Contexts

Historical Contexts: Jews and Anti-Semitism

The Ideals of Christian Charity and Forgiveness in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and in the Anonymous The Play of the Sacrament

David Bevington

Abstract: In both Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Jewish figures are involved in conflicts with Christians, both plays deal with religious conversion, and in both the moral, spiritual, and ethical superiority of Christian faith seems to triumph. The Play of the Sacrament, an anti-Semitic play about faith and doubt, focuses on the definition of evil and its helplessness in the presence of true belief. The play complicates the idea of 'conversion' as presented in The Three Ladies of London. In Wilson’s play, Gerontus the Jew shows the Christian Mercatore sudden and unexpected forgiveness that rescues the merchant from a false conversion to Islam. Audiences, performers, and critics often interpret the moment with skeptical modern eyes. But the conflict between Christian and Jew in Three Ladies asks to be read in the context of earlier dramas from the ‘Age of Faith’: dramas like the Play of the Sacrament, in which conversion is unexpected and miraculous, and a sign of the divine history of the world in the care of an overseeing providence.

Citation: Bevington, David, ‘The Ideals of Christian Charity and Forgiveness in Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and in the Anonymous The Play of the Sacrament’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/DavidBevington.htm.

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Much Ado About Gerontus, or The Three Ladies of London and the Jews

Brett D. Hirsch

Abstract: In the history of portraying Jews on the early modern stage, critics frequently cite Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London as an anomaly. The play’s first modern editor, H.S.D. Mithal, went so far as to describe Gerontus as ‘a character sui generis’, quite unlike Marlowe’s porridge-poisoning Machiavel, Shakespeare’s knife-whetting usurer, and the devilish doctor in Selimus. This essay explores the questions raised by Wilson’s portrayal of Gerontus, paying particular attention to their critical and theatrical implications.

Citation: Hirsch, Brett, ‘Much Ado About Gerontus, or The Three Ladies of London and the Jews’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/BrettHirsch.htm.

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Gerontus and Early Modern Dramatic Representations of Jews

Lisa Hopkins

Abstract: This paper considers the extent to which The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice draw on and develop The Three Ladies of London, and how the paradigms afforded by Wilson helped shape early modern dramatic representations of Jewishness. It argues that the association which Wilson establishes between Jews and jewels proved particularly significant in that Marlowe and Shakespeare both connect the two, and that they also respond to Wilson’s treatment of the motif of conversion and to the play’s carefully drawn contrast between the behaviour of representatives of different religions. ‘Which is the merchant here? And which the Jew?’ asks Portia in The Merchant of Venice, while The Jew of Malta systematically blurs the distinction between Jewishness and Christianity in ways which, this paper argues, have their roots in Wilson’s treatment of Gerontus.

Citation: Hopkins, Lisa, ‘Gerontus and Early Modern Dramatic Representations of Jews’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/LisaHopkins.htm.

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Turks, Trade, and Turning

Anders Ingram

Abstract: The act of ‘Turning Turk’, or rather the dissembling threat of such apostasy, is central to one of the sub plots of The Three Ladies of London. However, this sub plot is itself notably short on details of either its Turkish setting or Islam in general. At this relatively early stage of the English North African and Levantine trades (the 1580s) literary portrayals of Islam were notably less detailed than they became in the following decades. This essay will contextualize the subplot involving Gerontus, Mercadorus, and the Judge, by exploring contemporary ideas of ‘Turning Turk’, and reflections of trade with Barbary and Turkey in the play. I will argue that the drive of the apostasy narrative is to demonize - by contrast with the comparatively virtuous Islamic and Jewish characters – the Italian Catholic Mercadorus as ‘worse than a Turk’, a common trope in early modern polemical writing.

Citation: Ingram, Anders, ‘Turks, Trade, and Turning’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/AndersIngram.htm.

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The Poetry and Prosody of Robert Wilson

Jeremy Lopez

Abstract: What is the purpose of modernizing, or even reviving at all, a play like Three Ladies of London? The play is a fascinating precursor or model for The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, as well as a vital hinge between civic and liturgical drama on the one hand and commercial drama on the other. But it is also a period piece, specifically preoccupied with the London of the 1580s, and obviously of great potential to be dreadfully dull to a modern audience. I will engage this problem by discussing the sound, structure, and historical (or trans-historical) significance of the play's ‘fourteener’ verse, which I think is the most fundamental marker of difference any modern production and audience must deal with.

Citation: Lopez, Jeremy, ‘The Poetry and Prosody of Robert Wilson’, Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context, http://threeladiesoflondon.mcmaster.ca/contexts/JeremyLopez.htm.

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