The Jew of Malta Theme of Hypocrisy
Ah, hypocrisy: the gift that keeps giving. Well, if you're on Malta, anyway. Generally speaking, hypocrisy is claiming you have one set of moral standards and then acting according to a different set of rules. Sounds bad, right? Sure. But remember that The Jew of Malta is presided over by Machiavelli, a guy who thought that hypocrisy was fine and dandy as long as it kept you in power. For a politician like Ferneze, hypocrisy lets you have your gold and bathe in it too: you sound good, because you openly espouse Christian morals, but you also get the luxury of doing really immoral things.
Questions About Hypocrisy
- There's a lot of hypocrisy in this play. If you had to give a gold star to the Number One Hypocrite, who would you choose?
- Barabas does more than his fair share of lying, cheating and stealing, but is he a hypocrite?
- Ferneze talks about how good and Christian he is while he's blatantly persecuting the Jews. How does he get away with it?
- Do you think Ferneze knows he's a hypocrite, or does he really think that his professed beliefs and his actions line up?
Chew on This
Power matters more than morality in this play, so hypocrisy is less a personal sin and more of a useful tool—you get all the advantages of professing morality while getting away with really immoral behavior.
Barabas claims that "A counterfeit profession is better/Than unseen hypocrisy (1.2.289-290), but ultimately his own "counterfeit profession" falls flat before Ferneze's "unseen hypocrisy."