Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare

Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare

Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare

Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare


Although representations of medieval Christians and Christianity are rarely subject to the same scholarly scrutiny as those of Jews and Judaism, "the Christian" is as constructed a term, category, and identity as "the Jew." Medieval Christian authors created complex notions of Christian identity through strategic use of representations of Others: idealized Jewish patriarchs or demonized contemporary Jews; Woman represented as either virgin or whore. In Western thought, the Christian was figured as spiritual and masculine, defined in opposition to the carnal, feminine, and Jewish.

Women and Jews are not simply the Other for the Christian exegetical tradition, however; they also represent sources of origin, as one cannot conceive of men without women or of Christianity without Judaism. The bifurcated representations of Woman and Jew found in the literature of the Middle Ages and beyond reflect the uneasy figurations of women and Jews as both insiders and outsiders to Christian society.

Gender and Jewish Difference from Paul to Shakespeare provides the first extended examination of the linkages of gender and Jewish difference in late medieval and early modern English literature. Focusing on representations of Jews and women in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, selections from medieval drama, and Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Lampert explores the ways in which medieval and early modern authors used strategies of opposition to--and identification with--figures of Jews and women to create individual and collective Christian identities. This book shows not only how these questions are interrelated in the texts of medieval and early modern England but how they reveal the distinct yet similarly paradoxical places held by Woman and Jew within a longer tradition of Western thought that extends to the present day.


One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Fiunt, non nascuntur Christiani.

—Jerome, Epistles 107, 1

Representations of medieval Christians and Christianity, although obviously the objects of intensive study, are rarely subject to the same types of scholarly scrutiny as representations of Jews and Judaism. “The Christian,” however, is as constructed a term, category, or identity as “the Jew.” Moreover, Christian perspectives dominate in the literatures and cultures of the Western European Middle Ages and also in many approaches to defining, delineating, and explaining medieval texts and contexts even in today’s postsecular age. in attempting to de-center Christianity from a normative position, this book simultaneously attempts to aid in releasing the study of medieval representations of Jews and Judaism from a restricted economy of particularism. in doing so, I hope to illuminate how these representations are not simply representations of the “Other” in early English texts but are implicated in the fundamental understandings of reading, interpretation, and identity that these texts engage.

My exploration is not the description of a unified pattern of meaning but rather a study of the production of Christian meaning or, more accurately, Christian meanings. Christians are, in Jerome’s words, “made not born.” the texts examined in this project acknowledge, either explicitly or implicitly, that Christian identity is neither static nor fixed. Christian authors created complex and sometimes contradictory notions of Christian identity through strategic use of opposition to and identification with representations of Jews that are shaped through Christian self-definition. Even as they attempt to present Christian identity as complete and whole, Christian . . .

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