Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice

Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice

Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice

Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in the Merchant of Venice

Synopsis

In Blood Relations, Janet Adelman confronts her resistance to The Merchant of Venice as both a critic and a Jew. With her distinctive psychological acumen, she argues that Shakespeare's play frames the uneasy relationship between Christian and Jew specifically in familial terms in order to recapitulate the vexed familial relationship between Christianity and Judaism.
Adelman locates the promise- or threat- of Jewish conversion as a particular site of tension in the play. Drawing on a variety of cultural materials, she demonstrates that, despite the triumph of its Christians, The Merchant of Venice reflects Christian anxiety and guilt about its simultaneous dependence on and disavowal of Judaism. In this startling psycho-theological analysis, both the insistence that Shylock's daughter Jessica remain racially bound to her father after her conversion and the depiction of Shylock as a bloody-minded monster are understood as antidotes to Christian uneasiness about a Judaism it can neither own nor disown.
In taking seriously the religious discourse of The Merchant of Venice, Adelman offers in Blood Relations an indispensable book on the play and on the fascinating question of Jews and Judaism in Renaissance England and beyond.

Excerpt

At the beginning of my career, in 1968, just when I had come to Berkeley and was attempting to manage the transition from graduate student to full-fledged Shakespearean, a senior Renaissance scholar told me that Jews shouldn't be allowed to teach Renaissance literature because Renaissance literature was Christian literature. I think that he would, if queried now, disown his comment as facetious, but I don't think that it was facetious; I think that it was provoked by the spectacle of yet another Jew—and a woman to boot—coming to teach his literature in a department already littered with Jews. in 1968, Berkeley included among its Renaissance scholars Jonas Barish, Don Friedman, Norman Rabkin, Stephen Orgel, Stanley Fish, and Paul Alpers, though not yet Stephen Greenblatt or Joel Fineman, both of whom came within a few years—in fact an extraordinary collection of Jews working in the Renaissance, and my interlocutor was right to be worried. Though there were still major universities where Jewish faculty members were welcomed cautiously, if at all, at least at Berkeley Jews had entered what was then the inner sanctum of literature and were converting this holy of holies to their own uses, developing a set of critical practices that read obliquely, against the grain, and permanently changing the map of Renaissance studies in the process.

Perhaps no one would now say aloud what my interlocutor said in 1968. But as recently as 1992, in the course of a book attacking bardolatry and the belief that Shakespeare wrote “Shakespeare,” Elliott Baker had this to say on the subject of Jews and the study of Shakespeare:

Maybe people are only “chosen” to interpret and perform; a possible
explanation of why, in our grubby world of takeovers, the violins [stereo
typically carried by “good little Jewish boys” in “the good old days”] have . . .

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