Hatred of Jews prevailed in Elizabethan society, and this is reflected in plays of the period. Two of the strongest examples of plays containing strong anti-Semitism are Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In Marlowe’s play, Barabas, the Jew of Malta, is a cruel, egotistic, and greedy man. In Elizabethan times, he was played in a confrontational and somewhat comic manner, with the actor wearing a red wig and a long hooked nose. Shylock, the Jewish merchant in The Merchant of Venice, is also presented as a greedy, vindictive man. Shakespeare tempers his character, however, with a bit more humanity than is found in Barabas. Elizabethan anti-Semitism was fueled in 1594 when Queen Elizabeth’s Jewish doctor was executed on the charge of trying to poison her.
Disguise is a device that is used frequently by the characters in Elizabethan Drama. It is a way in which characters gain information that would be otherwise withheld from them. For example, in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Rosalind discovers that her true love, Orlando, is indeed in love with her while she is disguised as a boy. Some critics also believe that disguising female characters in male garb afforded the men and boys who were playing these roles to spend part of the play in costumes that were more comfortable and familiar.
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