"T is not in man/To change or alter me'. Bekering, sekse en gender in Philip Massingers The renegado (1624) en William Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice (1596-7)


  • Lieke Stelling


This article investigates the role of gender in the representation of religious conversion in two early modern English plays: Philip Massinger’s The Renegado (1624) and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1596- 7). It seeks to demonstrate that these plays respond both to the rise of capitalism and to the religious upheavals in early modern England that gave the idea of conversion an unprecedented urgency. Consistently drawing parallels between changes of faith and protocapitalist commerce, the two plays depict conversion as an undermining of Christian identity. Both comedies also attempt to solve this problem by drawing an analogy between conversion and gender-related transformations. That is, they link changes of faith to castration and deflowering (in the case of The renegado), and to marriage. They present marriage as the strict condition under which a Christianization can be a clear triumph, and it is only the female characters who convert to the faith of their spouse. For the male characters, both Christian and non-Christian, conversion always entails a loss of masculinity or identity. Both plays attempt to rescue Christian identity from the destabilizing effects of exchange by investing it with an absoluteness that they find in the domain of gender.