The Jew’s “fair daughter” in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice converts and marries a Christian, Lorenzo. Recent attention, however, to changing ideas of race and identity in the early modern period has brought into question the divisions of Christian/Jew/Moor. Can Jessica convert and no longer be considered the Jew’s daughter? As “gentle” and “fair” is she to be considered gentile and in no way dark (spiritually or racially)? Jessica’s conversion has apparently little religious meaning, but rather she is saved from the Jew her father by marriage to Lorenzo, who becomes Shylock’s heir. Is Jessica’s conversion to be considered a matter of convenience that might, as Launcelot quips, raise the price of hogs, or is it also to be counted as an ideological and racial conversion that reveals underlying anxieties about gender, sexuality, and religious identity? This essay attempts to argue against the grain of the performance history of The Merchant History, which often downplays the role of Jessica or revises the text of the play, and returns to the text in order to contextualize the conversion of Jessica in contemporary discourses of gender, race, and religion in England’s expansionist colonialism and proto-capitalist commerce. The conversion of Jessica can be seen in that context as an exchange of monetary and ethical value, in which women’s sexuality also had a price-tag. These questions have implications for the teaching of the play and for the understanding of its concerns with unstable sexual, religious, and national identities.
Ackermann, Z. & Schülting, S. (Eds.). (2011). Shylock nach dem Holocaust: zur Geschichte einer deutschen Erinnerungsfigur. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Achinstein, S. (2001). John Foxe and the Jews. Renaissance Quarterly, 54(1), 86-120.
Adelman, J. (2008). Blood relations: Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Alexander, C. M. S., & Wells, S. (Eds.). (2000). Shakespeare and race. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Anidjar, G. (2014). Blood: A critique of Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bartels, E. (2008). Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Berek, P. (1998). The Jew as Renaissance Man. Renaissance Quarterly, 51(1), 128-62.
Berger, H. (2010). Mercifixion in The Merchant of Venice: The riches of embarrassment,” Renaissance Drama 38, 3-45.
Berley, M. (1999). Jessica’s Belmont Blues: Music and merriment in The Merchant of Venice. In P. C. Herman (Ed.), Opening the borders: Inclusivity in early modern studies (pp. 185-205). Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.
Bovilsky, L. (2008). Barbarous Play: Race on the English Renaissance Stage. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bulwer, J. (1654). A View of the People of the Whole World. London: William Hunt,
Blank, P. (2003). Shakespeare and the mismeasure of Renaissance man. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Bodian, M. (1999). Hebrews of the Portuguese nation: Conversos and community in early modern Amsterdam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Bromley, J. M. (2012). Intimacy and sexuality in the age of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, B. D. (1929). Mediaeval prototypes of Lorenzo and Jessica. Modern Language Notes,44(4), 227-32.
Bullough, V. L. and Bullough, B. (1993). Cross dressing, sex, and gender. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Campos, E. (2002). Jews, Spaniards, and Portingales: Ambiguous identities of Portuguese Marranos in Elizabethan England. ELH 69 (3), 599-616.
Cattley, S. R. Ed. (1837). The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe. 20088 Vols. London: Seeley & Burnside.
Charney, M. (1979). Jessica’s turquoise ring and Abigail’s poisoned porridge: Shakespeare and Marlowe as rivals and imitators. Renaissance Drama 10, 33-44.
Cohen, W. (1985). Drama of a nation: Public theatre in Renaissance England and Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Cox, C. (2000). Neither Gentile nor Jew: Performative subjectivity in The Merchant of Venice. Exemplaria 12, 359-83.
Cressy, D. (1996). Gender trouble and cross-dressing in early modern England. Journal of British Studies, 35(4), 438–465.
Delgado de Torres, 0. (1994). Reflections on patriarchy and the rebellion of daughters in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Othello. Interpretation 21(3), 333-353.
Dobbins, A. C. & Battenhouse, R.W. (1976). Jessica’s morals: A theological view. Shakespeare Studies 9, 107-20.
Eliav-Feldon, M. (2012). Renaissance imposters and proofs of identity. Houndsmill and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Ephraim, M. (2008). Her ‘flesh and blood’: Jessica’s mother in The Merchant of Venice. In her Reading the Jewish Woman on the Elizabethan Stage (pp. 137-52). Leicester: Ashgate.
Fisch, H. (1971). The dual image: The figure of the Jew in English and American literature. London: World Jewish Library.
Green, D. (2003). The double life of Doctor Lopez: Spies, Shakespeare and the plot to poison Elizabeth I. London: Century.
Groebner, V. (2009). The carnal knowing of a coloured body: Sleeping with Arabs and blacks in the European imagination, 1300-1550. In Eliav-Feldon, M., Isaac, B. & Ziegler J. (Eds.). The origins of racism in the West, (pp. 217-231). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gross, J. J. (1994). Shylock: Four hundred years in the life of a legend. London: Vintage.
Hall, K. (2006). Guess who’s coming to dinner? Colonization and miscegenation in The Merchant of Venice. Reprinted in L.S. Marcus (Ed.), Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice (pp. 288-304). New York: W.W. Norton.
Hamilton, S. (2003). Shakespeare’s daughters. Jefferson, NC: Macfarland.
Harris, A.J. & Rubinstein F. (2004). Jessica’s bawdy ‘interlude’ in The Merchant of Venice. English Language Notes 42 (2), 11-28.
Harris, J. G. (1998). Foreign bodies and the body politic: Discourses of social pathology in early modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harris, J. G. (2004). Sick economies: Drama, mercantilism, and disease in Shakespeare’s England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Heine, H. (1906). The works of Heinrich Heine. (G. Leland Trans.) London: Heinemann.
Hinley, J.L. (1980). Bond Priorities in The Merchant of Venice. Studies in English Literature 20, 217-239.
Howard, Jean E. (1988). Cross dressing, the theatre, and gender struggle in Early Modern England. Shakespeare Quarterly, 39, 418-440.
Japtok, M. & Schleiner W. (1999). Genetics and ‘race’ in The Merchant of Venice. Literature and Medicine 18 (2), 155-172.
Jardine, L. (1983). Still harping on daughters: Women and drama in the age of Shakespeare. Brighton: Harvester Press.
Jardine, L. (1996). Worldly goods: A new history of the Renaissance. New York: W.W. Norton.
Jordan, W. D. (2000). First impressions. In L. Back & J. Solomos (Eds.), Theories of race and racism: A reader (pp. 33-50). London: Routledge.
Kaplan, M. Lindsay. (2007). Jessica’s mother: Medieval constructions of Jewish race and gender in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare Quarterly 58, 1-30.
Katz, D. S. (1999). Shylock’s gender: Jewish male menstruation in early modern England. Review of English Studies 50, 440-462.
Kruger, S. F. (2006). The spectral Jew: Conversion and embodiment in medieval Europe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lampert, L. (2004). Gender and Jewish difference from Paul to Shakespeare. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Landau, Aaron. (2006). Jews and Moors at the crossroads: Female conversion in The Merchant of Venice and Don Quixote. In C. Goodblatt and H. Kressel (Eds.), Tradition, heterodoxy, and religious culture(pp. 391-403). Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Levin, C. and Watkins, J. (2009). Shakespeare’s foreign worlds: National and transnational identities in the Elizabethan age. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Loomba, A. (2002). Shakespeare, race, and colonialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lupton, J. R. (2005). Citizen-saints: Shakespeare and political theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Maccoby, H. (2006). Antisemitism and modernity: Innovation and continuity. London: Routledge.
Mentz, S. R. (2003). The fiend gives friendly counsel: Launcelot Gobbo and polyglot economics in The Merchant of Venice. In L. Woodridge (Ed). Money in the age of Shakespeare (pp. 177-87). Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Metzger, M. J. (1998). ‘Now by my hood, a Gentle and no Jew’: Jessica, The merchant of Venice, and the discourse of early modern English identity. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 113(1), 52-63.
Middleton, I. (2015). A Jew’s daughter and a Christian’s wife: Performing Jessica’s multiplicity in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare Bulletin 33 (2), 293-317.
Modder, M. F. (1960). The Jew in the literature of England. New York: Meridian Books. (Originally published 1939).
Mounsey, C. (Ed.) (2001). Changing sex in early-modern culture. Lewisberg PA: Bucknell University Press.
Nachshon E. & Shapiro, M. (Eds.) (at press). Countering Shylock as Jewish stereotype. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Newman, K. (2009). Essaying Shakespeare. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nirenberg, D. (2013). Anti-Judaism: The Western tradition. New York, Norton.
Oz, A. (1995). The yoke of love: Prophetic riddles in The Merchant of Venice. Newark: University of Delaware Press.
Questier, Michael.(1996). Conversion, politics and religion in England, 1580-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ragussis, M. (1995). Figures of conversion: “The Jewish question” and English national identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Ragussis, N. (2007). The Jewess in nineteenth-century British literary culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reznick, I. (2012). Marks of distinction: Christian perception of Jews in the high middle ages. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press.
Rosenshield, G. (2002). Deconstructing the Christian merchant: Antonio and The Merchant of Venice. Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, 20 (2), 28-51.
Scrivener, M. (2011). Jewish representation in British literature, 1780-1840: After Shylock. Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Shakespeare, W. (2006). The Merchant of Venice: Authoritative text, sources and contexts, criticism, rewritings and appropriations. Ed. Leah S. Marcus. New York: W.W. Norton.
Shapiro, J. (1996). Shakespeare and the Jews. New York: Columbia University Press.
Shell, M. (1982). Money, language, and thought: Literary and philosophical economies from the medieval to the modern era. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Shoulson, J. S. (2013). Fictions of conversion: Jews, Christians, and cultures of change in early modern England. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.
Slights, C. (1980). In defense of Jessica: The runaway daughter in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare Quarterly, 31(3), 357-68.
Sinsheimer, H. (1947). Shylock, the history of a character, or the myth of the Jew. London: Gollancz.