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Discuss the representation of religious and racial differences in 'Othello' and 'The Jew of Malta'.

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Introduction

Discuss the representation of religious and racial differences in 'Othello' and 'The Jew of Malta'. Religion and race are both familiar themes in Elizabethan literature; Shakespeare and Marlowe among other playwrights included many characters of different races and religions throughout their theatrical work. In this essay I will attempt to explore the idea of representation of race and religion in two of the set plays. The plays I am studying are 'Othello', by William Shakespeare and 'The Jew of Malta' by Christopher Marlowe. I intend to look at the representation of race in 'Othello' and the problems it poses for the characters and how Othello is perceived because of his race and I will also look at the representation of Barabas's religion in 'The Jew of Malta' how he is portrayed as a Jew and how the other characters are portrayed in opposition to him. 'Othello' was written between 1601 and 1604; it was first performed in 1604 and first published in Quarto form in 1622. It was not the first play to portray a black character, Shakespeare wrote Aaron, an evil Moor, into Titus Andronicus. Moor's were not uncommon in Britain at the time of the play but they were still seen as second class citizens. ...read more.

Middle

Desdemona's classically Christian faithfulness is shown many times within the play, not only in her innocence of Iago's cruel accusations but her unshaken love for Othello, when she defends him from her father's accusations and also she does not reveal her husband as her murderer even in her dying breath she stays faithful although it is almost obvious that it is him. Anti-Semitism was strong in Elizabethan England. Most Jewish characters in plays were situated in other countries, Italy or colonial islands, partly for authenticity because Jews were excluded from Britain between 1290 and 1655 and also to emphasise the isolation and alienation of Jews from the British Christians. Also Marlowe's own anti-Semitism is shown in titling the play 'The Jew of Malta' rather than using the characters name, Barabas, as he does on some of his other plays for example 'Tamburlaine' or 'Doctor Faustus'. Also in the prologue Machevill states the play is 'the tragedy of a Jew,' using 'A Jew' to once again devalue Barabas's individuality. (Emily Bartels, 1999) Barabas is a merchant; this is unusual because Jews were usually usurers, money lenders. Barabas uses his great wealth to trade whereas other Jews just used there money to make more money out of other people. ...read more.

Conclusion

Racial tension in 'Othello' (with a good dose of sexual jealousy) is no small part of the drama that rivets the viewer -- in modern as well as Elizabethan times.' wgbh (2005) The representation of religion in the Jew of Malta is basically the stereotypical Jew being the villain and the Christian being triumphant over him. The Jew is a bloodthirsty villain who is ultimately damned and comes to a sticky end and Christianity eventually prevails over all. Although it could have been Marlowe's way of showing that although Barabas killed a lot of people the Christian's were fighting over who got his money and at the beginning the Jews were stripped of their riches and religion if the did not obey the order of giving up half their estates so in reality everyone is greedy and materialistic and he sent Barabas to his death just to please the vicious Elizabethan audience. A bloodthirsty Jew seems to be a common character in renaissance drama what with Barabas and Shylock, there may be more. The only things that make Barabas remotely likeable is the fact that he does not hide his villainy, he knows he is a villain and does not pretend to be anything else, more or less, unlike Ferneze and the other Christians who hide their villainy under 'a cloak of pious respectability', (h2g2, no date). ...read more.

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