The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0378  Tuesday, 21 April 1998.

From:           Frank Whigham <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 20 Apr 1998 10:06:13 -0500
Subject:        Re: "tribe"

In Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts, the servants of Lady Alworth
mock the table manners of one Marrall, whom they call "this terme-driuer
Marrall, / This snippe of an Attourney" (2.2.121-22). The dramatis
personae [apparently not a modern editor's addition] styles him "A
Creature of Sir Giles Ouerreach." His unskilled table manners are, they
say, "like / The rest of his tribe" (2.2.130).

This passage reminded me of Dave Evett's discussion of elopement, and
young people being "sealed back into their tribes." At that point I
half-consciously wondered if "tribe" had any greater focus in early
modern English than simply "social/family grouping." In particular, does
it regularly tend toward (1) some "secret society" of money-handlers,
and/or (2) any anti-semitic (or maybe in cases unlike this one, semitic)
associations, with Hebrew "tribes"-as perhaps here, with Marrall
figuring as an agent of the grasping Overreach, hence as quasi-Jewish,
hence of a "tribe"?

I recall reading long ago an essay by Paul Siegel that (as I dimly
remember it) linked Shylock to Puritan mercantile grasping behaviors,
frequently named metaphorically as "Jewish." (See Siegel, Paul N.
"Shylock, the Elizabethan Puritan, and Our Own World," in Shakespeare in
His Time and Ours. Notre Dame, 1968.) I don't remember if "tribe" played
a role in this essay.

So: when would Elizabethans typically use the term "tribe"?

Frank Whigham

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