The Jew of Malta and the Othello Plays views on Religion and Criminality
In the Jew of Malta, there are three religions involved, they are Christianity, Jewish, and the Muslim Turks. The play begins with Barabbas, who is a Jewish merchant waiting for news about the arrival of his ships. After the confirmation that the ships had safely arrived at Malta from East, three men come to visit him with some news from the Maltese governor, Ferneze. The Turkish Sultan demands some tribute from Malta, which has accumulated for ten years. As a result, the governor orders all the Jews to give half of their estate to the governor to help him pay tribute to the Turks. All the three men accompanying Barabbas to the senate house are Jews. When Barabas considers and claims the action to be unfair, the governor confiscates all his ships in the Malta. Fernezes is a Christian and the religious language he uses against the Jews is not fair. He does not mention of Christians or Muslim Turks assisting him pay the tribute. As a result, Barabas declares revenge against the governor and all Christians. Barabas makes his decision about Christians basing his argument on the actions of only one Christian, Fernezes, and the Maltese governor (Eder, 2011).
The Othello play is displays some religious aspects and imagery. The play begins in the streets of Venice where two young men Roderigo and Lago shouts from outside the house of the Duke of Venice, Brabantio that his daughter, Desdemona had eloped with Othello, the Moor. Roderigo had failed in winning Desdemona hand in marriage and is accusing Othello of using witchcraft that is against the religion of Othello. Othello confesses that he won his wife in a clean and transparent way by sharing his adventure and true love with her. Othello had promoted Cassio in the workplace where Roderigo expected a promotion. The Duke of Venice, Brabantio is a Jew while Othello is a Christian, and he was very mad when he realized his daughter’s marriage to the Christian. After the case is presented to the officers of Venetian court and solved, Othello is set free to marry Desdemona. The religious imagery of the play is revealed when the Duke appoints Othello to the general in the defense against the Turks. He is a Jew, and he does not like the Muslim Turks. Othello is sent to Cyprus with his wife accompanying him in the next ship. The Christians, Muslim Turks, and Jews have enmity based on religious beliefs. Each of them receives religious teaching and morals to love and respect each other unfortunately, they do not observe the teachings (Shakespeare & Holste, 2002).
From the play the Jew of Malta, the governor also takes away, the Barabas house and converts it into a convent. This is a way of punishing the Jew for not cooperating in assisting the state in paying tribute to the Turks. Every Jew was supposed to give half of his estate to the governor, Fernezes, but Barabas refused. All his wealth was taken away and used by Christians which hurts him. To prove the religious conflict, he uses his daughter Abigal to revenge against the Maltese governor. According to (Kelsall, 2001) Abigail, is in a romantic relationship with Mathias, who is a friend to Lodowick, the Fernezes daughter. Coincidentally, Lodowick also had some interest in Abigail. With the help of Ithamore, the Turkish slave that Barabas bought from Fernezes, he creates a conflict between the two young men, and they end up killing each other. Ithamore is a Muslim Turk, who also hates Christians just like his boss Barabas. They are both criminals, and they work together in eliminating Christians from Malta. He makes them believe that his daughter is interested in them which is a lie. Abigal is very sad when he realizes that his father set a trap to kill Mathias. Barabas did not like the two Christians and did not want them anywhere close to his daughter, and hence he killed them. Barabas referred to Christians as thieves. This was an abusive language, whereas, he was a murderer. Barabas notes that he is just following Christian examples by quoting from the act in Catholic Christian teaching, “Faith is not to be kept with heretics”, where all the heretics are not Jews as McAdam, (2009) confirms. The Jew uses this to defend his evil actions against Christians.
Desdemona is accused of infidelity by Iago. Iago works to ensure divorce between Othello and his wife. He had been given some money by rich Rodinego to work for the divorce. Cassio got drunk after influence by Iago and Othello accused him of causing disturbance. Therefore, Desdemona, Othello’s wife promised Cassio that she would talk with her husband to ensure they reconciled and that he was not demoted. Iago, who is the husband to Emillia, a servant of Desdemona, accused Desdemona of infidelity. In the religious definition, infidelity was viewed as a severe offense in the Christian religious beliefs.As a result, Othello becomes very furious and orders Iago to kill Cassio. Othello goes ahead to kill his wife out of infidelity. The religious beliefs regarding infidelity does not allow the husbands to kill their wives. However, Othello goes ahead and does it. Therefore, the religious term infidel is revealed here. Othello, an African Christian does not follow on his Christian teachings and beliefs. He is unfaithful to his religious teachings. Therefore, in the act of redefining the religious term in the play, a Christian should follow the religious teachings and beliefs (Shakespeare, The tragedy of othello, the moor of venice, 2014). Othello is wrong and unreligious in the Christian faith by killing his wife and commanding Iago to kill Cassio. Killing is not taught in the Christian religion. Idolatry is also revealed where the Duke, believes that Othello used witchcraft to marry his daughter. Nevertheless, Desdemona confesses to love truly Othello.
An aspect of renegade is also revealed in the Jews of Malta. This refers to an act of moving from one religion to another that opposes it. After Abigal, Barabas daughter realized that his father caused the death of his love, Mathias, she joins convent where she becomes a Christian (Logan, 2013). The first time when she went to the convent in pretense to become a Christian, she wanted to get gold from his father’s house that was converted into the convent by the fernezes, the Maltese governor. She converted back to Jew after getting the gold. Abigal was serious for converting to Christianity for the second time after learning how evil her father was. Unfortunately, Barabas killed all the nuns and his daughter by poisoning them using rice porridge. Barabas had also confused the priests by promising them that he would convert to Christianity. Barabas did not to convert to Christianity but wanted to set a trap to the two priests. Due to greediness for money, the two priests started fighting for Barabas to join their church. Marlowe, Gill, & Rowland, The complete works / 4 The Jew of Malta., (2005) puts it clearly that the focus was not to preach the religious practices to Barabas but to benefit from his wealth. Unfortunately, they both lost their lives. Barabas kills the two Friars after inviting them into his house. Abigal had confessed of her father’s criminal offense to the two priests, Jacomo and Bernadine of killing Lodowick and Mathias before she died. Therefore, renegade, idolatry, and infidel are redefined as in the two plays as described (Marlowe & Ellis, 2003).
Malta, Venice, and Cyprus are figured as areas of religious identity, criminality, sexual and gender issues related to the two plays. Barabas commits all his crimes in Malta; he killed the nuns and his daughter in the convent that is located in Malta. Barabas is not happy with the Maltese governor and hence figure the place as an area of committing crimes for revenge. The two priests, Jacomo, and Bernadine, were also killed in Malta. When the prostitute whom Ithamore had fallen in love advised him to blackmail Barabas, she was also poisoned by Barabas. Barabas is a Jew, who is a criminal. By the end of the play, he also killed Ithamore after learning his plan with the prostitute to blackmail him of his gold. In the same way, all the religious conflicts take place in Malta. The Christians, Jews and Muslim Turks in Malta are enemies to each other. Towards the end of the play, Barabas wanted to kill Turkish sultan’s son Selim Calymath, who was sent to collect the tribute from the Malta governor. Fortunately, Fernezes stopped him.
In Venice, Othello is a male general who is sent to Cyprus to fight against Turks. The issue of gender and sexuality comes in. The duke selects a male defense general basing his argument on gender. The crimes also take place in Cyprus where Cassio and Desdemona are killed. All the crimes are based on religious rhetorical beliefs. Barabas kills his daughter for converting to Christianity, which is a rhetoric, religious belief. All the other nuns did not deserve to die. That was an issue between him and his daughter. According to Hall, (2009) the Duke is also seen to have some rhetoric, religious beliefs. He believes that Othello used witchcraft to win his daughter’s hand in marriage.
In conclusion, the two plays, The Jew of Malta and Othello involves religious beliefs and imagery. The characters like Barabas are Jews, and they hate Christians who have been revealed through the criminal acts of killing them. The governor is also not fair to Jews because, he takes the house of Barabas and convert it into a convent. Barabas defends his evil action from the fact that a Christian, Fernezes took away all his wealth. Infidel, Renegade and idolatry are religious terms redefined in the two plays. Malta, Venice, and Cyprus are viewed and defined by the characters with rhetoric, religious beliefs as the places for religious identity, sexuality and crime re-fashioning. The evils that revolve around the three areas are linked to rhetoric, religious beliefs. Barabas kills Christians as a result of rhetoric beliefs about Christianity. However, he is a criminal because he kills even Ithamore, a Muslim Turk, who was his servant. He also had intentions of killing Calymath, who is the son of Sultan; he comes to get tribute from Malta. However, Fernezes stops him from killing the innocent young man. Barabas is a criminal and a selfish man.
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Hall, J. L. (2009). Othello: a guide to the play. Westport, Conn. [u.a] : Greenwood Press.
Kelsall, M. (2001). Christopher Marlowe. Leiden: Brill.
Logan, R. A. (2013). The Jew of Malta: a critical reader. London: Arden Shakespeare.
Marlowe, C., & Ellis, H. (2003). The Jew of Malta. New York: Dover Publications.
Marlowe, C., Gill, R., & Rowland, R. (2005). The complete works / 4 The Jew of Malta. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
McAdam, I. (2009). The irony of identity: self and imagination in the drama of Christopher Marlowe. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, cop.
Shakespeare, W. (2014). The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Minneapolis: First Avenue Editions.
Shakespeare, W., & Holste, G. (2002). Othello. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series.