Barabas versus Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
There can be many similarities drawn to both the character Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and Barabas in the Jew of Malta. However besides the obvious fact that they were both Jews, and the common stereo-types that were attributed to both of them such as being miserly and conniving, there are gaping differences in the dynamics of the characters themselves. “There are profound differences in Barabas and Shylock. The role assigned to by Shakespeare to his Christian characters is far more extensive, his Jew on the other hand has been scaled down and domesticated. Shylock has none of the insatiable ambition that makes Barabas for all his grotesque acts, a character along the lines of the great Faustus and Tambourlaine.”(Shylock,21) There is a much greater roundness in Barabas then Shylock. Marlowe portrays Barabas the Jew in a dynamic and somewhat curios manner. It is difficult to surmise Marlowe’s intent when portraying the Jew, yet it is certain that there is more than what seems topically apparent. It is very clear that he is an outsider, not only in the obvious aspect that he is a Jew in the less than theologically tolerant and politically correct Elizabethan drama, but he is also an outsider in terms of evil and his mode of thought. He is obviously a villain, lying cheating, poisoning a entire nunnery, even killing those we thought were close to him, including his daughter, yet through his Machiavellan quest for power and riches we somehow become almost endeared to him and he becomes an anti-hero. All these aspects combine to make Barabas a character that we are somehow drawn to in the same way people are drawn to stare at a traffic accident.
Through the course of modern history, the Jewish people have always been ethnic outsiders, as a product of this outsider status there has always been a somewhat jaded representation of them by artists who were raised and educated in anti-Semitic environment. Though we can blame the way Marlowe presents his protagonist on the fallacies of the time, it is not because he does not know any better, but because Marlowe chooses to satire other common representations of the time. Barabas is still presented with the same types of stereo-types as any other Elizabethan dramatist portraying a Jew would, yet there is an additional layer of parody. Marlowe is somehow mocking the way his society presents the Jews. “Marlowe makes a caricature, a ludicrous parody of the popular Elizabethan stereo-types of the sly, shrewish Jew.”
Though it is clear that there are some classically “Jewish” characteristics in Barabas. His vices are not so much those that can be attributed to a Jew as much as those of a villain. Yet somehow this villainy allows us to almost respect...