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The Jew as Renaissance man.

The Jew available to be known in England in the 1590s is a Marrano - a covert figure whose identity is self-created, hard to discover, foreign, associated with novel or controversial enterprises like foreign trade or money-lending, and anxiety-producing. By and large, non-theatrical representations of Jewishness reveal less ambivalence than does Marlowe's Barabas. In the plays of Marlowe and then of Shakespeare, the Jew becomes a figure which enables the playwright to express and at the same time to condemn the impulse in both culture and theatre to treat selfhood and social role as a matter of choice. By becoming theatrical, the anxiety about identity and innovation implicit in the Marrano state gains explicitness and becomes available to the culture at large. Marlowe and Shakespeare play a central role in creating - not imitating - the frightening yet comic Jewish figure which haunts Western culture. But the immediate impact of their achievement is felt in the theatre, and is barely visible in non-theatrical discourse about Jews in the decades after their plays.

Banished from England by Edward I in 1290, Jews until the sixteenth century were more available to the English as concepts than as persons, more vivid as sites of speculation than as doers of deeds.(1) Jews were figures from narrative rather than experience, whether the narratives were derived from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, or medieval legends of Jewish villainy. Jews might be scriptural, historical, or foreign - but they weren't people you had met or with whom you had done business in your own country. Or at least not officially. In the sixteenth century, however, the idea of the Jew began to come into contact with the actualities of Jews. The legal bar to Jewish residence in England began to be permeable, at least for Jews who were willing to make a "counterfeit profession" of Christianity (the phrase, of course, comes from The Jew of Malta).(2) This covert presence of Jews seems to have made available the possibility of using Jewishness as a mode of figuring some emerging social energies which sought outlets in both action and story. Despite being foreign, exotic, or "other," the Jew came to be represented in England as a paradigmatic "Renaissance Man." (That the term has become something of a joke is quite appropriate for the view of identity my argument embraces.) At a moment when a culture was unusually self-aware about the strength of innovation and the rapidity of change, anxiety about both phenomena could be figured paradoxically by an ancient stranger who was also an ancestor.

Most mainstream histories of England have ignored Jews. Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, Anglo-Jewish historians have worked assiduously to demonstrate that Jews had a legitimate place in the history of England, and have been joined by literary scholars in a debate about whether Shakespeare's portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was antisemitic. Now, with his Shakespeare and the Jews, James Shapiro has transformed the discussion of Anglo-Jewish history and of Jews in Renaissance drama. Rather than reshuffling the limited amount of evidence about a Jewish presence in England, or speculating about Shakespeare's own knowledge of Jews or feelings about them, Shapiro insightfully suggests that discussion of Jews in late medieval and early modern England was less about Jewishness than about what it meant to be English. In the middle ages, Shapiro points out, both Jews and Christians appear to have agreed that it was easy to know who was or was not a Jew, on grounds which were biological, social, and religious. By the seventeenth century, emerging notions in England of nation and race complicated the status of both Englishness and Jewishness. Moreover, the religious controversies of the Reformation transformed debates about the relationship between national allegiance and religious profession; these debates could be engaged in coded fashion when discussing whether Jews should be readmitted to England. As Shapiro writes, "It proved much easier to identify those who were English by pointing to those who were assuredly not - e.g., the Irish and the Jews. Invariably, however, this required a tacit agreement that these others epitomized the very antithesis of Englishness."(3) Furthermore, by the eighteenth century Shakespeare came to be seen as one of the defining elements of English national identity. At stake in the inconclusive - and perhaps irresolvable - debates concerning what Shakespeare thought about Jews were convictions about the status Jews ought to have in the modern English nation.

In this essay, I address a local instance of the larger issue James Shapiro raises. He describes how the Jew functioned as a defining "other" as England invented a modern version of national identity in the three centuries following the Reformation. Doing so, he rightly gives extensive attention to "Judaizing" among radical seventeenth-century Protestants, to the debate toward the end of the Cromwell era about readmitting Jews to England, and to the relationship between religious toleration and national identity. I'm more narrowly concerned with the way Jewishness figured in the theater of the 1590s. In that more restricted arena, I argue that Marranism is the particular form of Jewishness which is most pertinent to our understanding, and that Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is the crucial initiatory text. The theater of the 1590s was obsessed by the possibilities that identity might be willed or chosen and social position achieved by deeds, not birth. That's the concern of such plays as Tamburlaine, Richard III, and the tetralogy beginning with Richard H and ending with Henry V. Marranos, or Iberian Jews claiming to be convened to Christianity, are plausible representations of the idea that identity is not stable and can be created by individuals themselves. Moreover, emerging ideas about the fluidity of personal identity are closely associated with new entrepreneurship and social mobility. The traditional association of Jews with money-lending and other forms of commercial enterprise makes Jews in Elizabethan England, as they have been since, suitable representations of ambivalent feelings about economic innovation and social change. They are attractive in part because the Christian scriptural tradition provides a ready means of condemning that which frightens even as it allures. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Greenblatt, we can learn much by studying the "circulation of social energy" invested in Jewishness at the end of the sixteenth century and the start of the seventeenth.(4) Treating Jewishness as an object of exchange may seem like a joke, as the common stereotype about Jews, in the Renaissance as well as today, locates the Jew as merchant or trader or moneylender - a preeminent circulator of economic energy. To use economic terms to analyze the stereotypical economic man may be self-reflexive comedy. But it is also a seriously meant effort to point out that Marlowe's representation of Barabas in The Jew of Malta is not just an act of mimesis but itself the ground for mimesis. Theater inhabits a transactional relationship with a culture it both mirrors and creates.

I am not in any way asserting that some specific Marrano Jew was the "original" or "source" for Barabas in The Jew of Malta.(5) Rather, I am speculating about what Marlowe might have found interesting in the very idea of Jewishness as it appeared in England, and why audiences might have been drawn to a play with a Jewish protagonist. I'm guessing that the New Christians Marlowe might have seen in England could themselves have captured Marlowe's imagination and prompted him to invent a figure of aggressive duplicity. But whether or not my guess is correct, what Marlowe made of Barabas is of far more importance to later plays than what he made Barabas out of. It is Barabas more than contemporary or historical Jewish figures who underlies subsequent Jewish characters in English Renaissance literature. These characters are virtually all far more like Barabas (or, after The Merchant of Venice, like Shylock) than they are like the real-life Jews I shall describe. The form in which Jewish characters appear after Marlowe is far more indebted to theater than to history.


Northern European Ashkenazic Jews had served William of Normandy as moneylenders. They came over the channel with him - and perhaps were even brought by him - to serve the same function in England. Unpopular and in the long run dispensable, these Jews were banished in 1290. James Shapiro points out that the historical record is obscure as to the number of Jews expelled, and rightly notes that it is clearer that the English wanted to regard their country as free of Jews than that Jews were truly absent. (Indeed, it is equally clear that there were a significant number of Jews living in London before the 1654 Whitehall Conference, at which the return of the Jews was inconclusively debated.)(6) Even after the expulsion, there were probably some persons living in England descended from Jews who had convened to Christianity. The most significant contact between England and the Jews during the so-called "middle period" involved Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. Spain and Portugal possessed the largest and most important Jewish communities in Europe. In both countries there were some Jews living openly as Jews. There were also so-called "New Christians" - men and women converted from Judaism now living as Roman Catholics. Some of these converts were no doubt sincere in their new profession, and eventually their descendants assimilated into the larger Christian community. Others were Marranos - persons avowing Christianity, but covertly continuing to live as Jews.(7) In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain, and in 1497 all Portuguese Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity. Most of the Jews driven from Spain fled to the relatively tolerant Turkish empire. But some Portuguese New Christians, many from families already playing a dominant role in commerce and finance, left the now-inhospitable Iberian peninsula and established new bases of commercial operations in the Low Countries, especially in the city of Antwerp.(8)

Some Portuguese New Christians settled in England. There they played an important role in trade with the Iberian nations. They knew the countries and their languages; some of them had family members in Portugal who could participate in commercial ventures. A Marrano could claim English nationality for purposes of bringing goods through English customs, and Portuguese nationality in that country. Though the hundred or more Marranos in London lived nominally as Christians, they at least on occasion participated in Jewish worship.(9) The London Jewish or New Christian community was prosperous and not without prominence. But veiling or even denying one's actual beliefs and practices was a condition of Jewish life in England. Jewishness was a covert state, a state that entailed multiple creeds, nationalities, even names. To an extraordinary degree, the Elizabethan Jew had to create himself, and the self he created was plural and unstable.

Several anecdotes will help confirm my point. A Portuguese Jew named Brandao, the son of a blacksmith, came to England and entered a Domus Conversorum in 1468. He took the name Edward Brandon or Brampton, and parlayed the fact that Edward IV was his godfather (as he was of all Jewish converts) into a court introduction, success as a trader, governorship of the island of Guernsey, and (in 1483) a knighthood. (Brandon's refashioning of himself as a courtier led to a more famous instance of self-transformation. Fleeing to Portugal after the defeat of the Yorkists, Brandon took with him a Flemish youth named Perkin Warbeck who used the information he learned from Brandon about life at the court to promote his own claim to being son to Edward IV and heir to the English throne.)(10) There were similar flamboyant examples of such self-creation outside England. A young member of the Portuguese-Flemish Mendes banking family, known by the Portuguese name Joao Micas, ended his career with the avowedly Jewish name Joseph Nasi and the title "Duke of Naxos and the Cyclades." Discarding his New Christian disguise at the court of the Turkish Sultan, he became what Cecil Roth calls "the all-powerful adviser at the Sublime Porte."(11) Another man known by the Portuguese name Alvaro Mendes went to Turkey, transformed himself into - or acknowledged himself as - Solomon Abenaish, and became Duke of Mytilene and a major player in Anglo-Turkish diplomacy against Spain.

Admittedly, these are spectacular and romantic special cases. But these unusual figures are allied by family relationship as well as by religious heritage with the more ordinary Jews. Unable or unwilling to strike out for the Levant, humbler Marranos moved through the Peninsula, the Low Countries, and England, coping by flight, evasiveness, and duplicity with intermittent accusations of Jewish worship. When found out the Marrano in England caused scandal because, while in Spain or Portugal he claimed to have had converted to Catholicism and in England he lived as a Protestant, throughout his life he covertly remained a Jew. Here are excerpts from the statement made by Simao del Mercado, a Portuguese New Christian being interrogated in Antwerp. The authorities suspected Simao was Jewish because of a confession made by his brother, Fernando, in London:

The witness [says] that for himself he is a Roman Catholic Christian and that he has always lived as such, and that if it is necessary he will bring attestations from Amsterdam that there he confessed himself five or six months ago, a little more or less, and although it was said to him that it was a matter of little appearance, he did not know the religion his brother professed and participated in, and that in all matters of religion he only wished to answer for himself . . . .

Asked if he was circumcised, he said that if he is, it was done by force when he was a boy of ten years, and that all the same he has never changed from the Catholic religion, and on being summoned to reply categorically on this point he did not wish to do it, otherwise than as aforesaid.

Interrogated as to whether he knows the Articles of the Roman Catholic faith, he says that he has known them and that he could remember them to himself, but he did not know how to repeat them, and when it was put to him whether he had been to certain Jewish congregations to pray with other Jews in Amsterdam . . . where all the Portuguese Jews assemble for prayers, he said that if this is so, it was that he was taken there forcibly, or indeed to speak or deal with certain friends or merchants. He would not explain himself further on this subject more accurately although he was many times challenged about it.(12)

Simao's testimony is an extraordinary tissue of forgetfulness, evasions, and implausible excuses. The tone of this summary of his testimony - a summary, one must remember, prepared by his inquisitors - is unheroic, even cringing. But the document helps one imagine a life in which furtiveness was a necessary response to the continual possibility of discovery or betrayal. One also perceives that for Simao "facts" are as willed or constructed as interpretations. Even his circumcision is treated as a hypothesis - "if he is, it was done by force" - rather than as a fact.(13) That nothing can be assumed to be what it appears is of course partly a useful strategy for dealing with interrogation. But it is also perhaps one quality of a life lived in perpetual pretense, where names, nationalities, past history, and religious beliefs are all masks or appearances put on for some particular purpose - even if the purpose be to pray in the synagogue. Paradoxically, the Jew who insists on preserving at all cost his identity as a Jew does so by transforming identity into a succession of useful fictions.

I suggest that this "Marrano" condition was the most important quality of Jewishness in Elizabethan England. This is not so much to characterize the self-perceptions of Jews in England under Elizabeth and James as it is to suggest how they must have appeared to the Christians amongst whom they lived. A "Jew" was likely to be a stranger, a merchant, or a physician, a person who advanced in the world by his own ingenuity and by the accumulation of wealth rather than by any traditional principle of birth or inherited position. A "Jew" was likely not only to deny being a Jew, but in some real sense not to be a Jew. He might worship with you in church, partner you in commerce, serve your Queen who was defender of the faith. But throughout all this, you would never know to what extent he "really was" what he gave every appearance of being. Were you seeing a real person or a feigned person? An Englishman named Ames or a Portuguese Jew named Anes? A Levantine duke and advisor to the Sultan, or a Portuguese merchant named Solomon? A person whose life could be inferred from visible behavior, or a person whose real life took place behind closed doors and within a heart whose mysteries defied interrogation? As chooser of his own religion, as well as merchant, trader, money-lender and foreigner, the Marrano played a series of roles, all of which were associated with social and economic innovation and change. Associating innovation and change with Jewishness provided Elizabethan Englishmen with a way of acknowledging the mixed feelings they aroused of allure and anxiety.

What the Marrano figured for Elizabethan Englishmen need not have been the same as what Marranos were in reality. However, recent scholarship suggests that Marranos themselves may have felt ambivalent and self-divided. Miriam Bodian argues that when Iberian Marranos encountered both non-Iberian Christians and Ashkenazic Jews they felt torn between defining themselves in religious terms as Jewish and in national or ethnic terms as Portuguese, and hence as different from the less aristocratic Ashkenazim.(14) Moreover, Iberian Marranos, because they lived as Catholics while covertly preserving Jewish observances, evolved a set of religious values which were orthodox neither by Catholic nor Jewish principles but indebted to both. When Marranos from Spain and Portugal came to Amsterdam - their "New Jerusalem" - and could live openly as Jews, they had trouble accommodating their Marrano version of Judaism to the rabbinic Judaism of the Amsterdam community. Out of this clash grew a skepticism about religious truth that provided a starting point for thinkers such as Spinoza, and for modernity in general. As described by Yirmiyahu Yovel, the Marrano experience of self-division has strong analogies to the represented experience of characters in Renaissance drama (though one must recognize of course that the way in which Yovel represents Marranos may itself be shaped by the literary tradition which I am trying to situate in a cultural context):

Wherever he turns, the Marrano is an outsider and someone "new" (he is a New Christian or a New Jew). He does not belong to any cultural context simply or naturally, and feels both inside and outside any one of them. If he seems to have solved his problem and found an identity for himself (through assimilation into Christian society or by returning to the Jewish fold), this identity does not adhere to him simply or directly, for he must constantly struggle to engender and preserve it, overcoming the internal contradictions it entails. Hence he is doomed to a life of mental ferment and upheaval, to manifestations of doubt, and to a rupture with himself, his past and his future-far more so than any member of a traditional society, or even of a revolutionary group such as the Reformers. The unassimilated Marrano is the true wandering Jew, roaming between Christianity and Judaism and drifting between the two and universalism. As such he is among the precursors of modernity, with its skepticism and its breakdown of traditional structures.(15)

In this context, let us return to the questions of why Marlowe wrote a play about a Jew and why the play found an audience. The answer perhaps lies in Marlowe's own ambivalence about his heroes and Elizabethan ambivalence about social change. Marlowe's interest in self-transformation is amply demonstrated by Tamburlaine, who transforms himself from a Scythian shepherd to a conqueror of the world, or by Faustus, who contemplates a life in law, medicine, and divinity before rejecting these in favor of magic. As plays, Tamburlaine and Faustus are unsettling because they unambiguously endorse neither change nor stability. Like Tamburlaine and Faustus, the Marrano Jews Marlowe might have known choose an identity: they ostensibly transform themselves from Jew to Christian. Their transformation, unlike Tamburlaine's or Faustus's, is a paradoxical embrace of stability: Marranos change outwardly in order to attempt to remain the same within. But stasis seems to have been as mixed in its appeal to Marlowe as change. In the Jew, Marlowe found a protagonist in whom both change and stability were ethically problematic. Marlowe may have chosen to write about a Jew because Jews figured a conflict he could render, but not resolve. The ambiguous Marrano plausibly matched the ambivalent Marlowe.

Before Marlowe, such Jews as were represented on stage were as likely as not to be benevolent figures.(16) But Marlowe's Jew is a monster: shrewd, self-absorbed, rapacious, devious, gleefully contemptuous of morality and religion. A trader in goods from overseas, Barabas sees Malta merely as a useful post from which to manage an international network. He is "of Malta" only for convenience. Passionate about wealth, he celebrates riches not for what they can buy but for what they are. He is as willing to deceive his co-religionists as he is to deceive Turk or Christian. And he makes even his own daughter a commodity to exploit for vengeance and self-enrichment. Barabas is not simply a villain by birth; he chooses the role and is fully aware of what he does as he plays his part. Like the theatrical, almost parodic figure called "Machevil" who speaks the Prologue of The Jew of Malta, Barabas thrives because he knows that religion and morality are childish toys. They are smoke-screens used by the clever to conceal their duplicity. The strong and successful man invents his own rules as he invents his own personality. Though Barabas is a kind of hero, Marlowe's plot defeats him and he ends up in the cauldron he built for his enemies. The pervasive irony of Marlowe's play exposes the Christian characters as being no better than the Jew.(17) But none of this changes the fact that for Marlowe, unlike his predecessors, the Jewishness of Barabas is part of the essence of his evil, and not just an accidental accompaniment. Barabas is monstrous because he is a Jew; other villains are evil insofar as they are like him.

Here in Marlowe's play, and not in Elizabethan social and religious history, is the origin of the hostile Jewish portraits in subsequent Elizabethan drama.(18) Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Jews appearing in other Renaissance plays that follow Marlowe and Shakespeare, seem to me best explained as imitations of the theatrical mode created by Marlowe rather than reflections of, or panderings to, contemporary social reality.(19) Though in The Jew of Malta Barabas's Jewishness is part of the essence of his villainy, the energy underlying the play's antisemitism arises less from beliefs about Jews than from anxieties about self-fashioning. Jewishness becomes a trope for anxiety about social change.

The gallery of representations that I present below demonstrates that there was no uniform mode of representing Jews in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Traditional Christian theology made Jewishness a trope for the refusal of salvation, but in a mode curiously detached from contemporary referentiality. Travelers who describe Jews residing outside of England evince balanced mixtures of sympathy and criticism. And writings about money-lending, an activity long associated with Jews, are silent about Jews unless their authors are conflicted about social change. Even accounts of Doctor Roderigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth's traitorous physician and the most notorious Marrano in sixteenth-century England, are interesting for their suppression of references to his Jewishness, as though treason was a disambiguating category that made the ambiguities of Marranism irrelevant. Even in the theater, the affirming genre of comedy displays imitations of Barabas and Shylock stripped of Jewish identity. By and large, when the discussion is not highly charged with unresolved ambiguities, representations of Jews tend to be bland or favorable. When unresolved ambiguities are especially intense, a nasty vision of Jewishness often comes into play. And subsequent to The Jew of Malta, the manner of hostile representation of Jews is profoundly shaped by Marlowe's peculiar vision.


The vocabulary inherited from Patristic writers and Christian tradition provided one way of dealing with Jews, but this vocabulary worked best when the Jews involved were conceptual rather than real. G.K. Hunter uses George Herbert's poem, "Self-condemnation," to sum up the traditional view: "He that doth love, and love amisse, / This world's delights before true Christian joy, / Hath made a Jewish choice." As Hunter writes, "Herbert is at one with a long Patristic tradition in seeing Jewishness as a moral condition, the climactic 'Jewish choice' being that which rejected Christ and chose Barabbas, rejected the Saviour and chose the robber, rejected the spirit and chose the flesh, rejected the treasure in heaven and chose the treasure that is on earth."(20) As the chooser of this world and the betrayer of the Savior, the Jew then is a type of Satan himself. As Hunter points out, such a statement is not so much an observation about the status of particular historical Jews as it is an observation about the spiritual state of rejecting salvation through Christ by placing one's trust in the flesh and the world. Such a state is as available to nominal Christians as to actual Jews. While traditional Christian beliefs are likely to lead to condemnation of actual Jews, there need be no Jews on the scene to provide evidence for such beliefs. The idea of the Jew is perennially available in Christian tradition to denominate the adversary of Christ. While this idea will always categorize Jews as evil, it need not see them as covert or mysterious.

Regarding the Jew as a type of the Antichrist is only half of what theology makes available to the Christian Renaissance. Harold Fisch points out the "dual image" of the Jew in Christian culture, which regards the Jew as the Devil, but also as a figure of special talents with a special role to play in the scheme of Christian salvation.(21) Saint Paul is a major source of this mixed response. For Paul, the Jew is a refuser of Christianity, yet part of a nation on whose redemption the fate of mankind hangs.(22) The return of the Messiah thus awaits the conversion of the Jews. Indeed, one of the arguments advanced in the seventeenth century for permitting Jews to return to England was that until the Jews were dispersed through all nations of the earth, including England, the day of Christ's return could not come.

Though the Jew is a refuser of Christ and a figure of Satan, he is also the representative of the people from whom Christ sprung, whose true Messiah Christ is, and for whose redemption Christ died. Jewish Scripture is also sacred text for Christians; though the new Law of Grace supersedes the old, Christian theology takes as its starting point the Old Testament. Modern Jews may be akin to Satan, but their Old Testament ancestors lived out lives that typologically foreshadowed the life of Christ himself. The same system of belief that invites Christians to scorn Jews invites them to revere Jewish scripture and history. In a way quite as unrelated to actual Renaissance history as George Herbert's condemnation of ill-choosing Jews, the Jew is bound up with the sacred history of mankind's salvation.

Shapiro harshly criticizes G.K. Hunter's assertion that the antisemitism of The Jew of Malta can be explained away by medieval theology and divorced from connections with early modern and modern racism. Indeed, Shapiro argues, Protestant theology helps produce modern concepts of race and nationality. In light of Shapiro's argument, Hunter's way of historicizing Marlowe and Shakespeare seems like an effort to idealize Elizabethan England as a place free of the racial antisemitism that led to the Holocaust.(23) Though both the positive and negative faces of the "dual image" help construct social and theatrical representations, they are far tidier than the discourses they propose to model.


Outside England and the Iberian peninsula Jews lived openly as Jews. But however exotic or even unpleasant they appeared to English travelers, their overt Judaism doesn't seem to have been viewed as a serious threat. Travel literature describes a variety of encounters by the English with Jews in Italy, Turkey, or Palestine. Jews have a very different figurative value when they are described in settings where the Jew is "at home" and the Englishman the stranger. Some of the travelers' accounts that make the harshest judgments refer to Jews in Turkey with Marrano histories. The Frenchman Nicholas Nicholay, whose illustrated report of his voyage to Turkey was translated in 1585, says Jews are "full of all malice, fraude, deceit and subtill dealing," and are "marveillous obstinate and stubborne" in their rejection of Jesus. Nicholay writes that the Turks scorn the Jews even as he acknowledges their large number and importance in commerce, and says the "Maranes" (Marranos) have taught the Turks many useful arts, such as printing, and techniques of war, to the detriment of the Christians.(24) William Davies, a barber-surgeon of London, also stresses the Turkish hatred of Jews, and writes that the Turks are astonished that Christians let Jews remain alive in their countries. "If a Jew had put Mahomet to death," he continues, "they would not have left one of the race of them alive." Davies expresses the hope that "our Land of England may never be defiled, by Pope, or Turke, or Jew."(25) But more typical is the balanced attitude expressed by Samuel Purchas in his collection of voyages, in a context where Marranism is not at issue. After describing the dispersion of the Jews after Biblical times, Purchas writes: "And ever since, those which are contrary to all men, have found all men contrary to them; and have lived (if such slavery and basenesse be a life) like Cain, wandring over the World, branded with Shame and Scorne . . . for many have given them terrible expulsions, the rest using cruell and unkind hospitalitie, so that they are strangers where they dwell, and Travellers where they reside, still continuing in the throwes of travell both of misery and mischiefe."(26)

Purchas acknowledges both the Jews' responsibility for their own plight and the sadness of their suffering. But he looks ahead to a time when the Jews will accept Christ, and sees their wandering as a figure for the wandering of the Christian Church in "Romish and Popish superstition" - hence seeing their conversion as figuring the reunification of the true Church of Christ.(27)

Some of the voyagers give vivid and respectful descriptions of Jews at prayer. Here is a 1581 account by the London merchant Lawrence Aldersey after his trip to Venice:

For my further knowledge of these people, I went into their Sinagogue upon a Saturday, which is their Sabbath day: and I found them in their service or prayers, very devoute: they receive the five bookes of Moses, and honor them by carrying them about their Church, as the Papists doe their Crosse.

Their synagogue is in forme round, and the people sit round about it, and in the midst, there is a place for him that readeth to the rest: as for their apparell, all of them weare a large white lawne over their garments, which reacheth from their head, downe to the ground.

The Psalmes they sing as wee doe, having no image, nor using any manner of idolatrie: their error is, that they beleeve not in Christ, nor yet receive the New Testament?

Sir Edwin Sandys observed Jews living in Rome and had much to praise about their religious practices. Writing in 1599, Sandys claimed that the Jewish religion is based on the law of the Old Testament, the ancient philosophers, and their rabbis. At interpreting the Bible "they are the skilfullest men (I beleeve) in the world."(29) They study only the Bible and its commentary, except for a few who study medicine. "Touching God and his nature," he continues, "[t]heir opinions are for the most part very honorable and holy, save that they deny the Trinitie. Touching Angels, but weake, and soyled with much Poetrie. Touching the nature and condition of man, very exquisite, and for the most part drawing neere unto truth."(30) Jews, Sandys writes, believe in the "civil" rather than the "solitarie" life because it is more natural. He praises their beliefs about the end of the world and the last judgment, and comments that Jews don't believe that God could desire the misery of any of his creatures. Not all of his statements about the Jews, however, are as favorable as these. Sandys ends his account by saying, "and so I must leave to the merciful cure of God, an unblessed and forsaken people, obstinate within, and scandalized without, indefatigable in their expectations [presumably of the Messiah], untractable in persuasion, worldly, yet wretched, received of their enemies, but despised and hated, scattered over all countries, but no where planted, daily multiplying in number, but to the increase of their servitude, and not of their power."(31) The rhythms of Sandys' prose indicate that he sees Jews as men and women to be judged in mixed and complex ways, not as monstrous figures of scorn. Throughout, he is measured and respectful; he treats Jews at least as favorably as he does Roman Catholics?

Travelers who comment on Jewish relations with their Moslem or Christian hosts often mention the scorn in which they are held. William Biddulph in 1600 writes that Jews are even viler than Christians in the sight of Turks. A Jew must convert to Christianity before turning to Islam, and Turks swear by saying, "If this bee true, then God grant I may die a Jew" (similarly, "the Jewes in like cases use to say, If this be a false accusation, then God grant I may die a Christian"). Biddulph describes Christians stoning Jews on Good Friday, and says that some Christians refuse to eat Jewish bread, but Biddulph criticizes such behavior. He calls these Christians "ignorant," and says they behave "very uncharitably and irreligiously" by ignoring the fact that the Jews may some day become Christians.(33)

George Sandys in 1610 describes the Jews of Palestine, who "in their owne countrey doe live as Aliens; a people scattered throughout the whole World, and hated by those amongst whom they live; yet suffered as necessary mischiefe: subjected to all wrongs and contumelies, which they support with an invincible patience. . . . Many of them have I seene abused; some of them beaten: yet never saw I Jew with an angry countenance." The tenor of Sandys's account is respectful, not hostile; though he mocks the gesticulating of Jews at prayer, he praises their concern for justice. Charmingly, he describes how Jews behave on the Sabbath: "The Sabbath (their devotions ended) they chiefly employ in nuptiall benevolencies, as an act of charity, befitting well the sanctitie of that day."(34)

Thomas Coryat's description of Jews in Venice is as fascinating for what it reveals about Coryat's capacity for self-directed irony as for what it tells us about his attitudes toward Jews. Much of the information he reported from his 1608 visit also appears in other travel narratives. Jews wear red hats; some of them grow very rich as usurers; they circumcise their sons and follow the other injunctions of Mosaic law. Coryat is less complimentary than Sir Edwin Sandys about the synagogue service; the reader of the Law proceeds "by an exceeding loud yaling, indecent roaring, and as it were a beastly bellowing of it forth." Coryat further criticizes the Jews for their lack of apparent reverence when they enter the synagogue, though he praises their physical appearance: "I observed some fewe of these Iewes especially some of the Levantines to be such goodly and proper men, that I said to my selfe our English proverb: To looke like a Jewe (whereby is meant sometimes a weather beaten faced fellow, sometimes a phrenticke and lunaticke person, sometimes one discontented) is not true. For indeed I noted some of them to be most elegant and sweete featured persons, which gave me occasion more to lament their religion."

Deeply concerned about converting the Jews to Christianity, Coryat complains that Italian law discourages such conversions by insisting that converts forfeit all their goods. He finds it lamentable to reflect that the Jews will perish because they reject Christ as their savior. Coryat's amiable zeal for the conversion of the Jews involves him in an exchange with a Rabbi which he himself presents as comic. The Rabbi says that it's implausible that Jesus really was the Messiah; Jesus came "contemptibly, and not with that pompe and maiestie that beseemed the redeemer of mankind." Jews are so proud, says Coryat, that they think any real Messiah would quickly conquer all kingdoms. When Coryat cites the Old Testament prophets as proofs of Jesus' status, the Rabbi says the Christians misinterpret these prophets. Finally Coryat openly urges the Rabbi to abandon his religion and become a Christian, though "[i]n the end he seemed to be somewhat exasperated against me, because I sharply taxed their superstitious ceremonies." After many "vehement" speeches by the Rabbi, a crowd of forty or fifty Jews gathers, "and some of them beganne very insolently to swagger with me, because I durst reprehend their religion." Realizing that he has been impolitic and a bit ridiculous, Coryat beats a retreat. Luckily, he avoids his adversaries when he is picked up in a passing gondola by Sir Henry Wotton, the English ambassador to Venice.(35)

Like the other travelers who encounter Jews living openly as Jews, Coryat expresses a complex and mixed set of feelings and ideas. Outside the threatening context of Marranism, Englishmen seem to have regarded Jews as men and women of flesh and blood whose values and conduct could be discussed in much the same sorts of terms one would use for any other strangers. And this is not surprising: these accounts of Jews pose no complex issues of individual or social transformation and bare no insecurities about basic values. Moreover, these Jews abroad posed no challenging questions about what it meant to be English. In the absence of the unresolved ambiguities that Marlowe turned into theater, the overt Jew needn't display the monstrous traits of a Barabas or a Shylock.


Writers about usury project onto the figure of the usurer as "other" a set of desires that their own culture both feels and fears. Usury threatens because it is part of Elizabethan everyday life, yet in conflict with avowed Elizabethan beliefs. Money-lending was a fact of commerce, and social mobility was becoming a fact of Elizabethan life. Under these circumstances it was particularly important to perceive the usurer as other than oneself. Despite the conventional association of Jews with money-lending, writers who condemn usury without equivocation usually manage to do so without referring to Jews.(36)

All the arguments against usury rest on a common scriptural foundation. Usury is a breach of charity, because the needy should be helped without regard to profit. But the tracts that condemn usury spend little or no time speculating as to the reasons why its prohibition might be desirable, instead simply stressing that Scripture prohibits the practice. References to Jews in these tracts are usually signs of unacknowledged internal conflict. For example, when the Catholic intellectual Nicholas Sanders condemns usury in 1568, there is no sense of complexity or strain, though he acknowledges that there are some situations that are hard to evaluate. Sanders makes no mention of Jews in his volume.(37) Conversely, Thomas Wilson, the most thoughtful and complex of Elizabethan writers on money-lending, mentions Jews quite explicitly. Wilson says that the usurer is the most dangerous of villains because the most attractive. Dealing with a usurer is like being bitten by an asp - the victim "dieth in pleasure."(38) The usurer is also more dangerous than the thief, "[f]or the theefe, may by diligence be eschued, and lightly he harmeth but one man at once: but the usurer cannot be avoyded: for the usurer beareth the countenance of an honest man, and is commonly taken, to be the best man in his paryshe. Yea he is often in aucthoritye, and dealeth as though it were by lawe, being none other than a laweful theefe, creepinge into credite where gayne is to bee made."(39) Because the usurer looks just like an honest man, you can't recognize him when you see him, and you may well think him the best of men rather than the worst. Like the Jew and the devil, the usurer is a perpetual danger, not because he is frightening and hateful, but because he is attractive.

In dialogue form, Wilson dramatizes the disagreements about money lending. His speakers repeatedly remind the reader of the historic association between usury and the Jews. Three of the four speakers the Merchant, the Civilian (i.e., the civil lawyer) and the Lawyer defend the taking of interest to one degree or another; only the Preacher, Ockerfoe, offers unequivocal condemnation. The pettifogging Lawyer (as Wilson describes him) and the Merchant speak in ways that make it relatively easy to dismiss their pro-interest ideas. However, the Civilian is a thoughtful spokesman who is well aware of the problems in justifying usury from a Christian perspective. But he also acknowledges that the practice is so central to the life of commerce that it's hard to imagine a world without it. The Civilian tells an anecdote about a merchant who congratulated the preacher of a brilliant sermon against usury at Paul's Cross. Afterwards an intimate of the merchant remonstrates with him:

What meene you sir, to geeve thys man so great thankes, for speakyng so much against usurie? I doe not knowe hym in London, that gayneth more by his money then you do, and therefore mee thinkes, you speake eyther hollowly, or not advisedly. Tushe quod the merchaunt: you are a foole. I doe thanke him, and thanke hym agayne, for wote you what: the fewer usurers that hee can make, the more shalbee my gayne: for then, men shall chefely seeke me out. For doe you thinke, that he can persuade me to leave so swete a trade, for a few woordes of hys trolling tong? No by the roodes bodye can he not: and therefore I will clawe him, and saye well might he fare, and goddes blessing have he too. For the more hee speaketh, the better it itcheth, and maketh better for mee.(40)

Because it is recounted by the usually reasonable and admirable Civilian, this cynical anecdote suggests the depth and intensity of the conflicts in Elizabethan society about money lending and taking interest. At the end of Wilson's Discourse the Preacher successfully persuades the other participants in the dialogue, all of whom have argued on practical grounds for usury in moderation, that usury is wrong. But Wilson himself makes clear that he doesn't expect this state of affairs to come to pass in the real world: "I have made but onely a rehearsall of an assemblie, which I will not sweare to bee trewe neyther, for all the goodes in Englande, and yet I wishe the same had been trewe" ([sig. Ddii.sup.v]). Wilson condemns usury, inveighs against it as a sin scandalously associated with Jews, yet ends up accepting it as a fact of contemporary life.

Thomas Lodge's An Alarum against Usurers (1584) makes only one metaphorical reference to Jews, but its most intense outrage against usury arises from anxiety about social mobility. Usury is a means by which the low-born can get the land and money of the high-born and thus invert good social order. Similarly, two popular city preachers, Henry Smith and Roger Fenton, are ambivalent in their condemnation of usury. Smith is unequivocal in his condemnation of lending at interest, but he denies that it is a sin to borrow at usury, and he assures the usurer that his conscience can be cleared simply by repaying the interest he has collected.(41) In A Treatise of Usurie (1611), Fenton says that usury is bad because it causes scandal.(42) Both Smith and Fenton seem to know they have congregations whose practice differs from their preaching, and are therefore ambiguous or ambivalent in the intensity of their condemnation, and persistent in their references to Jews. In Francis Bacon's essay, "Of Usury," he reports that some say "that usurers should wear orange-tawney bonnets, because they do judaize." However, the Jewish associations of usury don't keep Bacon from recognizing that lending money is a necessary Christian activity.(43)

Anthony Munday, revising Stow's Survey of London in 1618, describes pawnbrokers who take as security items worth double the money being lent, and then sell the security at a profit when the debtor defaults rather than pay the exorbitant accumulated interest. Avowedly quoting St. Bernard, Munday refers to these usurers as "Baptisatos Iudaeos; who take themselves to bee Christians, when they are worse (indeede) than the Iewes ever were for usurie." These Jews are clearly metaphorical, not literal; they are Christian merchants pursuing the usurer's trade. Munday continues to allude to Jewish precedent, even as he tries to distinguish between usurious "Jewish" practice and legitimate moneymaking. "And let me not heere be mistaken," he writes, "that I condemn such as live by honest buying and selling, and make good conscience of their dealing: no truly, I meane only the Iudas Broker, that lives by the Bagge, and (except God be more mercifull to him) will follow him that did beare the Bagge."(44)

For Munday, as for Bacon, the problem is that some forms of common and legal business practice are susceptible to being called usurious. It can be hard to tell whether a particular transaction is usurious loaning at interest or a legitimate sale or rental at profit; furthermore, making a profit is a goal all seem to desire, even if the desire could appear, in George Herbert's words, "a Jewish choice."

The particular circumstances of Marranism in Elizabethan England rendered more plausible the use of Jewishness as a figure for widespread Christian misconduct. Visibly present yet with his real nature concealed, the Marrano or New Christian purported to be like his Christian companions while in truth being crucially different. Even more, the ways in which the Marrano differed paralleled the ways in which Elizabethan English behavior was at variance with official ideology. A culture that officially condemned money-lending watched prominent citizens grow rich on the practice, making a choice which was "Jewish" because it cherished the world and the flesh, and Marrano because it concealed its own variance from dogma. A culture that officially valued inheritance and continuity saw the lowborn rise to power, prominence, and titles, becoming "self-made" as the Marrano was also self-fashioned.

Once The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice succeeded in the theater, the representations of usury in tracts were sometimes shaped by theatrical images. William Rowley was an actor and playwright as well as a pamphleteer. In his pamphlet A Search for Money (1609), Rowley's narrator and a group of followers - the readers who want Monsieur Money seek him in a variety of places in and outside London, including taverns, brothels, tradesmen's shops, and centers of study. In the end, Money turns out to be with the Devil in Hell. One of the places searched is "the mansion or rather kennel of a most dogged usurer." The usurer loves Money better than his own child - indeed, better than his life or his soul. Assigned no religion, he is nevertheless described by Rowley in terms drawn from the theater: "his visage (or vizard) like the artificiall Jew of Maltaes nose, the wormes fearing his bodie would have gone along with his soule, came to take and indeed had taken possession, where they peept out still at certaine loope holes to see who came neere their habitation: upon which nose, two casements were built, through which his eyes had a little ken of us." Here we see Marlowe's Jew become a figure for the vice of usury, and also discover that Barabas's "artificiall" stage nose is the sign of an outcast state. But like all the other characters to whom the narrator introduces his reader, the usurer also lacks Monsieur Money. When asked for money, he launches into a tirade that seems to combine features of Barabas's enraptured "O girl, O gold, O beauty, O my bliss!" (II.i.56) and Shylock's reported lamentations for his ducats and his daughter: "I have bills, and bonds, and scroules, and ware, but no bonnie, no honnie, no honnie, no money, no money."(45) Rowley characterizes usury by way of an actor's memorable comic routine. (Indeed, the Rowley passage gives helpful information about how Barabas and Shylock may have been acted.)


Roderigo Lopez was the most discussed Marrano in Elizabethan England, and it is as interesting to note when contemporary discussions suppress his Jewishness as when they acknowledge it. Settling in England in 1559, Lopez was admitted to the College of Physicians and eventually became house physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. He attended on Walsingham, served as medical advisor to Leicester's household, and later had the Earl of Essex as a patient. Lopez had two daughters and a son; the son attended Winchester College. Elizabeth granted him some leases and a monopoly on importing aniseed and sumach; his business ventures and his medical practice brought him the reputation of great wealth, though perhaps not the actuality. He spoke five languages. In 1586 Elizabeth appointed him her chief physician.

How did Lopez fall from such success to his 1593 treason conviction and 1594 hanging? Historians still debate his actions and motives.(46) Lopez was part of a group of Portuguese in England associated with Don Antonio, the Prior of Crato, a pretender to the throne of Portugal. As an enemy of Spain, Antonio was a convenient figure for the English, and he was brought to England in 1592 by Essex and others who supported war with Spain. Don Antonio was himself half Jewish, the son of an irregular union between a member of the Portuguese royal family and a beautiful New Christian named Violante Gomez. Members of the Marrano community in London hoped that if Antonio came to the Portuguese throne he would moderate that nation's anti-Jewish policies. Lopez assisted Don Antonio as an interpreter while he was in England.

Knowing the languages and politics of both England and Iberia, Lopez was in a position to be useful both to the English crown and to Spain. It seems clear that he tried to use this special position for his own enrichment - he had, after all, two daughters to marry - though he may well have been telling the truth when in the end he denied any intention to harm the Queen. Lord Treasurer Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister, used Lopez as an interpreter and as a source of intelligence about Spain and Portugal, taking advantage of the correspondence in which he was involved through his association with the refugees who supported Don Antonio. Of necessity, Lopez had to give to the Spaniard the impression he supported Philip. Not surprisingly, Philip in return tried to enlist Lopez as his own agent.

A group of Philip's supporters in Spain and in the Low Countries proposed to Lopez a plot to poison the Queen. His role as a physician and (one guesses) the traditional association of both physicians and Jews with poison made the suggestion seem appropriate. As an earnest gesture of good will, Philip sent Lopez a gold ring set with a large ruby and diamond, estimated to be worth a hundred guineas, and an abracijo abrazo - an affectionate embrace. He also agreed to a handsome bribe for the murder, which Lopez wanted to have paid in advance. Lopez offered the ring to Elizabeth, who thanked him but let him keep it for himself. It isn't clear whether he told her the ring came from Philip. Unfortunately for Lopez, the correspondence in code among the conspirators fell into the hands of the English espionage service, and he and some alleged co-conspirators were arrested and charged with treason. These co-conspirators confirmed Lopez's guilt, but since they did so under torture one cannot be sure they were speaking the truth. Similarly, Lopez himself "confessed," though afterwards he recanted the confession. Lopez ultimately claimed that he was simply trying to fleece Philip and the Spanish royal treasury, and that he had no intention of harming his royal patient.

Doctor Lopez's plight was made all the more acute when his case became entangled in the struggle for power between the Cecils (the aging Lord Burghley and his son, Sir Robert Cecil) and the young favorite of the Queen, the Earl of Essex. Lopez had been associated with the Essex faction, which favored renewed war with Spain. Essex may well have been the recipient of some of the intelligence Lopez gathered, but Essex evidently turned against Lopez when the Doctor related news to Elizabeth before Essex had a chance to take credit for it. By playing up the idea of a Spanish conspiracy to murder the Queen, Essex could advance his martial ambitions and also settle his score with Lopez. Elizabeth seems to have resisted Essex's arguments; though she didn't interfere with Lopez's trial and conviction on 28 February 1593, she delayed his execution. Only after Essex covertly removed Lopez from the Tower (where he couldn't be executed without the Queen's assent) to King's Bench prison did the execution take place. Lopez was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 7 June 1594. The Queen's continuing sympathy for her physician, however - and perhaps her doubts about the justice of his conviction - is suggested by her granting some of his forfeited goods and income to his widow and children. For the rest of her life, Elizabeth wore at her waist the ring Lopez had received from Philip of Spain.

Although Lopez was known to be of Jewish ancestry, those accounts of his accusation, trial, and execution produced nearest to the time when those events took place surprisingly make very little of the physician's Jewishness. The Calendar of State Papers, Domestic for the years 1591-94 contains about ninety pages with references to Roderigo Lopez and his treason, including accounts of the arrest and interrogation of Lopez and his alleged co-conspirators. The context is clearly one in which writers are likely to seek any way possible of denigrating Lopez. Yet only four of those pages make any mention of his being a Jew. The most substantial immediate account of the Lopez case appears in A True Report of Sundry Horrible Conspiracies (1594).(47) While A True Report does its best both to demonstrate that the King of Spain wants to kill Elizabeth and to contrast foreign iniquity with English virtue, it makes no mention of the Jewishness of Doctor Lopez. Francis Bacon's own summary of the Lopez case, also written shortly after the execution, mentions Lopez's Jewishness only twice.(48) Even here, his Jewishness is treated simply as an identifying fact, and is not presented as being associated with his treasonous behavior. In the few documents where Lopez's Jewishness figures as more than identifying ascription, Jewishness becomes assimilated to Roman Catholicism as a figure of otherness and enmity. In none of the accounts of the Lopez case is there the explicit Jew-baiting we find in the plays of Marlowe and of Shakespeare.

Why this strange silence about Jewishness? One reason, I believe, was because of Lopez's status as a traitor. In the writings on usury, we see that the "Jewish question" arises at moments of ambivalence and discomfort, not at moments when issues are clear. Jewishness is a category that appears to be invoked when other categories fail, or when the use of other categories creates an unpersuasive fit between ideology and behavior. There is a bad fit with respect to the taking of interest, as there is about the larger issues of social mobility and self-fashioning. James Shapiro shows that Jewishness was an important category in debates about the emerging concept of English national identity; treason, however, remained in the sixteenth century a relatively stable idea. While Elizabethans feared treason, they had no ambivalence about treason as a category of thought. Once Lopez was classed as a traitor, writers had no problem knowing how to deal with his story.

In fact, Lopez's Jewishness seems more important before his alleged treason than afterwards. Gabriel Harvey sneered at the Jewish doctor when he was thriving and prosperous, writing that "Doctor Lopus, the Queenes Physitian, is descended of Jewes, but himself a Christian, and Portugall. He none of the learnedest, or expertest Physitians in [y.sup.e] court: but one, that maketh as great account of himself as the best: and by a kind of Jewish practis, hath growen to much Wealth, and sum reputation: as well with [y.sup.e] Queen herself, and with sum of [y.sup.e] greatest Lordes, and Ladyes."(49) Once Lopez is classed as a traitor, "Jewish practis" gives way as an analytic category to a very traditional lumping together of villainies. Sidney Lee reprints an excerpt from an early Jacobean illustrated broadsheet: "But now a privat horrid Treason view/Hatcht by the Pope, the Devil, and a Jew;/Lopez a Doctor must by Poison do/What all their Plots have fail'd in hitherto:/ What will you give me then, the Judas cries:/Full fifty thousand Crowns, th' other replies./ 'Tis done - but hold, the wretch shall miss his hope,/The Treason's known and his Reward's the Rope."(50)

Contemporary comments on the Lopez case are usually set in a context of other conspiracies against the Queen. Those plots are always Catholic, often implicate Jesuits, and usually involve foreigners. Jewishness adds one more element to the usual mixture, but doesn't change its nature or its impact. Even the Jacobean broadside verse quoted above illustrates this conjunction, describing a plot "Hatcht by the Pope, the Devil, and a Jew." Surprising as it may have seemed to Marrano victims of persecution by the Catholic Inquisition, to the English Jews seemed rather similar to their oppressors. Until Manasseh Ben Israel's mission to Cromwell prompted W.H.'s Anglo-Judaeus, histories recounting the Lopez case do so as part of a general chronicling of plots against the Queen.(51)


Now let us return to the theater. I wrote earlier that Barabas and Shylock, not contemporary Jews domestic or foreign, were the chief objects of mimesis in later representations of Jews on stage. These representations fall into several categories. Sometimes plays take Jewish characters whom their sources treat gently or blandly and turn them into monstrous imitations of Marlowe's and Shakespeare's characters. Whatever the source of the character, after Marlowe and Shakespeare it seems to have been hard to put an avowed Jew on stage without creating an opportunity for a Barabas- or Shylock-like theatrical shtick. Other plays have characters who are greedy foreigners and often usurers, with funny accents and big noses. Though their stage mannerisms are those of Barabas or Shylock, they are not presented as Jewish. And unlike The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, the plays in which these characters appear are generically stable comedies. It's as though the formula went, "If you've got a Jew any Jew - you'd better make him a monster: that's what audiences expect. But if you want a comedy, let the actor act like Barabas or Shylock, but don't arouse anxiety by talking about Jews." Though unavoidable in certain plays, after Marlowe and Shakespeare Jewishness itself seems to be such an unsettling concept as to defeat representation in a tidily organized comedy. But the mannerisms of the stage Jew, stripped of the ambiguity and complexity of overt or concealed Jewishness, were a lively resource for entertainment.

How pronouncedly this is so can be seen by looking at two popular plays which were based on pamphlets describing events of current notoriety. The first is The Travels of the Three English Brothers, a 1607 play based on a pamphlet by A. Nixon called The Three English Brothers which appeared in the same year. The second is Robert Daborne's A Christian Turned Turk (1610), based on two 1609 pamphlets about the notorious pirates, Ward and Danseker. The pamphlet The Three English Brothers tells the story of the Shirley or Sherley brothers. Sir Thomas went to Turkey, was imprisoned for three years, and won his freedom after the intervention of King James; Sir Anthony served the Persian Sophy and traveled on his behalf as an ambassador to the Christian princes of Europe; Master Robert Shirley warred with the Persians against the Turks and married the Sophy's niece. The pamphlet is predictably jingoistic. For example, it refers to the Greeks and Turks who capture Sir Thomas as "trustlesse, bloody, and barbarous people" while omitting any criticism of the English sailors who abandoned him or of Sir Thomas himself for starting a war with a nation - Turkey - with which England was officially friends? Nixon cheerfully assumes all Englishmen are more virtuous than any foreigners, even when his own narrative implies that it is the fault of the English ambassador that Sir Thomas languishes for three years in Turkish prisons. The one Jew in the Sherley story comes off quite well. While Sir Thomas is in the Turkish prison, weighed down by chains and eaten by lice, condemned to death unless he pays a fine of fifty thousand "chickenos" (presumably "sequins"), a Jew comes to see him "in pittie and compassion of his estate" (sig. [D4.sup.v]). The Jew advises Sir Thomas to promise payment at a later date to the Turkish Bashaw who has levied the fine. Sherley should hope that the Bashaw will free him and eventually settle for less money. There is even a chance that the wicked Bashaw may lose his job, much to Sir Thomas's benefit. Sir Thomas doesn't know what to do, "doubting whether he were best follow the counsell of a Jewe, or trust the cruelty of a Turke." But he sees "nothing that savoured of deceipt" in the Jew ([El.sup.4]). When Sir Thomas adopts the Jew's strategy, the Bashaw offers to improve his living conditions, but the English Ambassador to Turkey persuades Sherley to reject the Turk's kindness, and promises to bail him out later. As the Jew predicted, the Bashaw is dismissed and executed, but the English Ambassador still delays his promised financial support, and eventually the Great Turk himself revokes the offer of release for money. Only a year later, as a result of personal intervention by the King of England, does Sherley gain his freedom.

There is no need to rehearse the rest of the history of the Sherley brothers (the curious can find more information in the DNB or in D. W. Davies's Elizabethans Errant). It should be clear that the only Jew to figure in the travels of these English brothers is among the most benevolent of the non-Christians they encounter, his virtue matched only by that of the Persian Sophy, who even permits Robert Sherley to build a church in his dominions. Yet when John Day, William Rowley and George Wilkins turn Nixon's pamphlet into the play The Travels of the Three English Brothers, they transform the Jew into a monstrous clone of Shylock. To do so they alter the history the Sir Anthony Sherley pamphlet presented, sending him to Venice when on his travels as ambassador of the Sophy. The Sophy has purchased a diamond from a Jew named Zariph and Sherley is supposed to make payment, but the money for payment has been intercepted by Sir Anthony's old enemy, the villainous Persian Hallibeck. Zariph is delighted. He calls for the law, refuses to banquet with Christians, and delights that Hallibeck has thrown a Christian into his hands: "If this summe faile (my bond vnsatisfied) / Hee's in the Iewes mercy; mercy! ha! ha! / The Lice of Aegipt shall deuoure them all / Ere I shew mercy to a Christian.//Vnhallowed brats, seed of the bondwoman, / Swine deuourers, vncircumcised slaues / That scorne our Hebrew sanctimonious writte, / Despise our lawes, prophane our sinagogues."(53) Zariph prays that Sir Anthony will default, because "the sweetest part / Of a Iewes feast is a Christians heart." "A Christians torture," says Zariph, recapitulating all the hostile gestures of his Venetian Jewish progenitor, "is a Iewes blisse."(54)

Zariph is so unwarranted by anything in the Sherley pamphlet and so clearly modeled on Shylock that it is implausible to believe that his appearance in the play was simply the result of Jacobean hostility to Jews. Nixon had an opportunity to play to such hostility, and showed no signs of thinking it would be profitable. Theatrical expectations about plays with Venetian settings and Jewish characters, rather than more general cultural attitudes, seem to have been at issue. The speech and behavior of Zariph suggest that theater audiences after Marlowe relished the ranting of the stage type invented in Barabas and Shylock, and that given an opportunity to do so playwrights would turn a Jew into such figures.

Another play based on a popular pamphlet enables us to enrich our sense of the peculiar impact of the Jew on drama and of drama on Jews. Robert Daborne's 1610 play A Christian Turned Turk tells the story of the notorious pirates Ward and Danseker. Ward the English pirate is a Tamburlainean overreacher, epitomizing the kind of self-fashioning for which I'm arguing that Jews had become a kind of figure: free of normal social bonds, contemptuous of religion, treasonous whenever it serves his purpose, and impossible to understand by observation because of his duplicity. The Jew, Benwash, is a "renegado" or convert to Islam. When his wife is wooed by another man as his house burns, he cries out about his bags, his obligations, and his wife, as Shylock was reported to have done about his ducats and his daughters. Benwash, like Ward, becomes a convert to Islam. In this play about transformed identity, Benwash is a kind of Marrano; seeking vengeance at the play's end, he announces that though he has lived as a Turk, he will die as a Jew. The obvious parallels between Christian and Jew who have both "turned Turk" helps define the horror the play wants us to feel concerning the manipulation of identity as a way of advancing in power and wealth.(55)

But plays like The Travels of the Three English Brothers and A Christian Turned Turk are unusual among the imitations of the Jew of Malta and Merchant of Venice precisely because they have explicitly Jewish characters. More typical of the successor plays are works that include characters with obvious affinities with Shylock or Barabas - for example, big-nosed misers or moneylenders. But astonishingly, these characters aren't Jewish. What I mean will become clearer if I describe John Marston's Jacke Drum's Entertainment (1600). This play includes a significant character described in the list of actors as "Maroon the Usurer, with a great nose." When a character named Pasquil rips indentures from Mammon's bosom, Mammon laments in a sequence that is a clear imitation of Shylock's "ducats-daughter" routine in The Merchant of Venice, or Barabas's "O girl! O gold!" When Mammon hears that one of his ships has miscarried, the same news Shylock received a few years earlier, he cries, "Villaines, Rogues, Jewes, Turkes, Infidels, my nose will rot off with griefe. O the Gowt, the Gowt, the Gowt, I shall run mad, run mad, run mad." I could heap up further examples, but I take it the resemblance to Jew of Malta and Merchant of Venice is plain. All the materials for conventional condemnation of a monstrous Jew are present, but there is no claim that Mammon is Jewish.

Chapman, Jonson and Marston wrote a comedy called Eastward Ho that also includes a moneylender named "Security" who has much in common with Shylock but doesn't share his religion. Even more interesting is the nearly contemporary, anonymous The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll, probably first performed in 1599. Dodypoll has a big-nosed comic figure character whose foreign accent makes him a comic butt; as a doctor and potential poisoner, and probably made up with a big nose, he has the traits of Shylock and Barabas. The audience delights in his exposure much as it delights in the exposure of Shylock. But though Dodypoll as a character owes much to Shylock, he isn't a Jew. William Haughton's Englishmen for my Money, or, a Woman will Have Her Will, a play of 1598, comes even closer than Dodypoll to being a play about a Jew. Its central character is Pisaro, a Portuguese "Who driuen by Westerne windes on English shore," is happy to remain and live by taking usury. In a London where so many Portuguese were Marranos, Jewishness could have been verisimilitudinous for Pisaro. Indeed, big-nosed Pisaro invites us to think of Jewish affinities by describing his own behavior as "Iudas-like." However, though the usurious Pisaro is fleeced by English suitors of both his daughters and his ducats - Or rather, his pounds, shilling, and pence - at the end of the action he cheers up and invites all to a feast to celebrate his daughters' weddings. The state of being a comic foreigner is clearly different from the state of being Jewish. In Webster's The Devil's Law Case there is a non-Jewish imitation of Shylock; Marston's The Insatiate Countess includes a villainous character named Rogero who sometimes appears to be Jewish, but the text of the play is so problematic with respect to the assignment of speeches that we can't even be certain the character is Rogero, let alone Jewish. Thomas Goffe's The Raging Turk is set at the Ottoman court; the sole Jewish character, a physician named Hamon, appears briefly and inconspicuously.(56)

We have seen how the "real" Jew available in 1590s England is a Marrano, a covert figure whose identity is self-created, hard to discover, foreign, associated with novel or controversial enterprises like foreign trade or money-lending, and anxiety-producing. The social energy invested in this figure by the dominant culture is coined by anxiety about change. Moreover, in the plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare, the Jew becomes a figure who enables them to express and at the same time to condemn the impulse in both culture and theater to treat selfhood and social roles as a matter of choice. By becoming theatrical, the anxiety about identity and innovation implicit in the Marrano state gains explicitness and becomes available to the culture at large. Marlowe and Shakespeare play a central role in creating not imitating - the frightening yet comic Jewish figure who haunts Western culture. But the immediate impact of their achievement is initially felt in the theater, and is barely visible in non-theatrical discourse about Jews in the decades after their plays.

Eventually, through the figure of Shylock, theater doesn't mirror culture; it shapes it. But this doesn't happen immediately, and the consequences of this shaping are deeply ironic. The silences in the story I've been telling help remind us that the story isn't, ultimately, about Jews at all. Though the Marrano Jew provides a convenient figure for cultural anxiety, the anxiety isn't about Marranism, or Jewishness, or even (at that moment in time) about emerging ideas of race and nation, but about cultural change and a fluid sense of self that one could call "modern." Marlowe makes of Barabas a vivid emblem of the ambivalence implicit in such grand characters as Tamburlaine and Faustus; Shakespeare transmutes some of Marlowe's energy into Shylock. But when Jewishness itself is at issue, rather than what Marlowe or Shakespeare made of Jewishness, Elizabethan attitudes are sometimes positive, sometimes complex, partly shaped by a long and abstract theological tradition - and sometimes indifferent. The relative silence about Jews in the tracts on usury and the surprising paucity of references to Doctor Lopez's Jewishness give no support to the idea that Elizabethans routinely found Jewishness a particularly absorbing subject.

In the comedies I've been describing, the "unjewing" of the imitations of Barabas and Shylock suggests that it was stage effects rather than religious meaning that entertained audiences. It was what the actor did on the stage and not the opportunity to contemplate a Jew that generated such amusement as audiences found in these plays. With respect to immediate imitations of The Jew of Malta or The Merchant of Venice, theater is a world unto itself, a self-contained universe of stage traditions and of commerce in entertainment. And it is this aspect of theater that spends the imaginative currency of Barabas and Shylock in the debased form of big-nosed Christians. What as Jew was cultural crisis is as Christian sitcom amusement. The subversive is contained, not with a struggle but with a sidestep. What Greenblatt calls "social energy" circulates not as a single channel rushing to the sea, but also as eddies, side-currents, and backwaters.

But it is hardly the case that the cultural meaning of Barabas and Shylock is exhausted by a discussion of The Wisdom of Doctor Dodypoll. Shylock's success as a character continues to shape the ways in which Jews are perceived. But the social energies that Shylock coins, or that are coined into Shylock, have little to do with the situation of Jews in Elizabethan England or in early modern Europe. Quite independently of Elizabethan ideas, the figure of Shylock shapes stereotypes of Jews and provides ammunition for the racial antisemitism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And in retaliation or recompense, a humanized reading - or misreading - of The Merchant of Venice becomes a resource for both Christians and Jews who argue for such modern concepts as religious toleration and human equality.(57) If we return to the economic metaphor of the circulation of currency: once social energy has minted coin, the coin can be expended for many purposes, some of them astonishingly different from those implied by the frightening, big-nosed face of Barabas that the coinage bears.


1 Unless otherwise noted, the source for all information about the history of Jews in England is Roth, 1964. For the sixteenth century, Roth can now be supplemented by Katz, 1994.

2 By the middle of the seventeenth century, it was possible for some Jews to live openly in London, and in the aftermath of the embassy to London by the Dutch Rabbi, Menasseh ben Israel, and the Whitehall Conference, Cromwell and then Charles II gave first tacit and then explicit assent to a public Jewish presence in England. By the next century a Jew had been granted a knighthood. See Katz, 1982.

3 Shapiro, 1996, 5.

4 See Greenblatt, 1988.

5 Jean-Marie Maguin is attracted by the suggestion of N.W. Bawcutt that the Marrano Hector Nunes was in Marlowe's mind. See Maguin, 1985.

6 Shapiro, 1996, 43-88.

7 Marrano means "pig"; the derogatory term eventually became interchangeable with the more proper converso, or "New Christian."

8 See Bodian for a useful summary of Marrano migrations from the Iberian peninsula to north-western Europe.

9 The available evidence for a Jewish presence in England as early as the reign of Henry VII is summed up in Katz, 1994, 1-14. See also Wolf; Sisson; Samuel, 1979; Prior; Roth, 1952.

10 Roth, 1952.

11 Roth, 1964, 137.

12 Samuel, 1958, 209-10. The abstract comes from the Archives Generales du Royaume in Brussels (office Fiscal de Brabant) and is dated 10 October 1610.

13 Perhaps not surprisingly, the "permanent" cultural marker, circumcision, seems to have been of obsessive interest to Christians. Before the expulsion, in the reign of Henry III, a Jew named Jacob of Norwich and his accomplices were tried for "stealing away, and circumcizing, a Christian child." Unfortunately, by the time the case came to trial, the child's foreskin had grown back. See Tovey, 96 fl. See Shapiro, 1996, for an extensive discussion of circumcision, 113-30.

14 See Bodian.

15 Yovel, 49.

16 Lodge, 1584, 1, portrays in a favorable light a Jewish character named Gerontus. However harsh may be the portrayal in most English Renaissance literature of modern Jews, Biblical Jews appear most favorably. With the obvious exceptions of Herod and Judas, miracle plays make no condemnation on religious grounds of their many Jewish characters. Sixteenth century plays such as Godly Queen Hester (1527), Jacob and Esau (1554), The Most Virtuous and Godly Susanna (1569) and Abraham's Sacrifice (1575) similarly treat Old Testament Jews as untainted by their faith. (Dates are taken from Harbage and Schoenbaum.) Greene, 1584, recounts the story of Susannah and the elders, making clear that all the characters are Jewish but attaching neither praise nor blame to that fact alone. Greene, 1590, is a version of the Prodigal Son story in which the wholly wise and virtuous father is called Rabbi Bilessi. Vague about when its action takes place and set in a spatially generalized Greek-Near Eastern region, the narrative doesn't specify that its characters are Jewish. But the work at least indicates that Greene saw no incongruity in using a Jewish title like Rabbi for an admirable figure. It seems fair to conclude that Biblical or quasi-Biblical Jews partook of the positive half of the "dual image" spoken of by Fisch.

17 See Weil; Altman.

18 For a recent example of the recurring effort to decide whether or not the portrait of Shylock is antisemitic, see Halio's introduction to The Merchant of Venice, in Shakespeare, 1-13. For a more elaborate and more fruitful analysis, see Gross, who concentrates on the long-term impact of Shakespeare's character on Western society.

19 See Shapiro, 1988. Writing from a Marxian perspective, Walter Cohen, 1982, argues that the polarities of English and Italian economic history in the Renaissance are deployed in The Merchant of Venice - first to evoke fears of nascent capitalism, and then to allay those fears. Cohen's essay has relatively little to say about Jews, but analyzes strategies of representation as modes of figuring unacknowledged cultural conflict.

20 See Hunter.

21 See Fisch.

22 ibid., 12.

23 Shapiro, 1996, 83-86.

24 See Nicholay.

25 Davies, sig. [E1.sup.r].

26 Purchas, 1:183.

27 Ibid., 1:184.

28 Hakluyt, 5:204-05.

29 A Relation of the State of Religion, sigs. [X2.sup.V]-[x3.sup.r].

30 Ibid., sig. [x3.sup.r].

31 Ibid., sig. [y2.sup.v].

32 Rabb sees the rational and open-minded attitudes toward Jews of Sandys, his brother George Sandys, and Thomas Coryat as a significant stage in the altering of English ideas which made possible the return of Jews to England in the 1650s.

33 Purchas, 7:271-72.

34 Ibid., 8:171-75.

35 Coryat, 231-36.

36 Seven treatises on usury appeared between 1568 and 1611: Sanders; Wilson; Lodge; Bell; T.A.; and Fenton.

37 See Sanders.

38 Wilson, fol. [96.sup.r].

39 Wilson, fol. [95.sup.v].

40 Wilson, fols. [140.sup.v] and [141.sup.r].

41 See Smith.

42 Fenton, 77-80.

43 Bacon, 6:474.

44 Stow, 233-34.

45 Rowley, 11-14, sigs. [C2.sup.r]-[C3.sup.v].

46 Katz, 1994, 49-106, concludes that Lopez was guilty, but only after an appeal to the Elizabethan law which made treasonous even discussing harming the Queen. Three earlier essential essays are Dimock; Hume; and Gwyer. Dimock argues for the guilt of Lopez, Hume and Gwyer for his probable innocence.

47 See A True Report. The Short Title Catalogue says the author was W. Cecil. James Spedding, the editor of Francis Bacon's works, said it was by Edward Coke.

48 Francis Bacon, Works, ed. James Spedding (London: 1862), 8:271-88.

49 Excerpt from note in Gabriel Harvey's copy of In Iudaeorum Medicastrorum calumnias . . . a Georgio Mario Vuyrceburgio (1570), reprinted in Marcham, xxx.

50 Lee, 162.

51 See W.H. The tract is one of a group prompted by the arrival in England of Manasseh ben Israel and opposing the readmission of Jews.

52 Nixon, sigs. C2-C3.

53 See Day, Rowley and Wilkins, 59.

54 Ibid., 60.

55 Matar points out that Christian conversion to Islam exacerbated anxiety in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that Islam would succeed Christianity as Christianity had succeeded Judaism. Matar notes that Daborne falsifies history in dramatizing Ward's repentance.

56 See Webster; Marston et al.; Goffe. Prudhomme, 8, mistakenly claims that there are three Jews in the play.

57 Some of these issues are explored in Greenblatt, 1978. For a striking illustration of how "Shylock" quite anachronistically shapes the vocabulary even of a sophisticated historian of medieval Jewish moneylending, see Shatzmiller. In an admirable history of the mixture of positive and negative attitudes toward lending money in the middle ages, Shatzmiller, 123, speaks of how "the image of Shylock was haunting the minds of medieval people."


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