Introduction: Strangers within Christianity

Janet Adelman

in Blood Relations

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2008 | ISBN: 9780226006819
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226006833 | DOI:
Introduction: Strangers within Christianity

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This chapter argues that The Merchant of Venice's representation of Jews begins and ends with the issue of conversion, and its most dramatic scene threatens to replay the killing of Christ, the theological event that for Christians defined the relation between Christian and Jew. For despite the serene triumph that some critics attribute both to the doctrine and to the play as a document in “Christian apologetics,” the chapter claims that Christian supersessionist theology seems to carry its own residue of anxiety with it, anxiety that William Shakespeare's play traces back to the vexed familial relations between Judaism and Christianity. The book approaches these issues via those literal strangers within English Christianity: the conversos in London. The promise—or threat—of Jewish conversion that is at the heart of Merchant is a primary site of the anxieties it describes. This chapter speculates about some possible consequences of the shadowy presence of the conversos within two texts—Sir Thomas More and Robert Wilson's The Three Ladies of London—that have a proximal relation to The Merchant of Venice.

Keywords: The Merchant of Venice; William Shakespeare; Jews; Christians; Christianity; Judaism; conversos; conversion; Sir Thomas More; supersessionist theology

Chapter.  17241 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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