Jewish Presences in English Literature by Derek Cohen, Deborah Heller

By Derek Cohen, Deborah Heller

"The snapshot of the Jew in English literature, as within the Western mind's eye, has at its base the determine of the Christ-killer. All representations of the Jew in Christian tradition are built within the gentle of this irreducible definition." -- from the advent In a set of insightful severe essays, Derek Cohen, Deborah Heller, and the contributing authors discover the various ways that writers of English literature have amplified, diverse, or denied this archetypical conception. whereas the authors process this topic from various views, the essays are unified by means of an knowledge of the typical culture out of which representations of Jews have constructed and illustrate the tradition's continuity and ameliorations. learning the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Joyce, and a variety of texts from the 9th to the 16th century, the essays convey how constructs of Jewishness healthy right into a writer's pre-existing matters and styles of illustration and the way even later, extra beneficial depictions are over-simplified reactions to this perspective. a few of the authors without delay tackle the query of what constitutes anti-semitism in a literary paintings. All take note of the social and historic contexts during which the person works took form. Their major predicament, even if, isn't to supply a social background yet to demonstrate how even the best writers draw on stereotypes embedded within the renowned mind's eye and to target the interior dynamics of person works, thereby convalescing classical portrayals inside of a latest serious standpoint.

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The suddenness of the alteration of his character forces a comparison between what he once was and what he has become. And where dramatic energy is its own virtue, the visible eradication of the energy is a source of pathos. In this scene the word Jew is used like a blunt instrument by Portia and Gratiano. Now used against one who has become a victim, the word's former associations are thrown into question. Portia's persistence in doing to the Jew as he would have done to Antonio has a strangely bitter effect.

By trumpeting the victory of the Christians, he assumes Shylock's earlier role as one who enjoys another's pain. Gratiano is a character who talks too much, who suspects silence, who prefers to play the fool. His joy in Shylock's downfall becomes sadistic and self-serving. Interestingly, Gratiano's joy is not shared in quite so voluble a fashion by the other Christian characters. Portia has done all the work, and yet it is Gratiano — whose real contribution to the scene is to announce Portia's success and to excoriate the Jew — who cries at Shylock "Now, infidel, I have you on the hip" (334).

Taken out of this context, The Prioress's Tale would certainly be less problematic (though the inherent contradictions in it between sweetness and hatred, piety and vengeance, 22 Jewish Presences would still present considerable difficulty for the modern reader); but then, taken out of dramatic context, this story and all the others in the Canterbury collection would be far less interesting as literature and as expressions of human personality. The point is that Chaucer chose to give all the stories in The Canterbury Tales a dramatic context, and he has taken some pains with the characterizations of many of the tellers, including the Prioress.

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