My research paper looked into Early Modern Anti-Semitism and how it affected literary works of the Early Modern period. Specifically, The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare and The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe were considered with respect to the characters Shylock and Barabas. Through my various research excursions, I found that although Shylock and Barabas are both portrayed very negatively in their respective plays, Barabas is more purely evil than Shylock. With this difference in mind, it is still important to understand that the Early Modern perception of the Jew was very negative and stereotypical and both characters reflect this negative image. The stereotype of the time included titles like usurer, child-sacrificer, Christ-killer, and Jew-Devil. Jews were also typically pictured with horns and poison. All of these stereotypes were supported or enhanced by contemporary Early Modern art.
Literary pieces like The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta were huge successes because of the negative portrayal of their Jewish characters, even though it is likely that neither writer ever knew a Jew personally. Dr. Roderigo Lopez was brutally executed in 1594 for allegedly planning to poison Queen Elizabeth, and it was his previous Jewishness sealed his fate and “proved” his guilt. The sculpture, Moses carved by Michelangelo in 1515, portrays the great Biblical Jew with horns. The woodcut “Jew Poisoning a Well” completed in 1569 shows a Jew poisoning a well that the Devil is urinating into and there is also an image of a child on a cross. All of these art forms support the negative stereotyping of Jews in Early Modern Europe.
Such archetypes of the time helped to form the horrible characters of Shylock and Barabas. Both men claim to hate Christians and they go to extremes for money. Their behavior certainly seems to mark them as Jew-Devils and as such they become innately negative characters. They are acceptably illustrated this way, because such horrible Anti-Semitism was culturally acceptable in the Early Modern Period. Things like the Bible seemed to support it, and the judicial system provided its two cents with the hearing in the Roderigo Lopez case. The people cannot be blamed for their conditioning, but the suffering of the Jewish population in Europe at the time cannot be ignored.
Works Cited (all of these were used in my paper)
USED FOR PRESENTATION:
Biberman, Matthew. Masculinity, Anti-Semitism, and Early Modern English Literature: From the Satanic to the Effeminate Jew. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004. Print.
The Bishops Bible. Web.
Boaistuau, Pierre. “Jew Poisoning a Well.” Histoires Prodigieuses. 1569. (woodcut)
Kaplan, M. Lindsay. The Merchant of Venice: Texts and Contexts. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. Print.
Marlowe, Christopher. The Jew of Malta and The Massacre at Paris. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers Inc., 1966. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd Edition. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. 1121-1175. Print.
SECONDARY (for those interested in further research):
Dessen, Alan C. “The Elizabethan Stage Jew and Christian Example: Gerontus, Barabas, and Shylock.” Modern Language Quarterly 35.3 (1974): 231-245. Web. 7 November 2009.
“The Edict of Expulsion: Enacted 1290.” Britain Express. Web. 16 November 2009.
Kamin, Ben. “Why Do Jews Have Horns?” Examiner.com. 30 January 2009. Web. 17 November 2009.
Katz, David S. “Dr. Lopez and Shylock.” Commentary 102 (1996). Web. 16 November 2009.
Michaelangelo. Moses. 1515. San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.
Sanders, Lauren. Queen Elizabeth’s Dr. Roderigo Lopez versus Shakespeare’s Shylock: Similarities, Differences, and Their Influences on Elizabethan England. 2008. Web. 16 November 2009.
Shapiro, James. Shakespeare and the Jews. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Print.