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Reviews Joyce Green MacDonald, ed. Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance . Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.Pp. 187. $34.50. This collection ofeight essays opens new and unexpected windows on the Renaissance. As the editor points out in her introduction, the focus here is not so much on the expected success of the dominant culture 's impulse to neutralize deviance from its own self-perpetuating norms but, rather, on the "range of doubt in which members of dominant cultures are caught in the act of representing their engagements with their racial opposites." Further, the emphasis is not on gender— hitherto the main preoccupation of Renaissance specialists—but on racialized discourse. For many of us this may seem surprising, for we hardly think of there being much racial diversity in sixteenth-century England. But some of the essays conclusively demonstrate how with expanding trade and commerce with distant lands, England's isolation as an island country was fast giving way to an inclusion of identities as variegated as "the African, [American] Indian, Jew, Roman, or Muslim ." Drawing heavily upon cultural history, these essays examine various Renaissance engagements that refract, or encapsulate, the means employed in the quest for power and domination. The book opens with Rebecca Ann Bach's thought-provoking discussion of bear-baiting in the period, which coincided with the emerging English colonial enterprise as seen in the documents dealing with England's early colonization of Virginia. Bach argues that given the importance attached to this sport —for the monarchy considered it proper entertainment for ambassadors —the cultural logic that authorized colonialism and bear-baiting was the same. Interestingly, we learn that "bears make fifty-seven appearances in Shakespeare's texts," including the well-known references in Macbeth, King Lear, and The Winter 's Tale. The Merchant of Venice is the focus of attention in Daryl W. Palmer's "Merchants and Miscegenation: The Three Ladies ofLondon, The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice." Quoting extensively from documentary records illustrating his opening statement that "no group of Englishmen spent more time encountering people of different races than London merchants," Palmer shows that merchants were not merely traders, but in order to sell their goods held entertainments and bazaars whereby economic and cultural exchange went on side by side. All the three plays discussed depict people of different races "contesting with each other's dispositions." Race and commerce mingle, and 292 Reviews293 the danger of miscegenation is always present, though averted in Merchant when Bassanio chooses the lead casket: "Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence," where Palmer sees "paleness" as a metaphor of Portia herself. Theobald, he points out, emended this crucial word to "plainness" and thus missed the point that "if the color is dark, then the bargain is bad." And even if miscegenation does occur, as with the Jessica-Lorenzo alliance, "then miscegenation ends in conversion." This is a neat conclusion to Palmer's essay—perhaps too neat—but insofar as it fits in with the unity of concerns that the volume under review embodies, it is informative and stimulating. Alan Rosen's "The Rhetoric of Exclusion: Jew, Moor, and the Boundaries of Discourse in The Merchant of Venice," though instructive , is perhaps too precariously balanced upon selective evidence. While its opening section is persuasive—Shylock's speech is marked for its plainness, Morocco's for its flamboyance, and both men are outsiders in Venice—the argument that Venetian society is threatened by their presence and that, "in the case of Morocco, his skin color excludes him from Portia's (and the Elizabethan audience's) favor," seems to indicate a single-minded straining at the leash. In one sense, of course, Rosen's observations are a statement of the obvious—all societies everywhere and in all periods of history have felt threatened by the alien of whatever color—but some of Shakespeare's plays seem to question this basic fear. Portia, despite her pejorative remarks on Morocco 's complexion, also says, "But if my father had not scanted me/ . . . / Your self (renowned prince) then stood as fair/ As any comer I have look'd on yet." Whether Portia is, or is not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 292-295
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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