The Jew of Malta Theme of Prejudice
The Jew of Malta hits us with two levels of prejudice: First, your run-of-the-mill every racial/religious group hating on every other racial/religious group. Second, the fact that this play is about a man who gleefully embraces every anti-Semitic stereotype the Maltese can come up with. Seriously, Shmoopers—we're talking people are afraid to even stage this play because it's so racist. But is the play racist? We're not so sure. At the beginning of the play, Ferneze is spouting baldly racist rhetoric, but probably not a single member of the audience is thinking, "Yeah, that guy sure is right to steal from those Jews." And Barabas is ultimately made out to be so over-the-top and so different from the other Jews in the play that he emerges not as a representative of the Jewish community, but a representative of prejudices against Jews. Maybe we'd better leave this with the guy at Yo, Is This Racist.
Questions About Prejudice
- Is the play itself anti-Semitic, or is it satirizing anti-Semitism?
- Is there anybody in this play who isn't bigoted? What about Abigail?
- Do you think that Ferneze actually believes all of the extremely racist, bigoted things he says, or is he just using those views to get justify his political actions?
- How do racial prejudices overlap with racial and national prejudices in the play? Are they basically the same thing?
Chew on This
Even though the play uses anti-Semitic stereotypes, it condemns prejudice against Jews.
As the play goes on, Barabas becomes less of an individual Jewish man and more of a product of his society's prejudices against Jews.