This essay argues that the gendered racial representation of Jews in early modern English culture, articulated explicitly in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, draws upon a similar set of ideas developed in medieval England. Concerns in thirteenth-century England about the efficacy of Jewish conversion to Christianity gave rise to the notion of an immutable Jewish racial identity constructed in theological, class, somatic, hereditary, and gendered terms and revealing a concern that Jews gain parity or even superiority to Christians through conversion. The representation of a Jewish woman racially indistinguishable from Christians and acquiescent to conversion develops in the same period, as Aristotle's views on gender and reproduction are reintroduced in Europe. Aristotle argued for the "natural" inferiority of women, that they are mere vessels for nurturing the male seed that becomes a child. These ideas make possible the construction of an acceptable convert whose inferiority is fixed even after her "elevation" to Christianity and whose racial status is moot, since she contributes none of her characteristics to her husband's offspring. A close consideration of the medieval roots of these gendered representations of Jewish race in the early modern period is followed by a discussion of their operation in The Merchant of Venice.
How did Londoners articulate their position as citizens as well as subjects? What modes of collective activity constituted their status, and what, besides obedience to the monarch, formed the basis of this collectivity? Taking The Book of Sir Thomas More as its central text, this essay explores homologies between theatrical practices and political formations to adduce a collaborative model of citizen activity. As the period's most complex example of coauthorship and as a play about citizen protest and a subject's disobedience, More models collaborative practices in its form and content, inviting us to read the collective labor of playwrights in relation to the common cause of citizens. Yet the play does not idealize these practices as a rational sphere of unanimous consent or as a form of utopian longing; in this, More extends recent work on collaboration to include a more fully articulated account of collective individuation and the reciprocities of pluralism. Based on notions of political friendship, collaboration in More requires a recognition of the paradoxical centrality of the figure of "the stranger," not only as the demonized "constitutive outside" of citizen identity, but as a figure for the constituent differences at the heart of civic polity.
This essay hypothesizes a transgeneric afterlife for Shakespeare's steward Malvolio in Webster's Duchess of Malfi. Socioerotic fantasies foregrounded, Malvolio reappears as Antonio, the estate steward wooed by his aristocratic mistress. Sinister potential developed, he becomes Bosola, the brooding intelligencer delegated to manage Ferdinand's malevolent desires. Attuned to the historical liminality of the steward, the essay argues that Webster used Malvolio's erotically inflected relation to a female aristocrat to sharpen issues of historical transition and service. His tragedy enlarges Malvolio's role and strategically triangulates a strong aristocratic female character in relation to the two stewards. The duchess's clandestine marriage to Antonio challenges the feudal power that her brothers would preserve, and her insistence on unvarnished economic language in courting Antonio undermines aristocratic discourse and marks her commitment to an alternative socioerotic world, unbound by status or contract. Reading The Duchess of Malfi in light of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night adds to the current reexamination of early modern service. In addition, the careful staging of the duchess's failure to achieve her desire because of the imposition of her brothers' cruel desires, as managed by Bosola, provokes us to weigh radical potential against tragic inevitability.