Collection No. 39: The Jew, by Richard Cumberland

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Cumberland, Richard
Author dates: 1732-1811
Title: The Jew

First played: 1794
First published: 1794, for C. Dilly [etc.] 75 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1794)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality

Character types: Jewish

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Sheva, the titular character, provides Frederic Bertram with enough money to keep his new wife Eliza Ratcliffe. Sheva's generosity leads to the reconciliation of the Bertram and Ratcliffe families.

Act I.
Sir Stephen Bertram has dismissed a clerk, Charles Ratcliffe, who was recommended by his son Frederic; the latter seeks to understand the cause of the dismissal. Frederic is secretly married to Ratcliffe’s sister. Ratcliffe arrives and Frederic informs him that he has been dismissed. Sheva, a Jew, arrives to speak with Sir Stephen. Charles Ratcliffe expresses sympathy towards him; Frederic recalls that Ratcliffe once saved Sheva from a beating. Sheva laments the fate of Jews in England, saying that they are the butt of all the jokes on stage. Ratcliffe goes to see Sir Stephen, while Frederic acquaints Sheva of Ratcliffe’s current financial predicament. Sheva agrees to loan Frederic three hundred pounds to support Ratcliffe’s destitute mother and sister.  Ratcliffe compares Sheva’s generous response to his plight to Sir Stephen’s miserly one. Sheva tells Charles to come home with him.

Act II.
Eliza Ratcliffe laments having married Frederic: “love is at once [her] crime and her excuse”. Eliza admits to her mother that she has married Frederic. They discuss their family’s lost prestige. Mrs. Ratcliffe instructs Eliza to be wary when she and Frederic announce their marriage. Sheva’s servants Dorcas and Jabal bicker. Jabal complains that his master is too cheap and that he has not had a full stomach since he began to work for him. Dorcas reminds him that Sheva is generous to charities and that he has no heir. Sheva and Ratcliffe arrive; they drink water because it is cheaper than wine. Sheva tells Charles that his weakness is his over-generosity. Frederic arrives to pick up the £300. Charles and Jabal are shown out. Frederic tells Sheva that he will not take the £300 because he cannot pay it back: his father has cast him out of the house upon learning of his marriage. Sheva gives him the money anyway, saying that he will not expect it to be returned within his lifetime. Frederic is astonished by this generosity. Jabal listens and the keyhole then reports Sheva’s doings to Dorcas. They share one egg, an unusual luxury. Jabal contemplates going on the stage in an “eating part”.

Act III.
Frederic goes to the Ratcliffes’, where Mrs. Ratcliffe wishes him joy. He tells her that he has a small sum of money+, but that his father is not yet reconciled to the marriage. Eliza enters; she explains that she must prove to the world that she did not seduce and marry Frederic for his money. Eliza pleads with Frederic to let her talk to Charles alone to inform him of the marriage. Charles is furious, saying that they will be accused for having plotted to take Frederic’s money. Saunders, Sir Stephen’s servant, tells his master that Frederic has settled with his lady in handsome new lodgings. Sir Stephen is puzzled as to where Frederic procured the money to do so. Jabal reported Sheva’s generosity to Saunders, who in turn relates the story to Sir Stephen; however, this gentleman disbelieves it. Sheva arrives; Sir Stephen cross-questions him and refuses to believe that he is charitable, calling him a villain and accusing him of ulterior motives. Sheva produces a financial agreement saying that he has invested ten thousand pounds for Eliza Ratcliffe. Sir Stephen is astonished, as he believed that neither Eliza nor Charles had any money at all.

Act IV.
Sir Stephen tells Saunders he has forgiven Frederic. He summons Charles Ratcliffe, who is unaware of the sudden windfall. Ratcliffe is hostile towards him, saying that the only stroke of good luck has been his dismissal. Sheva returns home, astonished at his own generosity, but concluding that he has made a good bargain: two people are richer and only one is poorer. He calls for food; Jabal reports that there is none left. Sheva scolds Jabal for having listened to his confidential business dealings. Jabal proves to be a loyal servant, however, so Sheva gives money to Dorcas so that she can reward him with food. Mrs. Goodison arrives: some new tenants have taken lodgings at her house, and their story reminded her of a time when Sheva loaned her money. Mrs. Goodison tells Sheva that Mrs. Ratcliffe is the widow of a man who saved Sheva’s life at Cadiz. Charles cannot forgive Eliza for marrying Frederic.  Eliza faints from the severity of Charles’ criticism; the two men quarrel and go to fight one another. However Eliza secures Frederic’s promise that he will not further enrage Charles.

Act V.
Frederic and Charles meet at a tavern. Jabal enters with a summons from Sheva, who is making his will. Frederic refuses to go. Saunders arrives with a letter from Frederic’s father, but Frederic will not hear him and sends him back with a letter of his own. The two men compare their weapons. Charles refuses to apologize, and they fight, Frederic wounding Charles. Sheva arrives and takes Charles back to the house to bind up his wound. Sir Stephen asks Eliza to have a private conversation with him. Eliza denies any knowledge of the ten thousand pounds. Taken aback by her beauty, Sir Stephen tells her that he will accept her as his daughter regardless of her fortune. Saunders arrives with Frederic’s letter; they read it and rush to prevent the conflict. Before they leave, however, Frederic and Charles enter with an embarrassed Sheva. They praise him as being a “universal benefactor”: he has made Charles his heir and has given ten thousand pounds to Eliza, “build[ing] his hospital in the human heart.”

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Secondary commentary

A) Sherbo, Arthur.  ‘Cumberland, Richard (1732–1811)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 26 May 2008.

"The success of The Jew stemmed almost entirely from its depiction of the Jew Sheva, reversing the tradition of the Jew as villain. The play was performed in America and Germany, and was translated and published in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. It surpassed The West Indian in popularity, being revived well into the nineteenth century."

B) Keenan, Joseph J.,Jr., ‘Richard Cumberland: February 19, 1732-May 7, 1811’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 26 May 2008.
"This play is in its own way a remarkable blend of comedy, melodrama, and the drama of social purpose. Certain melodramatic qualities continue in the piece: the virtuous, distressed heroine and hero; the sensitive mother; the sententious language; the comic man--here the always-famished servant, Jabal. But there is no villain, no Belfield, Senior, no Bridgemore, no Father Sullivan. The play's problems are caused by people momentarily blinded to genuine values, not by men devoted to evil. There simply is no need for black villainy in the play, for Cumberland's concern is not so much with virtue triumphant as it is with presenting the essential benevolent humanity of the Jew."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Sheva, the Jewish character, speaks with an accent (“goot”; “fader”) and uses some non-standard grammar. The other characters use second person pronouns inconsistently (often “thou” / “thee” instead of “you”).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Sheva (a Jew)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 4]
The good day to you, my young master! How is it with your health, I pray? Is your fader Sir Stephen Bertram, and my very good patron, to be spoken with?
[page 5 ]

Yes, yes, he is at home, and to be spoken with, under some precaution, Sheva; if you bring him money, you will be welcome.

Ah! that is very goot. Monies is welcome every where.
[page 10]
Sheva alone.

Heigho! I cannot chuse but weep---Sheva, thou art a fool---Three hundred pounds by the day, how much is that in the year?---Oh dear, oh dear! I shall be ruin'd, starv'd, wasted to a watch-light. Bowels, you shall pinch for this: I'll not eat flesh this fortnight; I'll suck the air for nourishment; I'll feed upon the steam of an alderman's kitchen, as I put my nose down his area.---Well, well! but soft, a word, friend Sheva! Art thou not rich? monstrous rich, abominably rich? and yet thou livest on a crust---Be it so! thou dost stint thine appetites to pamper thine affections; thou dost make

[page 11 ]

thyself to live in poverty, that the poor may live in plenty. Well, well! so long as thou art a miser only to thine own cost, thou may'st hug thyself in this poor habit, and set the world's contempt at [300]  naught.

b.1 Orthography: “goot”; “fader”
b.2 Grammar: “how is it with your health”; “to be spoken with?”; “monies is”; “thou” (when addressing himself); “thine appetites” and “thine affections” (vs. “thy”; probably because of the next words’ initial vowels).
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (Jewish)
d. Character profile: a Jewish broker; however, he is represented atypically in that he is secretly generous and succeeds in bringing about the play’s happy conclusion
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Frederic
a. Sample of dialect
[page 5]
I recollect you was his rescuer; I did not know you were his advocate.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “you was”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: well-born son of Sir Stephen, secretly married to the impoverished Eliza Ratcliffe
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent ("you was" and "you were" in the same sentence!)

Variety: Charles Ratcliffe
a. Sample of dialect
[page 12 ]

Ch. And had'st thou not a sister too?

Sheva. [325]  No, no sister, no broder, no son, no daughter: I am a solitary being, a waif on the world's wide common.

Ch. And thou hast hoarded wealth, till thou art sick with gold even to plethory: thy bags run over with the spoils of usury; thy veins are glutted with the blood of prodigals and gamesters.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “thou” (only when addressing Sheva)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: from an ancient but poor family, causing him to work as a clerk (to his shame!); a cynic
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent use of “thou”

Variety: Dorcas (servant)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 18]
I warrant thou hast fill'd thy belly, cormorant.

I have not had a belly-full since I belong'd to you. You take care there shall be no fire in the kitchen, master provides no prog upon the shelf, so between you both I have plenty of nothing but cold and hunger.

Hunger indeed! How shou'd thy stomach ever be fill'd, when there is no bottom to it? 'tis like the Dead Sea, fathomless.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “thou”, “thy”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (Jewish)
d. Character profile: Sheva’s female servant
e. Consistency of representation:  consistent use of “thou”

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

On swearing (reinforces Sheva’s positive portrayal by suggesting he is pious):

[page 49]
Yes, for I wou'd have dealt the fellow that abus'd you such a recompence in the fifth button, that my friend Mendoza should not have plac'd it better.---Damn it! do you think I wou'd stand by and hear my master abus'd?

Don't you swear, don't you swear---That is goot lad, but don't you swear.

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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele