The Accommodated JewEnglish Antisemitism from Bede to Milton

The Accommodated JewEnglish Antisemitism from Bede to Milton

Kathy Lavezzo

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9781501703157

Publisher: Cornell University Press

Abstract

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. This book 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, the book charts an entangled Jewish imaginative presence in English culture. It tracks how English writers from Bede to John 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. In the book's epilogue, the chapters advance the 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.