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Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice. Janet Adelman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Pp. xi+
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Published Chicago : University of Chicago Press, Language English View all editions Prev Next edition 3 of 3. Subjects Shylock, Fictitious character Shakespeare, William, Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare, William, -- Characters -- Jews. Shakespeare, William, -- Characters -- Antonio.


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  • Shylock Fictitious character Religion and literature -- England -- History -- 16th century. Religion and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.

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    Sign in. Not registered? Sign up. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. More In this book, the author confronts her resistance to The Merchant of Venice as both a critic and a Jew. Yes — to smell pork, to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into?

    I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following. But I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.

    Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

    What news on the Rialto? Who is he comes here? The line refers, as editors have noted, to a tale told three times in the New Testament gospels. When he threatens to exorcise them and banish them to the gates of Hell, they beg instead to be ejected into a herd of swine grazing nearby. Jesus does so, thus causing the hogs to go berserk; they run down the hill to a body of water and drown themselves.

    Samuel Johnson, for example, found the line offensive enough to excise it silently from his edition. First of all, it puts a story from Christian scripture into the mouth of a Jew. Shakespeare could have Shylock illustrate his distaste for pigs by quoting the Leviticus prohibitions. Instead, Shylock quotes the New Testament, and in so doing wields the Christian Bible against the Christians — setting the stage for the trial scene, in which the Jewish Scriptures will be wielded against the Jews.

    Even your own holy writ agrees. How can you eat them yourselves? The swine of the gospel story are not just depraved by association with demons; they are literally inhabited by them. Numerous authorities believed that diet could effect profound changes, some of them irrevocable, upon the physical and spiritual makeup of the eater. Those who allow pork into their bodies allow the devil in as well; to eat pig is to eat the devil himself. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Jews were accused of associating with the devil or of being inhabited by devils.

    It is the food that keeps Christians and Jews from sitting down together at the same table to dine, a sticking point between the two faiths. But pork also serves as a marker for a more general problem — the problem of meals in the play. Not just Shylock, but all characters find sitting down to eat together a problematic act. But its ideas of eating together are anything but optimistic.

    Blood Relations : Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice

    The general term for these communal aspects of eating, in the Renaissance as now, is commensality. The word, widely used in the social and biological sciences but rarely in the humanities, emerged in the early fifteenth century, having been borrowed from French and derived ultimately from the medieval Latin term commensalism.

    To form a group means to exclude others from it; to share food means also to keep others away from the table of power. The exclusions that commensality creates, the costs of its obligations, and the negative ramifications of its inclusions, are very much at issue in the Renaissance. The language and practices of eating help define, exclude, and do violence to marginalized groups — to devour them, spit them out, or toss them aside.

    Such commensal violence is never more on display than in The Merchant of Venice. I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. He will not eat in a Christian house, any more than he will pray in a church. Whether the kosher laws are designed to keep Jews from mixing with Christians at the dinner table or whether this is an effect of their application scholars have argued the point for centuries , here it is all one.

    The very next time he enters, in Act ii scene v, it is to go to dinner with Bassanio and Antonio:. I am bid forth to supper, Jessica.

    There are my keys; but wherefore should I go? There is no particular reason for him to join the Christians for dinner: the bond has been written and sealed, so there is not much to negotiate, and those negotiations could easily transpire in a less highly-charged locale. The best explanation for his departure is to fulfill a plot point — to make sure that he is out of the house when Jessica escapes into the arms of Lorenzo who leaves the very same dinner to come snatch her.

    To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?

    Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions — fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that….