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Her Father's Blood

Her Father's Blood

Conversion, Race, and Nation

Chapter:
(p.66) Chapter Three Her Father's Blood
Source:
Blood Relations
Author(s):
Janet Adelman
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226006833.003.0003

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.

Keywords:   The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare, conversion, nation, race, mother, father, miscegenation, Christian, commonwealth

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