England during the Middle Ages was at the forefront of European antisemitism. It was in medieval Norwich that the notorious "blood libel" was first introduced when a resident accused the city's Jewish leaders of abducting and ritually murdering a local boy. England also enforced legislation demanding that Jews wear a badge of infamy, and in 1290, it became the first European nation to expel forcibly all of its Jewish residents. In The Accommodated Jew, Kathy Lavezzo rethinks the complex and contradictory relation between England’s rejection of "the Jew" and the centrality of Jews to classic English literature. Drawing on literary, historical, and cartographic texts, she charts an entangled Jewish imaginative presence in English culture. In a sweeping view that extends from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late seventeenth century, Lavezzo tracks how English writers from Bede to Milton imagine Jews via buildings—tombs, latrines and especially houses—that support fantasies of exile. Epitomizing this trope is the blood libel and its implication that Jews cannot be accommodated in England because of the anti-Christian violence they allegedly perform in their homes. In the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish house not only serves as a lethal trap but also as the site of an emerging bourgeoisie incompatible with Christian pieties. Lavezzo reveals the central place of "the Jew" in the slow process by which a Christian "nation of shopkeepers" negotiated their relationship to the urban capitalist sensibility they came to embrace and embody. In the book’s epilogue, she advances her inquiry into Victorian England and the relationship between Charles Dickens (whose Fagin is the second most infamous Jew in English literature after Shylock) and the Jewish couple that purchased his London home, Tavistock House, showing how far relations between gentiles and Jews in England had (and had not) evolved.
This book brings together new essays by leading cultural critics who have been influenced by the groundbreaking scholarship of Richard Helgerson. The original essays penned for this anthology evince the ongoing impact of Helgerson’s work in major critical debates including national identity, literary careerism, and studies of form. Analyzing not only early modern but also medieval literary texts, the pieces that comprise Essays in Memory of Richard Helgerson: Laureations respond to both Helgerson’s more famous scholarly works and the whole range of his critical corpus, from his earliest work on prodigality to his latest writings on mid-sixteenth century European poets. The interdisciplinary, transnational, and comparativist spirit of Helgerson’s criticism is reflected in the essays, as is his commitment to studies of multiple genres that nevertheless attend to the particularities of form. Contributors offer new interpretations of several of Shakespeare’s plays—Hamlet, I Henry IV, The Tempest, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear—and other dramas such as Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, the anonymous drama The London Prodigal, and Stephen Greenblatt and John Mee’s contemporary play Cardenio. In keeping with Helgerson’s comparativist turn, the volume includes analyses of Joachim Du Bellay’s poetry and Donato Gianotti’s discussion of The Divine Comedy. Prose works featured in the volume encompass More’s Utopia and Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Spenser’s early poetry and the medieval romance Floris and Blanchflour also receive new readings.
The work of L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, especially her psychoanalytic
criticism of Chaucer, and her formulations of discontinuist historical
approaches to the Middle Ages, has been extremely influential within
medieval studies for the past 20 or so years. More recently she has been
focusing on more broad defenses of the humanities, especially with
regard to the valuable role of literary studies relative to the arts of
everyday living, eudaimonia [flourishing], ethical community, and
well-being, and also on psychoanalysis itself as a "liberal art."
Relationality, intersubjectivity, aliveness, resilience, care of the
self and also of others, adaptive flexibility, playfulness, shared
attention, companionship, healing, and thriving seem, increasingly, to
be the key watchwords and concerns of Fradenburg's work, and at the same
time, the so-called "literary" mode is still central to these concerns,
such that, as Fradenburg has written, "Interpretation and relationality
depend on one another because all relationships are unending processes
of interpretation and expression, listening and signifying. In turn,
sentience assists relationality: we can't thrive and probably can't
survive without minds open to possibility, capable of sensing and
interpreting the tiniest shifts in, e.g., pitch and tone." This small
volume features short essays and personal reflections on the importance
of Fradenburg's career, as teacher and scholar, and also on the valuable
role(s) that her work, and medieval studies more generally, has played
in the defense of the humanities as essential to living and thriving.
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