be "gentle": at once noble and gentile. Yet as the "now" quoted in my title signifies and as Jessica readily admits, she remains "a daughter to [Shylock's] blood" despite her conversion (2.6.51, 2.3.18). Distinguished from Portia and Nerissa, whose marriages work to secure the social standing of the men they love, she is more saved than saving in her marriage to Lorenzo. Indeed, representations of Jessica, unlike those of other characters in the play, turn on alternating characterizations of her as a latent Christian and as a racialized and thus unintegrable Jew.2
Until recently, discussions of race or Jewishness in The Merchant tended to focus on Shylock alone. These readings suggested that critics could deal with religion, gender, or class but not with all three. There were no attempts to understand how such categories are, as Carol Neely puts it, "inseparable, unstable, disunified, and mutually constitutive" (303).3 Critics like Neely, however, imply that reading Jessica both as a wealthy white woman who is thus coded as gentile and as "issue to a faithless Jew" (2.4.37) should highlight the interconnectedness of discourses of difference in Shakespeare's time.4 This critical project has been considerably advanced by James Shapiro's Shakespeare and the Jews, which challenges assumptions about the significance of real and imagined Jews for early modern English audiences. By documenting both the actual lives and fictive representations of Jews in Shakespeare's England, Shapiro eliminates the distinction between theology and race implicit in G. K. Hunter's argument that Shakespeare and Marlowe did not depict "real" or "racial" Jews but, rather, portrayed a "moral condition" rooted in a "theological rather than ethnological framework" (215). Similarly, Kim Hall's studies of early modern representations of race and gender show how, in an age of soaring population and foreign immigration, English fears of uncontained female sexuality found expression in a "narrative of alien culture" that fused notions of blacks, Jews, and women (Things 39).
Yet like critics before them, Hall and Shapiro do not see Jessica as a central figure in The Merchant or in the play's discourse of racial difference. Although Shapiro grants that "the battle over The Merchant of Venice is a battle over the nature of Englishness itself and who has the right to stake a claim to it," he dedicates but a few pages of his book to Jessica (4). She does not appear in his index. More sensitive than many new-historicist critics to issues of gender, Shapiro nevertheless explains the focus on Jewish men in the texts he examines (and thus in his text) by noting "that Jewish men were represented as endowed with male and female traits" (38). Unfortunately, representations of men subsume those of women once again. Like Shapiro, Hall acknowledges the significance of Jessica as a figure of conversion. Yet while she skillfully traces the ambivalence present in the travel narratives she reads and in the imagery associated with Shylock, she finds Jessica's conversion an unambiguous portrayal of "a successful type of cross-cultural interaction" ("Guess" 102). Hall registers her uneasiness with this position, admitting that "glorifying" the transgressions of women like Jessica and Portia, as feminist critics often have, "may serve only to obscure the very complex nature of difference for a changing society in which racial categories developed along with changing organizations of gender" (103-04).
Hall's discomfort with readings that fail to acknowledge Jessica's ambivalent status in the play echoes my own. Indeed, I have long thought that Jessica's multiplicitous nature—as Jew and Christian and as "fair" beloved descended from blackened Chus, her father's "countrym[a]n" (2.4.39, 3.2.285)—constitutes an emblematic figure for the play's renowned discontinuities. The ambiguous mix of comedy and tragedy, humanism and racialism, patriarchal imperialism and ¡festive rebellion in The Merchant corresponds to the inherent incompatibility of the identities Shakespeare attempts to unite in Jessica. Indeed, the nature and effects of Jessica's difference can illuminate how Shakespeare may have struggled with competing notions of Jewishness circulating in early modern England and how he worked to resolve them by creating not one Jew but two. In what follows I argue that only attention to the shifting emphases on discourses of gender, class, and religion in Shakespeare's representation of Jessica can elucidate The Merchant's relation to early modern England's emerging ideology of race and to the bitter effects of that ideology that persist even today.5
Any discussion of conversion in Shakespeare must involve the Jew, just as any discussion of the Jew in Shakespeare inevitably involves the meaning of conversion in early modern England. As Hunter rightly observes, theology is central to the analysis of the early modern theatricalization of Jews because of the "long and torturous tradition" of interpreting Christianity adversus Judeos—that is, in opposition to Judaism (213). More simply, early modern Christian notions of what it means to be subject to God inevitably entail an account of the Jewish refusal to receive Christ as the Messiah. The English Reformation complicated Christians' response to Jews by offering an unqualified promise of conversion within a discourse shaped by the oppositional rhetoric of anti-Semitism. Further, as historical documents attest, the problem of the Jew in Christian England intersected with an emerging ideology of race to affirm a notion of English identity in which color, religion, and class converged.
In succeeding editions of Actes and Monuments, perhaps the most prevalent religious text in Elizabethan England excepting the Bible, the Protestant John Foxe offers "a complete history of the lives, sufferings and deaths of the Christian Martyrs from the commencement of Christianity to the present period" (1563 ed., title p.)—that is, the stories of men and women who met death rather than assert as true what they believed false. Foxe emphasizes the role of reason in the practice of the "true" Christian faith. Describing his text as an "[e]cclesiastical history" from which "the people may learn the rules and precepts of doctrine," Foxe takes a pedagogical tone: "They that be in error, let them not disdain to learn" (1570 ed., 4r). Or as he puts it in the 1563 edition. "Ignorance is the mother of all errors" (EE3v). Yet for Jews, the original recusants, choosing the truth was a matter not simply of learning but of a prior belonging that was denied them: "For like as the nature of truth so is the proper condition of the true church, that commonly none seeth it, but such only as be members and partakers thereof (3r). Foxe argues even more ambivalently in the 1570 edition that Jews are to blame for their failure to choose wisely—"who should rather have known and received him than the Pharisees and Scribes of that people who had his law"? (Elr). He also repeatedly characterizes them as inherently unable to make such a choice. Foxe presents Jews both as "more tolerable than Papists" (1563 ed., Klv), who abandon their poor and worship idols and bread, and as "enemies to Christians" (1570 ed., index), as child murderers whose historical and bloody destruction confirms their rejection by God (1563 ed., E1r).6 This ambivalence finds an analogue in The Merchant, where Jews are characterized as unwilling and unable to see the truth of the Messiah in Jesus, driven by their base natures, as Gratiano says with characteristic hyperbole, to pursue their "wolvish, bloody, starv'd, and ravenous" desires (4.1.138).
Foxe's apparent need to account for Jewish belief may be as old as Christianity itself, but the sixteenth century constitutes a specific and particularly significant moment in that history (see, e.g., Gerber; Netanyahu; Friedman; Shapiro). For the first time Jewishness was legally defined through Spain's pure-blood laws "not [as] a statement of faith or even a series of ethnic practices but a biological consideration" (Friedman 16). In England, as Foxe's text illustrates, the question of the Jews took on new importance in the light of Reformation struggles among Christians over the proper path to God's truth. How could one discern, as Foxe puts it, between "antiquitie and novelty" (1570 ed., iiv), between false worship and true faith? The Protestant emphasis on the inability of the individual to effect his or her own salvation, which Foxe's text elaborates, challenges the promise of Christianity made explicit in baptism. Called to "learn" and to "choose" rightly, one nevertheless could not "see" unless elected a "member or partaker thereof by God's grace.
Readers like Hunter have been inclined to dismiss the import of such questions by asserting the relative scarcity of Jews in England in Shakespeare's time.7 But the presence of crypto-Jews (converts to Christianity who secretly practiced Judaism) in Elizabethan England has been acknowledged since Lucien Wolf's discovery in the early twentieth century of a mostly Portuguese community of Jews. In fact, The Merchant followed fairly closely on the trial and execution of the most connected member of that community, Elizabeth's chief physician, Roderigo Lopez,8 and Shylock's principal antagonist takes the name of the man whose political aspirations provided the context for Lopez's alleged treason: Don Antonio, pretender to the throne of Portugal following the death of the cardinal-king Henry. Such allusions would have been easily recognized by Shakespeare's audience.
According to Wolf, this Portuguese community "could not have remained altogether unknown to the general public, while to the Government, with its vigilant watch of all strangers hailing from Spain and Portugal, it must have been in every sense an open secret" (21); indeed, Wolf documents the government's knowledge in the correspondence of Lord Burghley, the queen's secretary of state, and his son Robert Cecil. But more important, Wolf argues that the Portuguese community of Jews was tolerated because they served the state without causing a stir—that is, because of economic interest: "they appear to have been, on the whole, quite decent folk, who worked honestly and unobtrusively at professions, trades and handicrafts which added appreciably to the well-being of the country" (22). Living and working "honestly and unobtrusively" meant becoming invisible as "former" Jews and convincingly performing the prerequisites for integration into English society. The cases of Joachim Gaunse on the one hand and of Bernard Leavis and Pedro Frere on the other illustrate this. Gaunse, a German Jewish mining chemist who worked in England for eight years, was expelled in 1598 on the grounds that he had challenged Christian doctrine in debating the status of Jesus with a Protestant minister from Bristol.9 Portuguese agents pursuing prohibited Spanish goods on behalf of English traders, Frere and Leavis were accused by Mary May, a Christian investor, who claimed that their Jewishness was a principal cause of her losses. Though much evidence of their "secret practices" was procured from servants and acquaintances, the court did not expel them; rather, it was "moved with the losses and trobles which the poore straungers indured" as a consequence of doing English business (Sisson 51).10 As long as Jews did not publicly insist on their Jewishness, economic interests prevailed.
As other deportations suggest, notions of religious and racial conformity may have contributed to the emerging concepts of the English subject and of its requisite other, the alien. In 1596, the year The Merchant was probably written, Elizabeth I wrote to the Privy Council to request the aid of the mayor of London, his aldermen, and "all the other Maiours, Sheryfes, etc." in deporting eighty-nine blacks, to be given to a Lubeck merchant in exchange for his return of an equal number of English prisoners of war held by Spain and Portugal (Acts 16). Elizabeth distinguished "people of our owne nation," "the subjectes of the land and Christian people, that perishe for want of service, whereby through labor they might be mayntained," from "those kinde of people," meaning blacks, brought to live and work in England (16, 20-21). As Elizabeth's equations among color, faith, wealth, and nationality confirm, to be black was to be a common laborer, non-Christian, and consequently not English.
While European Jews may appear to have had the adventage over blacks in their ability to pass, as it were, as white and Christian and hence English, analogies between blackness and Jewishness were longstanding. As Anthony Barthelemy has shown, the association of blackness with sin and evil, which dates from the ancient world, was adopted by Christianity and overlaid with a narrative of salvation and damnation: white became the color of the saved, black the color of the damned. First among the damned would, of course, have been the Jews, as a 1604 biography of Spain's Charles V demonstrates:
Who can deny that in the descendent of the Jews there persists and endures the evil inclination of their ancient ingratitude and lack of understanding, just as in Negroes [there persists] the inseparability of their blackness? For if the latter should unite themselves a thousand times with white women, the children are born with the dark color of the father. Similarly, it is not enough for a Jew to be three parts aristocrat or Old Christian for one family-line [i.e., one Jewish ancestor] alone defiles and corrupts him.
Shakespeare's Jessica anticipates this equation when she describes her father as a countryman "[t]o Tubal and to Chus" (3.2.285), for the first is a Jew and the second the mythical originary black African.11
The connection between blacks and Jews as alien others helped construct the racialized notion of Englishness. Because of color privilege, however, the converted Jews of London were not always perceived as threats to emerging notions of English identity, as Roger Prior's discovery of an integrationist Italian Jewish community in Tudor London indicates. Like the Portuguese Jews, the Italian Jews owed their presence in England to royal patronge, engaged in trade, and had connections to Jews in Antwerp. They lived in the same places in and outside London as their Portuguese counterparts did, but they integrated into English society far more thoroughly through marriage to Christians (see Prior 138). According to Prior, Shakespeare draws distinctions between converted Italian Jews, like Emilia Bassano—better known now as the poet Emilia Lanier—the woman alleged to be the dark lady of his sonnets, and Portuguese converts like Lopez whose resistant Jewishness was seen as a threat to English identity.12 Whether or not Prior's claims about Emilia Bassano are true, the history of the Italian Jewish community suggests that competing notions of Jewishness existed at the time Shakespeare wrote and staged The Merchant. The construction of Jews as "deserving" (as they would later be labeled in the state documents calling for their readmission to England) or alien may have functioned to authorize the social and political agendas of British imperialism and the racialism it depended on.13 Foxe's concerns may be seen, then, as representative of larger political questions: How would the English distinguish resistant and finally unintegrable Jews like Lopez or Gaunse from more cooperative and thus "truly" convertible Jews like Bassano? How could they affirm this distinction without denying the meaning and promise of conversion to Christianity? And how could English Christians define the Jew's difference both as a difference of nature and as a difference of faith involving the act of will faith requires? These issues constitute Shakespeare's challenge in The Merchant of Venice—a challenge he meets by presenting Jessica as a "fair" Jewish alternative to Shylock.
Initially Launcelot describes Jessica as a "[m]ost beautiful pagan, [a] most sweet Jew," and her embodiment of such conjunctions is an obvious source of comic tension in the play. Significantly, however, Launcelot's oxymorons depend on anti-Semitic assumptions that are impressed on the audience when Shylock first appears onstage as the incarnation of the inherently evil Jew of medieval and early modern Christian legend: he is scheming ("If I can catch him once upon the hip . . ." [1.3.46]), greedy ("He lends out money gratis, and brings down / The rate of usuance" [1.3.44-45]), satanic ("The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. . . . O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!" [1.3.98, 102]), and eager for Christian blood ("[the] fair flesh, to be cut off and taken / In what part of your body pleaseth me" [1.3.150-51]54).
Jessica must overcome these images if she is to be integrated into the world of the play, which is largely defined in opposition to the malevolent Jewish otherness of Shylock. The difficulties of doing so, however, become quickly apparent. Alone onstage at the end of her first scene, Jessica presents the audience with the first of several arguments for her convertibility.
Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father's child!
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo,
If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,
Become a Christian and thy loving wife!
That Jessica distances herself from sin by blatantly disregarding her father's authority may be necessary, but it is also problematic. For Shakespeare's audience, patriarchal authority was divinely ordained, and it secured the right of princes as well as that of fathers.15 Jessica's disregard for that authority thus creates the first obstacle to a Christian audience's acceptance of her as a Christian.
The late-sixteenth-century debate over the role of parental authority in choosing a spouse would have been equally familiar to Shakespeare's audience.16 Moreover, texts such as Andrewe Kyngesmill's "Godly Advise Touchyng Mariage" (1580) and Charles Gibbon's How to Bestow Children in Marriage (1591) reveal that the contest between individual will and patriarchal authority in the choice of spouses was often most intense when marriages were proposed between "believers and nonbelievers" (Kyngesmill Jiv). Gibbon lays out the competing views about such marriages in a fictional debate between Philogus and Tychias. Philogus argues that a Christian should not "be unequally yoked with infidels for what fellowship hath righteousness & what communion hath light with darkness?" Tychias counters that "the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife" and vice versa (C2r-v).17
In this context, acceptance of Jessica's marriage to Lorenzo would require a Christian audience to conclude either that she is a believer before her marriage or that she is, as she insists, "sanctified" through her marriage. In fact, Jessica lays claim to both arguments. Distinguishing between her own and her father's manners to resolve the "sin" and "strife" implicit in her rebellion, she underscores her preconversion difference. She nullifies the claims of filial attachment by insisting that she is a different kind of Jew, one whose manners take precedence over blood and who thus can see the truth of Christianity. Conversely, she equates Shylock's blood and manners, asserting a racial notion of Jewishness that she claims not to share. To extend an argument Frank Whigham makes, material and aesthetic distinctions between the powerful and the powerless take on both moral and bodily force and thus reveal to the audience a "natural" social hierarchy in which men subordinate women and Christians subordinate Jews (95, 103). Indeed, though Jessica clearly prefers a Christian life, she is saved not so much by her own choice as by Lorenzo's choice to marry her. By uniting her willingness with the willingness of others to find her integrable, she combines the blessings of Christian grace with individual will.
The need to guarantee Jessica's willingness is demonstrated in the scene following her soliloquy, in which Lorenzo, Gratiano, Solanio, and Solerio plan how Jessica, along with "what gold and jewels she [shall be] furnished with," will be taken "from her father's house" (2.4.31, 2.4.30). Jessica's wealth and her willingness to spend it constitute the first of several distinctions that guarantee her integration into Christian society. The next is articulated by Lorenzo when he receives her letter setting the time of their elopement:
I know the hand; in faith, 'tis a fair hand,
And whiter than the paper it writ on
Is the fair hand that writ.
The stress Lorenzo places on "fair" is echoed by Gratiano and again by Lorenzo before the scene concludes (2.4.28, 2.4.39). Early modern uses of fair combine the senses of color and beauty, and Lorenzo's direct reference to whiteness suggests color is related to his assertion of Jessica's worth.18 Thus, while the scene establishes the means for Jessica's liberation from Shylock's house, it creates a color difference between father and daughter that justifies her removal, and it casts that difference as a source of comedy instead of tragedy: consider, for example, Desdemona's fate after eloping. Why color might be a prerequisite to differentiation from the Jewish stereotype is suggested later, in the seemingly comic debate between Launcelot and Jessica about the effectiveness of Jewish integration through marriage. In an awkward quotation of Exodus 20.5, Launcelot warns Jessica that "the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children" (3.5.1-2). She answers by repeating her earlier argument: "I shall be saved by my husband. He hath made me a Christian" (3.5.19-20). The power of her response is manifest not only in its simplicity, which contrasts with Launcelot's comic misprisions, but also in the representation of marriage as a force for order. But Lorenzo clarifies the bodily requirements for marriage as a means for the "making of Christians," as Launcelot puts it, when Jessica relays Launcelot's claims (3.5.23). "I shall answer that better to the commonwealth," Lorenzo warns Launcelot, "than you can the getting up of the Negro's belly; the Moor is with child by you, Launcelot" (3.5.37-39).
Jessica's defense and Lorenzo's rebuttal show how her whiteness and femaleness make possible her reproduction as a Christian in the eyes of the "commonwealth." As Hall notes, the scene reflects that institution's investment in "sexual practices" ("Guess" 89). Moreover, Jessica's marriage reconstitutes her as a body, for according to Christian ecclesiastical and legal authorities, a woman was incorporated into the body of her husband in marriage, becoming both one with and subject to him. As Portia says after Bassanio has successfully negotiated the prenuptial test devised by her father, "Myself, and what was mine, to you and yours / Is now converted" (3.2.166-67). In a play concerned with the conversion of Jews, Portia's terms make explicit the analogy between the transfer of her person and property to Bassanio and the incorporation of Jessica's person and property into Lorenzo. Like Portia's conversion from "lord," "master," and "[q]ueen" to "an unlessoned girl" ready "to be directed / As from her lord, her governor, her king" (3.2.167, 3.2.168, 3.2.169, 3.2.159, 3.2.164-65), Jessica's conversion from dark infidel to fair Christian is required by the play's ideology of order through marriage. As Jessica argues early in the play, becoming one with the body of Christ requires not only her marriage to a Christian but also the conversion of her body in distinctly racial and gendered terms (2.3.16-21).
It is in this context that Lorenzo's celebration of Jessica as "whiter" than the paper she writes on becomes significant. For unlike the offspring of Launcelot and his absent black lover, those of Jessica and Lorenzo will not differ bodily from the normative white Christian subject. Drawing on the work of Kim Hall and Janet Adelman, Lynda Boose explains the significance of this distinction:
In terms of the ideological assumptions of a culture such as that of early modern England, the black male-white female union is not the narrative that requires suppression. What challenges the ideology substantially enough to require erasure is that of the black female-white male, for it is in the person of the black woman that the culture's preexisting fears both about the female sex and about gender dominance are realized. Through her, all free-floating anxieties about "the mother's dark place" contaminating the father's designs for perfect self-replication become vividly literal.
Like Lorenzo, Hall and Boose consider Jessica visually white and therefore integrable within the racial and religious ideologies of early modern English patriarchy. But this view obscures the process of racialization in the play and thus the intersection of religion and gender in the production of racial ideology. In an inversion of the hierarchy of flesh and blood that Portia uses to incriminate Shylock, Jessica's "Jewish blood" is subordinated in the course of the play to her "fair" and hence convertible flesh (see 3.1.37-42). After her marriage, she will "appear," to quote Wolf, to be one of the "decent folk" who constitute Christian society.
In this context, Shylock's attempts in act 3 to defend himself against the attacks of Solanio and Solario take on new significance. Shylock appears to fail when he asserts, as Normand Lawrence writes, "that his daughter partakes of the same physical substance as himself, and so shares the same racial identity" (58): "1 say my daughter is my flesh and blood," he declares (3.1.37). Solanio returns:
There is more difference between thy flesh and hers than between jet and ivory, more between your bloods than there is between red wine and Rhenish.
Whereas Shylock merely cites the relation between his body and his daughter's, Solanio emphasizes a transformation in Jessica whereby color and gender combine to overcome less discernible differences of blood.
Shylock, like Launcelot's black child, cannot undergo such a transformation. The reasons for his inability to do so help explain the unsettling effect of the final order for his conversion.19 For Shylock's body, like the body of any Jewish man, would "convert" a Christian bride. Further, unlike Jessica, Shylock bears the mark of Judaism on his body—circumcision—and the Jewish body lies at the center of early modern anti-Semitic discourse. Though this bodily difference is never explicitly referred to in the play, the representation of Shylock as a devil intent on the apportionment of a Christian body is part of a tradition of anti-Semitic discourse in which Jews were said to be horned, tailed, and bearded like goats, to emit a distinct smell, and to be the source of leprosy and syphilis. According to this discourse, Jewish men, unlike Christian men, shared the mark of women's sexual difference: menstruation,20 a feminizing trait that would effectively erase the patriarchal authority inscribed literally and figuratively on Jewish men. The male Jew incarnated the power of naming attributed to all men: this power became particularly threatening in a Jewish man because in placing his name on a Christian woman, and thus on future generations, he embodied the danger of the annihilating, consuming other.
For Shapiro, Christian obsession with circumcision and with the sacred covenant it symbolizes "shapes the final confrontation between Shylock and Antonio": thus Antonio's demand that Shylock "presently become a Christian" "metaphorically uncircumcisefs] him" (130).21 The new covenant, represented by symbolic circumcision of the heart, supersedes the old, thus resolving the troubled relation between physical attributes and social identity through baptism.22 As critics have noted, Shylock's conversion occurs only after the play ends, and it is cast as an act of submission on his part—"I pray you give me leave to go from hence, / I am not well. Send the deed after me, / And I will sign it" (4.1.395-97)—a portrayal that weakens the representative power of the transformation. In contrast, Jessica is to be incorporated into Venetian society because she has been excluded from the practice of circumcision. According to Shapiro, this exclusion "helps explain why Jewish daughters like Jessica in The Merchant of Venice and Abigail in The Jew of Malta can so easily cross the religious boundaries that divide their stigmatized fathers from the dominant Christian communities. The religious difference of women is not usually imagined as physically inscribed in their flesh" (120). But as I have argued, female difference was inscribed in the flesh not only by religious discourse but also by ideologies and emerging notions of race and nationality, which converged to define the "proper" English person.
From this perspective, the unsettling effect of Shylock's forced conversion can also be traced to the tension in Foxe's writing between the notion of free will implicit in baptism and the drive to delimit and thus control the oppositional other implicit in Christian imperialism. Like Othello, Shylock inspires feeling about his fate only insofar as he is capable of choosing Christian "goodness." Moreover, Shylock's malevolence depends on the shifting inscription of Jessica as racial Jew and freely choosing Christian. Jessica's incorporation into Christian society is essential to defining her father's alien status. Indeed, her nature in act 5 may be said to offer something of a reverse image of her father's in his final scenes: represented initially as her father's daughter, ruing her rebellion but longing for salvation through subordination in Christian marriage, she becomes the cool wit who seeks to "outnight" Lorenzo, trades the tokens of her mother's love for a monkey, and gains the trust of Portia in her plot against Bassanio (5.1.23). Shylock, by contrast, evolves from the resistant other to the raging and then nearly silent Jew of the fourth act and finally to a converted but unwilling, powerful yet alien figure, the image of the other against which English identity could be inscribed as white and Christian.
Still, such distinctions between Shylock and Jessica are perhaps too easy. As Lorenzo's attempt to claim the perceptual difference of Jessica's fairness makes clear, the logical incompatibility of the play's representations of Jews is impossible to sustain and requires endless permutations. Consequently, the Jessica of act 5 may be read not as an alternative and fully integrated Jew but as a homeless figure that suggests the dangers of consummating a relationship across such differences. In this reading she becomes an emblem of postcoital regret, ruing not her rebellion against patriarchal authority but the terms of her new commitment to it and the meager possibilities for unalienated pleasure they provide. In act 5, both Jessica and Lorenzo look to the past to make sense of their relationship. Further, the relationships with which they allegorize and thus make sense of their own all end tragically because of confusion and conflicting aims: Troilus and Cressida, Pyramus and Thisbe, Aeneas and Dido, Jason and Medea. Then, as if to illustrate and thus anticipate the potential for tragedy in their own union, Jessica and Lorenzo offer individual memories of the fateful night of their elopement. "In such a night / Did Jessica steal from a wealthy Jew, / And with an unthrift love did run from Venice, / As far as Belmont" (5.1.14-17), says Lorenzo, using metaphors of wealth, poverty, and thievery to underscore Jessioa's betrayal of her father and the loss of security their mutual commitments guaranteed her. Playful or bitter, Jessica's version of the night hints at the difficulty of establishing trust between persons of different religions, colors, classes, and especially genders that is played up in the rest of act 5: "In such a night / Did young Lorenzo swear he lov'd her well, / Stealing her soul with many vows of faith, / And n'er a true one" (5.1.17-20).
These two distinct readings of the final act of The Merchant are both predicated on the idea that Jessica's difference—from her father and from the Christian characters—is crucial to the play's meaning. As the excluded other whose resistance to the truth of Jesus serves to delineate the essential, impermeable nature of the Christian story, the converted Jew could function to guarantee simultaneously both the promise of freedom implicit in baptism and the incontrovertible difference of white, Christian, and, by analogy turned equation, English forms of being. Indeed, only by taking Shylock's measure in the light of his daughter's difference—a difference that combines shifting representations of gender, color, class, and religion—is it possible to account for the play's inscription of contradictory notions of Jews. If The Merchant's representation of Jews continues to haunt us—as the numbers of productions and critical responses to the play suggest it will and the survival of its racial discourse in contemporary politics suggests it should—we may get closer to the meaning of such ghosts by examining more closely the nature of their differences.
I am grateful to Janet Adelman, Michael Galchinsky, and Bruce Goebel, who read this essay at significant stages in its development and offered that combination of enthusiasm and critical insight we value in the best of colleagues and teachers.
1 Tubal is the only character other than Shy lock described as "a Jew" in the dramatis personae. He is also Shylock's only friend and the source of the funds that guarantee Shylock's bond. Although Tubal is certainly worthy of study, I focus here on the play's major characters.
2 I use the term integration to refer to the acceptance of (forcibly or willingly) converted Jews by English Christians rather than assimilation, which in modern usage implies the freedom to continue practicing Judaism, an option unavailable to Jews in Shakespeare's England.
3 Compare, for example, the work of McKewin; Boose, "Comic Contract"; Leventen; and Newman, "Portia's Ring" with that of Whigham; S. Cohen; Moisan; W. Cohen; Oz; and Ferber. Though there are differences in the ways each group of critics sidesteps the issues raised by the intersection of gender, race, and class, Newman and Ferber both illustrate the problems such critical choices raise. Each addresses the issue in a footnote. Newman states that she has "chosen deliberately to leave Shylock out of [her] reading . . . to disturb readings of the play that center their interpretive gestures on the Jew." She "recognize[s] the suggestive possibilities, however, of readings . . . which link Shylock and Portia as outsiders by virtue respectively of their race and sex" ("Portia's Ring" 19). Ferber declares, "A fuller treatment of ideology than is possible here would take up 'male ideology' from a feminist standpoint. I omit it here because I think the issue of the status or rights of women is not foregrounded in the play, and the peculiarly male way of doing things is only passingly and obliquely indicated" (460). Both comments appear to acknowledge the importance of the critical claims they choose to ignore, then contradict their initial claims. Newman leaves Shylock out because he has somehow enabled readings that fail to account for the play's women, but her reference to other "possibilities" suggests that elision of Shylock's "race" in favor of his gender, which is implicit in her reasoning, is problematic. Jessica, who is a woman and a Jew, is not mentioned at all. Ferber's claims are manifestly absurd given the importance the play assigns to marriage and gender roles, such as father, daughter, brother, husband, and wife. When considered at all, Jessica is often presented solely as a contrast to Portia's image of filial feminine duty: "where Portia gives, Jessica takes; where Portia accepts constraints, Jessica rebels" (Leventen 62).
4 See, e.g., Boose ("Getting") and Callaghan, who argue for "the inherent interrelatedness" of categories of difference and its importance for any interpretation of Jews in The Merchant (Callaghan 170). Still, neither explains what a reconsideration of the terms race and Jew might mean for reading Shakespeare.
5 There is an important distinction between racism as an identifiable mode of twentieth-century thought and the racialist roots of this ideology in early modern culture. Others have made the same distinction (see Neill; Bartels; Boose, "Getting"; Erickson).
6 Foxe's attitude toward Jews seems to take a turn for the worse after the 1563 edition. While in that edition Jews frequently serve to point up the errors of Catholics (see, e.g., "Jewe's Reasoning with Master Wysehart" [NNiir]), in the 1570 edition Jews appear most often as ridiculous and deserving targets of violence, willing victims like the "Jewe fallen into a privey [who] would not be taken out for kyping hys Sabboth day" (Nir).
7 See, e.g., Greenblatt, "Marlowe," and Ferber. On the historical presence of Jews in England, see Katz, History and Philosemitism; Rabb; Gwyer; Wolf; Roth; Samuel; Hyamson; Prior; Shapiro. Others who attempt to account for the representation of human difference in early modern Europe include Bartels; Mullaney; Pratt; Hulme; Brown; Said; Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions; Erickson.
8 Hotine cites the publication in 1594 and possibly early 1595 of the popular account of Lopez's trial, A True Report of Sundry Horrible Conspiracies to Have Taken Away the Life of the Queenes Majestie, which along with Marlowe's Jew of Malta documents the popular taste for anti-Semitic representations that preceded Shakespeare's Merchant. See Hotine for a useful chronology of the revival of Marlowe's Malta that preceded and followed Lopez's trial in 1594; the play was revived yet again in early 1596 the year in which it is generally agreed Shakespeare wrote The Merchant. More recently, David Katz, the foremost historian of English Jews, has argued that "Lopez, the model for Shylock, had far greater influence in the long run on moulding public views and prejudices about the Jews than the worthy efforts of all the English Rabbis put together" (History ix). Katz argues for Lopez's guilt. For a competing interpretation of the case against Lopez, see Gwyer.
9 For more on Gaunse, see Feuer; Abrahams; Shapiro.
10 For the story of Frere and Leavis, see Sisson.
11 A 1578 adaptation of the biblical narrative of Ham and his sons by George Best, an English traveler, is a possible source for Jessica's reference to Chus. See Hakluyt for Best's complete text. For useful discussions of Best's representations of race, see Newman, "Ethiop" 78-82; Boose, "Getting" 43-48; Hall, Things 11-15.
12 For more on the influence of Lopez, see Katz, History.
13 The term deserving is used in a 1656 document in which a committee of the Council of State argues for the readmission of Jews to England. For a copy of the document, see Samuel.
14 For studies of the representation of the Jew in medieval and early modern European culture, see Trachten berg; Poliakov; Edwards; Baron; Yardeni; Felsenstein; Shapiro. Tractenberg suggests that the equation of Jews with devils was the product of Christian legends in which "the inexorable enemies of Jesus . . . were the devil and the Jew." "It was inevitable," he argues, "that the legend should establish a causal relation between them" (20). Shapiro claims that "by the late sixteenth century the widespread medieval identification of Jews and the devil had virtually disappeared in England" (33), yet he locates the medieval myth of abduction and ritual murder in Shylock's desire to feast on his Christian enemies (110).
15 On patriarchalism in early modern England, see Schochet; Ezell.
16 On marriage without parental consent during the sixteenth century, see Ingram.
17 Kyngesmill's text takes up the topic under the heading "Certain places of Scripture touchyng ungodly matchyng in Mariage" and focuses on marriage to "women of a wicked kinred and Religion." Such marriages are inadvisable, he argues, because unbelieving wives don't properly fear and submit to their husbands and thus "overruleth the beleevyng husbande and causeth hym to make a plaine shipwracke of faith . . ." (4iiv).
18 On early modern constructions of the term fair, see Hall, Things and "Black-Moor."
19 Shylock's distaste for Christians is based on the historical practice of ritual separateness. As Johnson explains in his history of the Jews, "Circumcision set [Jews] apart and was regarded by the Greco-Roman world as barbarous and distasteful. But at least circumcision did not prevent social intercourse. The ancient Jewish laws of diet and cleanliness did" (133-34). Thus, Shylock's declaration "I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you nor pray with you" (1.3.33-35) can be read as evidence that Shakespeare's knowledge of Jewish practice and perspective went beyond stereotypes.
20 Poliakov claims that Christians believed in Jewish male menses; he cites late-fifteenth-century documents concerned with Jewish ritual murder (143). Foa discusses how sixteenth-and seventeenth-century beliefs in a Jewish cause of syphilis were related to the discourse of •sexual difference long applied to women. In a study of the nineteenth-century British equation of usury and prostitution, Gilman documents the continuity of the practice of feminizing male Jews (cf. Gallagher).
21 Shapiro argues for a relation between circumcision—the ritual reenactment of God's covenant with Abraham—and Christian fears of castration and death in early modern England.
22As Shapiro explains, Paul's letter to the Romans attempts to promote symbolic circumcision of the heart without condemning the trimming of the foreskin. Shapiro argues convincingly that the shift in The Merchant's representation of the terms of Shylock's bond, from "fair flesh, to be cut off and taken / In what part of your body pleaseth me" (1.3.150-51) to "A pound of flesh, to be by him cut off / Nearest the merchant's heart" (4.1.232-33) involves a "double displacement" of Paul's text: "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision" (Rom. 2.25). Thus, Shapiro continues, "Shylock will cut his Christian adversary in that part of the body where the Christians believe themselves to be truly circumcised: the heart" (127). The heart takes the place of the penis, the spirit the place of the letter. However, as Shapiro notes, such a displacement depends on a distinction between the symbolic and the literal, between the spirit and the flesh, that Paul's text does not sustain. Paul's terms conflate the categories by begging the question of interpreting God's law. Instead of solving the problem of Jewish and Christian identity, Paul's concern with circumcision becomes a touchstone for obsessions about the relation between physical attributes and social identity.
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