Race, Gender and Jessica: The Problem of Conversion in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

Spring 2014
Tajah Ebram

Tajah Ebram is a senior at the University of Maryland majoring in English with a minor in black women’s studies. In the fall of 2014, she will begin working toward her Ph.D. in English. Her academic interests include contemporary African American literature, gender/sexuality studies and literatures of the African Diaspora.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice confronts readers with the question of religious conversion, a complicated issue that runs throughout the play. When the Prince of Morocco comes to win Portia, he says, “I would not change this hue/ Except to steal your thoughts, my gentle queen” (2.1. 11-12). The word “except” suggests that, in the event that Portia were to require it, the Prince would in fact “change his hue” or convert his blackness into some fairer shade. This statement asserts the idea that race or skin color is malleable and that, by avoiding the “burnished sun,” the Moor could simply undo his color. Later in the play, the Duke honors Antonio’s request that Shylock “presently become a Christian” (4.1.382). Shylock reluctantly accepts in saying, “I am content” (4.1.389). This moment suggests that through a mere command, a Jew can become Christian. Yet the play still forces readers to question conversion because, as we know, the Moor does not ever get the chance to change his hue, and Shylock shows no sign of having accepted his conversion or having been truly transformed. Shylock’s daughter Jessica, though, is the character who truly complicates this question of conversion.

Jessica spends the entire play trying to escape her Jewish identity and become a Christian alongside her love, Lorenzo. But Shakespeare leaves this idea of conversion open-ended. Even after Lorenzo and Jessica are finally wed, it is never really quite clear whether or not she actually “becomes” a Christian, or if that kind of conversion is even possible. This analysis will explore Jessica as the center of these questions of conversion and will consider the ways in which Jessica’s two identities—her racial identity that is inherited from her father, alongside her gender identity which is uniquely her own—work to complicate her chances of truly converting to Christianity: Shakespeare’s creation of this tension between the two identities is ultimately a critique on the social constructions of both race and gender.  

In his essay, “Shakespeare and Race,” Jonathan Harris defines race as it is represented in Shakespeare’s writing as “visible and invisible, a component of ‘biological identity’ and a trope of cultural or religious difference,” and is comprised of the intersecting identities of “genealogy, colour and religion” (201). Shakespearean scholar and author of Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism Anita Loomba agrees with Harris that the question of conversion “has to do with the relationship between the inner and outer self” (56). These ideas about the inner and outer self (or the invisible and visible) suggest that race can be manifest both internally and externally. The outer or visible aspect of race deals with, of course, physicality such as skin color—and we know that skin color cannot be washed away or otherwise converted. Blackness, for instance, is what Loomba calls “an unchangeable essence” (Colonialism 56). But what about that “inner” or “invisible” aspect of race, religion, that Harris tells us is a part of racial identity?  The religious aspect of race is very much an interior experience. What of that as having the potential to be converted? Can Jessica change her religion if religion is part of a racial identity that comes from within? Conversion is not so easily attained as Jessica might have us to believe because religion is a part of racial identity and involves “ancestry” and “the notion of lineage” (Harris 201). Ancestry and lineage are things that simply cannot be erased. Merchant of Venice uses the motifs of flesh and blood to suggest that the lineage and heredity of religion and race cannot be undone or transferred; therefore, Jessica cannot be converted.

The motif of blood and the theme of inheritance can be found as early as when Jessica first tells Lancelot that she will be married to Lorenzo and converted to a Christian. She insists that, “though I am a daughter to his blood, / I am not to his manners” (2.3.17). This issue of the blood is key here, and we see Jessica concede to that fact. She admits that she is, in fact, like her father in blood but not in character. Her mere acknowledgement of the blood that binds her to her father is crucial here, and it shows that Jessica cannot escape her biological connection to her father and thus cannot escape her Jewish identity. In fact, a few scenes later, Lancelot makes it clear that Jessica’s biological makeup has her bound to her Jewish roots. Lancelot tells Jessica, “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children, therefore I promise you I fear you./ I was always plain with you… truly I think you/ are damned/… both by father and mother” (3.5. 1-13). Jessica, then, is “damned by her Jewish lineage” (Loomba, Colonialism 138). Lancelot seems a trustworthy clown in this play, or at least trusted by Jessica, who is comfortable enough to confide in him in the opening acts, so this reply is not taken lightly. Lancelot is essentially saying that blood is enough for Jessica to be damned by her lineage. And this “damnation” that Jessica cannot escape is caused by the fact that, throughout the early modern period, “Jews were associated with blackness… moral blackness… the Jew could be labeled the ‘white Negro’” (Loomba, Colonialism 148). This moral blackness is what Lancelot warns can be passed down from parent to child, through the blood that Jessica claims is irrelevant when measured against her character or “manners.”

However, much of Europe would have agreed with Lancelot due in part to the rise of Spanish blood laws. These laws came to be around 1480, when the Spanish Inquisition introduced laws that suggested “[r]eligious faith was seen as an inner essence that transmitted itself over generations” (Loomba, Colonialism 68). These laws forced people to “interpret differences of faith as signs of different interior essences; faith [was] therefore not a matter of choice,” but rather, “an irreducible Jewish essence” (Loomba, Colonialism 69). Regardless of whether these blood laws were in fact scientifically accurate, they were certainly representative of the way that race was constructed and conceived of in the early modern period. This social construction of race is definitely woven into the play: Shakespeare uses Lancelot as the medium to suggest that these laws have backing and that Jessica is, in fact, implicated in the “moral blackness” that is associated with all Jews. Her father is considered to be “the very devil incarnation” for little else than simply being Jewish, and Jessica is included in these inane accusations as well (2.2.21). The play’s reliance on blood and lineage as the basis of religion and race shows that conversion is unlikely for Jessica. The blood that is shared between parents and a child cannot be converted; therefore, the reader cannot help but question whether or not Jessica can be truly transformed by her husband.

Blood and lineage are of even greater importance as the play moves onward. Blood is what Portia uses to keep Shylock from mutilating Antonio as she says, “This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood/ The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh.’” (4.1.301-2). Blood is sacred, as Portia expresses in this scene. Antonio agrees to give up his flesh only, which is his exterior and does not define him religiously, but the blood is important—the blood he will keep. Blood is as important to Shylock as well: blood is the defining link between him and Jessica. Once Shylock realizes that Jessica has run off with a Christian, he is horrified and exclaims, “My own flesh and blood to rebel!” (3.1.30). It is implied here that one is expected to be loyal and true to those that are of one’s blood. We are made to believe that the blood is what binds Jessica to her father and, although she tries to betray their blood ties, their connection will continue, dictating her Jewish identity. Salerio attempts to subvert the issue of the blood by saying, “there is more difference between thy flesh and hers/ than between jet and ivory; more between your bloods than/ there is between red wine and Rhenish [white wine]” (3.1.33-35). Readers know that this is not actually the case, though: even if they are different in skin tone, Jessica is still Shylock’s child and, because of that fact, her blood is still the same as his. Thus Lancelot is right on the mark when he says, “There is but one hope… and that is but a kind of bastard hope…” which we very well know is not the case for Jessica (3.5.5-6). She is definitely Shylock’s daughter, from what we can tell from the play; thus, her Jewish identity is internal and therefore irreversible. Salerio’s language, then, can only work figuratively here, since, literally, Shylock and Jessica’s blood is the same and thus she inherits her race. The “ivory” of her skin or the “Rhenish” of her blood function as metaphors for her fair personality, which makes Jessica not like Shylock’s daughter in “manner.” However, a fair personality and good manners that she is believed to have, and that she believes she has, do not make Jessica any less of a Jew than her father. If race in this play is very much defined by “biological identity” and, as Harris suggests, about “common lineage” or “biological identity,” Jessica’s race is set and unchangeable in spite of Salerio (a Christian) holding her in high esteem and attempting to absolve her of her Jewish blood.

This motif of heredity and of race as a part of one’s lineage is reinforced even by Jessica, whether she is aware of it or not. She attempts to ‘other’ her father by telling Salerio, “When I was with him I have heard him swear/ to Tubal and Cush his countrymen, / That he would rather have Antonio’s flesh/ Than twenty times the value of the sum” (3.2. 283-286). With this, Jessica is alluding to two Biblical figures. In their article, “Genetics and Race,” Martin Japtok and Winfried Schleiner tell us that “Jessica gives as her father's ancestors—or as his genetic descent—two individuals: Tubal and Chus… the first is a Jew and the second the mythical originary black African” (164). [1] Based on Chus’ sin in this story, he is one considered the “mythical originary black African.” Africans were often considered natural slaves, and the curse justifies this lineage of black slaves (Japtok and Schleiner 164). Anita Loomba supports this claim in suggesting that “blackness is a result of Ham’s filial disobedience” and that “God punishes him by decreeing that his son Chus and all his posterity after him should be black and loathsome” (Colonialism 55). This Biblical allusion suggests that Shylock is descended from Chus and is thus blackened because of Chus’ disobedience. Jessica’s association of her father with these figures works to reinforce the moral blackness that is attributed to him throughout the play. The problem, though, is that Jessica fails to realize that she is implicating herself by placing her father into this dark lineage. If religion is in fact dictated by race, which is controlled through lineage, then she too is a part of this dark history that began with the curse of Ham’s children. These are Jessica’s countrymen as well: with this, the darkness that hangs over her father hangs over her as well because of the biological nature of race.

Clearly, Shakespeare uses this motif of blood and lineage to suggest that Jessica may be trapped by her biological identity. These references to her lineage imply that she cannot truly be turned into a Christian because her Jewish identity is internal—in other words, in her blood. However, this issue is not so simple. Shakespeare complicates this idea of religion as being permanent or predetermined through Jessica’s gender identity. Shakespeare’s very intentional use of Jessica, a white female character, as the character to deal with this issue of conversion is quite significant. As noted earlier, any mention of conversion for the men in this play is dismissed and perhaps forgotten as quickly as the idea presented itself. Both the Moor and Shylock are essentially dismissed from the play, but Jessica is the only character (and female) who truly struggles with this issue. We are very much aware, as readers, of the constraints of Jessica’s bloodline. She is, by heredity, biology and familial lineage a “Jewess,” but, somehow, she still makes her way into the Christian community. Regardless of whether she is truly converted or not, she is welcomed to the other side in ways that her blood-line or her race simply cannot prevent. In another essay, “Racial and Religious Difference,” Anita Loomba suggests that “her gender difference produces a crucial difference within races” (215). There is something about Jessica’s womanhood that cancels out or at least contests her racial identity and, in many ways, provides a channel through which she can get closer to a true conversion in spite of her bloodline.

Looking back at how Salerio disregards Shylock’s insistence that Jessica is Jewish by “blood,” we can see the way that Jessica is welcomed by the Christian community because of her gender. Salerio insists that she has “ivory” skin and blood like “Rhenish” in comparison to Shylock’s dark Jewish blood. Throughout the play, there seems to be a consensus among the other Christian characters that Jessica is fair in this way. This contrast between father and daughter—light and dark—is a way of associating color and gender. Salerio attributes the purity associated with ivory to Jessica’s female body and leaves Shylock’s male body in the darkness. In her essay, “Now By My Hood,” Mary Metzger writes, “Whereas Shylock merely cites the relation between his body and his daughter’s, Solanio [and Salerio] emphasizes a transformation in Jessica whereby color and gender combine to overcome … blood” (58). It is Jessica’s gender, then—her position as a white female in the play—that allows her to distance herself from the blood that ties her to her father. Her physical whiteness is made whiter by Salerio’s comment, suggesting moral whiteness as well. Metzger even goes so far as to truly affirm the important intersection of Jessica’s gender and color, as she says “whiteness and femaleness make possible her reproduction as a Christian in the eyes of the ‘commonwealth’” (5).

This moral whitening or purification of Jessica’s character continues as Lorenzo calls her “most sweet Jew” (2.3.11); later, Graziano refers to her as “fair Jessica” (2.4.28), and on another occasion Lorenzo again calls her “wise, fair, and true” (2.6.56). From this language, it is clear that something about Jessica is different from her father. She is different in “manner,” as she might suggest, but these references to her character also show that the difference in her flesh makes conversion a possibility. The sense that she is fairer than Shylock is attributed to her gender as well. Mary Metzger argues that the language that men in the play use to describe Jessica ultimately shows that:

Early modern uses of fair combine the senses of color and beauty, and Lorenzo’s direct reference to whiteness suggests color is related to his assertion of Jessica's worth. Thus, while the scene establishes the means for Jessica's liberation from Shylock’s house, it creates a color difference between father and daughter that justifies her remove. (57)

This issue of color points to the idea that gender is important for conversion. Jessica is made fair by the Christians in this play: thus she is not only a part of an acceptable standard of beauty for women but also can cast off the darkness that is associated with her father and her own Jewish identity. This idea that her color is transformed shows her to be the ideal in terms of a woman that is ready for conversion. Loomba tells us that “[a]ll of the converted women on the Renaissance stage are remarkably fair and their skin color is essential to their convertibility” (Colonialism 157). In this case, then, as a woman in this play, Jessica cannot be converted unless she is made fair. She must meet with this standard of beauty—and, ultimately, a standard of femininity—that was acceptable on the Renaissance stage in order to even be considered for a conversion. Shakespeare qualifies her for consideration, though, by allowing her to live up to these standards of beauty placed upon her gender. 

Jessica’s femininity continually works in her favor throughout the course of the play when it comes to conversion. Along with her “fair” qualities, the terms “gentle” and “gentile” are used to describe her on multiple occasions. Lorenzo asks Lancelot to “[t]ell gentle Jessica/ I will not fail her” (2.4.19-20). On another occasion, Graziano refers to Jessica by saying, “Now, by my hood, a gentile, and no Jew” (2.6.51). The term “gentle” connotes other feminine qualities, including soft, mild, tender or moderate. And so it seems that in many ways, Jessica’s womanhood is what saves her from being demonized like her father. She is gentle and feminine. She is also apparently like a Gentile. Gentile is literally defined as somebody who is not Jewish—in this case, a Christian. In her essay “Jewish Daughters,” Joan Holmer suggests that:

One possible reason for the use of Jewish daughters, who love Christian gentleman and who ultimately convert, concerns the thematically significant wordplay both Marlowe and Shakespeare deploy with the “gentle/ gentile” pun…Women as the gentle sex embody well one defining idea of Christianity that is not readily related to the male sex. Christians are supposed to imitate the example of gentleness set by the Sacrificial Lamb. (115)

Jessica’s gentleness is most acceptable due to her place as a female character in the play. She can be constructed as mild, much like the figure of Christ, because her place as a woman allows such behavior, in ways that perhaps audiences in the early modern period, and even today, might question in a ‘gentler’ male. Jessica is also being indirectly converted through this one mere word: “gentile.” The effects of the puns between “gentle” and “gentile” work to not only bolster this sense of Jessica as a mild-mannered and fair woman, but they Christianize her as well. The words become a way of saying that, although Jessica is not a “gentlewomen by class, [she] can claim, from a theological perspective, [that she] derives from the stock of God’s chosen people” (Holmer 115).

So far, Shakespeare is showing that Jessica’s womanhood makes her much less stained by blackness than her Jewish father. Her place as Shylock’s daughter, a female child, is very important, as it separates her from him in ways that race and lineage do not come into play. Not only does Shakespeare have the male Christian characters lighten Jessica through their language (as a reflection of her female beauty), but, by making her a female child, he is forcing audiences to consider the very important physical differences between the male and female Jewish body. Metzger notes this difference as she writes that, “unlike Jessica, Shylock bears the mark of Judaism on his body—circumcision—and the Jewish body lies at the center of early modern anti-Semitic discourse” (59). Shylock’s circumcision is a permanent staining or figurative blackening that makes his Jewish identity irreversible. Although Merchant of Venice does not explicitly discuss Shylock’s circumcision, it is alluded to in the play’s constant attention to the flesh. As we know, Shylock insists that “my daughter is my flesh and blood” (3.1.32.). But Salerio’s disruption of that assertion, suggesting that there is a “difference between thy flesh and hers,” alludes to this difference in the body of a female Jew and a male Jew. Loomba writes that “circumcision was the major physical barrier to the idea of the converted Muslim or Jew… women, whose bodies did not bear this mark, could be more easily imagined as crossing the religious and racial divide” (“Difference” 215). Jessica’s gender forces us to reconsider the fact that she is connected to Shylock through flesh and blood. Her blood may still be the same (and thus she is still biologically Jewish), yet her flesh is very different from Shylock’s. Her body is not circumcised or related to the “blackening of the Jewish male” (Harris 211). Therefore, her gender is a means of escape from that blackening, bringing her closer to the possibility of conversion than any male Jew could be. Her femaleness is an advantage. Harris confirms this further as he writes that “[h]er conversion to Christianity is thus less vexed” by the fact that she does not have a marker of her race on her body (211). This issue of conversion therefore becomes, in some ways, less questionable and even more believable for a female Jewish character.

Some might argue that Jessica’s role as a female threatens the possibility of her conversion being truly accomplished because her gender puts her at the mercy of her father’s patriarchal authority. Jessica has no regard for Shylock’s commands; however, that disregard for her father’s authority can then be interpreted as problematic for her conversion. Shortly after Shylock instructs Jessica to stay home while he goes to have dinner, she says, “I will make fast the doors and gild myself/ With some more ducats, and be with you [Lorenzo] straight” (2.6.49-50). In fact, Metzger writes, “For Shakespeare’s audience, patriarchal authority was divinely ordained, and it secured the right of princes as well as that of fathers. Jessica’s disregard for that authority thus creates the first obstacle to a Christian audience’s acceptance of her as Christian” (56). With this, Shakespeare had the social grounds to have Jessica’s character be forced back to her father’s home and ultimately back under his rule without the potential to convert. Audiences, according to Metzger’s analysis, would have accepted that as the fate of Jessica, since her gender demands that she submit to her father’s will. Jessica’s place as a female could have posed a huge problem for her, but that does not occur. Shakespeare essentially sets her free to take a place in the Christian world, however unstable that may be. Shakespeare allows Jessica to get around these confining gender roles by doing two things. First, he has Shylock fall short of his patriarchal duties. In fact, “Shylock gives no indication of being interested in finding Jessica a husband… Unlike the deceased Lord of Belmont… Shylock neglects what Elizabethans perceived as his patriarchal duty, namely to find [Jessica] a suitable husband” (Holmer 124). Since Jessica’s father is virtually nonexistent in terms of his patriarchal duties, she then gains the ability to stand on her own and decide whom she will marry. In a sense, the gender roles break down in this play to make it so Jessica has the ability to disobey her father and join the Christian community. This leads me to the second way that Shakespeare liberates Jessica from her assigned gender roles. Jessica dresses up like a male (2.6) in order to escape from Shylock and her disguise is what makes the gender roles temporarily disappear. While disguised, Jessica has the best of both worlds because she is a man who does not have to bear the mark of circumcision yet she is still a “gentle” woman, beloved of the Christian community who can be married off. Gender, therefore, is a key component to helping Jessica toward marrying and ultimately being converted to Christianity. Her identity as a seemingly fatherless uncircumcised “he/she” complicates her gender identity but also frees her from the reigns of patriarchy that can keep her from being converted.

Still, ultimately, Jessica’s femaleness is still what gives her the greatest possibility of conversion—and that is because of the institution of marriage. Metzger writes that “Jessica’s marriage reconstitutes her as a body, for, according to Christian ecclesiastical and legal authorities, a woman was incorporated into the body of her husband in marriage, becoming both one with and subject to him” (Metzger 57). Within a patriarchal society, the fact that Jessica is a woman means that she gets to take on the identity of her husband. This suggests a greater chance for her conversion to Christianity, since Lorenzo is Christian. Marriage is a union that prioritizes the male identity and religion, thus it becomes a way for the female body to be transformed in accordance with that of her husband. In fact, when Lancelot tries to tell Jessica that she cannot be converted because “the sins of the father are to / be laid upon the children,” she replies in saying, “I shall be saved by my husband” (3.5.1-19). Jessica feels sure that her marriage will convert her. Marriage is a patriarchal system that can heighten the chances of Jessica’s conversion because she is a woman, but this same system could not necessarily work in that same way for a Jewish man. After marrying Bassanio, Portia says, “Myself, and what was mine, to you and yours / Is now converted" (3.2.166-67). This example from Portia’s situation simply reifies the idea of marriage as a point of conversion for females. It is possible that Jessica could be “saved not so much by her own choice as by Lorenzo's choice to marry her” (Metzger 56). With that, Jessica’s seemingly powerless position in a male-dominated society works in her favor and gives her the potential to be converted.

With this discussion of gender, we can see that Jessica’s chances of conversion seem to be heightened because of her position as a Jewish woman. She is beautiful, fair, gentle and unstained by the permanence of circumcision, which produces an indelible mark on the bodies of Jewish men. In addition to this, she appears to escape her father’s jurisdiction because of his haphazard execution of his patriarchal role. Instead, Jessica is elevated by her husband’s “good” blood. Gender, therefore, provides an opportunity for conversion that the permanence of racial identity denies. Shakespeare creates tension around this idea of conversion by having Jessica endure the conflict of her racial and gender identities. Both identities are at odds with each other throughout the play, so readers are forced to wonder: is Jessica ever truly converted?  The motif of blood and the importance of heredity in the play seem to suggest that she cannot ever change or abandon her Jewish identity and race. She is a descendant of Cush and, of course, she is her father’s child. These things are portrayed as grounds enough for “damnation,” and yet she is beloved of the Christians in this play, and her character seems to develop into a gentle Gentile whose body becomes one and the same with a Christian man.

It seems, though, that the allowances of gender cannot subvert the challenges posed by Jessica’s race. In that way, she cannot truly be converted, and the play never confirms that she truly is. In fact, in Jessica’s final scene in the play, readers can sense that the conversion is not complete. In Act 5, Lorenzo is trying to get Jessica to appreciate the music being played and says:

Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in the motion like an angel sings
… Such harmony is in immortal souls,
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. (5.1.57-64)

If any moment is meant to be a baptism in this play, this is that moment. The language that Lorenzo uses has a spiritual tone and creates the image of spiritual rebirth and salvation. He is considering the way that music is heavenly and part of the spiritual resurrection that is required for the “vesture of decay” to become an “immortal soul.” This speech is very concerned with the problem posed by the “muddy” physical body that “doth grossly close” and entrap the soul. Unfortunately, though, it seems as if Jessica’s soul is closed—trapped. Her only response to the music is “I am never merry when I hear sweet music” (5.1.68). If this is a baptism, Jessica does not get washed. She is not converted. She may have married Lorenzo, but she certainly does not go with him on this spiritual journey in Act 5. With this as Jessica’s final line in the play, her conversion is still up for debate.

This question of conversion is one that Shakespeare refuses to answer definitively. In the words of Paula Blank, “We would… merely be mimicking Shakespeare’s characters simply to conclude that conversion either ‘works’ or it doesn’t in his plays” (94). So perhaps the issue of conversion in Merchant of Venice doesn’t really need to be answered. Shakespeare is doing something much more sophisticated with this idea of conversion. The question “can a Jew be converted to a Christian?” cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Shakespeare, then, is challenging the social constructions surrounding race and gender. He calls into question the idea that race is unalterable by allowing Jessica into a Christian marriage. Regardless of if she is ever truly converted, her place in the play still challenges the constraints of racial identity that were constructed through religious doctrines and legalities such as the Spanish Blood laws. Shakespeare also challenges gender roles by making a female character the center of this conflict of conversion, as he has Jessica ignore patriarchy in the case of her father, but use it to her advantage in order to marry Lorenzo. What is accomplished through the theme of conversion challenges the rules that govern racial and gender identities. For the sake of maintaining the comedic aspect of this play, Shakespeare allows his audiences to laugh at the “other,” in the words of Edward Berry. Shakespeare does not disappoint his primarily Christian audience by having Jessica come to a full conversion. Rather, he allows them to feel the “eminency… by comparison with the infirmity” of Jessica, who is trapped by her Jewish lineage and remains at a standstill in the end (Berry 123). Yet Shakespeare confuses these issues of race and gender in order to also force audiences to get invested in Jessica’s deep internal conflict and ultimately see her “essential humanity.” She is not wholly defined by either her race or gender: both contribute to her conflicted “otherness” (Berry 127). This conflict is caused by the ways that gender and race are constructed and controlled by society and its laws and its privileging of Christian ideologies regarding both identities.



[1] These figures can be found in the book of Genesis. Noah is the father of Ham who is the father of Chus (referred to as Cush in the King James version of the Bible and in MOV). The story of the Chus’ curse began when Noah “became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment… and covered their father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9.21-23). When Noah woke up, he cursed Ham and his descendants, which includes Chus, by making them, “the lowest of slaves” (Genesis 9.25). The sons of Ham are listed as, “Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan,” and they are all believed to be charged with this curse (Genesis 10.6). 

Works Cited

Barker, Kenneth L, and Donald W. Burdick. The Niv Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995. Print.

Berry, Edward. “Laughing at ‘Others.’” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy. By Alexander Leggatt. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2002. 123-38. Print.

Blank, Paula. “Pounds of Flesh.” Shakespeare and the Mismeasure of Renaissance Man. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2006. 80-117 Print.

Harris, Jonathan. “Shakespeare and Race.” The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. By Margreta de Grazia and Stanley Wells. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 201-215 Print.

Holmer, Joan. “Jewish Daughters: The Question of Philosemitism in Elizabethan Drama.” The Merchant of Venice: New Critical Essays. By John W. Mahon and Ellen Macleod Mahon. New York: Routledge, 2002. 107-43. Print.

Japtok, Martin, and Winfried Schleiner. “Genetics and Race in The Merchant of Venice.” Literature and Medicine 18.2 (1999): 155-72. Print.

Loomba, Anita. “‘Delicious traffik’: Racial and Religious Difference on Early Modern Stages.” Shakespeare and Race. By Catherine M. Alexander and Stanley Wells. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 203-224. Print.

Loomba, Anita. Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Metzger, Mary J. “‘Now By My Hood, a Gentle and No Jew’: Jessica, the Merchant of Venice, and the Discourse of Early Modern English Identity.” Pmla. 113.1 (1998): 52-63. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. 425-89. Print.