Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice
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.
“A work of stunning bravery and amplitude. We owe a debt of gratitude to Janet Adelman’s writing for the riches of its results.”
“This book is well positioned to be the most important book-length study of The Merchant of Venice in all of the available scholarship. No one today is writing more trenchant criticism than Adelman. Her study of this deeply problematic play is fair and judicious while also passionately involved, learned and wide ranging while also attuned to painful moral issues.”
“Janet Adelman’s brilliant book illuminates the pressing problem of social hatred with incredibly insightful analyses of the interior dimension of that hatred as well as the exterior demand of conversion. The book demonstrates why this play's exposure of the terrible ‘knowledge we cannot bring ourselves to know’ has such deep cultural resonance.”
“Blood Relations is the crowning achievement of an outstanding critical career. In Janet Adelman’s study of The Merchant of Venice, the genius for close reading that distinguished The Common Liar (her unsurpassed account of Antony and Cleopatra) is combined with the penetrating psychoanalytic insight applied to the ‘subterranean logic’ of texts in Suffocating Mothers; and both are enriched with a wealth of patiently researched historical detail. Building on the pioneer work of James Shapiro, Adelman significantly enlarges our awareness of the ways in which ‘Jewishness’—as a theological, national, and racial category—was constructed in Shakespeare’s time. Not only does this make Blood Relations a major contribution to current debates about early modern ideas of ‘nation’ and ‘race’: it also enables a wonderfully fresh analysis of the structure of relationships in The Merchant, in a reading that illuminates even the most neglected corners of this controversial comedy.”
“In this extraordinary book, Adelman reveals the full force of a disturbing Jewish presence in Shakespeare studies, one that justifies retroactively the anxiety that many Christian scholars initially felt on this incursion. Belmont will, indeed, never be the same. Responding, as she argues, to an earlier such invasion of Jews into Shakespeare’s England, The Merchant of Venice is revealed as a text of Christian theological anxiety with regard to the continued presence of Jews in the world. As significant in its way as the readings of The Tempest by scholars from the colonies and postcolonies, Blood Relations is a brilliant new moment in the history of the new historicism.”
A Note on Texts
1 Introduction: Strangers within Christianity
2 Leaving the Jew’s House: Father, Son, and Elder Brother
3 Her Father’s Blood: Conversion, Race, and Nation
4 Incising Antonio: The Jew Within