April 27, 2012

SOUL SALES and other blood commodities: an analysis of Marlowe's and Shakespeare's morality economy through the conduit of manifest capitalism

Matt Peterson, Advisor: Marcela Kostihova

The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe and The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare provide us with a pair of wily antagonists—Barabas and Shylock—whose reigns of blood and manipulation drive the plots of their respective plays. Though some may view the macabre nature of these two Jews as mere anti-Semitism, this is in fact a vast oversimplification as nearly all characters in both plays have bloodied hands due to backstabbing, deception, betrayal, and a host of other treacheries. Summarily, this pair of plays is notable in the Renaissance British canon because they have no obvious moral anchor. Instead of dismissing this is a mere aberration, my research identifies the nature of the “worlds” in which Barabas and Shylock dwell: a port-of-call for a bloody build of social capitalism. In these plays friends, accords, and even kin are commodified and sold at will for protection and personal gain. Furthermore, the antagonists are vindicated from mere villainy; they are simply the most skilled and ruthless economists possessing the discernment and misanthropic caution to dominate their peers. When Barabas and Shylock eventually fall to ruin at the end of their respective plays, it is not because they are vanquished at the hands of a noble hero, but due instead to losing their grasp on the Machiavellian economics that protected them for so long. It is true that Barabas and Shylock are cunning, deceiving, and vengeful…but they are not evil. The true iniquity stems from the system of manifest capitalism—in which the Jews are merely successful players.