Jew English Literature. The Reflection Anti-Semitism Racism Essay

Length: 10 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Mythology - Religion Type: Essay Paper: #61753691 Related Topics: Merchant Of Venice, English Literature, Reflection, Canterbury Tales
Excerpt from Essay :

Jew English literature. The reflection Anti-Semitism racism in novels plays Jew Malta, Oliver Twist, Shakespeare's works e.g The Merchant venice. With elaboration end racism anti-semitism.

Anti-Semitism in English literature

Anti-Semitism has been present in English culture for centuries, this being particularly obvious through studying literature and how it was influenced as a result of biased thinking. The British society put across its unwillingness to accept Jewish individuals as equals ever since the early second millennium. Lasting from that time and until the late nineteenth century English writers did not hesitate to express their anti-Semite convictions in their field of work. Influential English writers like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were actively involved in damaging the image of Jews through the way they presented them in their writings.

Europe has a long history in discriminating Jewish individuals, given that people in the territory came up with a series of false claims meant to hurt the ethnicity. The general public in thirteenth century's Europe compared Jewish men to women and actually believed that they menstruate. "As the fourteen-century Italian astrologer Cecci d'Ascoli writes: "After the death of Christ all Jewish men, like women, suffer menstruation" (Biberman 7).

This can largely be attributed to the fact that Jewish individuals performed circumcision, a process considered to be feminizing at the time. People in Europe during the Dark Ages were inclined to believe that Jews were subhuman and that they could not be compared to Christians in any way. The social position of Jewish people was severely affected at the time, with some people doing everything in their power to undermine Jews. While communities in various parts of Europe have, with time, shown less enthusiasm about persecuting Jews, Englanders have kept their anti-Semite convictions through time and until before the twentieth century as a result of the influence that writers left on British culture (Wistrich).

Anti-Semite thinking has dominated Medieval England, with people in the country inventing numerous absurd concepts relating to Jews and to how they were against the English system and against Christians as a whole. As a result of the general antipathy felt toward Jewish people, the English authorities expelled them from the country under the ruling of King Edward I, in 1290. "The expulsion of the Jews from England initiated a series of responses in the European continent. In 1394, France decided to remove Jews from the country; in 1492, Spain followed suit. Portugal ordered the Jews to leave the country in 1497, and Provence gave the same order in 1502. The next follower was southern Italy in 1541 and then came many other European cities in the next century (qtd in DiCosmo). After the Expulsion, the only Jews remaining in England were the Marranos, who chose to convert to Christianity in order to stay in England, but they still underwent processes of suspicion, interrogation and persecution" (Chien-fu Hsueh 2).

It was not until 1656 when Jews started to return to England, with Oliver Cromwell mediating this event. The community formed as a result of this process has shaped British society as it is known in the present, bringing it a lot of benefits (Wistrich).

In spite that Jews were virtually absent from English society during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, the British public did not abandon its beliefs a propos Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was still strong in these ages, considering that English culture had been irremediably influenced as a result of Jew stereotypes and did not practically require Jewish people to be physically present in England in order for them to be discriminated. Considering that English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare lived in times when Jews were presumably absent from England, it seems strange that the all written in regard to Jewish stereotypes. It is not necessarily that these writers were anti-Semite in character, but that they had access to a range of Jewish stereotypes even with the fact that there were virtually no Jews in England at the time (Wistrich).

Jewish people in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not fear a public rebellion against them, as matters were somewhat relaxed in the country. "Much more unsettling for the Jews of the West, especially those seeking acceptance into Gentile circles, was the pervasive disparagement of Judaism and Jews in literature, on the stage, in journals and newspapers, in speeches and debates, in jokes and
The story was written somewhere around the late fourteenth century, thus meaning that there were no Jews from who Chaucer could inspire from at the time. The community in the story is mixed, with some of the predominant religions in it being Judaism and Christianity. Christianity however is the dominant
religion and contrast "the serpent Sathanas, that hath in Jewes heart his waspe's nest" (Chaucer 252).

The "Prioress's Tale" is likely to be based on a blood libel, with the Christian church from the late fourteenth century going through great efforts to damage the position of minorities-Jews in particular. It is difficult to determine if Chaucer wanted to ridicule the fact that Christians discriminated Jews or whether he actually supported this biased perspective. Judging from the fact that the Prioress is presented as a woman who does not pay great interest to essential values, one might conclude that the author does not appreciate anti-Semitism. The storyline is set in Asia, this most probably being a result of the fact that there were no Jews in England and thus the country could not be used as a setting. The border between satire and anti-Semitism is almost impossible to discern, since Chaucer involved a great deal of elements in the story. All things considered, it is not really important whether Chaucer is anti-Semite or not, as what counts is that he brought forward anti-Semite concepts, which are somewhat difficult to understand as satire, even when they are reviewed by a refined audience. The "Prioress's Tale" is to a certain degree successful because it exaggerates Jewish stereotypes to the point where people come to consider that they are witnessing a satire, and not an account relating to how Jewish individuals are in real life.

Christopher Marlowe's fourth play, "The Jew of Malta," was written somewhere around 1592 and published in the next century, consequent to the writer's death. The play deals with a Jew individual named Barabbas, who reacts violently as a consequence of his wealth being taken away from him. In spite of the fact that Barabbas initially seems a rational man, his mind is corrupted when he is deprived of his money and he comes to behave exactly as everyone who believes in Jewish stereotypes would expect a Jewish individual to act.

Similar to Chaucer, Marlowe placed his protagonist in Malta, as England was still free of Jews at the time when he wrote the play. Marlowe's play can be understood easier than Chaucer, most audiences being likely to realize that the English writer intended the play to serve as satire, as he did not appreciate the way Catholicism functioned and the fact that Jews were generally rejected by the English society.

Anti-Semitism is one of the main themes in the play, this being obvious through the fact that the main character has a lot of stereotypical characteristics. One can immediately identify anti-Semite concepts in the play. However, as the play progresses it slowly but surely becomes clear that it is meant to criticize both Christians and Muslims. The immoral behavior displayed by Christians and Muslims in spite of their professed teachings emphasizes that humans are essentially the same, with religion or ethnicity being of little importance in determining one's character.

The Jewishness that Barabbas expresses is shocking, given that he appears to lose his humanity along with his money. Most people are probable to consider that this "lays the ground for subsequent Jewish characters in English Renaissance literature, and has a lingering influence on the worldly stereotypic image of the Jew in the future ages" (Chien-fu Hsueh 2).

All across the Renaissance period, Englanders were unable to understand Jewish people exactly as they were because they looked into biblical texts and into literature in order to learn more regarding the topic. The Renaissance fueled Christian sentiments and did no justice to…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer. (BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009).

Wistrich, Robert S. Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs Web site:

Biberman, Matthew. Masculinity, anti-semitism, and early modern English literature: from the satanic to the effeminate Jew. (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004).

Brustein. William I. Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Chien-fu Hsueh. "Psychologizing the Anti-Semitism in The Jew of Malta." Retrieved November 18, 2010, from the Kesteven and Sleaford High School Website:

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