The Jew of Malta

The Other as a Mirror in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice College

Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare wrote plays in England during a time when Jews were banned from the country, making it unlikely that Jewish characters in their plays would amount to more than anti-Semitic stereotypes. Both Marlowe’s Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice are easy to read as anti-Semitic plays due to their vengeful Jewish characters. The playwrights may, however, have been taking advantages of their audiences’ anti-Semitism to promote their own messages. While Marlowe’s antagonist Barabas is greedy and murderous, the play’s Christians are no different, suggesting that Marlowe uses Barabas as a mirror to reflect Christians’ greed and violence which they hide under the performance of religion. This commentary may, however, be lost on audiences due to the stereotypical nature of Barabas. Shakespeare, in his later play Merchant of Venice, parallels Marlowe’s play, but makes his Jewish antagonist Shylock more sympathetic. Shakespeare shows how Shylock’s vengeful nature is cultivated by the discrimination he faces in a Christian society, making Shylock not only a mirror reflecting Christian hypocrisy, but a mirror reflecting an image imposed onto him. This offers a better explanation of his and...

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