Leaving the Jew's House

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:
Leaving the Jew's House

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Conversion from Judaism to Christianity in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice—at least before Shylock's enforced conversion—is represented as a child's deception and then abandonment of a father. This representation is most explicit in Jessica, but she is not the only child who leaves Shylock's house and deceives a father in the process: Lancelot does the same thing. As Lancelot manages the transition from Shylock's house to Bassanio's, and hence secures his status as Christian rather than Jew, his passage obliquely reiterates one of the central narratives through which Christian tradition understands that transition at its point of origin: a narrative that turns radically on a son's deception of his father in order to secure the blessing intended for his older brother. This chapter examines why Lancelot's decision to leave Shylock's house should be so much more difficult, and so much more fraught with guilt, than Jessica's. It suggests that Shakespeare shapes Lancelot's throwaway scene of conversion in terms that encapsulate Christianity's anxieties about its vexed paternity in Judaism.

Keywords: deception; The Merchant of Venice; William Shakespeare; conversion; Christian tradition; Judaism; Christianity; paternity

Chapter.  13338 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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