Merchant of Venice reflects the rampant anti-semitism throughout Europe during the period in which Shakespeare wrote it. Historically, anti-semitism began, in part, due to Jewish people resisting to convert to Christianity. Over the last two-thousand years, institutionalized anti-semitism has appeared and reappeared in society as a way to justify the persecution and discrimination against Jewish communities.
Within our section we decided to highlight the Christian diction in order to emphasize Jessica’s desire to convert to Christianity so that she can escape both her father, Shylock, and Judaism. Words such as “thou”, “thy”, “wilt”, and “shalt” were left within our edit because it aligns with the language of the time period and also the language seen within the Christian Bible. Although some words present themselves without a religious association in the original text, we purposely used capitalization to draw more attention to these words in an effort to promote a religious reading. Words that appear without explicit religious connotation in the original text such as “Supper”, “Father”, “Spirit”, and “Blood” were capitalized to relate them to The Last Supper, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Blood of Jesus Christ, respectively. While these words initially are included in the text without an explicit connection to Christianity, our emphasis on these words helps change the overall reading of this section by creating a more exaggerated religious undertone. Other words that are more closely related to Christianity such as “Hell”, “Devil”, and “Sin” always have a religious connotation, yet the original text did not capitalize these words. Thus, in an effort to consistently use writing mechanics to accentuate Jessica’s desire to become a Christian, those words were also capitalized.
In the stage directions, we also maintained the traditional Hebrew spelling of Jessica, “Iessica”, as well as Lancelet’s label of the “Clowne”, despite displaying their speaker names as Jessica and Lancelet. Having the different names for the two characters highlights the contrast between the person they are perceived as in society versus the way they want to be perceived. While the stage directions represent how the world sees Jessica and Lancelet—a sort of third-person perspective—the names indicating each character’s spoken lines seem far more personal. Our decision to use Jessica and Lancelet rather than Iessica and Clowne when each character is speaking demonstrates their desire to not only be separated from their association with Shylock, but also with all of Judaism.
The decision to remove unnecessary extra letters in the spelling of various words along with the decision to update the spellings of the characters' names were done to create a more modern adaptation. This modernization helps with the general understanding of the text and allows for our section to serve as a student reading edition. The addition of act and scene numbers was done to further simplify this section, as was the decision to use indentation to isolate the speaker’s name from their lines. These changes give the section a style that students are more familiar with and the isolation of speaker names and stage directions from the lines of the play makes the section appear much more organized. Some lines in the original text were so lengthy and cluttered that words were hyphenated in the center, such as Lancelet’s first line in which the word Pagan appears as “Pa-gan” since it had to carry over into the following line. By changing the spacing and isolating the speaking lines from surrounding details, the section flows easier and becomes more appealing to the eye with its less cluttered appearance.
All in all, our adaptation of this section highlights Jessica’s internalized anti-semitism in the play which is the source of her shame of her own father and drives her desire to convert to Christianity. Our emphasis on Christian-related words and the modernization of the text both mechanically and textually allows us to convey a sentiment of yearning for Christianity that is easier to understand and can serve as a student reading edition. In addition, we were able to demonstrate multiple forms of identity by including different names for certain characters that provide insight into how these characters view themselves compared to how society views them.
I would entreat you rather to put on
Your boldest suit of mirth, for we have friends
That purpose merriment: but fare you well,
I have some business.
Graziano And I must to Lorenzo and the rest,
But we will visit you at Supper time.
Enter Iessica and the Clowne.
Jessica I am sorry thou wilt leave my Father so,
Our house is Hell, and thou a merry Devil
Didst rob it of some taste of tediousness,
But fare thee well, there is a ducat for thee,
And Lancelet, soon at Supper shalt thou see
Lorenzo, who is thy new master’s guest,
Give him this letter, do it secretly,
And so farewell: I would not have my Father
See me in talk with thee.
Lancelet Adieu, tears exhibit my tongue, most beautiful Pagan,
most sweet Jew, if a Christian do not play the knave
and get thee, I am much deceived; but adieu, these
foolish drops do something drown my manly Spirit.
Jessica Farewell good Lancelet.
Alack, what heinous Sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my Father’s child!
But though I am a daughter to his Blood
I am not to his manners: O Lorenzo
If thou keep promise I shall end this strife—
Become a Christian and thy loving wife.
Enter Graziano, Lorenzo, Salerio, and Solanio.
Lorenzo Nay, we will slink away in Supper time,
Disguise us at my lodging, and return all in an hour.
Graziano We have not made good preparation.
Salerio We have not spoke us yet of torchbearers,
Solanio ‘Tis vile unless it may be quaintly ordered,
And better in my mind not undertook.
Lorenzo ‘Tis now but four of clock, we have two hours
Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.
Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, C4r. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Emily Fallon & Miles Pardo. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/c4r.