Jess Landis, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jess Landis is a first year PhD candidate in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst concentrating in Renaissance drama. She graduated from Boston College with an MA in English in 2003 and did her undergraduate at University of Delaware.
Before entering her current program of study, she taught as an adjunct lecturer in composition and literature at several Boston-area colleges.
'I Am Not to His Manners': Problematizing Bodily Conversion in The Merchant of Venice
In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Jessica acts as the play's "other" Jew by offering an alternative to her father's staunch Jewish identity that incorporates early modern English stereotypes of the Jews. Jessica's willing conversion is interesting because it demonstrates not only the desires of the play's Christians to control the Jewish community in Venice, but also because it problematizes their ideas about what it means to be Jewish. In this paper, I discuss Jessica's shift to Christianity in both bodily and behavioral terms. I am most concerned, however, with the possibility for her to adopt Christian manner to overcome her "inherited" Jewish attributes, something in which she is clearly interested. She is determined to fit in to the Christian community by mimicking what she understands as Christian ways of behaving as well as through conversion and marriage. By examining this secondary but integral character, we can see how the phenomenon of conversion on the early modern stage incorporates the complicated discourses surrounding race, religion and gender in the period.