The Stirrings of the 1590s and the Return of the Jews to England

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Anyone who stands in this place to talk about Anglo Jewish history in the years around 1600 cannot help but be acutely conscious of the awesome tradition into which he has dared to encroach. Nearly twenty times in the past three-quarters of a century, the Presidency of this Society has been occupied not only by masters but by the very creators of this metier, in whose shadow a new venture into the field 'can but peep to what itw ould'. Shakespeare, of course, had treason in mind when he wrote of such peeping, but I feel not far distant from that accusation as I trample the ground that has been made to flower so remarkably by the Presidents of whom I just spoke. Those nearly twenty offices were held by only two men, Lucien Wolf and Cecil Roth, but even a quick glance at their writings will convince the reader that, as with Shakespeare, it is hard to believe that such learning and insight was not the work of 20 men. Everyone who follows where they prepared the way will find himself deep in their debt at every turn. I thus come to my subject chas? tened by awareness of the traditions of this forum, the extraordinary heritage of Wolf and Roth, and the fact that it was here, eight years ago, that my father gave his last public talk, just a few months before he died.

Anglo-Jewish history in this period is naturally dominated by premonitions of the readmission of 1656. Most of the studies of the era?whether of Dr. Lopez, of marranos and their contacts, of philosemi tism, or of the composition of Cromwell's Council of State?ultimately point towards that decisive event, and in one way or another serve as foretaste or explanation of a seminal moment in both English and Jewish history. What I would like to concentrate on is one essential part of that story : the beginnings of the momentous change in attitude that transformed the virulence of thosew ho applauded The Jew ofM alta and The Merchant of Venice into the benign openness of England's leaders under Cromwell.

For we should not mistake the magnitude of that transformation?a shift in what the French call menta lites that was as striking as any to be found in historical literature. One has but to recall the bitterness of the 1590s, the decade of chief popularity of Marlowe's and Shakespeare's plays, with their portrayal of the Jew as the incarnation of evil, the antithesis in every measure of true Christian virtue, to realise how total was the reversal that, just 60 years later, permitted actual Jews to live amidst Englishmen. Reorderings of outlook on this scale come but rarely in history?the Christian acceptance of the hated Turk in the nineteenth cen? tury, the Franco-German reconciliation in our life? time, are two of but few examples?and one cannot explain fully how such fundamental reorientations occur. The progression is too complex, too reliant on the imponderables of human nature, to permit

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