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A chapter of Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare is dedicated to Christopher Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta. It’s a play about a rich Jewish merchant in Malta called Barabas, whose wealth is confiscated by the Christian rulers of Malta in order to pay a tribute to the Turks. Barabas, understandably, gets pretty mad about all his money being stolen, and seeks revenge on the rulers of Malta. But, unfortunately, things don’t end up so fab for him.
Greenblatt was interested in how Jewish characters—and specifically Barabas—are represented in this play. Anti-Semitism goes way back, and in Elizabethan England people were pretty darn anti-Semitic. There were loads of stereotypical depictions of Jewish people. So, the question that Greenblatt set out to answer is: to what extent does the play challenge the anti-Semitic values of Renaissance England? And to what extent does it uphold them?
Let’s look at an excerpt from the play below. In it, Ferneze, the Christian governor of Malta, is coming with his knights to inform Barabas and other Jewish merchants that they’re confiscating their money.