The Jew Within
This chapter argues that in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, anxiety about the status of circumcision as a reliable marker of difference plays itself out in the incision that Shylock would make on Antonio's body. It argues that Jessica cannot make the transition from Jew to Christian without undergoing a symbolic circumcision of sorts: as though she must be marked as a member of the circumcised race before she can be allowed to leave Shylock's house. The play takes pains to transform Jessica into a boy even as it insists that her transformation is quite gratuitous from the point of view of the plot. Jessica appears to be made into a boy as she attempts to leave her father's house just so that she can be returned to his body, firmly (if only momentarily) under the sign of circumcision. But from one point of view, her “gelding” is perfectly superfluous. Lorenzo courts the punishment of Shechem; that punishment is anticipated in the second story of intermarriage and conversion for love that seems to haunt the edges of Merchant.
Keywords: The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare, conversion, race, circumcision, intermarriage, gelding, punishment, Jew, Christian