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'Meh': The Unmarked Jews of Nicolas Boindin’s _Le Port de mer_

Article Citation: 
17 (2016), 28–40
Author: 
Jennifer R. Perlmutter
Article Text: 

Perlmutter, Printable PDF

A priori assumptions about Jews abounded in seventeenth-century France. Originating in the Middle Ages, some of these assumptions drew from superstition; many French people believed that Jews engaged in the ritual murder of Christian children, that they were lustful, and that they held a lifelong pact with Satan. Others stemmed from historical events and re­alities such as those that held that Jewish men were feminized through circumcision, that Jews were Christ killers, that they were traders of se­cond-hand goods and usurers.[1] The playwright and theorist Nicolas Boindin was born in 1676 into a society that espoused such beliefs and inevitably came in contact with these biases. Yet, he depicts two Jewish characters in his now little-known 1704 play, Le Port de mer, in a manner that suggests that his own perspective was largely unformed by them.[2] Al­though Nicolas Boindin includes characters he either explicitly identifies as or suggests are Jewish, these characters remain fundamentally “unmarked” by their Jewishness. In using the term “unmarked,” I am adapting Judaic Studies scholar Irven M. Resnick’s concept of “marking” that he indirectly de­fines as the referencing of an indelible nature, in this case a Jewish one (11). While Boindin’s characters do have superficial markings of Jewish­ness, I argue that they remain fundamentally unmarked in that he does not attribute any indelible Jewish nature to these characters, nor do the other characters appear to respond to any such perceived nature. For this reason, Le Port de mer represents a significant departure from how most of Boindin’s contemporaries thought about the Jews.

Henry Lancaster underscores the importance of these characters in not­ing that Le Port de mer “is the first French play in which one of the leading male characters is a modern Jew and in which the heroine is a mod­ern Jewess” (270). The characters in question are Sabatin, a father who is a merchant, and his daughter, Benjamine, who is looking for a hus­band. As historian Adam Sutcliffe remarks, “Judaism was […] widely used in the seventeenth century as a form of conceptual token, deployed for its particular rhetorical authority” (87). Indeed, Jewishness was a powerful concept, incorporated into a text less to say something about the Jews themselves than to give authors a foil that allowed them to say something about their own society instead. That Boindin included Jewish characters in his play suggests that he did so for a strategic purpose. While literary scholar John Dunkley has addressed Boindin’s approach to the “other” in his article “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presentation of Alterity,” the present work goes further in that it will consider a dynamic fundamental to Le Port de mer itself, yet distinct from any religious tension, as an indication as to why Boindin depicts Sabatin and Benjamine as he does. Specifically, I show that instead of emphasizing these characters’ Jewishness, Boindin focuses on the tension that exists between the father and the daughter over the choice of a husband. While Sabatin and Benjamine are on one level simply playing out the sort of money vs. love generational dispute common to comedic father-daughter pairings of the past (cf: Molière), it is through his focus on this storyline played out by two Jewish characters that Boindin is, in fact, commenting on the place of otherness in late seven­teenth-century French society.

Nicolas Boindin was not a prolific writer, and his stint as a fiction writer was a particularly short one.[3] One of only four authors of comedies performed at the Comédie-Française during the last years of Louis XIV’s reign (Lancaster 266), Boindin published three comedic plays between 1701 and 1707; a fourth appeared posthumously in 1753.[4] Three of these plays are only one act long. Accepted into the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1706 at the age of thirty and supported by influential peers such as Voltaire, Boindin nonetheless never came to occupy one of the coveted chairs of the Académie française. A nineteenth-century biog­rapher attributes this rejection to Boindin’s rather public and unabashed atheism which, as I later show, helped define the role Jewishness plays in Le Port de mer (Bibliographie 15). Whatever the reason, Boindin’s rejec­tion did not appear to deeply trouble him. Indeed, he gloried in his reputation as a contrarian and used his atheism as conversational fodder during his regular visits to Paris’s cafés. It was most likely at the popular Café Laurent that Boindin met Antoine Houdar de La Motte who became a close friend and collaborator on two of his comedies. While they are said to have co-written Les trois Gascons in 1701, it is thought that La Motte only contributed advice on the later Le Port de mer (Dunkley “Alterity” 84).[5] It was this play that enjoyed the greatest success among Boindin’s contemporaries, with sixty performances by the end of 1715 (Lancaster 272).[6] Despite his popularity at the time and Le Port de mer’s success, little current scholarship has been written on Nicolas Boindin.[7]

It is easy to understand why audiences found Le Port de mer appeal­ing. It is a light, comedic love story in the manner of Molière, set in a seaport and populated by a cast of characters with tongue-in-cheek names. Sabatin is the molièresque father, an unscrupulous man with his eye on the bottom line who has arranged for his daughter, Benjamine, to marry Doutremer, a seafaring fellow who has a way with pirating. But Benja­mine finds Doutremer’s coarse manners and the prospect of a life at sea with him repugnant; she prefers his more refined nephew, Leandre, who is be­sotted with her, too. Fortunately, they have loyal servants to help them find a way to be together. Leandre’s valet, La Saline, and Benjamine’s lady’s maid, Marine, devise a scheme to dissuade Sabatin and Doutremer from pursuing the marriage. They stumble upon Leandre’s thieving former footman, Brigantin, who has been sent to the galleys for stealing from thea­tergoers. Facing little choice, Brigantin quickly offers to help Leandre as a means of compensating for his earlier wrongdoings while in his ser­vice. Disguise is at the heart of their scheme. La Saline dresses as a Turkish slave trader, Brigantin as a female slave, and Leandre as a Moor—complete with blackface—and head to the slave market where they expect to run into Sabatin. As anticipated, he is there, and La Saline easily con­vinces him to bring home the two slaves to try out for free. Once at Sabatin’s house, Brigantin and Leandre seek out Marine and Benjamine, to whom they reveal their true identities once they are convinced of Benja­mine’s feelings for Leandre. They return to their disguises when Sabatin interrupts them. Brigantin, in character as a female slave, explains that she was describing to his daughter that she had married a pirate only to dis­cover she was his thirteenth wife. This pirate, Doutremer himself, was now back on shore seeking his fourteenth wife. Sabatin is sufficiently out­raged, but as luck would have it, Doutremer shows up right at that time, and the three schemers are no longer able to maintain their masquerade. Rather than punishing their treachery, Sabatin instead asks Doutremer whether he would prefer to allow Leandre to marry Benjamine. In ex­change for the return of some jewels his nephew has stolen from him, Doutremer hands over Benjamine to him. A singing, dancing Feste Ma­rine follows, complete with Australian women and a monkey.[8]

The seaport setting of Le Port de mer surdetermines the entire play, from the names of the characters to their cavalier attitude toward women. The play abounds with foreigners, common criminals, slaves and pirates—the usual suspects in any seaport world. The two Jewish characters, Saba­tin, and his daughter, Benjamine, are right at home with this motley crew, all of whom, with the exception of those who are already enslaved, appear to live without fear of prejudice or imprisonment. This is surprising given the stigma popular imagination attached to such characters at the time. In fact, Boindin draws our attention to the absence of such prejudice in his play through his choice of setting. Le Port de mer takes place in a Tuscan port town called Livorno,[9] which is known for its “Leggi Livornine” or Livornian Laws. Enacted in 1590 by Ferdinando I of Medici, these laws provided amnesty for some criminals, established privileges for merchants that included tax benefits, Tuscan nationality, and the right to own prop­erty and, most importantly for our present study, allowed freedom of worship. Livorno became a thriving, cosmopolitan city, a haven for petty criminals, merchants, pirates, and religious refugees from around the world. Jews from Spain and Portugal were the first of their religion to immi­grate to Livorno following their expulsion from their home countries in 1492 and 1497, respectively. In 1667, a second wave of Jews arrived from what is now Algeria. Livorno was exceptionally accommodating to this population. Unlike their experience in almost all other places in Eu­rope, Jews of Livorno were not required to live in a ghetto in this city, nor were they obliged to wear identifying clothing; they could also hire Chris­tians as domestic help, as Sabatin himself does. While elsewhere Jews would be indelibly marked as other and treated as such, in Livorno they received the same treatment as everyone else. The concept of “otherness” was, ironically, foreign to Livorno.

This location calls to mind Foucault’s heterotopias, spaces that exist within societies, each of which serves a function (761). There are different types of heterotopias, but Foucault provides the following overarching defini­tion:

des lieux réels, des lieux effectifs, des lieux qui sont dessi­nés dans l’institution même de la société, et qui sont des sortes de contre-emplacements, sortes d’utopies effective­ment réalisées dans lesquelles tous les autres emplacements réels que l’on peut trouver à l’intérieur de la culture sont à la fois représentés, contestés et inversés, des sortes de lieux qui sont hors de tous les lieux, bien que pour­tant ils soient effectivement localisables. (755–56)

Heterotopias are, in essence, realized utopias. Examples include theaters and gardens as well as convalescent homes, psychiatric wards, and pris­ons. While only some of Foucault’s heterotopias are localities in which people find themselves voluntarily, all of them are demarcated in space. Specifically, Livorno is a type of “heterotopia of deviation” which Fou­cault defines as “celle dans laquelle on place les individus dont le comportement est déviant par rapport à la moyenne ou à la norme exigée” (757). I would add that even the suspicion that these individuals’ behavior deviates from the norm justifies their inclusion in such spaces. As does a prison, Livorno houses criminals, but it also welcomes those such as Jews whose mere presence elsewhere gives rise to concerns. However, unlike a prison or the other heterotopias Foucault identifies, Livorno does not have strictly defined boundaries. This seaport town opens onto the Ligurian Sea and thereby allows for a freedom of movement uncharacteristic of most heterotopias. It is this freedom of movement that Doutremer references toward the end of Le Port de mer and which I will analyze below as it re­lates to the particular function of this heterotopia. Like Jewishness in seventeenth-century writing and therefore the Jewishness of Le Port de mer’s characters, Livorno as a heterotopia that welcomes Jews among oth­ers serves a particular function in this play.

As mentioned above, the two heroes of Le Port de mer are Jewish and en­joy the freedoms life in Livorno affords them, and I maintain that Boindin’s depiction of Sabatin and Benjamine reflects their status as Jews in Livorno. Boindin does identify Sabatin as Jewish and Benjamine as such by relation, but the Jewishness of these characters does not get in the way of their interactions with those around them, nor does it determine the storyline. Indeed, there is a collective “meh,” a social indifference to what was generally perceived as a significant and remarkable religious differ­ence at the time. In other words, others do not seem to treat Sabatin and Benjamine differently because of their Jewishness; their Jewishness is “unre­markable,” so to speak.

Nonetheless, Sabatin and Benjamine are dissimilar to each other in the de­gree to which they are unmarked, and I will argue below that this distinction is key to understanding their respective roles in the play. First, Sabatin and Benjamine are presented differently from the outset. The au­thor (or perhaps his editor) identifies Sabatin as Jewish in the character list at the beginning of the play, and the other characters repeatedly mention his Jewishness to each other, referring to him as “nôtre Juif” [sic] and “le Juif.” Benjamine’s Jewishness, on the other hand, is never made explicit. We assume she is Jewish because her father is, but neither Boindin nor his characters mention this fact. Second, Sabatin’s name is explicitly Jewish. Derived from the Italian “sabato” meaning “Saturday,” it refers to the Jew­ish day of rest or Sabbath. The following humoristic exchange between Brigantin and La Saline in scene two further emphasizes the ethnic origins of the father’s name:

Brigantin

A qui en veut donc ton Maître icy?

La Saline

A la fille d’un certain Juif, chez qui je me suis introduit.

Brigantin

Son nom ?

La Saline

Je n’en ai pû encore retenir que la moitié ; Hazaël-Raka-Nimbrod-Iscarioth-Sabatin.

Brigantin

Quoi ! Benjamine, la fille de M. Sabatin ?[10] (145)

In contrast, Sabatin’s daughter is identified only by her first name, Benja­mine. This name has its origins in the Old Testament but is a common name not only in Jewish but also in Christian families. It is a more ambi­guous identifier than that of Sabatin, whose Jewishness is reinforced by La Saline’s enumeration of his other names of biblical origin. Finally, Sabatin is a merchant, one of the few professions exercised by Jews in the seven­teenth century.[11] Benjamine’s primary occupation, on the other hand, entails convincing her father to allow her to marry the man she loves ra­ther than the man he has chosen for her. Given Benjamine’s lack of superficial markings of Jewishness, that her mother is never mentioned in the play should come as no surprise. Judaism is a matrilineal religion and the mother’s absence further underscores Benjamine’s unmarkedness.[12] In short, Benjamine’s Jewishness is presumed but never identified explicitly, while Sabatin has explicit superficial markers of Jewishness.

This dissimilarity extends to Sabatin and Benjamine’s respective na­tures, and while these natures do reflect the degree to which each character is identified as Jewish, I maintain that it is not their relative Jewishness that determines these natures, and that their natures are not perceived as particularly Jewish. On the one hand, Sabatin is the greedy patriarch simi­lar to the ones who populate Molière’s plays: stubborn and somewhat shady in his dealings but able to be won over. Benjamine, on the other hand, does not seem to have inherited any of her father’s character flaws. La Saline’s continued discussion with Brigantin highlights this distinction. La Saline asks Brigantin if he knows M. Sabatin, to which Brigantin re­plies:

Trait pour trait. Tien, l’usure, la dureté, la défiance, la fraude, & le parjure, avec quelques régles [sic] d’Arithmétique n’est-ce pas ce qu’on appelle ici M. Sabatin ?

La Saline responds,

Justement, mais en récompense, la générosité, la ten­dresse, la franchise, & la constance, avec une taille divine, le visage le plus gratieux, les yeux les plus brillans du monde, & mille autres menus attraits, c’est ce qu’on ap­pelle ici Benjamine. (146)

As we can see, Sabatin’s many shortcomings are well known by others. It is true that popular imagination at the time often associated these particu­lar shortcomings with Jewish merchants, as Dunkley observes.[13] However, Boindin, through Brigantin, enumerates these character flaws not as traits specifically associated with Jewishness—after all, Benjamine has none of them—but instead as those particular to the traditional father figure who seeks an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Brigantin fears for Lean­dre not because he is courting the daughter of a man who is Jewish but because he is courting the daughter of a man who is greedy and stubborn. Brigantin knows that his former master, Leandre, will face a formidable opponent in trying to marry Benjamine for love, since he lacks the finan­cial resources her father seeks.

In Le Port de mer, Boindin dissociates Jewishness from any particular in­delible mark of a Jewish nature. Instead, it stands in for the system of Old Regime values that had slowly begun to unravel by its 1704 publica­tion date. The dissimilarity in the degree to which Boindin identifies both Sabatin and Benjamine as Jewish does not mark them as having dissimilar—not to mention specifically – Jewish natures. Instead, it serves to identify them relative to a value system that maintains religion as a valid basis on which to pass judgment, a value system that Boindin, a self-professed atheist, does not espouse. When Boindin attributes superficial and easily recognizable markers of Jewishness such as a name and a trade to Sabatin, he is really identifying him as a patriarch who subscribes to the old world value system by which one person’s being Jewish means some­thing to another. It follows that Benjamine’s lack of even superficial Jewish markers signals her disengagement from that system and thereby her modernity.[14] For the atheistic Boindin, Jewishness is a signifier he appro­priates to communicate new meaning rather than a source of interest in and of itself. Dunkley writes,

Boindin ne s’occupe nullement de la religion de Saba­tin, sans doute parce qu’il regarde du même œil le judaïsme et le christianisme. C’est uniquement l’inhumanité du person­nage et la malhonnêteté de ses affaires qu’il évoque. … [S]on indifférence sentimentale n’a rien de spécifique­ment juif ; la majorité des pères-‘obstacles’ des comédies lui ressemblent assez. (LXII-LXIII)

One only has to look back at Molière’s Harpagon (L’avare), Sganarelle (Le Médecin malgré lui), Géronte and Argante (both in Les Fourberies de Scapin), among others, to find comedic incarnations of the traditional fa­ther figure who resemble Sabatin. None of them is Jewish, yet all take their role as old world patriarch to an extreme.

Like that of his literary predecessors, Sabatin’s indelibly marked charac­teristic is not his Jewishness but his greed. Just as Sabatin is not the only father figure in early-modern French literature with this vice, he is also not the only inhabitant of Livorno with it. Based on his depictions of Sabatin and Benjamine, we can neither say that Boindin suggests that there exists a causal relationship between Jewishness and avarice nor that he disparages Jews. As Lancaster maintains, “The play cannot … be consid­ered anti-Semitic, for to [Sabatin’s] daughter is attributed all the generosity, tenderness, and beauty that he lacks, while the Gentiles are not better than he” (271). Sabatin’s greed results from his particular interpreta­tion of patriarchal values that mark him as old school; after all, “l’avarice devient un vice avec l’âge” (Desan 118). What feeds this avarice is not Sabatin’s Jewishness but his trade. Philippe Desan calls capitalism an institu­tionalized form of greed (115), and merchants such as Sabatin—not to mention pirates such as Doutremer—depend on and exploit this eco­nomic system for their livelihood. Sabatin might be superficially marked as Jewish while Benjamine is not, but what fundamentally distinguishes him from his daughter is his stubborn adherence to and exploitation of a traditional system of values that prioritizes financial gain over love when deciding whom she should marry. While being superficially marked as Jewish does not entail being treated as “other” in Livorno, it does signify a generational difference that, in Sabatin’s case, plays out through his unscrupu­lous mercantilism.

Le Port de mer’s heterotopic setting functions to support the schemes of characters such as Sabatin. With its easy access to the sea, Livorno facili­tates transactions both kosher and not; indeed, the seaport enables the greedy to thrive because it allows them freedom of movement between land and water. Literary critic Frank Lestringant remarks on the fact that people first displayed greediness around the same time the possibilities for their travel expanded, a statement that implies a co-dependence between greed and travel: one travels in order to satisfy one’s desire for material gain and one has a desire for material gain because one knows it is now possible to achieve it (149). As mentioned above, seaports such as Livorno lack strictly defined physical boundaries and thereby facilitate such travel. Livorno itself also lacks moral boundaries, as is evidenced by its openness to deviant populations. The seaport setting therefore lends itself well to the flourishing of greed and other potential harbingers of criminal behavior. Lestringant explains how, in turn, greed itself entails a further blurring of boundaries: 

Ainsi donc l’avarice entraîne, avec l’expansion pre­mière de l’humanité hors d’elle-même, le brouillage des limites; elle établit la communication contre nature des lieux séparés et provoque le court-circuit de l’enfer et du ciel, de la terre solide et de l’élément liquide. (150)

Here, Lestringant references the moral gray zone in which greed resides and that, in Le Port de mer, echoes Livorno’s physical openness and its inclusiveness. While it is clear that this heterotopia plays an important role in support of its heterogeneous population, it also serves a broader func­tion in relationship to its surrounding space.

Foucault states that “[les hétérotopies] ont, par rapport à l’espace restant, une fonction” (761), and it is this function that is the key to under­standing that of the unmarked Jewish characters in Boindin’s play. In spite of its seediness, Livorno can be considered in a positive light as an unusu­ally tolerant place where Old Regime values are relativized and reinterpreted. As I argue above, Sabatin’s superficial markers of Jewish­ness suggest that he subscribes to—at least partially—a traditional value system that prioritizes financial gain over love in a marriage. While Li­vorno facilitates his mercantilism, it also fosters his greed, which is what defines him as other in the eyes of those with whom he interacts. Although he has a Jewish name and trade, Sabatin does not face criticism because of them but because of his unscrupulousness. In contrast, Benjamine, with her lack of superficial markers of Jewishness, embodies the modern values of Li­vorno itself. Because Boindin tells his public that her father is Jewish, it is particularly notable that he does not do the same for her even though she clearly is. I maintain that this is because Benjamine does not subscribe to the outmoded system of values of her father. Although Benjamine is Jew­ish, she remains outside the concept of otherness, a concept that Livorno does not recognize or foster. Despite this difference between the father and his daughter, neither is indelibly marked as Jewish, just as none of their compatriots is indelibly marked as other. I agree with Dunkley that “[i]t is in Jewishness that … alterity is located. But this does not affect Jewish­ness as a whole” (“Nicholas [sic] Boindin” 91). In Livorno, all types come and go, and the concept of “otherness” remains foreign. It is no surprise that Boindin’s play is entitled “Le Port de mer” rather than “Benjamine” or even “Sabatin,” for it is the seaport itself that represents the modern val­ues Boindin loudly touted in Paris’s cafés. After all, Boindin “était naturellement contradicteur” (Biographie 16). It is through an analysis of this author’s seemingly indifferent treatment of Jewishness at a time when most perceived it as a threatening other that we arrive at this understand­ing.

Le Port de mer is clearly a modern play set in a town where being called a pirate, a criminal, or a Jew is akin to being called brunette, green-eyed, or tall. In this play, these markers of identity have lost their meaning and operate as empty signifiers of the system that established their original values. Toward the end of the play, the pirate, Doutremer, reveals how slip­pery these markers have become. By that time, we have learned that he has another name, “Salomin,” which is most likely his birth name. Al­though no characters refer to him as Jewish, this Old Testament name referring to one of the kings of Israel certainly suggests that he is also Jew­ish.[15] Just as Doutremer has given up a life on land in favor of one at sea, so too has he given up his birth name for one that reflects his seafaring ways. Doutremer chastises La Saline when he refers to him as “Monsieur Salomin”  by responding, “Tais-toi, je ne suis Salomin qu’à Merseille [sic], & je suis ici Doutremer. Je change de nom & de pavillon, selon mes intérêts” (189). It is worth noting here that King Solomon’s best-known attribute was his wisdom.[16] It is certainly no coincidence that Boindin put such a declaration in the mouth of a character the public would readily iden­tify as wise. In doing so, Boindin is predicting the ultimate triumph of a value system in which superficial markers of identity serve simply as linguistic currency while one’s nature is now defined by the choices made by the individual. In other words, he predicts a triumph of the modernes over the anciens as we find in Livorno. Through his depiction of un­marked Jews, Boindin expresses his anticipation of a post-monarchal society in which citizens are no longer subject to the identities bestowed upon them by birth, and Old Regime rigidity is rejected in favor of a less stratified and less prejudiced mental frame.

Portland State University

 

Works Cited

Bibliographie universelle, ancienne et moderne ou histoire, par ordre alpha­bétique, de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes qui se sont distingués par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talents, leurs ver­tus ou leurs crimes. Tome cinquième. Paris : chez Michaud Frères, 1812.

Benbassa, Esther. Histoire des Juifs de France de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 2000.

Boindin, Nicolas. “Le Port de mer.” Quatre comédies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. 136–200.

Desan, Philippe. “L’avarice chez Montaigne.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 113–24.

Dunkley, John. “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presenta­tion of Alterity.” Romance Studies. 31 (1991) 83–94.

———. “Introduction” in Quatre comedies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: So­ciété des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. VII–XCV.

Foucault, Michel. “Des espaces autres.” Dits et écrits. Volume II. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. 1994. 752–62.

Lancaster, Henry Carrington. Sunset : A History of Parisian Drama in the Last Years of Louis XIV, 1701–1715. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1945 (1976).

Lestringant, Frank. “Avarice et voyage.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 149–70.

Mancewicz, Aneta and Kazimierz Wielki. “Shakespeare in Europe: Introduc­tion.” MIT Global Shakespeares. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 June 2014.

Michael, Robert. A History of Catholic Antisemitism. The Dark Side of the Church. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Pemble, John. Shakespeare Goes to Paris. How the Bard Conquered France. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2005.

Resnick, Irven M. Marks of Distinction. Christian Perceptions of Jews in the High Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Rozenblit, Marsha L. “Intermarriage: Modern Europe and United States” in Baskin, Judith R. The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 277–78.

Sutcliffe, Adam. “The Philosemitic Moment? Judaism and Republicanism in Seventeenth-Century European Thought.” In Philosemitism in History, eds. Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe, 67–89. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­sity Press, 2011..

Trachtenberg, Joshua. The Devil and the Jews. The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.

Yardeni, Myriam. Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990.


[1]See Esther Benbassa’s Histoire des Juifs de France, Robert Michael’s A History of Catholic Antisemitism, Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews and Myriam Yardeni’s Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe, among others, for an overview of the perception of Jews throughout French history.

[2]I would like to thank Perry Gethner for introducing me to this work.

[3]Boindin also wrote memoirs, letters and one discourse, some of which were published after his death in 1751.

[4]Lancaster casts some doubt on the attribution of Le petit maître de robe, thought to be Boindin’s fourth and last play (267).

[5] Repeated disputes with La Motte over authorship credit among other issues led to the dissolution of their friendship. Boindin began to frequent the Procope instead (Bibliographie 16).

[6]Lancaster notes that “it was acted more frequently than any other play by an author who began to write after 1700” (272). Le Port de mer opened for Bérénice, Ariane, Les femmes savantes and L’école des femmes, among others. Its format (and, perhaps, its exoticism) lent itself to popularity. As a result of the Querelle du théâtre incited by Madame de Maintenon in 1694, fewer tragedies were performed and the most successful productions were short, one-act plays. As Dunkley explains, “Afin de lutter contre la désaffection du public et la concurrence de la Foire, les Comédiens-Français trouvèrent deux expédients: diminuer le nombre relatif de représentations de tragédies et jouer fréquemment les petites pièces en un acte […]. Le moment était donc favorable pour les compositions de Boindin” (“Introduction” xxix).

[7]A search of the MLA database on May 3, 2014 turned up only four titles, three of which were written by Dunkley.

[8] While it is tempting to regard Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as inspiration for this play due to its seaport setting and the Jewish father-daughter main characters, it is highly unlikely that Boindin had read or seen it. John Pemble remarks that “The French did not discover Shakespeare until they discovered England; and they did not discover England until Voltaire, the abbé Prévost, and the baron de Montesquieu crossed the Channel at various times in the 1720s” (1). He goes on to explain that Shakespeare’s plays were not performed in France until the early nineteenth century (35). Furthermore, I have not found evidence that Boindin knew English or that Shakespeare’s plays were readily available in France at this time either in English or in French translation (see Pemble xiii and Mancewicz). (I would like to thank Melissa Walter for suggesting these references.) Lancaster attributes Boindin’s inspiration instead to Molière’s Sicilien and Champmesle’s Rue de Saint Denis (270).

[9] “Leghorn” is the town’s English name.

[10]It is worth noting that it is not Sabatin’s Jewishness that evokes Brigantin’s surprised reaction but the situation in general. His Jewishness is not the obstacle here; instead, it is, as we learn soon after, Sabatin’s dubious character.

[11]Adam Sutcliffe asserts that “no ethnic group of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was more closely associated with commerce than the Jews” (71).

[12] While it is possible that Benjamine was conceived out of wedlock, the more plausible scenario for a daughter of a Jewish merchant of the time is that she is the product of an arranged marriage. There is therefore a strong likelihood that her mother, too, is Jewish. As Marsha L. Rozenblit explains, “Before the invention of the concept of civil marriage in the modern era, all marriages were conducted under religious auspices, and intermarriage in the technical sense did not take place.” She continues, “The widespread practice of arranged marriage in the Jewish middle classes virtually guaranteed that Jews married other Jews” (277-78). Rozenblit also notes that civil marriage became widespread in Europe only in the twentieth century (278).

[13]“Marchand d’esclaves, usurier et homme d’affaires en train de méditer une banqueroute frauduleuse, Sabatin constitue une caricature de Juif tel que la mentalité populaire se le représentait alors” (Dunkley Quatre comédies lxi).

[14] Even her name, which recalls that of Benjamin, the eternally youthful youngest child of Jacob, suggests that she belongs to a new, modern generation.

[15]This would indicate that Doutremer’s nephew, Leandre, is Jewish as well and that a marriage between him and Benjamine would therefore be considered proper. However, the fact that Doutremer is probably Jewish and, by relation, his nephew, seems to have eluded some of Boindin’s contemporaries who criticized the play’s ending. See Lancaster 272.

[16] The name, however, means “peace.”

A priori assumptions about Jews abounded in seventeenth-century France. Originating in the Middle Ages, some of these assumptions drew from superstition; many French people believed that Jews engaged in the ritual murder of Christian children, that they were lustful, and that they held a lifelong pact with Satan. Others stemmed from historical events and re­alities such as those that held that Jewish men were feminized through circumcision, that Jews were Christ killers, that they were traders of se­cond-hand goods and usurers.[1] The playwright and theorist Nicolas Boindin was born in 1676 into a society that espoused such beliefs and inevitably came in contact with these biases. Yet, he depicts two Jewish characters in his now little-known 1704 play, Le Port de mer, in a manner that suggests that his own perspective was largely unformed by them.[2] Al­though Nicolas Boindin includes characters he either explicitly identifies as or suggests are Jewish, these characters remain fundamentally “unmarked” by their Jewishness. In using the term “unmarked,” I am adapting Judaic Studies scholar Irven M. Resnick’s concept of “marking” that he indirectly de­fines as the referencing of an indelible nature, in this case a Jewish one (11). While Boindin’s characters do have superficial markings of Jewish­ness, I argue that they remain fundamentally unmarked in that he does not attribute any indelible Jewish nature to these characters, nor do the other characters appear to respond to any such perceived nature. For this reason, Le Port de mer represents a significant departure from how most of Boindin’s contemporaries thought about the Jews.

Henry Lancaster underscores the importance of these characters in not­ing that Le Port de mer “is the first French play in which one of the leading male characters is a modern Jew and in which the heroine is a mod­ern Jewess” (270). The characters in question are Sabatin, a father who is a merchant, and his daughter, Benjamine, who is looking for a hus­band. As historian Adam Sutcliffe remarks, “Judaism was […] widely used in the seventeenth century as a form of conceptual token, deployed for its particular rhetorical authority” (87). Indeed, Jewishness was a powerful concept, incorporated into a text less to say something about the Jews themselves than to give authors a foil that allowed them to say something about their own society instead. That Boindin included Jewish characters in his play suggests that he did so for a strategic purpose. While literary scholar John Dunkley has addressed Boindin’s approach to the “other” in his article “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presentation of Alterity,” the present work goes further in that it will consider a dynamic fundamental to Le Port de mer itself, yet distinct from any religious tension, as an indication as to why Boindin depicts Sabatin and Benjamine as he does. Specifically, I show that instead of emphasizing these characters’ Jewishness, Boindin focuses on the tension that exists between the father and the daughter over the choice of a husband. While Sabatin and Benjamine are on one level simply playing out the sort of money vs. love generational dispute common to comedic father-daughter pairings of the past (cf: Molière), it is through his focus on this storyline played out by two Jewish characters that Boindin is, in fact, commenting on the place of otherness in late seven­teenth-century French society.

Nicolas Boindin was not a prolific writer, and his stint as a fiction writer was a particularly short one.[3] One of only four authors of comedies performed at the Comédie-Française during the last years of Louis XIV’s reign (Lancaster 266), Boindin published three comedic plays between 1701 and 1707; a fourth appeared posthumously in 1753.[4] Three of these plays are only one act long. Accepted into the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1706 at the age of thirty and supported by influential peers such as Voltaire, Boindin nonetheless never came to occupy one of the coveted chairs of the Académie française. A nineteenth-century biog­rapher attributes this rejection to Boindin’s rather public and unabashed atheism which, as I later show, helped define the role Jewishness plays in Le Port de mer (Bibliographie 15). Whatever the reason, Boindin’s rejec­tion did not appear to deeply trouble him. Indeed, he gloried in his reputation as a contrarian and used his atheism as conversational fodder during his regular visits to Paris’s cafés. It was most likely at the popular Café Laurent that Boindin met Antoine Houdar de La Motte who became a close friend and collaborator on two of his comedies. While they are said to have co-written Les trois Gascons in 1701, it is thought that La Motte only contributed advice on the later Le Port de mer (Dunkley “Alterity” 84).[5] It was this play that enjoyed the greatest success among Boindin’s contemporaries, with sixty performances by the end of 1715 (Lancaster 272).[6] Despite his popularity at the time and Le Port de mer’s success, little current scholarship has been written on Nicolas Boindin.[7]

It is easy to understand why audiences found Le Port de mer appeal­ing. It is a light, comedic love story in the manner of Molière, set in a seaport and populated by a cast of characters with tongue-in-cheek names. Sabatin is the molièresque father, an unscrupulous man with his eye on the bottom line who has arranged for his daughter, Benjamine, to marry Doutremer, a seafaring fellow who has a way with pirating. But Benja­mine finds Doutremer’s coarse manners and the prospect of a life at sea with him repugnant; she prefers his more refined nephew, Leandre, who is be­sotted with her, too. Fortunately, they have loyal servants to help them find a way to be together. Leandre’s valet, La Saline, and Benjamine’s lady’s maid, Marine, devise a scheme to dissuade Sabatin and Doutremer from pursuing the marriage. They stumble upon Leandre’s thieving former footman, Brigantin, who has been sent to the galleys for stealing from thea­tergoers. Facing little choice, Brigantin quickly offers to help Leandre as a means of compensating for his earlier wrongdoings while in his ser­vice. Disguise is at the heart of their scheme. La Saline dresses as a Turkish slave trader, Brigantin as a female slave, and Leandre as a Moor—complete with blackface—and head to the slave market where they expect to run into Sabatin. As anticipated, he is there, and La Saline easily con­vinces him to bring home the two slaves to try out for free. Once at Sabatin’s house, Brigantin and Leandre seek out Marine and Benjamine, to whom they reveal their true identities once they are convinced of Benja­mine’s feelings for Leandre. They return to their disguises when Sabatin interrupts them. Brigantin, in character as a female slave, explains that she was describing to his daughter that she had married a pirate only to dis­cover she was his thirteenth wife. This pirate, Doutremer himself, was now back on shore seeking his fourteenth wife. Sabatin is sufficiently out­raged, but as luck would have it, Doutremer shows up right at that time, and the three schemers are no longer able to maintain their masquerade. Rather than punishing their treachery, Sabatin instead asks Doutremer whether he would prefer to allow Leandre to marry Benjamine. In ex­change for the return of some jewels his nephew has stolen from him, Doutremer hands over Benjamine to him. A singing, dancing Feste Ma­rine follows, complete with Australian women and a monkey.[8]

The seaport setting of Le Port de mer surdetermines the entire play, from the names of the characters to their cavalier attitude toward women. The play abounds with foreigners, common criminals, slaves and pirates—the usual suspects in any seaport world. The two Jewish characters, Saba­tin, and his daughter, Benjamine, are right at home with this motley crew, all of whom, with the exception of those who are already enslaved, appear to live without fear of prejudice or imprisonment. This is surprising given the stigma popular imagination attached to such characters at the time. In fact, Boindin draws our attention to the absence of such prejudice in his play through his choice of setting. Le Port de mer takes place in a Tuscan port town called Livorno,[9] which is known for its “Leggi Livornine” or Livornian Laws. Enacted in 1590 by Ferdinando I of Medici, these laws provided amnesty for some criminals, established privileges for merchants that included tax benefits, Tuscan nationality, and the right to own prop­erty and, most importantly for our present study, allowed freedom of worship. Livorno became a thriving, cosmopolitan city, a haven for petty criminals, merchants, pirates, and religious refugees from around the world. Jews from Spain and Portugal were the first of their religion to immi­grate to Livorno following their expulsion from their home countries in 1492 and 1497, respectively. In 1667, a second wave of Jews arrived from what is now Algeria. Livorno was exceptionally accommodating to this population. Unlike their experience in almost all other places in Eu­rope, Jews of Livorno were not required to live in a ghetto in this city, nor were they obliged to wear identifying clothing; they could also hire Chris­tians as domestic help, as Sabatin himself does. While elsewhere Jews would be indelibly marked as other and treated as such, in Livorno they received the same treatment as everyone else. The concept of “otherness” was, ironically, foreign to Livorno.

This location calls to mind Foucault’s heterotopias, spaces that exist within societies, each of which serves a function (761). There are different types of heterotopias, but Foucault provides the following overarching defini­tion:

des lieux réels, des lieux effectifs, des lieux qui sont dessi­nés dans l’institution même de la société, et qui sont des sortes de contre-emplacements, sortes d’utopies effective­ment réalisées dans lesquelles tous les autres emplacements réels que l’on peut trouver à l’intérieur de la culture sont à la fois représentés, contestés et inversés, des sortes de lieux qui sont hors de tous les lieux, bien que pour­tant ils soient effectivement localisables. (755–56)

Heterotopias are, in essence, realized utopias. Examples include theaters and gardens as well as convalescent homes, psychiatric wards, and pris­ons. While only some of Foucault’s heterotopias are localities in which people find themselves voluntarily, all of them are demarcated in space. Specifically, Livorno is a type of “heterotopia of deviation” which Fou­cault defines as “celle dans laquelle on place les individus dont le comportement est déviant par rapport à la moyenne ou à la norme exigée” (757). I would add that even the suspicion that these individuals’ behavior deviates from the norm justifies their inclusion in such spaces. As does a prison, Livorno houses criminals, but it also welcomes those such as Jews whose mere presence elsewhere gives rise to concerns. However, unlike a prison or the other heterotopias Foucault identifies, Livorno does not have strictly defined boundaries. This seaport town opens onto the Ligurian Sea and thereby allows for a freedom of movement uncharacteristic of most heterotopias. It is this freedom of movement that Doutremer references toward the end of Le Port de mer and which I will analyze below as it re­lates to the particular function of this heterotopia. Like Jewishness in seventeenth-century writing and therefore the Jewishness of Le Port de mer’s characters, Livorno as a heterotopia that welcomes Jews among oth­ers serves a particular function in this play.

As mentioned above, the two heroes of Le Port de mer are Jewish and en­joy the freedoms life in Livorno affords them, and I maintain that Boindin’s depiction of Sabatin and Benjamine reflects their status as Jews in Livorno. Boindin does identify Sabatin as Jewish and Benjamine as such by relation, but the Jewishness of these characters does not get in the way of their interactions with those around them, nor does it determine the storyline. Indeed, there is a collective “meh,” a social indifference to what was generally perceived as a significant and remarkable religious differ­ence at the time. In other words, others do not seem to treat Sabatin and Benjamine differently because of their Jewishness; their Jewishness is “unre­markable,” so to speak.

Nonetheless, Sabatin and Benjamine are dissimilar to each other in the de­gree to which they are unmarked, and I will argue below that this distinction is key to understanding their respective roles in the play. First, Sabatin and Benjamine are presented differently from the outset. The au­thor (or perhaps his editor) identifies Sabatin as Jewish in the character list at the beginning of the play, and the other characters repeatedly mention his Jewishness to each other, referring to him as “nôtre Juif” [sic] and “le Juif.” Benjamine’s Jewishness, on the other hand, is never made explicit. We assume she is Jewish because her father is, but neither Boindin nor his characters mention this fact. Second, Sabatin’s name is explicitly Jewish. Derived from the Italian “sabato” meaning “Saturday,” it refers to the Jew­ish day of rest or Sabbath. The following humoristic exchange between Brigantin and La Saline in scene two further emphasizes the ethnic origins of the father’s name:

Brigantin

A qui en veut donc ton Maître icy?

La Saline

A la fille d’un certain Juif, chez qui je me suis introduit.

Brigantin

Son nom ?

La Saline

Je n’en ai pû encore retenir que la moitié ; Hazaël-Raka-Nimbrod-Iscarioth-Sabatin.

Brigantin

Quoi ! Benjamine, la fille de M. Sabatin ?[10] (145)

In contrast, Sabatin’s daughter is identified only by her first name, Benja­mine. This name has its origins in the Old Testament but is a common name not only in Jewish but also in Christian families. It is a more ambi­guous identifier than that of Sabatin, whose Jewishness is reinforced by La Saline’s enumeration of his other names of biblical origin. Finally, Sabatin is a merchant, one of the few professions exercised by Jews in the seven­teenth century.[11] Benjamine’s primary occupation, on the other hand, entails convincing her father to allow her to marry the man she loves ra­ther than the man he has chosen for her. Given Benjamine’s lack of superficial markings of Jewishness, that her mother is never mentioned in the play should come as no surprise. Judaism is a matrilineal religion and the mother’s absence further underscores Benjamine’s unmarkedness.[12] In short, Benjamine’s Jewishness is presumed but never identified explicitly, while Sabatin has explicit superficial markers of Jewishness.

This dissimilarity extends to Sabatin and Benjamine’s respective na­tures, and while these natures do reflect the degree to which each character is identified as Jewish, I maintain that it is not their relative Jewishness that determines these natures, and that their natures are not perceived as particularly Jewish. On the one hand, Sabatin is the greedy patriarch simi­lar to the ones who populate Molière’s plays: stubborn and somewhat shady in his dealings but able to be won over. Benjamine, on the other hand, does not seem to have inherited any of her father’s character flaws. La Saline’s continued discussion with Brigantin highlights this distinction. La Saline asks Brigantin if he knows M. Sabatin, to which Brigantin re­plies:

Trait pour trait. Tien, l’usure, la dureté, la défiance, la fraude, & le parjure, avec quelques régles [sic] d’Arithmétique n’est-ce pas ce qu’on appelle ici M. Sabatin ?

La Saline responds,

Justement, mais en récompense, la générosité, la ten­dresse, la franchise, & la constance, avec une taille divine, le visage le plus gratieux, les yeux les plus brillans du monde, & mille autres menus attraits, c’est ce qu’on ap­pelle ici Benjamine. (146)

As we can see, Sabatin’s many shortcomings are well known by others. It is true that popular imagination at the time often associated these particu­lar shortcomings with Jewish merchants, as Dunkley observes.[13] However, Boindin, through Brigantin, enumerates these character flaws not as traits specifically associated with Jewishness—after all, Benjamine has none of them—but instead as those particular to the traditional father figure who seeks an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Brigantin fears for Lean­dre not because he is courting the daughter of a man who is Jewish but because he is courting the daughter of a man who is greedy and stubborn. Brigantin knows that his former master, Leandre, will face a formidable opponent in trying to marry Benjamine for love, since he lacks the finan­cial resources her father seeks.

In Le Port de mer, Boindin dissociates Jewishness from any particular in­delible mark of a Jewish nature. Instead, it stands in for the system of Old Regime values that had slowly begun to unravel by its 1704 publica­tion date. The dissimilarity in the degree to which Boindin identifies both Sabatin and Benjamine as Jewish does not mark them as having dissimilar—not to mention specifically – Jewish natures. Instead, it serves to identify them relative to a value system that maintains religion as a valid basis on which to pass judgment, a value system that Boindin, a self-professed atheist, does not espouse. When Boindin attributes superficial and easily recognizable markers of Jewishness such as a name and a trade to Sabatin, he is really identifying him as a patriarch who subscribes to the old world value system by which one person’s being Jewish means some­thing to another. It follows that Benjamine’s lack of even superficial Jewish markers signals her disengagement from that system and thereby her modernity.[14] For the atheistic Boindin, Jewishness is a signifier he appro­priates to communicate new meaning rather than a source of interest in and of itself. Dunkley writes,

Boindin ne s’occupe nullement de la religion de Saba­tin, sans doute parce qu’il regarde du même œil le judaïsme et le christianisme. C’est uniquement l’inhumanité du person­nage et la malhonnêteté de ses affaires qu’il évoque. … [S]on indifférence sentimentale n’a rien de spécifique­ment juif ; la majorité des pères-‘obstacles’ des comédies lui ressemblent assez. (LXII-LXIII)

One only has to look back at Molière’s Harpagon (L’avare), Sganarelle (Le Médecin malgré lui), Géronte and Argante (both in Les Fourberies de Scapin), among others, to find comedic incarnations of the traditional fa­ther figure who resemble Sabatin. None of them is Jewish, yet all take their role as old world patriarch to an extreme.

Like that of his literary predecessors, Sabatin’s indelibly marked charac­teristic is not his Jewishness but his greed. Just as Sabatin is not the only father figure in early-modern French literature with this vice, he is also not the only inhabitant of Livorno with it. Based on his depictions of Sabatin and Benjamine, we can neither say that Boindin suggests that there exists a causal relationship between Jewishness and avarice nor that he disparages Jews. As Lancaster maintains, “The play cannot … be consid­ered anti-Semitic, for to [Sabatin’s] daughter is attributed all the generosity, tenderness, and beauty that he lacks, while the Gentiles are not better than he” (271). Sabatin’s greed results from his particular interpreta­tion of patriarchal values that mark him as old school; after all, “l’avarice devient un vice avec l’âge” (Desan 118). What feeds this avarice is not Sabatin’s Jewishness but his trade. Philippe Desan calls capitalism an institu­tionalized form of greed (115), and merchants such as Sabatin—not to mention pirates such as Doutremer—depend on and exploit this eco­nomic system for their livelihood. Sabatin might be superficially marked as Jewish while Benjamine is not, but what fundamentally distinguishes him from his daughter is his stubborn adherence to and exploitation of a traditional system of values that prioritizes financial gain over love when deciding whom she should marry. While being superficially marked as Jewish does not entail being treated as “other” in Livorno, it does signify a generational difference that, in Sabatin’s case, plays out through his unscrupu­lous mercantilism.

Le Port de mer’s heterotopic setting functions to support the schemes of characters such as Sabatin. With its easy access to the sea, Livorno facili­tates transactions both kosher and not; indeed, the seaport enables the greedy to thrive because it allows them freedom of movement between land and water. Literary critic Frank Lestringant remarks on the fact that people first displayed greediness around the same time the possibilities for their travel expanded, a statement that implies a co-dependence between greed and travel: one travels in order to satisfy one’s desire for material gain and one has a desire for material gain because one knows it is now possible to achieve it (149). As mentioned above, seaports such as Livorno lack strictly defined physical boundaries and thereby facilitate such travel. Livorno itself also lacks moral boundaries, as is evidenced by its openness to deviant populations. The seaport setting therefore lends itself well to the flourishing of greed and other potential harbingers of criminal behavior. Lestringant explains how, in turn, greed itself entails a further blurring of boundaries: 

Ainsi donc l’avarice entraîne, avec l’expansion pre­mière de l’humanité hors d’elle-même, le brouillage des limites; elle établit la communication contre nature des lieux séparés et provoque le court-circuit de l’enfer et du ciel, de la terre solide et de l’élément liquide. (150)

Here, Lestringant references the moral gray zone in which greed resides and that, in Le Port de mer, echoes Livorno’s physical openness and its inclusiveness. While it is clear that this heterotopia plays an important role in support of its heterogeneous population, it also serves a broader func­tion in relationship to its surrounding space.

Foucault states that “[les hétérotopies] ont, par rapport à l’espace restant, une fonction” (761), and it is this function that is the key to under­standing that of the unmarked Jewish characters in Boindin’s play. In spite of its seediness, Livorno can be considered in a positive light as an unusu­ally tolerant place where Old Regime values are relativized and reinterpreted. As I argue above, Sabatin’s superficial markers of Jewish­ness suggest that he subscribes to—at least partially—a traditional value system that prioritizes financial gain over love in a marriage. While Li­vorno facilitates his mercantilism, it also fosters his greed, which is what defines him as other in the eyes of those with whom he interacts. Although he has a Jewish name and trade, Sabatin does not face criticism because of them but because of his unscrupulousness. In contrast, Benjamine, with her lack of superficial markers of Jewishness, embodies the modern values of Li­vorno itself. Because Boindin tells his public that her father is Jewish, it is particularly notable that he does not do the same for her even though she clearly is. I maintain that this is because Benjamine does not subscribe to the outmoded system of values of her father. Although Benjamine is Jew­ish, she remains outside the concept of otherness, a concept that Livorno does not recognize or foster. Despite this difference between the father and his daughter, neither is indelibly marked as Jewish, just as none of their compatriots is indelibly marked as other. I agree with Dunkley that “[i]t is in Jewishness that … alterity is located. But this does not affect Jewish­ness as a whole” (“Nicholas [sic] Boindin” 91). In Livorno, all types come and go, and the concept of “otherness” remains foreign. It is no surprise that Boindin’s play is entitled “Le Port de mer” rather than “Benjamine” or even “Sabatin,” for it is the seaport itself that represents the modern val­ues Boindin loudly touted in Paris’s cafés. After all, Boindin “était naturellement contradicteur” (Biographie 16). It is through an analysis of this author’s seemingly indifferent treatment of Jewishness at a time when most perceived it as a threatening other that we arrive at this understand­ing.

Le Port de mer is clearly a modern play set in a town where being called a pirate, a criminal, or a Jew is akin to being called brunette, green-eyed, or tall. In this play, these markers of identity have lost their meaning and operate as empty signifiers of the system that established their original values. Toward the end of the play, the pirate, Doutremer, reveals how slip­pery these markers have become. By that time, we have learned that he has another name, “Salomin,” which is most likely his birth name. Al­though no characters refer to him as Jewish, this Old Testament name referring to one of the kings of Israel certainly suggests that he is also Jew­ish.[15] Just as Doutremer has given up a life on land in favor of one at sea, so too has he given up his birth name for one that reflects his seafaring ways. Doutremer chastises La Saline when he refers to him as “Monsieur Salomin”  by responding, “Tais-toi, je ne suis Salomin qu’à Merseille [sic], & je suis ici Doutremer. Je change de nom & de pavillon, selon mes intérêts” (189). It is worth noting here that King Solomon’s best-known attribute was his wisdom.[16] It is certainly no coincidence that Boindin put such a declaration in the mouth of a character the public would readily iden­tify as wise. In doing so, Boindin is predicting the ultimate triumph of a value system in which superficial markers of identity serve simply as linguistic currency while one’s nature is now defined by the choices made by the individual. In other words, he predicts a triumph of the modernes over the anciens as we find in Livorno. Through his depiction of un­marked Jews, Boindin expresses his anticipation of a post-monarchal society in which citizens are no longer subject to the identities bestowed upon them by birth, and Old Regime rigidity is rejected in favor of a less stratified and less prejudiced mental frame.

Portland State University

 

Works Cited

Bibliographie universelle, ancienne et moderne ou histoire, par ordre alpha­bétique, de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes qui se sont distingués par leurs écrits, leurs actions, leurs talents, leurs ver­tus ou leurs crimes. Tome cinquième. Paris : chez Michaud Frères, 1812.

Benbassa, Esther. Histoire des Juifs de France de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 2000.

Boindin, Nicolas. “Le Port de mer.” Quatre comédies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: Société des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. 136–200.

Desan, Philippe. “L’avarice chez Montaigne.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 113–24.

Dunkley, John. “Nicholas [sic] Boindin: The Presentation and Re-presenta­tion of Alterity.” Romance Studies. 31 (1991) 83–94.

———. “Introduction” in Quatre comedies. Ed. John Dunkley. Paris: So­ciété des Textes Français Modernes, 1997. VII–XCV.

Foucault, Michel. “Des espaces autres.” Dits et écrits. Volume II. Paris: Éditions Gallimard. 1994. 752–62.

Lancaster, Henry Carrington. Sunset : A History of Parisian Drama in the Last Years of Louis XIV, 1701–1715. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1945 (1976).

Lestringant, Frank. “Avarice et voyage.” Seizième Siècle. 4 (2008) 149–70.

Mancewicz, Aneta and Kazimierz Wielki. “Shakespeare in Europe: Introduc­tion.” MIT Global Shakespeares. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 5 June 2014.

Michael, Robert. A History of Catholic Antisemitism. The Dark Side of the Church. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Pemble, John. Shakespeare Goes to Paris. How the Bard Conquered France. London and New York: Hambledon and London, 2005.

Resnick, Irven M. Marks of Distinction. Christian Perceptions of Jews in the High Middle Ages. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

Rozenblit, Marsha L. “Intermarriage: Modern Europe and United States” in Baskin, Judith R. The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 277–78.

Sutcliffe, Adam. “The Philosemitic Moment? Judaism and Republicanism in Seventeenth-Century European Thought.” In Philosemitism in History, eds. Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe, 67–89. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­sity Press, 2011..

Trachtenberg, Joshua. The Devil and the Jews. The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1993.

Yardeni, Myriam. Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1990.


[1]See Esther Benbassa’s Histoire des Juifs de France, Robert Michael’s A History of Catholic Antisemitism, Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews and Myriam Yardeni’s Anti-Jewish Mentalities in Early Modern Europe, among others, for an overview of the perception of Jews throughout French history.

[2]I would like to thank Perry Gethner for introducing me to this work.

[3]Boindin also wrote memoirs, letters and one discourse, some of which were published after his death in 1751.

[4]Lancaster casts some doubt on the attribution of Le petit maître de robe, thought to be Boindin’s fourth and last play (267).

[5] Repeated disputes with La Motte over authorship credit among other issues led to the dissolution of their friendship. Boindin began to frequent the Procope instead (Bibliographie 16).

[6]Lancaster notes that “it was acted more frequently than any other play by an author who began to write after 1700” (272). Le Port de mer opened for Bérénice, Ariane, Les femmes savantes and L’école des femmes, among others. Its format (and, perhaps, its exoticism) lent itself to popularity. As a result of the Querelle du théâtre incited by Madame de Maintenon in 1694, fewer tragedies were performed and the most successful productions were short, one-act plays. As Dunkley explains, “Afin de lutter contre la désaffection du public et la concurrence de la Foire, les Comédiens-Français trouvèrent deux expédients: diminuer le nombre relatif de représentations de tragédies et jouer fréquemment les petites pièces en un acte […]. Le moment était donc favorable pour les compositions de Boindin” (“Introduction” xxix).

[7]A search of the MLA database on May 3, 2014 turned up only four titles, three of which were written by Dunkley.

[8] While it is tempting to regard Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as inspiration for this play due to its seaport setting and the Jewish father-daughter main characters, it is highly unlikely that Boindin had read or seen it. John Pemble remarks that “The French did not discover Shakespeare until they discovered England; and they did not discover England until Voltaire, the abbé Prévost, and the baron de Montesquieu crossed the Channel at various times in the 1720s” (1). He goes on to explain that Shakespeare’s plays were not performed in France until the early nineteenth century (35). Furthermore, I have not found evidence that Boindin knew English or that Shakespeare’s plays were readily available in France at this time either in English or in French translation (see Pemble xiii and Mancewicz). (I would like to thank Melissa Walter for suggesting these references.) Lancaster attributes Boindin’s inspiration instead to Molière’s Sicilien and Champmesle’s Rue de Saint Denis (270).

[9] “Leghorn” is the town’s English name.

[10]It is worth noting that it is not Sabatin’s Jewishness that evokes Brigantin’s surprised reaction but the situation in general. His Jewishness is not the obstacle here; instead, it is, as we learn soon after, Sabatin’s dubious character.

[11]Adam Sutcliffe asserts that “no ethnic group of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was more closely associated with commerce than the Jews” (71).

[12] While it is possible that Benjamine was conceived out of wedlock, the more plausible scenario for a daughter of a Jewish merchant of the time is that she is the product of an arranged marriage. There is therefore a strong likelihood that her mother, too, is Jewish. As Marsha L. Rozenblit explains, “Before the invention of the concept of civil marriage in the modern era, all marriages were conducted under religious auspices, and intermarriage in the technical sense did not take place.” She continues, “The widespread practice of arranged marriage in the Jewish middle classes virtually guaranteed that Jews married other Jews” (277-78). Rozenblit also notes that civil marriage became widespread in Europe only in the twentieth century (278).

[13]“Marchand d’esclaves, usurier et homme d’affaires en train de méditer une banqueroute frauduleuse, Sabatin constitue une caricature de Juif tel que la mentalité populaire se le représentait alors” (Dunkley Quatre comédies lxi).

[14] Even her name, which recalls that of Benjamin, the eternally youthful youngest child of Jacob, suggests that she belongs to a new, modern generation.

[15]This would indicate that Doutremer’s nephew, Leandre, is Jewish as well and that a marriage between him and Benjamine would therefore be considered proper. However, the fact that Doutremer is probably Jewish and, by relation, his nephew, seems to have eluded some of Boindin’s contemporaries who criticized the play’s ending. See Lancaster 272.

[16] The name, however, means “peace.”

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