Shakespeare, Jewishness, and English Cultural Identity (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive. For more past programming from the Center for Shakespeare Studies, please see the article Center for Shakespeare Studies program archive.

This was a spring 2001 semester seminar.

In the course of the early modern period the traditional binary of 'Jewish/Christian' was gradually superseded by that of 'Jewish/English.' This shift complicated notions of cultural identity, especially for Jews who converted, intermarried, or were naturalized. With The Merchant of Venice as its focal point, this seminar, sponsored by the Center for Shakespeare Studies, explores the ways in which unresolved issues of conversion and intermarriage raised in Shakespeare's play recur in a range of early modern texts, challenging stable notions of English racial and national identity. In addition to other Elizabethan and Jacobean plays that engage related issues—including The Jew of Malta, A Christian Turned Turk, and The Renegado—seminar readings will also include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century conversion tracts, such as John Foxe's Sermon Preached at the Christening of a Certain Jew, at London (1578) and Gilbert Burnet's The Conversion and Persecutions of Eve Cohan (1680); Eliza Haywood's novella The Fair Hebrew (1729); and various pamphlets published at the time of the so-called 'Jew Bill' controversy of 1753. The seminar culminates with Maria Edgeworth's Harrington (1817), which returns to The Merchant of Venice in its attempt to reconcile Englishness and Jewishness.

Director: James Shapiro is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare (1991); Shakespeare and the Jews (1996); and "Oberammergau": The Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play (2000).