Her Father's Blood
Her Father's Blood
Conversion, Race, and Nation
Abstract and Keywords
In William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Lancelot's escape from Shylock's house serves as a necessary prelude to Jessica's, a comic warding off of the anxiety that might otherwise be provoked by reading conversion as a betrayal of the father-Jew: for only Jessica can say “my father Jew” and mean it literally, and only she must literally leave the Jew's house in order to convert. In fact, the story that Lancelot enacts as he leaves his father's house turns up in a more attenuated form in Jessica's conversion. When Lancelot tells Jessica that she cannot be saved as long as Shylock is her father, he literalizes the terms of the conversion that he has enacted earlier: she too cannot become a Christian without changing fathers. However, Lancelot is forgetting the place of the mother in his “hope” for Jessica's salvation, for Lancelot's solution can save her only by invoking the infidelity of her mother. Conversion, danger to the commonwealth, race, and miscegenation come together in Jessica's body in the last Belmont scene before the scourging of Shylock.
I most humbly beseeche Almightie God, that he will not onely vouchsafe his gracious encrease to this glorious worke begunne with this Israelite stranger, but also to allure the whole remnant of the circumcised Race, by this his example, to be desirous of the same communion: So that at the length, all nations, as well Iewes, as Gentiles, embracing the faith, and Sacramentes of Christ Iesu, acknowledging one Shephearde, vnited together in one sheepefold, may with one voice, one soule, and one generall agreement, glorifie the only begotten sonne our sauiour Iesus Christ.
—Foxe, Sermon, AIV
Truly I think you are damned. There is but one hope in it that can do you any good, and that is but a kind of bastard hope, neither.
And what hope is that, I pray thee?
Marry, you may partly hope that your father got you not, that you are not the Jew's daughter.
That were a kind of bastard hope indeed. So the sins of my mother should be visited upon me.
—Merchant of Venice, 3.5.4–11
Iewish Infidelitie … seemeth after a certaine maner their inheritable disease, who are after a certaine sort, from their mothers wombe, naturally caned through peruerse frowardnes, into all malitious hatred, & contempt of Christ, & his Christians.
—Foxe, Sermon, B3r
(p.67) After the many turnings of 2.2, we finally arrive at Shylock's house in 2.3, and we find therein another would-be convert. I suggested in the last chapter that Lancelot's escape from that house serves as a necessary prelude to Jessica's, a comic warding off of the anxiety that might otherwise be provoked by reading conversion as a betrayal of the father-Jew: for only Jessica can say “my father Jew” and mean it literally, and only she must literally leave the Jew's house in order to convert. In fact, the story that Lancelot enacts as he leaves that house turns up in a more attenuated form in Jessica's conversion, as though Shakespeare could not quite suppress the anxiety that story of stolen blessings expressed: when Jessica disguises herself, deceives her father, and steals her patrimony, she too enacts a shadowy version of Jacob's theft and therefore of the passing of the promise from Jew to Christian.1 But she enacts Lancelot's story of conversion with a difference.
As with the convert Nathanael, Lancelot's conversion entails his disclaiming one “father” in order to claim the blessing of another. When Lancelot tells Jessica that she cannot be saved as long as Shylock is her father, he literalizes the terms of the conversion that he has enacted in 2.2: she too cannot become a Christian without changing fathers. But as Jessica points out, Lancelot is forgetting the place of the mother in his “hope” for her salvation, for Lancelot's solution can save her only by invoking the infidelity of her mother. The end of Merchant is full of cuckoldry jokes and thus of a barely concealed anxiety about the mother's place in the making of children; but it's nonetheless odd that this comic exchange about Jessica's conversion reiterates a concern about mothers that occurs in the midst of Lancelot's earlier scene of conversion. In that scene, Lancelot had briefly figured himself as mother's son rather than father's son; and although the emotional focus of the scene is securely upon fathers, he can claim his place as his father's son and receive his father's blessing only after he has successfully identified his mother, as though her identity provided the key to his own after all (“Her name is Margery indeed. I'll be sworn, if thou be Lancelot thou art mine own flesh and blood”; 2.2.80–81). Mothers are generally absent from this play: except for Lancelot and his pregnant Moor's unborn child, Jessica appears to be the only character who has—or had—one, and aside from the allusion to her in this conversation, where she (like the Moor) would make a bastard of her daughter, her presence is registered only when Jessica disowns her by selling off the ring that she gave to her husband Shylock. Particularly given this general absence, it's striking that both these mothers turn up in proximity to the play's comic meditations on conversion. Moreover, even if (p.68) most of Merchant's characters do not appear to have had mothers, the prototype whom Lancelot imitates in his own scene of conversion definitely had one, as Shylock reminds us just before 2.2: Jacob obtained his father's blessing and thus became the third possessor from Abram “as his wise mother wrought in his behalf” (1.3.69). In the story that signals the transmission of the promise from Jew to gentile, the figure of the mother notably intervenes, as Lancelot's does, to secure the father's blessing. Commentators frequently registered embarrassment about this wise mother's micromanagement of her son's career;2 and this embarrassment may reflect a larger anxiety about the mother's role in the transmission of patriarchal benefits from father to son—an anxiety bound to be exacerbated in the case of Jacob and therefore in the case of Jacob's avatar Lancelot, who is in effect making a claim to father Abraham on behalf of the play's Christians. Hence perhaps the odd intrusion of Lancelot's mother into the scene of Lancelot's “conversion,” where she threatens briefly to disrupt his identity as his father's son. But why should Jessica's mother turn up in the conversation about the efficacy of her conversion?
Perhaps because Jessica herself has the problematic capacity to become a mother, a possibility that the play gestures toward very soon after this conversation, when Lorenzo reminds Lancelot of his own pregnant Moor. And Jessica's name itself may make the same gesture toward her problematic maternity. Accounts of its derivation generally track it either to “Iscah” or to Shakespeare's feminization of “Ishai,” or “Jesse.”3 The Geneva Bible's gloss to “Iscah” (Genesis 11.29) is “Some thinke that this Iscah was Sarai”; since “Sarai” is Sarah's name before the prophecy of Isaac's birth and the name change that, together with Abram's, signals the transmission of the promise to the gentiles (Genesis 17.15), that derivation might register something like the unregenerated “Jewish” remnant in Jessica—and in her offspring. But derivation from “Jesse” is no less problematic. Jesse is familiarly the “root” of Jesus's lineage, the crucial link that aligned Jesus with the house of David and hence with the Old Testament prophecy that could establish him as the Messiah. If Shakespeare feminized “Jesse”—or if some members of his audience heard that feminization in Jessica's name—then her name would point toward something peculiar about that link back to the paternal root: given who Jesus's father was said to be, the link to the root of Jesse could come only through his mother. As Foxe says, “if ye require who was his father, he came not in deed from man, but discended from God. But if you demaunde of his mother: he is on the mothers side a Iewe borne, according to the flesh, the sonne of Abraham” (Sermon, C7r). (Foxe's convert Nathanael is even more emphatic in tracing Jesus's fleshly lineage through his mother's side, perhaps (p.69) because the rabbinic principle that Jewish identity was transmitted through the mother was less foreign to him: “the man Iesus Christ [was] borne of the virgin Marie … and so, by the flesh he toke of hir, descending of the seede & stocke of Dauid.”)4 As with Lancelot, female flesh must intervene to secure Jesus's paternal lineage, his status as the son of Abraham, the stock of David: when Matthew 1.16 traces Jesus's lineage through Joseph rather than Mary (“And Jacob begate Joseph, the housband of Marie, of whome was borne IESVS”), the Geneva gloss hastens to restore Jesus's fleshly link to Abraham by restoring Mary's claim to that lineage and then assimilating her lineage to her husband's (“Albeit the Iewes nomber their kinred by the male-kind: yet this linage of Marie is comprehended vnder the same, because she was maried to a man of her owne stocke & tribe”). So the father's line is transmitted through the mother's body, and the root of Jesse is thus in effect the root of Jessica, as Shakespeare's feminization of the name would suggest.
Even as she herself would convert to Christianity, then, Jessica's name carries the potential reminder that the fleshly lineage of Jesus comes from his Jewish mother. But if the Jewish womb is the bearer of the Jewish lineage that must authenticate Jesus's status as the Messiah, it is also the symbolic repository of the fleshly remains that should be left behind; and this double valence reiterates the double valence of Judaism within Christianity. The problematic maternal body—in other words—encodes ambivalence toward the fleshly lineage of Christianity itself. In Galatians 1.15–16—“it pleased God (which had separated me from my mothers wombe, and called me by his grace) To reueile his Sonne in me”—Paul makes his conversion simultaneous with his separation from his mother's womb, turning that womb into a metonymy for the ties of the flesh that he would eschew in favor of those of the spirit.5 Foxe reiterates and darkens this association of Judaism with the mother's part when he traces Jewish unbelief to the Jewish womb in one of my epigraphs for this chapter; and Graziano plays on it when he traces Shylock's “currish spirit” to the wolf that, “whilst thou lay'st in thy unhallowed dam, / Infused itself in thee” (4.1.132, 135–36). Lancelot may attribute Jessica's Jewishness to her father and believe that only her mother's sin of infidelity could free her from it, but the association of Jewishness with the Jewish womb seems to have been familiar enough for Shakespeare to have drawn on it here:6 in Graziano's depiction of Shylock's gestation as a kind of bestial incarnation, the wolf stands in for the Holy Spirit and Shylock's mother for an “unhallowed” Mary.7 To arrive at the source of Shylock's Jewishness, Graziano thus reaches back behind Jessica's father to the Jewish womb that bore him, in effect attributing his Jewishness to his mother's sin after all.
(p.70) But if Jewishness is the consequence of the Jewish womb, then where does this leave Jessica? Poised on the threshold of her father's house, she would deny the status conferred on her as “daughter to his blood” (2.3.17) in order to claim entrance into what Foxe imagines as the union of all nations in the body of Christ. The reference to Jesse in her name may seem to endorse the possibility of her conversion insofar as it alludes to the fulfillment of the Davidic lineage in Christ, but its feminization also carries the reminder of her Jewish womb, and thus of the potentially unassimilated Jew within the Christian—and within the Christian community. Jessica's conversion story—in other words—is everywhere inflected by her gender, for her womb will be the carrier of her father's Jewish blood, in her and in the children that might be born of her. No wonder, then, that she is so anxious to be rid of her mother's ring.
In Merchant, as in Foxe's Sermon, the spectacle of conversion provokes the discourse of blood; but in Merchant, that discourse is rooted in the female body—and specifically, I think, in that body's capacity to reproduce itself. It is often said that Jessica's conversion is easier than Shylock's because she perforce lacks the defining bodily mark of Judaism8 and thus is not quite a member of what Foxe tellingly calls “the circumcised Race” (Sermon, AIV). But in fact the play worries the issue of blood more strenuously in her case than in her father's, and it does so, I think, exactly because she lacks that defining mark and hence has the potential to infiltrate Christian society—in her own person and in her children—without being recognized. Much in Merchant would seem to endorse Jessica's conversion, but Lancelot's exchange with her at 3.5.4–11 is no mere aberration: it opens out into the vexed territory that lies between the universalizing claims of Christianity and the particularities of blood lineage and nation, for the contrary discourses of race, nation, and religion meet in her. Jessica may aspire to escape from her father's countrymen and his nation—both words that carry references to the womb within them9—to something like the merger of all nations in the oneness of Christ that Foxe imagines. But Belmont, the play's local stand-in for this imagined place of Christian harmony, ruthlessly excludes foreigners, and Jessica's escape is everywhere compromised by the limiting specifics of her father's blood.
Jessica herself seems to assume that her conversion will be an unproblematic consequence of her marriage.10 Well before she assures Lancelot that her husband has made her a Christian in 3.5, she appears to imagine marriage (p.71) and conversion as synonymous, as though her husband, rather than the church, had the power to make her a Christian and the laws governing the material conditions of women could unproblematically be applied to her spiritual state:
- 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. (2.3.13–20)
In fact, marriage appears to occur to her largely as a way to escape her father's blood or, more exactly, as a way to end the strife between his blood and her (presumably gentle/gentile) manners. Though her escape from her father's house to her lover fits conveniently into the conventions of a romance plot, her speech is not the love-longings of a typical romance heroine: Lorenzo is invoked not as the solution to the problem of Jessica's erotic desire but as the solution to the problem of being her father's daughter. Romance conventions would lead us to expect her to convert in order to marry, but the rhetorical weight of this speech moves in the opposite direction, suggesting that she would marry in order to convert.
Since Lancelot has just managed his own “conversion” from Shylock's house, it is perhaps fitting that he is the agent of her escape and would-be conversion: the shift in his status in fact allows him to carry the crucial letter to Lorenzo, who dines with his new master Bassanio. But his assumption that the only way out for Jessica is to have been begotten by some other father is so deeply embedded in him (and so endemic to the culture in which his author operates) that it occurs in a muted form even here, while he is ostensibly serving as the agent of her escape. Lancelot's response to Jessica's request to carry a letter to Lorenzo—“If a Christian do not play the knave and get thee, I am much deceived” (2.3.11–12)—half-anticipates his later stipulation that she needs a new father: his “get” hovers unstably between “get” in the sense of “possess” and “get” in the sense of “beget,” despite the temporal illogic that “get” as “beget” would introduce (how can Jessica be begotten by a Christian in the present tense?).11 The Second Folio reading—“if a Christian did not play the knave and get thee, I am much deceived”—suggests how readily Shakespeare's near contemporaries would have heard the “beget” in Lancelot's words: in effect, F2 stabilizes “get” as “beget” and then alters the tense to solve the problem of temporal illogic.12 This revision (p.72) underscores the way in which the latent pun in Lancelot's “get” satisfies the impossible condition that he sets for her conversion in 3.5.4–5: at least for an instant, it allows her to have been begotten by a Christian father after all. But by undoing the simultaneity of “get” and “beget” in Lancelot's response, F2 mutes the more complex fantasy that apparently drives Jessica's desire for marriage to Lorenzo. In Lancelot's condensation, the subject of “get” flickers ambiguously between Christian husband (who may get her in the present) and Christian father (who may have begotten her in the past). For a dizzying moment, through its elision of getting in the present with begetting in the past and its duck-rabbit flickering of father and husband as the subject of “get,” Lancelot's response fuses Christian husband and Christian father—as though Jessica's Christian husband could do away with the embarrassment of her Jewish birth by becoming her Christian father, literally re-begetting her in the present with Christian, rather than Jewish, blood.
Lancelot's pun on “get” thus condenses the tension between Jessica's blood and her conversion and promotes its own impossible fantasy solution to that tension: a Christian marriage in the present that would convert Jessica by simultaneously solving the problem of her father's blood. And that fantasy briefly comes back into view in 3.5, when Jessica asks what hope there is that she will not be damned, and Lancelot answers, “Marry, you may partly hope that your father got you not,” as if to say “marry—and you may partly hope for a new father,” as though that father could be produced by her marriage.13 But of course there can be no such marriage. Lancelot's puns—which initially seem to give Jessica what she wants—serve not to realize but to set the limiting condition to Jessica's fantasy of being saved by her husband. The pun on “get” in 2.3 suggests that Lorenzo can get (and hence convert) Jessica only if he can simultaneously re-beget her, effecting what amounts to a literalization of the trope of conversion as rebirth: “except a man be borne againe, he [or, in this case, she] can not se the kingdome of God.”14 And the pun on “marry” in 3.5 underscores the impossibility of this literalization, for neither marriage nor conversion will fulfill her hope that her father got her not. In the end, both puns return Jessica once again to the strictures of her father's blood.
Despite the play's apparent endorsement of Jessica's conversion, Lancelot is not alone in his insistence on those strictures: his version of conversion seems closer to the state of things in Venice—and especially in Belmont—than Jessica's assumption that her marriage will do the trick. Her would-be escape from her father's Jewishness seems to begin well enough; only a few moments after she has declared her desire to become a Christian through marriage, her husband-to-be imagines Shylock's “gentle daughter” as her (p.73) father's ticket to heaven, as though she could convert not only herself but him (2.4.34). And as soon as she appears in the “lovely garnish of a boy” and gilded with her father's ducats (2.6.45, 49), Graziano seems to grant her wish for transformation: depending on one's text, he proclaims her “a gentle [or “a gentile”], and no Jew” (2.6.51).15 (Does he respond thus enthusiastically to the “fair” skin Lorenzo has already lavishly praised at 2.4.12–14, to her “lovely garnish,” or to her promise to gild herself with still more ducats? Perhaps the latter; in his spendthrift world, a person generous with money—even money not her own—by definition can't be a Jew.) But when the undisguised and ungilded Jessica arrives in Belmont with Lorenzo, it becomes clear that Jessica's status as no-Jew is as evanescent as her disguise as a gilded boy. There Graziano marks her apparently unanticipated appearance with “But who comes here? Lorenzo and his infidel!” (3.2.217); his use of the term with which he will later register the Christians' triumph over Shylock—“Now, infidel, I have you on the hip” (4.1.329)—underscores the extent to which she is still the child of her father's blood.
Graziano may later prove to be the play's most outspoken anti-Semite, but he is not alone in regarding Jessica as an alien creature whose marriage has done nothing to convert her; Shakespeare takes pains in 3.2 to indicate the extent to which she is an outsider in Portia's Belmont. At least Graziano notices that she exists; neither Bassanio nor Portia register her presence in this scene, and they barely register it elsewhere. (Bassanio manages never to notice her, and Portia speaks to Jessica only once, at 3.4.43–44, when the barest requirements of courtesy force the exchange upon her. Even when Portia tells Lorenzo and Jessica that she is leaving the two of them in charge of Belmont as its temporary master and mistress, she speaks at 3.4.38 as though only Lorenzo were present.) Bassanio's welcome to Belmont, reiterated by Portia, extends only to his “very friends and countrymen” Lorenzo and Salerio (3.2.222). And Graziano's somewhat belated instructions to Nerissa—“cheer yon stranger. Bid her welcome” (3.2.236)—insist on Jessica's physical isolation on the stage during the awkward moments in which she is pointedly not introduced: “yon” makes sense only if she is standing at some distance from the others who are welcomed into Belmont, and “cheer” suggests that she is in need of cheering. Moreover, if Graziano's earlier “infidel” underscored Jessica's status as alien by religion, his “stranger” here underscores her status as alien by nation: though the term could function to indicate simply that she is unknown to the present company, she is after all known at least to Graziano, who could introduce her by name; and other uses of the term in the period tend to register foreignness by blood or nation rather than simply lack of recognition.16 “Stranger” would take on that resonance in (p.74) Graziano's instructions more particularly because Bassanio has just greeted Lorenzo and Salerio as his “countrymen.” In this context, Graziano's term indicates how far Jessica is from inclusion both in the present company and in the category of Bassanio's countrymen, though she too comes from Venice. In fact, as a “stranger,” Jessica remains allied to the father she would escape, who complains that he is spurned by Antonio like a “stranger cur” (1.3.114)—and perhaps also to the conversos of London, to whom the same term was frequently applied.17
No wonder, then, that Jessica tries to dissociate herself not only from her father's religion but also from his “countrymen” in her only speech in this scene:
- When I was with him I have heard him swear
- To Tubal and to Cush, his countrymen,
- That he would rather have Antonio's flesh
- Than twenty times the value of the sum. (3.2.283–86)
Jessica here attempts to ingratiate herself into the company from which she is excluded not only by confirming their sense of her father's bloodthirstiness but also by defining his “countrymen” as specifically his, not hers—as though her conversion (however questionable in itself) could have the effect of changing her country along with her religion and thus could enable her inclusion as one of Bassanio's countrymen after all. At her initial appearance, Jessica had distinguished between blood and religion, taking seriously the Christian universalist promise that she could free herself from her father's religion if not from his blood. But here, in the face of the continued designation of her as an infidel and stranger, she appears to absorb the lesson implicit in Lancelot's pun—and as though in response, she fantasizes a radical separation from her father's blood and “country” as the price of inclusion in the social club to which her husband belongs, and as the only way to cast off her status as a Jew.
Jessica's uncertain entrance into Belmont seems to me to reflect the play's distinct uneasiness about her marriage—an uneasiness that also leaves the marriage itself unspecified (when do she and Lorenzo get married? do they get married?). And perhaps because her conversion is contingent on her marriage, the play carefully does not distinguish a moment after which Jessica is definitively converted, an omission that allows for a chronic tension between Jessica and the others, in which she persistently regards her conversion to Christianity as complete, and they persistently regard her as a Jew. If the crucial distinction for her is religious, the crucial distinction for them is (p.75) of blood lineage. But this much Graziano's initial riddling praise of her as “a gentle, and no Jew” might have told her, for his praise turns out to allow her escape from the category of Jew only insofar as she can change her blood or nation, becoming not a Jew but a gentile. As Graziano's word slides between “gentle” and “gentile,” that is, it enters the territory of what we might agree to call a protoracial distinction:18 although “Jew” might function primarily as a religious category when it is opposed to “Christian,” it becomes an incipiently racial category when it is opposed to “gentle/gentile.” In that opposition, “gentile” invariably functions as a marker of those races or nations that are not Jewish19—as in Foxe's wish that “the whole remnant of the circumcised Race” might convert, so that “all nations, as well Iewes, as Gentiles” might be united in one sheepfold. Graziano's implied opposition between “gentle” and “Jew”—she is no Jew because she is a gentle—thus underscores the “gentile” in “gentle” and racializes both “gentle” and “Jew” by construing them as mutually exclusive: while “gentle” and “Jew” might conceivably be compatible terms (Jessica appears to imagine herself with gentle manners in her opening scene), by definition Jessica cannot be both a gentile and a Jew.20 In Graziano's formulation, only status as “a gentile” can guarantee her status as “no Jew”: Jessica hopes for a conversion from Jew to Christian; Graziano implies that the necessary conversion will have to be from Jew to gentile, shifting the grounds of conversion from religion to race even as he seems to grant her the conversion she wishes for.
Graziano thus establishes Jessica's status as gentile as the necessary—and impossible—condition for her escape from Jewishness: although Jews might become Christian, they are, axiomatically, not gentiles. His apparently liberatory comment thus returns her to the strictures of her father's blood as firmly as Lancelot's contention that the problem of her Jewishness could be solved only if a different father had gotten her. And this return to her father's blood is a move the play continually makes; even her beloved Lorenzo no sooner calls her “gentle” than he recalls her to her position as her father's issue:
- If e'er the Jew her father come to heaven
- It will be for his gentle daughter's sake;
- And never dare misfortune cross her foot
- Unless she do it under this excuse:
- That she is issue to a faithless Jew. (2.4.33–37)
The more Jessica appears to be “a gentle, and no Jew,” the more vigorously her problematic lineage needs to be asserted. Lorenzo initially entertains the (p.76) possibility that Jessica will be able to convert not only herself but her father, reversing the trajectory—“the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” (3.5.1)—that Lancelot insists on. But blood wins out in the end. As soon as Lorenzo distinguishes her gentleness/gentileness from Shylock's Jewishness, he must undo the distinction: if misfortune visits her, it will be because she is her father's issue and hence a Jew after all. By the end of Lorenzo's speech, her lineage has trumped her “gentleness”; as soon as the possibility of her “gentle/gentileness” is invoked, it inevitably calls up her father's Jewishness and subjects her to its taint.
In its attentiveness to Jessica's continued status as outsider and infidel, Merchant seems to me extraordinarily attuned to the plight of the outsider who would assimilate and to the price of assimilation, registered not only in 3.2 but also in Jessica's melancholy in 3.5 (“how cheer'st thou, Jessica?” Lorenzo asks after Lancelot has insisted that she is still a Jew) and perhaps especially in the absurdly self-denigrating paean to Portia that follows his question. For Jessica's response—if “two gods” were to wager on “two earthly women, / And Portia one, there must be something else / Pawned with the other, for the poor rude world / Hath not her fellow” (3.5.69, 71–73)—smacks of the sort of internalized self-loathing attendant on the infidel's recognition that she can never be such a heavenly paragon. Her “two gods” is, moreover, hauntingly suggestive: does she imagine a Jewish and a Christian god unequally matched in the contest Lorenzo provokes immediately after Lancelot tells her that she will be perennially a Jew?21 Her final exchanges with Lorenzo seem playful and affectionate, but their such-a-night threnody on doomed relations (particularly exogamous relationships) underscores the fragility of theirs and may remind us uneasily of Lorenzo's tardiness in turning up for their elopement, which Graziano attributes to sexual satiety (2.6.9–19).22 And is Jessica herself having second thoughts? When Lorenzo uses the loaded word “steal” to describe Jessica's flight to him—she “did … steal from the wealthy Jew” (5.1.15) in such a night—he risks a pun that equates her love for him with his love for the Jew's money; and she responds with a reference to a much more serious kind of theft: “In such a night / Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well, / Stealing her soul with many vows of faith, / And ne'er a true one” (5.1.17–20). The ordinarily conventional language that equates love with soul theft has an extraordinary resonance here: insofar as it echoes the language of conversion to a false faith, it allows for the otherwise-unspoken possibility that Jessica is beginning (p.77) to regret the series of thefts that have converted her and her father's wealth to the Christian. Her final line in the scene and in the play—“I am never merry when I hear sweet music” (5.1.68)—functions both to register her alienation from the merry company at Belmont and to align her with her father's melancholy and musicless house; after Portia's return, she has nothing left to say.23
Nonetheless, despite these hints of sympathy with her plight, the play's treatment of her is at least partly in the service of the ideologies that prevent her escape from that house, convert or not. In that sense, her situation poses the conundrum of the conversos (including London's own conversos) and provokes the discourse of blood that their historical presence engendered. As I have suggested in chapter 1, despite claims that “Jew” was purely a theological category in Shakespeare's England and that racialized thinking about Jews is an inappropriate piece of anachronism—despite claims, that is, that Jessica's conversion would necessarily free her from the taint of her father's blood—proto-racialized thinking about conversos appears to have been both conceptually available and conceptually useful to Shakespeare's contemporaries. Jewish difference had long been expressed both through a language of genealogical descent—Foxe's “race and stock of Abraham”24—and through a language of (usually immutable) physical difference; and both languages map easily onto what would become the newer language of “race”; Jewish difference was in fact prototypically racialized in the early modern period, at least in Spain.25 Waad, the clerk of the Privy Council, did not need to have available to him an entire scientific discourse of race in order to describe Pedro Rodriguez, a converso living in Lyons who planned to marry Lopez's daughter, as “a Jew by race” in 1597;26 and when Gabriel Harvey accounts for Lopez's suspicious success as a physician—the trickiness of what he calls Lopez's “Jewish practis”—by noting that he was “descended of Jews,” he implies that Jewish deception is a biological inheritance.27 The theological and the proto-racial categories are, moreover, far from distinct, for despite the possibility of conversion, the religion of the Jews itself could be understood as simply a derivative from their race: hence Foxe's exasperated speculation that Jewish unbelief must be inherited from the womb; and hence the characterization of London's converso community as “by race … all Jews, and … in their own homes they live as such observing their Jewish rites,”28 where “as such” does the work of making their rites contingent on their race.
No wonder that poor Jessica's conversion does not free her from the strictures of her father's blood: only a Christian father could do that. Perhaps the play toys with its own fulfillment of this fantasy-solution when (p.78) it forces conversion on Shylock in the scene after the one in which Lancelot tells Jessica that she needs a new father: his conversion in effect would give her a Christian father in the same ex-post-facto way as Lancelot's pun on “get.” But the play never encourages the audience to take the possibility of Shylock's conversion seriously. The persistent association of his hard-hearted Jewishness with natural phenomena—the wolf, the sea, the stone—has the effect of naturalizing it in him, making it fixed and immutable. And the same “gentle/gentile” pun through which Graziano fixes the limiting conditions of Jessica's conversion underscores the immutability of Shylock's Jewishness in Antonio's initial joke about his conversion: “Hie thee, gentle Jew. / The Hebrew will turn Christian; he grows kind” (1.3.173–74). The sequence of terms here—gentle Jew, Hebrew, Christian, kind—in fact beautifully illustrates the process of racialization as a response to the prospect of Jewish conversion. As soon as he invokes the possibility of the gentle Jew, Antonio shifts ground from “Jew”—a marker both of race and of religion—to “Hebrew,” more specifically a marker of genealogical lineage; in effect he secures Shylock's indelible racial alterity, and therefore his status as non-gentile, just at the moment when the fixity of his “Jewishness” comes into question. The audience has of course already been assured by Shylock's aside (1.3.36–47) that there is no danger that this Jew will become “gentle”; Antonio's lines give them what amounts to a biological basis for that assurance. For his sequence forces the racial strain not only in Jew but also in Christian, through the implied chiasmus “gentile/Jew,” “Hebrew/Christian”—a chiasmus that allies gentile with Christian as firmly as it allies Jew with Hebrew. Antonio's formulation thus denies its initial premise: though a Jew might conceivably turn Christian, a Hebrew by definition cannot turn gentile. And this appeal to the realm of inalterable “natural” differences is signaled by the tricky word “kind,” which undercuts Shylock's apparent turn to kindness by invoking exactly that inalterable realm. Like his nation (gens), his nature (kind) is reassuringly fixed: this Hebrew will never become gentle/gentile, will never lose his Jewish obduracy, the stony-heartedness that allows Christians to recognize him; he will never change his nature and “grow kind.” And whether or not he is forced to convert, he can never join the kind of the Christian: even at the end of the play, he remains “the rich Jew” (5.1.291).29
Insofar as Shylock will remain the Jew, converted or not, he secures the important distinction between Christian and Jew, the distinction that Jessica's conversion threatens to dissolve—and he secures it exactly through an appeal to a proto-racial difference. The puns through which Antonio introduces the topic of conversion into the play suggest the set of anxieties about (p.79) sameness and difference, nature and nations, that the topic provokes—anxieties for which racialized thinking provided an easy remedy, whether or not racial categories were fully in place in the early modern period. By the time of Merchant, Christian societies had been worrying about the instability of Jewish difference for generations. Jews, for example, are generally depicted throughout the Middle Ages as physically unmistakable, with red or black curly hair, large noses, dark skin, and the infamous foetor judaicus, the bad smell that identified them as Jews. But apparently Jews could not be counted on to be reliably different: although allegedly physically unmistakable, Jews throughout Europe were nonetheless required to wear particular styles of clothing or badges that graphically enforced their physical unmistakability—as though they were not quite different enough.30 Archbishop Stephen Langton's 1222 council in Oxford seems to have instituted clothing regulations in England explicitly for this reason, following both the Fourth Lateran Council regulations of 1215 and a particularly troubling local case in which a deacon married a Jew, was circumcised, and was burned for his apostasy. Maitland summarizes the reasoning behind the institution of the English regulations thus: “there being unfortunately no visible distinction between Jews and Christians, there have been mixed marriages or less permanent unions; for the better prevention whereof, it is ordained that every Jew shall wear on the front of his dress tablets or patches of cloth four inches long by two wide, of some colour other than that of the rest of his garment.”31 The regulations thus appear to have been an attempt to make a difference where none was reliably visible, presumably on the assumption that no one would knowingly marry a Jew.
Even apparently reliable physical signs of difference were tricky: some thought, for example, that the foetor judaicus might disappear at baptism,32 effectively obliterating the difference between Christian and Jew. And not every Christian would greet this news with joy: despite the promises of a universalizing Christianity, the difference between Christian and Jew was too important a part of the mental map to be given up lightly. Already too different and too much the same, Jews were a contradiction that conversion—particularly state-enforced conversion—turned into a crisis. And insofar as Merchant worries the contradiction between Jessica's conversion and her blood, it responds in its own way to the pressures that were, elsewhere in the sixteenth century, forcing a proto-racialized definition of Jewish difference. Although one theological justification for hatred of Jews had always been their stiff-necked refusal to convert, it turned out that massive conversion brought on its own problems. In sixteenth-century Spain, the danger was not that Jews would remain an isolated community refusing Christian grace but (p.80) that they would convert and infiltrate Spanish society at all levels, becoming indistinguishable from their Spanish hosts as they entered into the mainstream. For conversion threatened to do away with the most reliable signs of difference, provoking a crisis in a very mixed society obsessively concerned with purity of lineage. In response to this crisis and the category confusions it entailed, the Spanish Inquisition attempted to establish difference just where it was least visible, in the unstable arena of blood, through the imposition of a series of so-called pure-blood laws. Jerome Friedman's account of these laws identifies a pattern that precisely duplicates Merchant's insistence on Jessica's Jewishness just when she is most liable to be mistaken for gentle/gentile or Christian: “The more ardently Jews sought acceptance as Christians, the more ardently Christians identified them as Jews”; “The more New Christians assimilated into their new surroundings, the more biological distinctions were needed to separate New Christian from Old Christian.”33
In the face of massive Jewish conversion and acceptance into Spanish society, the pure-blood laws were a strenuous attempt to ground an increasingly invisible difference specifically in bodily inheritance; in Friedman's account, with the emergence of these laws, sixteenth-century Spain succeeded in transforming “medieval religious anti-Judaism into a racial antisemitism” precisely at the point that the difference between Christian and Jew threatened to disappear. According to the logic of the pure-blood laws:
All descendants of converts were really still Jews because they came from Jewish ancestors. The sixteenth-century “purity of blood” laws stipulated that anyone with at least one Jewish ancestor was himself still a converso and therefore was not a real Christian…. [As late as 1628], one Grand Inquisitor noted that “by converso we commonly understand any person descended from Jews … be it in the most distant degree.” … These new exclusionary legal conventions were called “pure blood laws” because it was maintained that degenerate Jewish blood was impervious to baptism and grace. If mixed with Christian blood, the Jewish blood would contaminate subsequent generations and would continue to do so indefinitely…. The result of this racialist thinking was that the courts of Inquisition were increasingly involved with determining if a given individual was genealogically 1/16, 1/32, or 1/64th part Jewish. The Toledo court of Inquisition for instance, devoted four times more space in its records to this than to actual court procedures involving charges of judaization.34
(p.81) It is emblematic of the entire enterprise that the laws enforcing difference at the point of its disappearance employ a metaphorics of blood, since the blood of various individuals is not only notoriously miscible but also notoriously hard to distinguish. The king instructs the lineage-obsessed Bertram on this paradox with some precision in All's Well That Ends Well: “Strange is it that our bloods, / Of colour, weight, and heat, poured all together, / Would quite confound distinction, yet stands off / In differences so mighty” (2.3.114–17).35
England did not face the massive problem that Spain did, nor is it clear how many of the English knew about, or would have been sympathetic to, the pure-blood laws of their traditional enemy. But they surely would have recognized the impetus behind the pure-blood laws. Spanish obsession with purity of lineage was a familiar butt of English satire; Aragon himself enters Belmont insisting on his differentiation both from the “barbarous multitudes” and from those whose “estates, degrees, and offices” are “derived corruptly” (2.9.32, 40–41). Though he prides himself on employing “the stamp of merit” in his judgments (2.9.38, 42), his language immediately collapses the discourse of merit into the discourse of blood lineage, in which those “derived corruptly” must be distinguished from “the true seed of honour” (2.9.41, 46).36 For an English audience, the joke of his boast—like the joke of the pure-blood laws and the ambition they encode—would be on the Spanish. For according to the anti-Spanish propaganda prevalent in England, Aragon would have good reason to be concerned about being ranked with the barbarous multitude: the Spanish are “this scumme of Barbarians,” “this mongrell generation,” “sprong from the race of the Iewes”; far from being “the true seed of honour,” especially the aristocrats among them are contaminated by their debased historic internal others (“All the worlde beleeueth … that the greatest parte of the Spanyards, and specially those, that counte themselues Noblemen, are of the blood of the Moores and Iewes”).37 For audience members familiar with this propaganda, Aragon's emphasis on an uncorrupted lineage would be deliciously comic; for them, Jessica would not be the first Jew, nor Morocco the last Moor, to enter Belmont.
Through Aragon, Merchant allows its English audience to mock the Spanish simultaneously for their mongrel blood and for their obsessive concern with uncontaminated lineage. But if Merchant is any indication, members of Shakespeare's audience would have recognized the impetus behind the Inquisition's pure-blood laws not only because it sustained their mockery of the Spanish but also because they themselves shared some of the anxieties those laws were designed to address—for the play itself at least partly (p.82) replicates the logic of the pure-blood laws and hence the racializing structure that underlies them. I have already cited evidence that the English regarded their own conversos as “racial” Jews; the play's repeated insistence that Jessica cannot escape her father's blood puts Jessica in the position of those conversos, who are Jewish whether or not they convert. The extent to which Jessica is trapped in this racializing structure even when she most seems to escape it can perhaps best be measured by the odd moment in which the play briefly posits a quasi-biological difference between her and her father. just when Shylock himself is claiming his runaway daughter as his own “flesh and blood,” Salerio responds, “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” (3.1.33–35). Salerio seems willing to allow for the possibility of Jessica's escape into Christianity here, but he does so only by simultaneously reinstating the discourse of race. In his formulation, Jessica can be different from her father, and hence eligible to marry Lorenzo and become a Christian, only if her flesh and blood are literally and identifiably different from his—only if she is not his flesh and blood after all. In his refutation of Shylock's claim to kinship, Salerio appears momentarily to grant Jessica the impossible condition established by Lancelot, who insists that she could become Christian only if she were begotten by some other father. But that very refutation reinscribes the terms of a racialized discourse in her, even as Salerio appears to liberate her from them: flesh and blood are the only terms of difference he will allow.
Salerio's peculiar formulation simultaneously denies and affirms the ineradicable difference of race, and its exaggerations suggest what is at stake. In order to satisfy the contradictory mandates of a racializing discourse and a universalizing Christianity, Salerio must make a difference between Shylock and his daughter, one of whom will remain a “racial” Jew while the other escapes into Christianity;38 but he can make this difference only through a fantasy that distinguishes between their flesh and blood, in effect rewriting the theological distinction between Christian and Jew as the flesh-and-blood distinction between Jessica and her father. And in that fantasy Salerio would go one better than those who would force Jews to wear badges in order to secure their otherwise-unreliable difference from Christians: he would stabilize the hypothetical and invisible blood difference between father and daughter in the visible distinction of skin color, making Jessica reliably different from Shylock by giving him skin of “jet” in comparison with her “ivory.” But although any given director may decide to comply with Salerio's hyperbolical distinction by embodying it in his or her production, the text makes it difficult (p.83) to sustain. If Shylock's skin were reliably jet—his difference both from his daughter and from the Christians as permanently and visibly marked as the proverbial Ethiope's—would Portia have to ask which is the merchant and which the Jew? And the hyperbole surrounding Jessica's “ivory” suggests that it may be equally suspect. Lorenzo's first words about her are apparently determined to construe her as white, as though only his insistence on her exceptional whiteness could justify and legitimate their union:
- I know the hand. In faith, 'tis a fair hand,
- And whiter than the paper it writ on
- Is the fair hand that writ. (2.4.12–14)
And his “gentle Jessica” (2.4.19) is “fair” again at 2.4.28 and 39, and again in 2.6, when Graziano's proclamation that she is “a gentle, and no Jew” is followed immediately by Lorenzo's insistence that she is “wise, fair, and true” (2.6.56). But does the rhetorical overkill convince us that she is in fact fair? Or does it suggest that she must be rhetorically constructed as fair by Lorenzo and the other Venetians in order to enable her gentile-ification and thus Lorenzo's theft of her—and the ducats she brings with her—from her father?39
Salerio's formulation suggests that Shylock must be hyperbolically blackened to make Jessica white, and hence to secure the uncertain difference between father and daughter that temporarily stands in for the uncertain difference between Jew and Christian. And insofar as Salerio can make Jessica white only by making Shylock into the equivalent of a Moor,40 in effect grounding the difference between father and daughter in the visible difference of the other great category of converts troublesome to the Spanish, Merchant once again replicates an Inquisitorial logic and anticipates a racial discourse increasingly obsessed with skin color. For skin color provides a convenient analogy for fantasmatic distinctions of blood, particularly when the idealized appeal to oneness that underwrites conversion threatens to dissolve them. Thus Fray Prudencio de Sandoval writes in 1604:
I know that in the Divine presence there is no distinction between Gentile and Jew, because One alone is the Lord of all. Yet who can deny that in the descendants of the Jews there persists and endures the evil inclination of their ancient ingratitude and lack of understanding, just as in the Negroes [there persists] the inseparable quality of their blackness …? For if the latter should unite themselves a thousand times with white (p.84) women, the children are born with the dark color of the father. Similarly, it is not enough for the Jew to be three parts aristocrat … or Old Christian, for one family-line … alone defiles and corrupts him.41
As with the Negro, one family-line—that is, one Jewish ancestor—corrupts the would-be Christian: Fray Prudencio needs the fantasy of a permanent and visible difference in skin color in order to underwrite his fantasy of the Jew's equally permanent but invisible difference of blood—and he needs that fantasy exactly because conversion has threatened to merge gentile and Jew into a perplexing oneness. And Salerio's lines—“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”—are I think driven by the same imperative. Initially, his appeal to the enabling fiction that one can read a blood difference between Jessica and Shylock through a difference in skin color seems to undo the Inquisition's insistence that the taint of Jewishness is permanent, persisting through the generations; in his construction, Jessica's “whiteness” is the sign of her differentiation from her father and thus of her potential to become “one of us” in both religion and race. But he can convert her whiteness into such a sign only by first making skin the sign of blood and then by making Shylock hyperbolically black, in the process stabilizing in him the invisible Jewish difference that threatens to disappear in Jessica. In an impossible attempt to satisfy the contradictory mandates provoked by conversion, he thus transmutes the difference between Jew and Christian into a difference between Jew and Jew, distinguishing fantasmatically between the “black” Jew-by-race, who will always be a Jew even if the state forces his conversion, and the “white” Jew-by-religion, who could perhaps become a Christian and one of us—if only she were not in fact her father's flesh and blood.
The metaphors through which Salerio makes Shylock into a Moor in order to secure Jessica's “whiteness” suggest that Jessica can be allowed her Christian marriage and conversion only if she leaves Shylock behind as a kind of security deposit, guaranteeing that he at least will remain reliably Jewish, as definitively different as a Moor. And this is not merely Salerio's construction: the play in fact secures Shylock's identification with the Moor when it gives him Cush—or Chus—as one of his countrymen (3.2.284), for Cush is famously one of Ham's sons and therefore the progenitor of the Moors.42 These elisions of Jew and Moor eerily anticipate the relation between Shakespeare's (p.85) two Venetian plays: in the face of the potential confusion caused by the converso, Shakespeare (like Salerio or Fray Prudencio) moves from the Christianized Jew of Merchant to the Christianized Moor of Othello, stabilizing both the shifting categories of religion and the invisible differences of blood of the earlier play in the apparently immutable and visible category of skin color in the later one. And when Gush's descendant and Othello's countryman Morocco turns up on this stage, he appears to serve a similar purpose. He enters Belmont in effect as a visual anticipation of what Salerio would make of Shylock, and his first words call attention to his skin color (“Mislike me not for my complexion”), invoking one of the familiar explanatory tropes of blackness: like Cleopatra, he is black because of his special proximity to the sun, whose “shadowed livery” he wears (2.1.1–2). But if Salerio and Fray Prudencio would secure blood difference via skin color, Morocco immediately counters this move, challenging Portia (and the audience) to look inward, toward the red blood that he shares with “the fairest creature”:
- Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
- Where Phoebus' fire scarce thaws the icicles,
- And let us make incision for your love
- To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine. (2.1.4–7)
Through his imagined incision, Morocco invokes blood sameness to undo the difference his skin color makes: through the redness of his blood, he would lay claim to his xenophobic hostess.43
Morocco's image of incision recalls Paul's great refutation of biological particularism in Acts 17.26: God “hathe made of one blood all mankinde, to dwell on all the face of the earth.” And insofar as Morocco gestures powerfully toward the common blood lying just beneath the skin of difference, his language would seem to underwrite his kinsman Shylock's later—and weaker—claim to the universality of blood (“if you prick us do we not bleed?” 3.1.54); both would refute Salerio's attempt to ground differences of blood in skin color, at the same time undermining the incipiently racist view that would separate human beings by “kind” instead of by interior qualities. But perhaps Morocco is allowed to articulate the one-blood claim precisely because his skin is so reliably different? Morocco's own religious affiliation is left hauntingly unspecific: he asks for the guidance of “some god”—presumably not the Christian one—as he makes his casket choice, but his choosing speech is rich in allusion to Catholic belief and practice (suitors come “to kiss this shrine, this mortal breathing saint”; 2.7.40); (p.86) and as Portia anticipates his entrance, she entertains the possibility that he might be a saint inside, or even a priest (“If he have the condition of a saint and the complexion of a devil, / I had rather he should shrive me than wive me”; 1.2.109–10). But as Shakespeare's next Venetian play about conversion suggests, a Christianized Moor is still a Moor and still bears the visible—and hence reassuring—signs of difference; one cannot imagine a messenger, say, walking into the Duke's chambers in Othello's Venice and having to ask, “Which is the Senator and which the Moor?” Fray Prudencio's—and Salerio's—move to ground Jewish difference in skin color depends precisely on the fact that Moriscos, or converted Moors like Othello, were far less threatening to category stability than their Jewish counterparts. Since Morocco's difference is secured by his complexion—since no one would mistake him for “one of us”—he can perhaps be allowed to make a compelling claim for the “one blood” that underlies Christian universalism in Paul's formulation; he can, after all, do so without compromising visible racial difference.
And at least in Belmont, there is never any doubt that skin-color difference will trump the appeal to blood likeness. Morocco may invite Portia to look within him, but she herself ignores the casket's lesson on the unreliability of what is “outside” (2.7.68): she concludes her “gentle riddance” of him by drawing attention to his skin color once more (“Let all of his complexion choose me so”; 2.7.78, 79).44 By the time Portia has finished with him, Morocco can remain the sign of the secure racial difference that Salerio would attribute to Shylock—and that Belmont will reinstate in Jessica. For the figure of Morocco reiterates the conundrums of conversion and Jewish difference in his own person; the tension between Christian universalism and racial particularity always apparent in the play's treatment of its Jews is perfectly condensed in him. His claim for one blood in effect underscores the possibility of Jessica's conversion, but his skin color stabilizes the differences essential to the emergent racist discourses that keep a Moor a Moor—and a Jew a Jew. Even the apparently stable signifier of his skin color can work simultaneously to ground and to minimize Jewish racial difference; as Salerio's formulation suggests, it can serve both to blacken Shylock by analogy and to whiten Jessica by contrast. But though Morocco's skin color can thus stand as the guarantor of Jessica's difference from her father, and hence of her marriage and entry into the community of Christians, this guarantee always threatens to double back on itself; as Portia's “I had rather he should shrive me than wive me” reminds us, Christian universalism may be all well and good, but its limiting case is marriage. It's partly for this reason, I think, that Jessica's own marriage is framed by Morocco's unsuccessful wooing of Portia: his entrance into the virgin kingdom of Belmont (2.1) precedes (p.87) Jessica's first appearance in 2.3, where she articulates her desire to escape her father's blood through marriage; and her escape with Lorenzo in 2.6 is immediately followed by Portia's “gentle riddance”—gentile riddance?—of Morocco in 2.7. Compared to the threat Morocco poses to Belmont, Jessica's marriage may come to seem almost acceptable—but he also serves as a visible reminder that her marriage too represents a form of miscegenation.
This reminder will be sharply reiterated later in the play, when the threat of miscegenation represented by Morocco's wooing of Portia is replayed in a minor key, deflected from the body of Belmont's “Queen” (3.2.169) onto that of an anonymous servant—let in, as it were, by the back door. Lancelot has been reassuring himself and perhaps his audience that Jessica will be Jewish as long as her father is Jewish, in effect that her marriage to Lorenzo has not trumped her blood difference. When Jessica reports on this conversation to Lorenzo, adding Lancelot's charge that he is damaging the commonwealth by converting Jews to Christians and hence raising the price of pork, Lorenzo answers by accusing Lancelot of his own damage to the commonwealth: “I shall answer that better to the commonwealth than you can the getting up of the Negro's belly. The Moor is with child by you, Lancelot” (3.5.31–33).45 How does this Moor get into Belmont? Because we have not heard of her before and because we never see her, she has only a rhetorical existence, as though she were born of Lorenzo's need for a convenient retort: accused of what amounts to miscegenation himself, he is able to silence Lancelot by producing a worse instance of miscegenation. But his retort has the effect of making his marriage to Jessica and Lancelot's impregnating the Moor equivalent, and therefore of making Jessica and the pregnant Moor interchangeable. Rhetorically if not literally, then, Jessica's own entrance into Belmont—the entrance Portia does her best to ignore—seems to have brought this Moor in with her.46 As though the danger to the realm implicit in Jessica's conversion requires that she herself be collapsed into the category of the Moor in order to stabilize her vanishing difference after all, the subterranean logic of the play returns once again to the apparently solid ground of skin color, in its own way duplicating the move that Fray Prudencio makes when he attempts to secure an infinitely transmissible though invisible Jewishness by appealing to the allegedly infinitely visible transmission of skin color—a move similarly provoked by the category confusion attendant upon conversion. And this subterranean logic effectively undoes the difference between father and daughter that Salerio proposes. At her entrance into Belmont, Jessica denies her connection with her father's countryman Cush, in effect fantasizing her own variant of the difference Salerio had insisted on in the previous scene; the unexpected appearance of this Moor as a kind of stand-in (p.88) for Jessica's racial difference answers to that denial, relocating her as Cush's countryman after all.
In the play's two Moors, the racial difference that Jessica would like to escape through marriage and conversion is expressed in pure form—as though the Moors were a necessary experiment to test out the hypothesis that racial differences could be absorbed into the Christian body politic. For that reason, it matters that both Moors appear in conjunction with the threat of miscegenation, and that they appear only in the virgin kingdom of Belmont, where xenophobia is rampant and marriage is the topic on everyone's mind. I have already noted that Jessica herself is never fully absorbed into Belmont; the surprise reference to Lancelot's pregnant Moor—apparently unmotivated by the plot—suggests why. Salerio's formulation had allowed for Jessica's escape into whiteness only insofar as two impossible fantasy-conditions were met: her father must be secured in the position of the Moor, and she must be imagined as wholly separate from his flesh and blood. The implied analogy with Lancelot's pregnant Moor compromises both of these conditions: it puts Jessica as well as her father in the position of the Moor, and it forces the question of her flesh-and-blood lineage. For the second of Salerio's conditions can be sustained in fantasy only insofar as Jessica remains childless: as soon as the possibility of her pregnancy is brought into play—as soon as she is imagined as producing flesh and blood of her own—her father's lineage in her becomes manifest and the separation between them collapses. A pseudo-Augustinian text had long before anticipated the threat implicit in Jessica's marriage (“In consequence of the curses upon their fathers, the criminal disposition is even now transmitted to the children by the taint in the blood”),47 and the appearance of Lancelot's Moor underscores it, for her pregnancy locates the transmission of racial lineage—the taint in the blood—squarely in the mother's body.48 Fray Prudencio avers that the children of Moors will always be Moors; the rhetorical presence of this Moor reminds us that Jessica's children will always be Jews, no less Shylock's flesh and blood than she is—just as Foxe had predicted when he traced Jewish unbelief to the Jewish mother's womb.
No wonder Jessica's love song with Lorenzo alludes only to doomed and childless couples; as with the other exogamous couples they invoke, early death might be a more satisfying outcome for Shakespeare's audience than the mixed offspring of such a marriage would be. (In Shakespeare's next Venetian play, Desdemona will get herself in trouble as soon as she alludes (p.89) to the possibility of “increase” in her marriage with Othello.)49 Jessica's entrance has already threatened to trouble the boundaries of Portia's closed domain (hence perhaps Portia's determined ignoring of her); as though to underscore that threat, Lancelot's Moor breaches those boundaries—and reveals the fragility of the fantasy of self-same enclosure that Belmont encodes. But if Belmont is the place of Christian harmony to which Jessica aspires, it is also, I think, a stand-in for England itself, presided over by its own virgin queen. Jessica's entrance into Belmont thus troubles the serenity of that fantasy of England—and troubles it not only through her resemblance to the conversos in London but also because she carries with her a complex set of allusions to a narrative of nationhood that reopens the question of blood sameness and blood difference exactly where it is most likely to be perplexing to a contemporary Englishman: in the vexed arena of country and nation.
When Jessica names Cush and Tubal as her father's “countrymen” (3.2.284), she invokes a complex narrative of national origins. The names of Tubal and Cush/Chus both come from Genesis 10, the genealogical account of the formation of the separate nations after Noah's flood. Whereas Genesis 11 locates the origin of distinct nations in the linguistic divisions after the Tower of Babel, and thus in supernatural punishment for human arrogance, this chapter locates the dispersal of nations and hence national difference purely in the “natural” realm of kinship groupings deriving from Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and japheth: the introductory summary for Genesis 10 is “The increase of mankinde by Noah and his sonnes. The beginning of cities, contreis and nations,” and its concluding words are “These are the families of the sonnes of Noah, after their generacions among their people: and out of these were the nacions diuided in the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10.32). The progeny of Noah's three sons divide the known world; national history begins with them. Thus William Warner begins his history of England in 1612 with “the diuision of the World after the generall Flood,” specifying that “To Asia Sem, to Affrick Cham, to Europe Iapheth bore / Their families. Thus triple wise the world deuided was.”50 Given this division, Chus, Tubal, and Shylock make a strange set of countrymen, and not only because the Jews famously had no “country”:51 Chus is Ham's son, and Tubal is japheth's, while Shylock descends from Shem's grandson Eber, “of whome [the Geneva Bible's marginal gloss to Genesis 10.21 tells us] came the Ebrewes or Iewes.” This is not an insignificant detail. At a time of increasingly self-conscious nationalist formation, biblical commentators and genealogically minded historians often expended a good deal of effort trying to pin down exactly which peoples derived from which grandsons;52 (p.90) the habit was familiar enough that Shakespeare can count on his audience to recognize Prince Hal's mocking reference to it when he tells Poins that men will either claim to be kin to the king or “will fetch it [i.e., their lineage] from Japhet” (2 Henry IV, 2.2.99–100). Any careful auditor of Genesis and of Merchant would recognize the incongruity of the mixed lineages implied by the names of Shylock's countrymen.53 And when first a descendant of Chus and then one of Tubal appear onstage in Belmont as suitors to Portia—for if Morocco would have traced his ancestry to Chus, Aragon would have traced his to Tuba154—we can be reasonably certain that Shakespeare is engaging in a complex conversation with Genesis 10 and the dispersal of nations.
But what are the terms of this conversation? The extent to which Belmont is construed through the idea of something like national purity is clear from the first Belmont scenes, in which Portia efficiently characterizes and dismisses her foreign suitors—including those derived from Shylock's countrymen—as though they were anathema to her body and her body politic. Given the frequency with which both Jews and Moors were depicted as contaminants in the Spanish bloodstream, perhaps the names of Shylock's countrymen register as nothing more than a xenophobic joke at the expense of Spain, as though the integrity of Belmont/England could be maintained by locating contaminating blood mixture—and, for that matter, contaminating religious mixture—only in Spain. (One can imagine the beginning of such a joke at the expense of Spain: a Jew, a Catholic, and a Muslim were in a …) But Jessica's marriage, conversion, and entry into Belmont threaten to bring the anti-Spanish joke home: for insofar as Tubal and Chus are her countrymen as well as her father's, their promiscuous mixture would be reproduced in her potentially pregnant womb, as the incipient pun in “countrymen” reminds us. In her descendants in Belmont/England, crucial differences among the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japheth would be undone, as though they had never dispersed—or as though their blood was one after all. For at least one biblical commentator in 1592, that was in fact the point of Genesis 10's account of the dispersal of nations:
Though we see heere diuisions of Countreys made amongst them, and some dwelling here, some there, as they liked, yet one bloud remained amongst them, as a knot euer to ioyne them, what distance of place soeuer seuered them. And is it not so still …? We be all as we see of one bloud and parents.55
Insofar as Morocco and Aragon are satisfyingly distinct from each other and from the Venetians, as easily categorized and dismissed as Portia's other foreign (p.91) suitors, they testify vigorously to the reality of national differences; but insofar as both are in effect descendants of Shylock's countrymen—born to them through the same time warp that makes Shylock a stand-in for Shem in this Noachic division and thus something like his own grandpa56—they undo the dispersal of nations and testify equally vigorously to the artificiality of a nationhood that would make differences from a common blood.
One blood or the division into nations: the discourse invoked by Shylock's—and Jessica's—odd “countrymen” reproduces in a different register the tension between a universalizing Christianity in which conversion is open to all and a proto-racial particularism in which blood differences make all the difference; it insists both on our common ancestry in Noah's progeny and on the division into distinct nations from this common origin, just as Genesis 10.32 does (“out of these were the nacions diuided …”). And the more specific account of the japhethic divisions in Genesis 10.5—“Of these were the yles of the Gentiles deuided in their landes, euerie man after his tongue, and after their families in their nacions”—underscores the same tension by anticipating the division into different languages that is attributed to man's pride in Genesis 11. For the two different accounts of the dispersal of nations offered in Genesis 10 (the generations of Noah) and Genesis 11 (the Tower of Babel) themselves enable competing claims for—and therefore competing valuations of—the origins of nations. If the fall into national differences is a consequence of man's sin and God's punishment in Genesis 11, the dispersal of nations is an occasion to marvel at God's grace in Genesis 10, where the postdiluvial derivation of nations from the generations of Noah serves to declare “the wonderfull power of God,” “the maruelous increase in so smale a time.”57 One account promotes the image of an original unity, spoiled by sin and recoverable only through grace, when (in Foxe's words) “at the length, all nations … acknowledging one Shephearde, vnited together in one sheepefold, may with one voice, one soule, and one generall agreement, glorifie the only begotten sonne”; the other allows for the glorification of cohesive and distinct national identities and languages—for pride in precisely those differences between nations that Foxe would like to see subsumed into oneness.
But the Reformation for which Foxe was a major apologist had itself put an enormous strain on the idea of a universal Christianity. Foxe might await a time when all nations would be united together in one sheepfold to glorify Christ with one voice, but he would probably want that voice to pray in English. Despite his scrupulous denial that the spiritual kingdom belonged to any one terrestrial nation—a denial in any case designed in the Sermon more to counter Jewish claims to special status than to make the promise (p.92) available to all nations—he (like many others) seems to have had little doubt that there was a special relationship between England and the new universally true form of Christianity.58 And that relationship crucially depended on displacing not only the old “nation” of Shylock and his countrymen but also the old definition of nationhood on which the Jewish claim to the promise seemed to rest—a project to which the discourse of the dispersal of nations could be useful. Just as religions were becoming increasingly “nationalized,” the idea of nationhood itself was in flux, in a kind of secular equivalent to the Pauline shift from literal to spiritual descent from Abraham. Initially firmly linked with blood and kinship, and specifically with birth through its Latin root, during this period “nation” was well on its way to becoming a political term in which the artificial “family” within a country's territorial boundaries was merely metaphoric, borrowing its force from exactly those presumptively natural family groupings of kinship—old-style “nations”—that were now to be superseded.59 And the nation so conceived was ideally situated to inherit the promise originally given to the blood nation of the Jews.
But a nation composed of those residing within certain boundaries rather than those related by blood is a potentially messy affair. We can hear some of the stresses inherent in this new definition of nationhood in MacMorris's indignant response to Fluellen's reference to his “nation” (“Of my nation? What ish my nation? Ish a villain and a bastard and a knave and a rascal? What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?” Henry V, 3.3.61–63); in their exchange, language, ancestry, and place of origin may all be suspected of pulling against the political, territorial, and spiritual unity of the nation—“our nation,” in the words of the archbishop of Canterbury (1.2.219)—that Henry V would like to achieve against the French.60 And if Foxe's often-repeated attacks on the Jewish nation's pride in ancestry are any indication, the Jewish claim to a sacred nationhood of blood derived from father Abraham remained a source of some anxiety, perhaps because its delineations are so clear. When Foxe imagines a Jew boasting “we are the seede of Abraham…. well we may wander, but we can neuer perish. The holy Patriarches are our progenitours: we are the yssue of an holy roote” (Sermon, E2v), he articulates exactly the basis for the indelible—and indelibly sacred—nationhood for which Shylock speaks in Merchant.61 Of the four uses of the term “nation” in the play, three are his, and he always uses it in its older sense (1.3.43, 3.1.48, 3.1.73). For Shylock, “nationhood” rests securely on continuity of blood and kinship; it is an extension of the “tribe,” a term that he uses interchangeably with “nation” (see 1.3.46, 52, 106). And though the term “tribe” is more subject to derogation than “nation”—even Shylock uses it with an odd mix of contempt (p.93) and irony when he conceals his plan for revenge under the claim that “suff'rance is the badge of all our tribe” (1.3.106), with its allusion to the badge Jews were forced to wear—the word in his mouth unmistakably serves to register not only the blood kinship of the Jews but more particularly their derivation from the tribes of Israel and hence their claim to a sacred nationhood based on that derivation:62 his first reference to the collectivity of the Jews is specifically to their sacred nation (1.3.43). Against the newer sense of nationhood, that is, Shylock poses a claim to an older nationhood of blood and ancestry: a claim that threatens to disrupt the developing definition of nationhood—and particularly sacred nationhood—as coterminous with land boundaries. For the Jews were landless, and yet they were indisputably a “nation”; Foxe refers continually to the “nation” of the Jews in the Sermon, even while he persistently mocks them for their “fantasicall hope of a terrene kingdome” (CIV).63
At a time when nationhood was increasingly identified with land boundaries rather than kinship bonds, the Jews' claim to sacred nationhood despite their landless ness had the potential to disrupt the developing concept of a nationhood—a sacred nationhood—based not in blood but in land. (Hence perhaps Mistress Quickly's wonderful substitution of Arthur for Abraham—“he's in Arthur's bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom” [Henry V, 2.3.9–101—in her vision of Falstaff's final resting place: a substitution that gives the British their own home-grown progenitor in place of the problematically particularistic Abraham.) But Jewish landlessness could also be used to shore up the claims of the landed nations to sacred nationhood. Jewish “wandering” had long been read as God's punishment for the Jews' stiff-necked refusal of Christ and thus as the sign that the promise had passed from Jew to gentile, the sign that “the nations”—or “us Gentiles,” as Foxe repeatedly calls them64—had replaced the sacred nation of the Jews as God's chosen people. (Foxe reads it this way, and Foxe's converted Jew Yehuda-turned-Nathanael signals his conversion by reading it the same way in the opening of his confession.)65 Moreover, as the term “Gentiles”—originally all the non-Jewish nations taken together—was becoming increasingly firmly identified with the European land-nations,66 the landless status of the Jews could serve not only to indicate the passage of the promise to the generalized group of the gentiles but also to reinforce the specific claims of the new sacred nations based in land. For Genesis 10 designated only the descendants of Japheth—not the descendants of Ham—as “the Gentiles” (10.5 specifies that “Of these were the yles of the Gentiles deuided in their landes”); and as biblical commentaries and national histories became increasingly determined to trace the origin of the European nations to Japheth's (p.94) line, they effectively secured the transfer of the promise, and therefore of the idea of sacred nationhood, to the European nations just when religious differences were increasingly open to definition in national terms. For if the “Gentiles” who are Japheth's descendants are localized in the European nations, then Genesis 9's famous prophecy that Japheth will “dwel in the tentes of Shem” (9.27)—a prophecy widely understood to refer to the transfer of the promise from Shem's line to Japheth's—has the effect of grounding this transfer in both blood lineage and territorial nationhood, thus in effect trumping Shylock's claim to sacred nationhood on both counts.
Under the circumstances, Jessica's invocation of Tubal and Chus as Shylock's “countrymen” is heavily charged. For her designation of them as “countrymen” underscores not the “beginning of cities, contreis, and nations” for the Jews but Jewish countrylessness: of what conceivable country could these three be countrymen? Their very names trace in their descendants the routes of the Jewish diaspora through Spain and northern Africa and thus the loss of their “country” Israel. And as Christian identity is increasingly grounded nationally rather than supranationally, that loss becomes increasingly available to serve as the great counterexample against which the national and religious identity of the gentiles can be measured. (No wonder that the tale of the Wandering Jew is reinvented or consolidated, and becomes newly popular, during this period.)67 For if the narrative of the dispersal of nations that Jessica invokes has the potential to undermine national differences in a common blood, it also has the potential to make religious triumphalism one with nationalist triumphalism—especially perhaps in England, where the head of the state was also the head of the church. While Foxe himself in the Sermon does not mistake earthly kingdoms for the spiritual kingdom of God, his mockery of the Jews for their “fantasicall hope of a terrene kingdome” inevitably functions partly to enable English hopes for a kingdom at once “terrene” and sacred that might replace Shylock's now-dispersed “sacred nation”: hopes that Elizabeth gives voice to when she represents herself as “the nursing mother of Israel.”68
Elizabeth's phrase constitutes England as a sacred nation contained within land boundaries—a “terrene kingdome”—that can replace the bloodnation of the Jews, and it does so reassuringly via what amounts to a fantasy of virgin birth: no intrusion of outsiders into this maternal body; no chance for miscegenation. Like Belmont itself, this image suggests the anxieties that it seems designed in part to ward off—anxieties specifically about the potentially promiscuous openness of a nation once it is no longer defined as a nation of blood. For if a nation is not a nation of blood, then what exactly is it? What are its boundaries under the new dispensation in which nationhood, (p.95) like Christianity, is potentially open to all? Venice is, of course, the ideal venue for addressing these questions, since it was a famously “open” city, a polyglot trade center which functioned like a nation-state but tolerated both religious and national diversity for economic reasons.69 And in the only use of “nation” in Merchant that does not belong to Shylock, Antonio suggests the danger that attaches to this conception of the nation. Without Portia's help, his body would be open to Shylock's knife as a consequence of Venice's “openness” to strangers; the Duke cannot overrule Shylock, he tells Solanio,
- For the commodity that strangers have
- With us in Venice, if it be denied,
- Will much impeach the justice of the state,
- Since that the trade and profit of the city
- Consisteth of all nations. (3.3.27–31)70
Antonio's use of “nations” here hovers between the old and the new dispensation. Taken alone, it might carry the old meaning of kinship groups and hence refer to “strangers” defined as much by lineage as by country. But Antonio's sequence of terms—commodity, state, trade, profit, nations—implies a political economy in which states exist to ensure trade conditions among “nations” conceived as political and economic, rather than kinship, units; and nations so conceived are dangerously porous and dangerously subject to the strangers in their midst. Insofar as Venice has to protect the trade interests of other nations in order to protect its own trade interests, its own national body is threatened—a threat epitomized here by Antonio's body, which must be subject to Shylock's knife precisely so that the trade routes by which he and the state thrive will stay open. Like Venice itself, with all nations mingling in its markets, the thoroughfares of Antonio's body are subject to the invasion of others who cannot be kept at bay. This is the danger of the newly modern nation, its porous boundaries no longer defined by kinship and race, its blood no longer intact.
The virginal realm of Portia's Belmont would seem to be the antidote to such dangers: her little kingdom and her body will not be open to all nations. Her boundaries can apparently be perfectly protected because she is, in fantasy, coterminous with her realm: she tells us that she is “Queen o'er [her]self” (3.2.169), as in the Ditchley portrait in which Queen Elizabeth's body takes up virtually the entire space of her kingdom; and the name of her realm slyly figures her female anatomy, as though her kingdom and her body were one.71 Though strangers from all nations come to her in a (p.96) barely idealized imitation of Venice's merchants—they are all Jasons seeking the fleece (1.1.172)—they are quickly dispatched without damage to this enclosed body. If Portia's suitors read like a catalog drawn from Shylock's kinsmen and the dispersal of nations, it is the work—and what passes for the wit—of the first Belmont scenes in effect to ratify not their one blood but the differences between them, to dispatch them for us cleanly in a group while identifying each as reassuringly distinct from the others. And Portia is helped in this work by the invisible will of her father operating behind the scenes, maintaining fidelity to a kinship line and eventually enabling just the right amount of exogamy in Bassanio. What a satisfying fantasy of England this is, with its virgin queen and its bloodlines protected by the operations of a father absent but still mysteriously efficacious—and how different from the Venice in which Antonio is at risk from the mingling of the nations. No wonder that only Portia seems capable of finding the law that protects citizens from aliens (4.1.344–46), and no wonder that Portia is so unwilling to recognize Jessica's entrance into her realm. For Jessica brings with her exactly that muddying of bloodlines that is deflected by Portia's banter and her father's will: brings it in her own person, in the strange set of “countrymen” to whom she is (willy-nilly) allied, and in the pregnant Moor, who is apparently invoked by Jessica's own potential for miscegenation.
When Lorenzo invites the newly converted Jessica to look to the golden floor of heaven (5.1.57–58), he seems to promise her the possibility of a harmonious Christian oneness in golden Belmont, where blood difference will disappear.72 In the context of her conversion, we might even expect the blood mixture that she brings to Belmont to be read as a providential return to the one blood of Noah's children, a return that would literalize the oneness of all nations in Christ. Spenser's Irenius, for example, reads blood mixture in this way when he tells Eudoxus that there is “no nacion now in Christendome nor muche farther but is mingled and Compounded with others, for it was a singuler prouidence of god and a moste admirable purpose of his wisdome to drawe those Northerne heathen nacions downe into these Cristian partes wheare they mighte receaue Christianitye and to mingle nacions so remote so miraculouslye to make as it weare one kindred and bloud of all people and eache to haue knowledge of him.”73 But despite the play's apparent endorsement of that conversion, I do not think that this is how Portia's Belmont—or those who share in the fantasy of Belmont as an idealized England—would read it. Gibbons, for example, reads such mixture as punishment for human sin: he interrupts his commentary on the dispersal of nations to note that it is “follie to suppose those nations which now remaine, to be purelie the ofspring of such parentage. For such hath bin the (p.97) wickednes of men, their vnthankefulnes to God, and their crueltie within themselues; and such the wrath of God for their offences; as that they haue bin by wars and seditions dashed one against another, and in their habitations mingled and confused.”74 And even Irenius glorifies this mingling of nations only by way of apology for having just said that the Spanish—from whom the Irish claimed to be descended—are “of all nacions vnder heauen … the moste mingled most vncertaine and moste bastardlie.”75
Immediately after Lorenzo gestures toward the golden floor of heaven, he reminds us that access to its unheard harmony is not so simple here on earth: we can have only the merest intimations of it here, while souls are enclosed in their “muddy vesture of decay” (5.1.63). In the realm of the flesh, and perhaps especially in the realm of the dark flesh suggested by “muddy,” the mingling of different bloods is not the route to one Christian kindred; it is, as Irenius says, a form of bastardy.76 It is no accident, I think, that bastardy turns out to be the subtext of the scene in which Lancelot weighs the success of Jessica's entrance into Christianity and therefore by implication into Belmont, and no accident that Jessica's “bastard hope” (3.5.6, 10) generates Lancelot's bastard child: a child bastardized both by its legal status and in its mingled blood. For that child reminds us that the same bastard mingling would be reproduced in Jessica's womb were she and Lorenzo to have children: whether or not Jessica is married, whether or not she is converted, her own children can be nothing more than a kind of “bastard hope” in Belmont, troubling the fantasy of a pure-blood nation.77
Conversion, danger to the commonwealth, race, and miscegenation come together in Jessica's body in the last Belmont scene before the scourging of Shylock because they represent the threats to the nation that scourging is designed to ward off: she threatens to carry to Belmont the boundary-danger of the new hybrid nation, no longer a nation of blood and perforce permeable by strangers—the boundary-danger epitomized by the subjection of Antonio's body to Shylock's knife. But that image of the nation vulnerable at its borders maps uncannily onto the central icon of Christianity in 4.1, where the vulnerability of Antonio's body to the Jew's knife makes him briefly a type of Christ. The flickering between the images—for Antonio's threatened body cannot represent both at once—may serve to underscore the tension between the dream of a new and exclusive “sacred nation” securely within its own boundaries and the dream of a universalizing Christianity in which “all nations … acknowledging one Shephearde, vnited together in (p.98) one sheepefold, may with one voice, one soule, and one generall agreement, glorifie the only begotten sonne.” And in the face of this tension, Merchant rushes to forestall that boundary-danger and to reinstate the differences that bind Jessica to her father's blood. By the end of 4.1, Shylock will have been securely located in the position of the alien whether or not his state-ordered conversion is complete; and Antonio's body will remain securely closed, no longer the thoroughfare for the nations who pass through Venice. For when Portia saves the day and the integrity of Antonio's body by citing not only the absence of blood in Shylock's contract but also the law that protects citizens from aliens and the law against shedding specifically Christian blood (4.1.344–46, 305), she simultaneously restores the integrity of the protonational state and ratifies the blood difference between Jew and Christian: the blood difference that can always be cited to exclude Jessica and her father, like the conversos of London, both from Foxe's dream of unity and from the new nationhood that would replace the sacred nation of the Jews.
(1.) See chap. 2, n. 52, for critics who regard the “transfer” of Shylock's wealth to the Christians—including the new Christian Jessica—as a reference to the passing of spiritual riches from Jew to Christian. Insofar as Jessica's theft recalls Rachel's theft from her father, Laban, and therefore puts Shylock in the position of Laban (see chap. 2, n. 14), it similarly allies her with Jacob in another version of that supersessionist narrative.
(2.) Calvin, e.g., notes that Isaac was “deceiued with the craft and subtilde of a woman,” though he ultimately tends to excuse her on the grounds of her faith and zeal (Commentarie vpon Genesis, 569). The interlude Iacob and Esau twice plays uncomfortably on the sense that Jacob is a mama's boy. Early in the interlude, when Esau's servant asks whether or not Jacob will come hunting with them, Esau replies, “Nay, he must tarrie and sucke mothers dugge at home: /Iacob must keepe home I trow, vnder mothers wing” (ll. 99–100); and very near the end, Esau complains to his mother that Jacob is her “deinty dearlyng” (1. 1723) and imagines him infandlized (“I would he were rocked or dandled in your lappe:/Or I would with this fauchon I might geue him pap”; 11. 1727–28).
(3.) Gollancz (Allegory and Mysticism, 25), Lewalski (“Biblical Allusion,” 333), and Brown (Arden Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, 3) think that the name derives from “Iscah” or “Jesca” (Genesis 11.29), which means “she that looks out” in Hebrew; Lewalski adds that Shakespeare plays on that name in 2.5 when Shylock warns Jessica not to look out the window and Lancelot advises her to “look out at window for all this” (2.5.39). But Holmer argues plausibly for a derivation from “Ishai” (Jesse) rather than the exceedingly rare “Iscah” because “Jesse” “is a very familiar name with associations that are meaningful for the Judaeo-Christian lineage of the Church of God” (Merchant of Venice, 86, 90); though we disagree about how that lineage functions in Jessica's name and in Merchant, I am very much indebted to her for this suggestion. Orgel entertains the (p.163) possibility of this latter derivation, though ultimately he traces “Jessica” to a Scottish diminutive of Jessie as part of his broader project of “Englishing” Shylock (“Shylock's Tribe,” 44).
(4.) “Confession,” B8r; for more on this rabbinic principle, see n. 6 below.
(5.) The Geneva Bible's gloss on Paul's “separated me from my mothers wombe” tries to undo its oddness by transforming it into his “appointing from the mothers wombe,” that is, into his election while still in the womb; but that gloss itself indicates that Paul's phrase was seen as something in need of explanation. And despite this gloss, “separated” became standard; it is reproduced, e.g., in the King James Bible.
(6.) It is unlikely that Shakespeare or his audience knew that Judaism was transmitted matrilineally; see S. Cohen, Beginnings of Jewishness, esp. chaps. 9–10, for the development of this rabbinic principle, which was in place by the second century CE. But whether or not they did, the hermeneutic that understands Judaism as merely fleshly maps easily onto the Aristotelian association of flesh with the female inheritance. For the equation of Jew with flesh, see, e.g., Boyarin, Radical Jew, 31; for the equation of flesh with woman, see, e.g., my Suffocating Mothers, 6; and for a complex argument about the ways in which the fleshliness of Jew and woman positions them similarly as embodiments of the letter in Christian hermeneutics, see Lampert, Gender, 21–57.
(7.) In the course of a very different argument, Normand similarly reads Graziano's words as a parodic incarnation (“Reading the Body,” 56–57); he usefully notes that Lancelot's characterization of Shylock as “the very devil incarnation” (2.2.21) helps to secure this reading.
(8.) See, e.g., Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 120; Metzger, “Now by My Hood,” 59; Loomba, “Delicious Traffick,” 215; Lampert, Gender, 144, 164.
(9.) “Nation” is derived from Latin nasci, “to be born” “country” carries a punning reference to the female genitals (see, e.g., Hamlet's taunting “country matters”; 3.2.105).
(10.) Supersessionist critics generally seem to agree with Jessica that her conversion-by-marriage will be unproblematic, presumably because it is in accord with Paul's dictum that “the unbeleeving wife is sanctified by the husband” (1 Corinthians 7.14, cited in Lewalski, “Biblical Allusion,” 333). But matters were not so simple. Jessica apparently has no plans to convert before her marriage, and a long history of laws from the Fourth Lateran Council on forbade the marriage of Christian and Jew; see, e.g., Trachtenberg, Devil, 187, 251n33, for the general prohibition, and Kaplan, Merchant of Venice: Texts and Contexts, 303–4, for specifically English law on the subject.
(11.) “Get” is a familiar short form of “beget,” used nearly as often by Shakespeare as the long form; Spevack's Harvard Concordance lists twenty-two instances of “beget” and fifteen instances of “get” in the sense of “beget.” An audience's readiness to hear “beget” in this line might have been prompted not only by Shakespeare's habitual use of the short form but also by the unfamiliarity of “get thee” in the sense of “possess thee” in Shakespearean usage. Although “get thee” occurs in Shakespeare's works seventy-one times according to the Harvard Concordance, it is used in the sense of “possess thee” in only one other instance. In sixty of the instances, “get thee” is followed by an indication of place (as in “get thee gone”). Of the eleven instances in which it is followed by a direct object and clearly means “get possession of,” “thee” is the indirect object (as in “get thee (p.164) a wife”) nine times. Only here and in Henry V's rough wooing (Henry V, 5.2.192) does the phrase occur with “thee” as the direct object to be possessed.
(12.) Quarto 1, Quarto 2, and the First Folio all have “do”; as Brown notes, “If F2's ‘did’ is accepted, get is used for beget, as in III.v.9” (Arden Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, 46). Furness's 1888 Variorum has “doe” but summarizes the editorial preference for “did” among those editors who wish to protect Jessica from the taint of her father's Jewishness; Furness himself rather charmingly confesses to preferring “did,” but on the grounds of protecting her father from the pain she has caused him (“In thus supposing Jessica to be no child of Shylock, I confess the wish to be, for Shylock's sake, the father to the thought”; 81). Rockas takes F2's variant as evidence that Jessica “may be part Christian” but concludes that the “irregularities” associated both with her birth and with her marriage are “merely pleasant rebukes of intermarriage” (“Dish of Doves,” 349); “Pleasant for whom?” I am tempted to ask. At least one Nazi production took them deadly seriously: Lothar Miithel's 1943 production in Vienna in effect literalized the F2 reading, adapting the text “so that Jessica became the result of an adulterous affair between Shylock's wife and a gentile, making her acceptable under the Nuremberg laws” (Edelman, introduction to Merchant of Venice, 53). See J. Gross, Shylock, 295–97, for more details about participants in this production and for a corrective to Edelman's view; Gross notes that “the real-life child of such parents would still have been classified as a mongrel—‘a Mischling first class,’ subject to persecution and marked down for eventual extermination” (295).
(13.) I owe my reading of “marry” here to my colleague and friend Steven Goldsmith, who pointed out the pun to me.
(14.) John 3.3. Nicodemus's literalist response—“How can a man be borne which is olde? can he enter into his mothers wombe again, and be borne?” (John 3.4)—emphasizes the peculiarity of the image and illustrates the literalist imagination behind Lancelot's insistence.
(15.) The Norton edition appears to be alone in substituting “gentile” for “gentle,” a substitution that does not have the authority of Folio or Q1, Norton's usual authority, though it does appear in Q2. Brown notes that “the words were not completely distin-guished in spelling at this time” (Arden Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, 49); his note to 2.4.34 calls “gentle” “a pun on Gentile” and directs the reader to Graziano's use of “gentle” here. In proximity to “Jew,” “gentle” nearly always carries the residue of “gentile”; although Norton's substitution of F2's “gentile” for the more familiar “gentle” does not have much textual authority on its side, that proximity would have encouraged Shakespeare's audience to hear “a gentile” here (see also 1.3.173 and 4.1.33). Normative usage would also incline the audience in that direction, since “gentile” can function more readily than “gentle” as a substantive in the singular (see OED, “gentle” Br, which calls its use as a substantive in the singular—”a gentle“—rare); “gentle” is not used as a substantive in the singular elsewhere in Shakespeare.
(16.) OED's first meaning for “stranger” is “one who belongs to another country, a foreigner; chiefly (now exclusively), one who resides in or comes to a country to which he is a foreigner; an alien.” The second meaning similarly emphasizes non-nativeness over lack of familiarity; the sixth is “a person not of one's kin; more fully, stranger in blood.” (The latter sense gives added richness to Lear's proclaiming Cordelia “strangered with our (p.165) oath,” “a stranger to my heart and me” [1.1.205, 1.1.115]; he is proclaiming her not only banished and unrecognizable but also not of his blood.)
(18.) The claim that racism as we know it could not exist until the development of the full intellectual apparatus that supported it in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has often been made; see, e.g., Hannaford's Race: The History of an Idea in the West. Though this claim would seem to be axiomatically true, the trouble with such claims is that they implicitly function to make certain kinds of questions unaskable and certain kinds of figures invisible; see, e.g., Boose's wonderful set of questions about what exactly would have constituted “racial” difference in early modern England (“‘Getting of a Lawful Race’”) or Hall's strong reinstatement of the figure of the black woman that Hannaford's formulation would occlude (“Reading What Isn't There”). Hannaford himself suggests that the idea of race “was cobbled together as a pre-idea from a wide variety of vestigial sources during the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries” (8); see esp. his chap. 6, “New Methods, New Worlds, and the Search for Origins,” which deals in part with the sixteenth-century “pre-ideas”—several of them clustered in the decades immediately before and after Merchant—on which later concepts of race drew. Hannaford's insistence that “race” in this period generally referred to the “good, noble, and pure” lineage of kings and bishops (147) and especially his claim that “race” in Foxe has this meaning (155) are contradicted by evidence cited in chap. 1, as well as by the quotation that opens this chapter. For the fluidity of the term in early modern English usage, see, e.g., Loomba, “Racial Question,” 36–40; and for more on early signs of racialization specifically of Jews, see chap. 1, n. 18.
(20.) The two categories are of course mutually exclusive only insofar as the possibility that a gentile / Christian might convert to Judaism is not admissible to thought.
(21.) This speculation may seem altogether improbable, but in 1584, for example, the Inquisition inquired into the activities of two Jews who allegedly implied the existence of two separate gods while performing an exorcism on a Christian child: they conjured the spirits “by the God of the Christians and by the God of the Jews” (Pullan, Jews of Europe, 77).
(22.) Shakespeare appears to have associated the failure of at least one of these doomed relationships with sexual satiety; see my Suffocating Mothers (38–63) for a reading of Troilus and Cressida in those terms.
(23.) Older criticism tended to celebrate Jessica's ease and playfulness in Belmont as part of the play's harmonious resolution. The classic statement of this view is Barber's: “Lorenzo is showing Jessica the graciousness of the Christian world into which he has brought her; and it is as richly golden as it is musical! Jessica is already at ease in it, to the point of being able to recall the pains of famous lovers with equanimity, rally her lover on his vows and turn the whole thing off with ‘I would out-night you’” (Festive Comedy, 188). Most recent critics are less willing to white out the signs of Jessica's uneasiness; see, e.g., Tanner, “‘Which Is the Merchant Here?’” 48–49; Metzger, “‘Now by My Hood,’” 60; Lampert, Gender, 165. The stakes of the earlier reading are high, since (p.166) readings that emphasize signs of Jessica's discomfort threaten to undercut Lorenzo's famous proclamation of cosmic harmony (for more on that harmony, see below). Though Berley overliteralizes these signs, he usefully reminds us that Lorenzo does not necessarily speak for Jessica or the play (“Jessica's Belmont Blues”).
(24.) Acts and Monuments, as cited by Loomba, “Racial Question,” 36.
(25.) See, e.g., Yerushalmi's compelling use of the Iberian example to contest the claim that racial anti-Semitism could not exist before the modern period (Assimilation and Racial Anti-Semitism, esp. 19). Insofar as Jews constituted both a lineage and a people, perhaps they were ideally situated to mediate between the older and the newer senses of “race” and hence to be early victims of “racism.” Jewish racial difference is not prominent in much early work on race by early modern literary critics, who understandably tended to focus on the black-white divide. But for some important exceptions, see Boose, “‘Getting of a Lawful Race,’” 39–40; Callaghan, “Re-reading Miriam”; and Stolcke, “Invaded Women”; the last of these is especially notable for tracing the afterlife of the Iberian model in the colonies. The intersection of race and religion has recently been more generally acknowledged; see, e.g., Loomba's exemplary treatment of the intersection of race, religion, and skin color in both Jews and Moors in the period (“‘Delicious Traffick’”). Among works that address this topic specifically in Merchant, the two most useful for my purposes have been those by Shapiro (Shakespeare and the Jews) and Metzger (“‘Now by My Hood’”). Although Shapiro's book was published before Metzger's essay, I saw Metzger's essay in an early form before Shapiro's book was published, while we were both working on some of the same materials; I am especially indebted to it for several generative formulations and many bibliographical references. For an entirely different understanding of skin color and race in Merchant, see essays by Spiller (“From Imagination to Miscegenation”) and Japtok and Schleiner (“Genetics and ‘Race’”), both of which read the episode of Laban's sheep via a set of early modern discourses that attribute skin color to maternal imagination; see also Hall, who noted this possibility in 1992 (“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 108n16). Though this model is persuasive in relation to Laban's sheep, I would find it more compelling for Merchant as a whole if the play were less obsessed by blood and if there were other signs that maternal imagination was an issue in it.
(26.) Cited in Wolf, “Jews in Elizabethan England,” 22.
(27.) Cited in Katz, Jews in the History of England, 58.
(29.) Supersessionist critics, for whom Shylock's conversion must allude to the final convertibility of the Jews, cannot afford to hear the racializing strain in Antonio's lines; for Lewalski, e.g., “‘Kind’ in this context implies both ‘natural’ (in foregoing unnatural interest) and ‘charitable’; thus Antonio suggests that voluntary adoption of these fundamental Christian principles would lead to the conversion of the Jew” (“Biblical Allusion,” 334). F. Kermode in fact comes dangerously close to reproducing that racializing strain in his approving comment on Antonio's lines: “‘Gentleness’ in this play means civility in its old full sense, nature improved; but it also means ‘Gentile,’ in the sense of Christian, which amounts, in a way, to the same thing” (“Mature Comedies,” 221). Hall's reading of “kind” is more congruent with my own: “The pun on ‘kind’ … reminds us that the courtesy and ‘kindness’ shown in the play's world is only extended to (p.167) those who are alike and judged of human ‘kin’ by Christians” (“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 100).
(30.) For the foetor judaicus, see, e.g., Trachtenberg, Devil, 48–50. Shapiro characterizes belief in this hereditary smell as “unusually persistent” in England (Shakespeare and the Jews, 36). According to Katz, “It was a universally accepted fact that Jews had a peculiar smell, an odour which was not dissipated by baptism, but was instead a racial characteristic” (Jews in the History of England, 108). Not quite universally accepted perhaps: in his comparatively philo-Semitic phase, Luther mocked those who thought that Jews who didn't stink must have Christian blood (“That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew,” 229), and Sir Thomas Browne notably wrestled with this issue (see, e.g., Callaghan, “Re-reading Miriam,” 169, 333n31; Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 37, 172); Trachtenberg in fact gives several stories about the disappearance of the foetor judaicus at baptism (Devil, 48–50). For the imposition of distinctive clothing, see, e.g., Trachtenberg, Devil, 44–46; or Poliakov, History of Anti-Semitism, 64–67. According to Roth, the regulations mandated by the Fourth Lateran Council, including the wearing of the badge, were enforced more rigorously in England than elsewhere (History of the Jews in England, 76, 95).
(31.) Maitland, “Deacon and Jewess,” 261–62. It is a commonplace that the badges were necessary because, despite the physical stereotypes, Jews were not readily distinguishable without them; see, e.g., Edwards, Jews in Christian Europe, 23; Poliakov, History of Anti-Semitism, 93; Roth, History of the Jews in England, 95. Here, e.g., is a contemporary description of William Añes, a member of the London Sephardic community: “he is a young fellow of twenty, well built, with a fair and handsome face and a small fair beard” (cited in Wolf, “Jews in Elizabethan England,” 16). Since this description was written by a Spaniard for a Spaniard, its standard for light skin and hair may have been different from an English standard; nonetheless, it strongly suggests that, despite traditional stereotyping, Jews were not always physically distinct from their English hosts.
(32.) See n. 30.
(33.) Friedman, “Jewish Conversion,” 26. Friedman's thesis is anticipated by Yerushalmi's elegant essay on the emergence of racial anti-Semitism in early modern Spain and modern Germany, both of them societies characterized by the rapid assimilation of Jews (Assimilation and Racial Anti-Semitism, esp. 17–18); and it is supported by Netanyahu's massive work on the racialist motivations of the Spanish Inquisition, which emphasizes that “it was the very life of the conversos as Christians, and the difficulty of finding fault with their Christianity,” that forced the move toward vilifying the conversos racially as Jews (Origins of the Inquisition, 1052). Netanyahu's larger claims about the spread of racialist thinking across Spain are in part contested by Kamen, especially in his 1998 revision (The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision) of his earlier Inquisition and Society in Spain in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; in his 1998 chapter entitled “Racialism and Its Critics,” Kamen emphasizes both the unevenness of the development and enforcement of the “limpieza de sangre” statutes and the considerable resistance to them, while nonetheless conceding their racialist basis (230–54). See Shell for an account of the role of the pure-blood laws in transforming the Christian doctrine that “all men are brothers” into the doctrine that “only my brothers are men” (“Marranos,” esp. 307–16). Ruether notes that “such laws remained on the books in Catholic religious orders, such (p.168) as the Jesuits, until the twentieth century” and considers them “the ancestor of the Nazi Nuremberg laws” (Faith and Fratricide, 203).
(34.) Friedman, “Jewish Conversion,” 3, 16–18 passim (emphasis in the original).
(35.) Although such variables as diet, climate, age, and gender could affect humoral balance and thus the color, weight, and heat of blood, there was proverbially “no difference of bloods in a basin.” See Paster's extraordinary chapter on blood in Body Embarrassed (64–112) and especially her comment on this passage from All's Well: “Like Shylock, the king seeks to validate the lack of essential difference in blood beyond any question by reference to medical discourse, proverbial utterance, and the familiar surgical practice of bloodletting” (86).
(36.) Particularly in combination with “seed,” which refers to semen as well as offspring, the genealogical thrust of “derived” is clear; Shakespeare uses “derived” in this genealogical sense, for example, in Two Gentlemen of Verona (5.2.23), Midsummer Night's Dream (1.1.99), and Henry V (1.1.90). Norton obscures the concern with blood lineage here by glossing “derived” as “gained”; the Arden gloss, which adds “also inherited” and notes that “seed” is “a quibble on the (biblical) sense of offspring, progeny,” more accurately refl ects Aragon's concern with lineage.
(37.) The quotations are from A Comparison of the English and Spanish Nation (19, 20), Antonio Perez's A Treatise Paraenetical (22), and William of Orange, The Apologie or Defence, of the Most Noble Prince William (O2r). In The Coppie of the Anti-Spaniard, the Spanish are “Marranos” and their king is “this demie Moore, demie Iew, yea demie Saracine” (17, 9); in Florio's 1598 dictionary, “Marrano” is defined as “a Jew, an infidel, a renegado, a nickname for a Spaniard” (cited in Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 18).
(38.) Metzger similarly argues that Shakespeare “struggled with competing notions of Jewishness circulating in early modern England” and resolved them “by creating not one Jew but two”: Jessica to sustain the universal promise of conversion to Christianity and Shylock “as the other against which English identity could be inscribed as white and Christian” (“‘Now by My Hood,’” 53, 59). I have earlier registered my debt to Metzger's fine essay in a general way, but let me add here that this is one of the formulations that I found most generative, although ultimately I am more skeptical about Jessica's escape from a racializing discourse than Metzger is.
(39.) Critics interested in race frequently note that outsider women are often constructed as fairer and therefore less racialized and more convertible than outsider men; see, e.g., Callaghan, “Re-reading Miriam,” 170; Boose, “‘Getting of a Lawful Race,’” 41; and Loomba “‘Delicious Traffick,’” 215. The classic statement of this principle specifically in relation to Jessica is Metzger's: Lorenzo's praise of her whiteness “creates a color difference between father and daughter that justifies her removal,” and his later reference to Lancelot's Moor shows “how her whiteness and femaleness make possible her reproduction as a Christian in the eyes of the ‘commonwealth’” (“‘Now by My Hood,’” 57). Kaplan specifies Metzger's argument by adducing both gender ideologies that would have kept the Jewish woman reassuringly inferior even after her conversion and Aristotelian beliefs about conception that would have discounted her role in the transmission of race (“Jessica's Mother,” esp. 16–25); my own view is that the mother's contribution of matter to the infant only exacerbates concerns about the transmission of race. Lampert's account is closer to mine; she reads Jessica's fairness less as a sign of her (p.169) de-racializing than as a challenge to the Christian hermeneutic that would unproblematically read through outer to inner: her “beautiful exterior may belie an intractable Jewish essence, which she, through her marriage to Lorenzo, threatens to spread into the commonwealth” (Gender, 143).
(40.) Despite the wide variation both in contemporary usage of the term “Moor” and in the skin color of actual and literary Moors, Shakespeare nearly always associates Moors with blackness (see Loomba, “Outsiders,” 157). Shakespeare in fact uses the terms “Moor” and “Negro” interchangeably in referring to Lancelot's own Moor (3.5.32–33).
(41.) Fray Prudencio de Sandoval, cited in Yerushalmi, Assimilation and Racial Anti-Semitism, 16; see also Friedman, “Jewish Conversion,” 16–17. This striking quotation has become canonical in essays on Shakespeare and race: see, e.g., Metzger, “‘Now by My Hood,’” 55; Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 36; Lampert, Gender, 155–56; Loomba, “Racial Question,” 50; Loomba, “‘Delicious Traffick,’” 208. Metzger's work fi rst led me—and I suspect many others—to Friedman and thence to Fray Prudencio, but I here cite him from Yerushalmi, who begins the passage one sentence earlier than Friedman, with Fray Prudencio's worries about the eradication of difference in the oneness of God, and thus allows us to see his determination to make Jewishness indelible in response to that eradication. Yerushalmi, moreover, specifies that the Spanish for “one family-line alone” is “sola una raza”; about the vexed term “raza,” he notes that one famous contemporary dictionary defines it as indicative of pure breeding in horses but in human lineages it “is understood in a bad sense, such as having within oneself some of the lineage of Moors or Jews” (Assimilation and Racial Anti-Semitism, 15). Kaplan rightly notes that critics interested in race in Merchant tend to use the Inquisition's pure-blood laws as an explanatory framework instead of drawing on indigenous English medieval racializations of the Jews (“Jessica's Mother,” 1–2), but I think that she underestimates the extent to which a quasi-Inquisitorial concern with blood taint plays out in both Jessica and Shylock, despite the English distaste for the Inquisition.
(42.) See Genesis 10.6. Folio's “Chus” is followed by most editors; Norton's “Cush” does not appear to have textual warrant. But the spellings appear to have been interchangeable: Calvin's commentary on Genesis 10, for example, has “Cush” in the text quoted from the Bible and “Chus” in the commentary (Commentarie vpon Genesis, 249). See Shaheen, Biblical References in Shakespeare's Comedies, 108, for a full discussion of both versions of the name in the Bibles available to Shakespeare, along with variants in the name of Chus's countryman Tubal. Commentators followed Josephus in making Chus ancestor of the Ethiopians (Antiquities of the Jews, 37); see, e.g., the Geneva Bible's gloss on Genesis 10.6 (“of Cush & Mizraim came the Ethiopians & Egyptians”) or Gibbons's Questions and Disputations, 410. Although Calvin is dubious about some attempts to derive national lineages from the Bible, he is sure about Chus: “It is certeine that this Chus was the Prince of the Aethiopians” (Commentarie vpon Genesis, 240). And this was not obscure knowledge: Williams notes that “Cush, Mizraim, and Caanan among the sons of Ham are quite well known as names of the Ethiopians, the Egyptians, and the Caananites [sic]” (Common Expositor, 160). Critics interested in race frequently note Shylock's surprising countryman, usually by way of positing an association between blackness and Jewishness: see, e.g., Hall, “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 100–101; Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 172; Metzger, “‘Now by My Hood,’” 55; Kaplan, (p.170) Merchant of Venice: Texts and Contexts, 129, 176–77; Loomba, “Racial Question,” 51. Rockas's early formulation—“Morocco and Launcelot's Moor can only be in the play to darken Shylock's presence in Christian society” (“Dish of Doves,” 349)—anticipates these later critics. Though this association has only recently become a critical commonplace, Gilman asserts that it is “as old as Christian tradition” (Difference and Pathology, 31); see Kaplan, “Jessica's Mother,” 4–10, for some particularly striking examples. Othello himself may draw on it when he compares himself to a “base Iudean” in the Folio version of Othello. And it is persistent: see Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct, 299, for a striking nineteenth-century instance.
(43.) Morocco himself may be arguing for his superior vigor—and hence for the superior redness of his blood—as much as for its universality (see, e.g., Normand, “Reading the Body,” 55; Spiller, “From Imagination to Miscegenation,”151); but Shylock's use of the same metaphor to argue for “a physiology of insistent commonality” in his famous appeal to blood (Paster, Body Embarrassed, 85) seems to me to put the emphasis as much on blood likeness as on difference. And for an audience accustomed to thinking that all blood was alike in a basin (see n. 35), the hypothetical difference between kinds of blood would (I suspect) register less vividly than the triangulated difference between fair, black, and red: compared to the sharp contrast between fair and black, all blood is equally red. This is in fact how most critics read Morocco's offer to incise himself: see, e.g., Hall, Things of Darkness, 165; Rosen, “Rhetoric of Exclusion,” 75; Tanner, “‘Which Is the Merchant Here?’” 59; Ungerer, “Portia and the Prince of Morocco,”114.
(44.) Danson would like us to assume, “in charity to her,” that by “complexion” Portia means Morocco's temperament rather than his skin color (Harmonies, 101), but Morocco himself has already used the term to refer to his skin color (2.1.1), and Portia's earlier use of it to contrast Morocco's “complexion of a devil” with his inward “condition of a saint” (1.2.109–10) tilts the balance decisively toward skin color, since devils were notoriously black. (Japtok and Schleiner point nicely toward the function of this association in blackening Shylock when they link Portia's comment at 1.2.109–10 with the play's many references to Shylock as a devil; see “Genetics and ‘Race,’” 166.) The term “complexion” itself seems to have been shifting in the direction of Morocco's—and Portia's—use of it, perhaps partly in response to a new racializing of skin color; OED gives 1568 as the first use of “complexion” to mean skin color rather than temperament.
(45.) Ever since Hall insisted on the absent presence of Lancelot's “unheard, unnamed, and unseen” Moor as “a silent symbol for the economic and racial politics” of the play (“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 89), she has become a familiar trope among critics who consider race in Merchant: see Hall's witty account of earlier attempts to write her out of the text (“Reading What Isn't There,” 28–29); and for her recent canonization as a trope for concerns about miscegenation, see, e.g., Metzger, “‘Now by My Hood,’” 57–58; Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews, 173; Lampert, Gender, 142–43, 163; Loomba, “‘Delicious Traffick,’” 216. Many critics follow Hall (“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 102, 105) in considering her a contrast to—rather than an analogue for—Jessica, but see Shapiro and Lampert for readings closer to my own. To those who consider her unequivocally a contrast to Jessica, I would point out that she can function as a contrast only (p.171) insofar as the possibility of similarity is fi rst acknowledged, so that the positions of the two always threaten to collapse into one another.
(46.) The figural relationship I propose here may have been literal in Shakespeare's England, where at least some of the Moors appear to have arrived as servants to the conversos. See Wolf's description of the household of Hector Nuñez, which consisted, in 1582, of “his wife, three clerks, a butler, and two negresses” (“Jews in Elizabethan England,” 9). These or other “blackmores” were apparently still there in the 1590s, when Thomas Wilson relied on what “their blackmores which they kept told me” in his testimony to the Court of Chancery about secret Jewish practices in that household (Sisson, “Colony of Jews,” 45). Sisson reports that in 1594 another converso household (that of Ferdinand Alvares, one of the merchants in the Court of Chancery case) included “his wife Philippa, a widow Anne Alvarez, Alvares de Lima and his wife, his servant Thomas Wilson, two other servants, Lewis Alvarez and Grace Anegro, and several blackamoors” (45). Does Grace Anegro's name contain the hint that racial mixing of the kind Lancelot engages in had already occurred in this household?
(47.) Quoted from Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, 175; Newall (“Jew as Witch Figure,” 114) erroneously attributes the quotation to Augustine. The error is understandable: the passage occurs in Strack as part of a quotation from the thirteenth-century monk Thomas Cantipratanus (Thomas of Cantimpré), who attributes it to Augustine and uses it as part of his evidence for the blood libel, specifically for the belief that Jews need Christian blood to cure the disease they brought down upon themselves and their posterity when they cried out, “His blood be upon us, and on our children.” The passage Thomas attributes to Augustine turns out to be from a pseudo-Augustinian sermon (see Johnson, “Between Christian and Jew,” 88n44). I am grateful to Thomas Cattoi, faculty member of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, for answering the email plea of a total stranger and helping me to sort out the misattribution of this passage.
(48.) For a strong reading of the ways in which this transmission of race threatens the gender ideology underwriting patriarchal authority, see Boose, “‘Getting of a Lawful Race,’” 45–54; in her view, this threat accounts for the “unrepresentability” of black women in early modern literature.
(49.) Desdemona's desire for loves and comforts that “increase / Even as our days do grow” (2.1.191–92) gestures toward the biblical injunction to increase and multiply-an outcome prevented by her death. The centrality of miscegenation in Othello was first brought home to me by Neill's compelling essay “‘Unproper Beds’: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello,” which appeared in its original form in 1989 in Shakespeare Quarterly and is reprinted in his Putting History to the Question; I am indebted to this essay for my reading of the centrality of miscegenation in Merchant.
(50.) Warner, Albions England, A4r, B1r. Though the borders are sometimes fuzzy, this tripartite division was a commonplace; Ainsworth (Annotations, I1r) and Gibbons (Questions and Disputations, 407) both follow this division, though both give portions of Asia as well as Europe to Japheth's sons. The tripartite division was under some pressure from the discovery of new lands; see, e.g., Holinshed's Chronicles, 1: 2–4, for an attempt to update it in the light of these discoveries.
(52.) Half a century ago, Williams called attention to the importance of the lineages in Genesis 10: “To an age which saw in Genesis the only authentic account of nearly the first two thousand years of human history, the identification of the Japhetic line was of immense importance. In nearly all the works on English history and antiquities, one finds fairly extensive treatment of this matter. Ralegh, Drayton, Warner, Purchas, and Heylyn all devote greater or lesser space to ascertaining which of the Gentile peoples sprang from which of the descendants of Japheth” (Common Expositor, 155). Haller similarly notes that the works of the sixteenth-century English chroniclers “were all designed to keep the Elizabethan public supplied with what appeared to be precise information consisting of names, dates and factual details which would enable readers to perceive the continuity of the present moment in their own and the nation's existence with the whole sequence of providentially directed events since the first day of creation…. Thus any reader could work out for himself how the English people came down from Adam and Noah by way of Japhet” (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 145). See Kidd's extensive analysis of “the Mosaic foundations of early modern European identity” as based on Genesis 10 (British Identities, esp. 9–72). Edward Gibbon's wonderfully dismissive comment—“On a narrow basis of acknowledged truth, an immense but rude superstructure of fable has been erected; and the wild Irishman, as well as the wild Tartar, could point out the individual son of Japhet from whose loins his ancestors were lineally descended” (cited in Kidd, British Identities, 9–10)—illustrates both the diffusion and the persistence of the Noachic lineages.
(53.) Both Noble (Biblical Knowledge, 104–5) and Shaheen (Biblical References in Shakespeare's Comedies, 109) note this incongruity; Noble considers it evidence of Shakespeare's defective knowledge of the Bible. But the names seem to be carefully chosen to represent all three of the Noachic lines; surely their incongruity is the point. Holmer would agree that “Shakespeare appropriates these names … primarily because they are not in the Judaeo-Christian line of direct descent,” but she understands this (mis)appropriation largely in triumphalist terms as a statement of the potential unity of all in the knowledge of Christ (Merchant of Venice, 73, 77). Perhaps; but this reading does not account either for the play's manifest interest in diverse nations or for the inherent weirdness of putting Shylock at the center of this potential unity, especially given his unregenerate Jewishness and his claim to a separate nationhood.
(54.) Josephus has the figure he calls Thobel founding “the Thobelites, who are now called Iberes” (Antiquities of the Jews, 36). Williams reports that the misidentification of “Iberes” with Spain caused most later commentators to consider Tubal the progenitor of the Spanish, although some considered him the progenitor of the Italians (Common Expositor, 157–58); the Geneva Bible's gloss to “Tubal” at Isaiah 66.19 identifies him with Italy, but the gloss at Ezekiel 32.26 identifies him with the “Italians, or Spanyardes, as Iosephus writeth.” The Spanish themselves proudly claimed Tubal as their ancestor and rested their claim to antiquity and pure blood on him (Shell, “Marranos,” 311). But at least one anti-Spanish propagandist considered this ancestry no cause for pride: “It is certaine that Spaine is of great antiquitie, bearing that name vnder the first Monarchie; but when we shall consider the significations of her and of her first inhabitant, we shall (p.173) find her age no ornament … but a great deformitie considering her incommodities, and peruerse qualities of that people: all naturall defects being made more imperfect by continuance or alteration of times. [Spain] was not long after the diuision of tongues, first inhabited by the third sonne of Iaphet named Iobel or Tubal, signifying worldly, or of the world, confusion and ignomie” (Daunce, Briefe Discourse of the Spanish State, A8v-B1r). In fact Daunce organizes his entire condemnation of Spain according to the various wicked characteristics associated etymologically with Tubal.
(55.) Babington, Certain Plaine, Briefe and Comfortable Notes, 40r. Kidd stresses the “one-blood” interpretation as part of his general claim that neither racialist nor nationalist thinking were prominent in the period: “It is important to stress that the Mosaic paradigm emphasized affiliation and relationships within the Noachic family tree rather than the notions of difference and otherness which we associate with modern nationalism”; “Beneath the superficial variety of mankind early modern literati sought a hypothesised and Biblically authorised unity” (British Identities, 30, 289). But both Spain's manifest unwillingness to consider the descendants of Shem and Ham “one blood” with the descendants of Japheth / Tubal and Merchant's demonstrable interest in national divisions seem to me to qualify that claim.
(56.) This time warp seems worth noticing. Like Foxe's Jews, who are always caught irremediably in their ancestral past (see chap. 1), Shylock and his countrymen are simultaneously Noachic progenitors and descendants, as though the archaic past were always present in the Jew.
(57.) Calvin, Commentarie vpon Genesis, 239; Geneva Bible's marginal gloss to Genesis 10.1.
(59.) As with the concept of race, the full development of the concept of the nation came well after the early modern period; but (again, as with race) the early modern period is for many the crucible out of which a proto-nationalism was formed. Hobsbawm, e.g., thinks that the characteristically modern nation-state was “in many ways anticipated by the evolving European principalities of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries” and finds in Shakespeare's history plays “something close to modern patriotism” (Nations and Nationalism, 80, 75). Some claim that England was in fact the first modern nation; see the useful summary of this position in D. Baker, Between Nations, 2–3. OED notes in its first definition of “nation” that “In early examples, the racial idea is usually stronger than the political”; the first citation in which the political sense appears to be decisively present is from 1538. For the increasing consolidation of “nations” as political entities within land boundaries, see Helgerson's magisterial account of the transition from “universal Christendom, to dynastic state, to land-centered nation” as it is reflected in the work of early modern cartographers and chorographers (Forms of Nationhood, 107–47; the phrase quoted is on 120).
(60.) For an extensive consideration of the complications of this national project as they are reflected in Henry V, see especially D. Baker, Between Nations, 17–65. Baker's reading of MacMorris's outburst focuses largely on the difficulties of folding four nations or quasi-nations with ambiguously “national” populations into the notional unity of an Anglocentric “Britain” (31–44), but he also calls attention to the ways in which tensions (p.174) between different kinds of nationhood—including Henry V's “retrograde” claim to a nationhood based in lineage and patrimony—serve to catch “a sense of nationalism … just as it is coalescing … around an imagined trans-island locus. The place of Henry V, therefore, is both a royal demesne, stretched loosely across the British Isles, and the spatially distinct and regulated domain that we have now come to think of as a nation” (62–63). Shylock's invocation of the blood basis for sacred nationhood seems to me both to anticipate and to complicate these concerns in Henry V.
(62.) This was still one of the dominant associations of the word “tribe.” OED notes that it enters English through this biblical usage and retains this association for some time; its first definition (“a group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor; spec. each of the twelve divisions of the people of Israel, claiming descent from the twelve sons of Jacob”) is followed by many medieval and Renaissance examples.
(63.) For “nation,” see, e.g., Foxe, Sermon, B3v, B5r, C2v, L3v; in each of these instances, Foxe uses “nation” in close proximity to “race” and seems to regard them (pace Hannaford) as equivalent terms.
(65.) “Confession,” B1v-B3v. This reading of Jewish dispersal is entirely conventional: see, e.g., Alexander Silvayn's “The Orator” (“Is it not for their iniquitie that God hath dispersed them, without leaving them one onlie foot of ground?” quoted from Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 486). For a seventeenth-century Jewish rebuttal to this argument on the grounds that the diaspora antedates the birth of Christ, see Yerushalmi, Spanish Court, 381–84. The terms of this debate were familiar; it is anticipated, e.g., in Calvin's Ad quaestiones et obiecta Judaei cuiusdam Responsio (see Baron, “John Calvin and the Jews,” 158).
(66.) See Williams, Common Expositor, 155, for the claim that “Gentile” had become synonymous with “European.” The Geneva Bible shows some anxiety about the potentially troublesome word “yles”; its marginal gloss is “The Iewes so call all contreis which are separated from them by sea, as Grecia, Italie, &c. which were giuen to the children of Iapheth, of whome came the Gentiles.”
(67.) The precise moment when the various legends concerning wandering coalesced into the story of the Wandering Jew is hard to determine, but there seems to be some agreement that the story either took its definitive form or got a new lease on life in the early seventeenth century. Poliakov dates its spread through Europe from 1602, when The Brief Account and Description of a Jew Named Ahasuerus first appeared “and enjoyed tremendous popularity”; “within the year [it] went through eight editions in German [and] was quickly translated into every European language” (History of Anti-Semitism, 183, 242). Anderson's extensive study cites a variety of early forms of the legend, not all of them associated with Jews, and concludes that the Reformation and fears of the Antichrist gave the legend a new impetus after 1550; he cites a 1620 English version of the legend in manuscript which refers to a number of early-seventeenth-century sightings of the legendary figure and reports that “all the cuntrie was full of Ballads, expressinge the (p.175) same” (Legend of the Wandering Jew, 63–65). Newall locates the beginnings of the legend in the thirteenth century, during the period of mass expulsions of the Jews from western Europe, but she too reports on renewed interest in the early modern period, noting that “during the sixteenth century there were reports of visits by the Wandering Jew from the leading cities of Europe,” including “local variants … collected in Britain” (“Jew as Witch Figure”, 98, 100). Whenever it began, the legend does not appear to have been wide-spread in the Middle Ages, despite the old association of Jews with the wandering Cain, who was the “typological ancestor” of the Wandering Jew (Ruether, Faith and Fratricide, 134); for that association, see, e.g., the papal bull of 1208 cited in Poliakov: “God made Cain into a vagabond and a fugitive upon the earth, but marked him … lest he be killed. Thus the Jews, against whom the blood of Jesus Christ calls out, although they are not to be killed … must remain vagabonds upon the earth, until their faces be covered with shame and they seek the name of Jesus Christ the Lord” (History of Anti-Semitism, 242). Perhaps it took not only the Reformation and fears of the Antichrist but also a national identity attached to land for the legend to reach its full force in the popular imagination. Shapiro similarly speculates on the resurgence of the legend in the context of the puzzling national status of the Jews (Shakespeare and the Jews, esp. 176–77).
(68.) Cited in Haller, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 245; see chap.1, n. 75, for the identification of England as the new Israel. In a brilliant comment on this passage in an earlier version of this essay, Catherine Gallagher noted that “there is a hint that Israel serves as the precursor-figure for the lost national purity and identity that is becoming merely metaphorical. When Elizabeth says she's the nursing mother of Israel, she is both wishing for the confluence of territory, genealogy, and religion, and yet … admitting the newness of her creation, registering its break with the past.”
(69.) For the famous “openness” of Venice, see Pullan, Jews of Europe, esp. 3–4, 22, 51. For English attitudes toward that openness, see Pullan, Jews of Europe, 5 1; Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference, 123–25; and chap.1, n. 41. Gillies reads the conflict between Antonio and Shylock as a playing out of the contradiction between Venice as the new Babelesque commercial city and as heir to the closed ancient city-state, with Antonio seeking “to recover the sacred core of the city from the twin abominations of ‘interest’ and intrusion” (129).
(70.) Hall (“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?” 99) reads this passage in terms very similar to my own; though our emphases are different and we often disagree about details, my debt to her work should by now be obvious.
(71.) For the Ditchley portrait, see, e.g., Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood, 115. The queen overwhelms the map so entirely that her body takes the place of her country; as Helgerson notes in a different context, “by putting the queen on the map, the Ditchley artist had hidden … a representation of the land itself” (112). For the anatomical resonance of Belmont, see, e.g., the “stately Mount” of Venus in The Faerie Queene, 3.6.43.
(72.) The classic paean to this possibility is Coghill's: after its demonstration of mercy, the play returns to Belmont “to find Lorenzo and Jessica, Jew and Christian, Old Law and New, united in love; and their talk is of music, Shakespeare's recurrent symbol of harmony” (cited in Brown, Arden Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, li). But in Lorenzo's speech, this is specifically a harmony that cannot be heard. For skeptical responses more (p.176) in line with my own, see, e.g., Burckhardt, who warns that “mere lyrical splendor is, in the world the play defines, a kind of sentimentality, a parasitical self-indulgence, possible only because, and insofar as, others bear the brunt of the law” (Shakespearean Meanings, 226), or Moody, for whom the effect of the speech “is not to praise but to place [the Christians], to show how far from the ideal they are” (Shakespeare, 87). Rabkin treats this speech, and more broadly the relation of Lorenzo and Jessica, as evidence of the wrong-mindedness of thematic readings that cancel out the divergent responses provoked by the play (Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning, 17–18). Did Milton hear the potential ambiguity of Lorenzo's gesture toward the golden floor of heaven? Even in heaven, his Mammon admired “more / The riches of Heav'n's pavement, trodden gold, / Than aught divine or holy” (Paradise Lost, 1.681–83).
(73.) Spenser, View of the Present State of Ireland, 92.
(74.) Gibbons, Questions and Disputations, 408.
(75.) Spenser, View of the Present State of Ireland, 91.
(76.) The association of cross-racial or cross-religious marriages with adultery and therefore of their offspring with bastardy was implicit in the understanding of adultery as improper mixture; see Neill's discussion of forbidden mixture and blood pollution (Putting History to the Question, 133–35) and particularly his account of the way in which Iago activates this association for Othello and his audience (254, 263–68, 470–71n54). As Neill notes, Volpone's brood consists of misshapen bastards because they are the product of his adulterous unions with “Gypsies, Jews, and black-moors” (142). Shakespeare's Sonnet 127 draws on the same association in the not-quite-covert imagery of its opening lines (“In the old age black was not counted fair, / Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name; / But now is black beauty's successive heir, / And beauty slandered with a bastard shame”): just visible beneath the conundrum of a “fair” black beauty is the image of an illegitimate “heir” whose blackness proclaims it a bastard and who shames its parent “beauty” by wrongly bearing its name. This association had legal, as well as social, consequences: Trachtenberg notes that in medieval church law, intermarriage with a Jew was punishable as adultery (Devil, 187).
(77.) This fantasy of a pure-blood nation is of course already compromised, not only by the realities of invasion and migration but also by England's own myths about its origins. Holinshed's Chronicles, for example, traces the “origin.all beginner” of England to a son of Japhet just as we would expect, but then recounts the violent displacement of that line by Albion, a descendant of Cham: “and thus was this Iland bereft at on time both of Mr ancient name, and also of hir lawfull succession of princes descended of the line of Japhet” (1:6, 9). If Albion is the son of Cham, he is Chus's near relative—and therefore (in the logic of this play) a near relative of Jessica, Morocco, and the pregnant Moor.