The Jew as Racial “Villain”: a Historico-Generic Interpretation of Shylock, Iago and Barabbas as Victims of Racial Circumstances in Elizabethan Drama.

Francis Mowang Ganyi


As an advocate of the dictum which states that a literary work is always part and parcel of the cultural background from which it was created and as part of my reading and teaching Elizabethan drama at tertiary level, I find the personalities of Shylock, Iago and Barabbas most fascinating and challenging but well situated and analyzed within the background of Renaissance studies. However, teaching Renaissance Literature and literary concepts in the 21st century raises pertinent questions as to the validity of application of today’s standards of morality to dramatic works produced from a Renaissance perspective with its attendant principles and concepts. I have, therefore, always been intrigued about an analysis of these characters from modern day concepts of good and evil. The culmination of my urge is this paper titled: The Jew as racial “Villain”: A historico-generic interpretation of Shylock, Iago and Barabbas as victims of circumstances in Elizabethan drama.” The paper attempts to look at these characters from a modern perspective and to see if they remain as villains in our minds today as they were conceived of in Elizabethan parlance. My findings are that the characters, if analyzed from modern day perspectives appear as complex characters whose actions are misunderstood and thus they can be seen simply as victims of racial circumstances whose punishment is unjustified. Quote:Fear is the most crippling of all the emotions and there are many things in life and in the world to make us afraid. We lack integrity because we are afraid to be ourselves Harold Winestone; The Jew is himself and refuses to be any other

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