In post-Reformation England, anti-Catholic polemics delineated Marian devotion as dangerous, if not idolatrous, and attacked the Virgin Mary’s influence by contending that belief in her intercessory power posed a threat to God’s authority. But the very existence of these polemics indicates that prayer to, and desire for, the Virgin Mary’s intercession endured the Reformation. This article addresses Shakespeare’s attention to this Marian strength in The Merchant of Venice to demonstrate how he draws on Mary’s “lost” intercessory power in his development of Portia as a character reminiscent of the compassionate Virgin Mary of Catholic tradition. By casting Marian intercession in a significant light, Shakespeare not only addresses the cultural anxiety surrounding narrowed avenues of salvation in post-Reformation thought, but he also draws attention to the promise behind feminine influence. In this way, then, female intercession allows us to reconsider gendered identity, and the gendered power structure at work in both The Merchant of Venice and Shakespeare’s England.
- Virgin Mary,
- The Merchant of Venice,
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/ruben_espinosa/2/