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Blood RelationsChristian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice$
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Janet Adelman

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226006819

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226006833.001.0001

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Leaving the Jew's House

Leaving the Jew's House

Father, Son, and Elder Brother

(p.38) Chapter Two Leaving the Jew's House
Blood Relations

Janet Adelman

University of Chicago Press

Conversion from Judaism to Christianity in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice—at least before Shylock's enforced conversion—is represented as a child's deception and then abandonment of a father. This representation is most explicit in Jessica, but she is not the only child who leaves Shylock's house and deceives a father in the process: Lancelot does the same thing. As Lancelot manages the transition from Shylock's house to Bassanio's, and hence secures his status as Christian rather than Jew, his passage obliquely reiterates one of the central narratives through which Christian tradition understands that transition at its point of origin: a narrative that turns radically on a son's deception of his father in order to secure the blessing intended for his older brother. This chapter examines why Lancelot's decision to leave Shylock's house should be so much more difficult, and so much more fraught with guilt, than Jessica's. It suggests that Shakespeare shapes Lancelot's throwaway scene of conversion in terms that encapsulate Christianity's anxieties about its vexed paternity in Judaism.

Keywords:   deception, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare, conversion, Christian tradition, Judaism, Christianity, paternity

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