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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.67, No.1, 193 ~ 212, 2021
Jessica’s Pale Blood: Female Conversion as an Assimilation Strategy in The Merchant of Venice
Yon Ji Sol
This essay examines the conversion and assimilation of Shylock’s daughter Jessica in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, focusing on her vulnerability in the Christian Venetian society that arises from her race, religion, and gender. Her Christian fiancé Lorenzo and his friends differentiate her from Shylock based on her light skin in order to make her tolerable to Venetians’ racial and religious prejudices. As a wealthy heiress, Jessica is a desirable addition to the play’s mainstream Christian community struggling with economic instability. Her acceptance by Christians is sealed by Portia’s entrusting Lorenzo and Jessica with Belmont’s stewardship during her absence. Yet the inevitability of racial mixing, coupled with lingering suspicions about her conversion, casts a shadow of isolation on the newly converted Jessica. Therefore, Jessica’s successful assimilation via conversion hinges upon mitigating the Christian anxiety over racial mixing. I examine the strategies that the Christians in the play employ as they seek to alleviate resistance against infusing Jewish blood into the Christian lineage. First, the Venetians in The Merchant of Venice draw from and endorse the Aristotelian medical discourse on the different reproductive roles played by each gender, which minimizes the mother’s imprint on the offspring. Second, the text’s recurring, peculiar references to blood and wine present Jessica’s blood as a pale and thus only a diluting influence. Backed by the Christians’ need for her economic contribution, Jessica’s “exchange” grants her a more secure position as a Christian convert in Venetian society than she would have as a Jewish woman, yet the ghost of the Inquisition haunts her, as evinced by her closing melancholy.
Key Words
Conversion, Blood, The Merchant of Venice, Jessica, Racial Mixing
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