Jewish Characters

Introduction to Character Type | List of Plays | Up One Level

Introduction to Character Type

In this collection, Jewish characters are frequently stereotyped professionally and linguistically. As stock characters, the recurrence of their character trends rivals the French valet and the country squire. They are often portrayed as minor characters, usually as moneylenders named Moses with thick accents. Such characters occur in The Fashionable Lover (1772), The Nabob (1772; published 1778), The Cozeners (1774; published 1778), and The School for Scandal (1777; published 1780). The recurrent language patterns of Jewish characters include orthographic variations such as "v" for "w" and grammar errors and inconsistencies. These trends are summarized in this excerpt from The Cozeners:

Moses. Madam, you vas exceeding polite, indeed: I always finds de ladies very partial to me; I vas have de honour to be chose last veek maister of de ceremony to de Mile-End assembly; and Mrs. Alderman herself make alvays choice of me for de cotilions (Foote 14).

The only exception to this language and professional stereotyping is the character of Mordecai in Macklin's Love a-la-Mode (1759; published 1779), who speaks in Standard English and is an upper-class fop rather than a moneylender.

There are several sympathetic portrayals of Jewish characters, particularly in Cumberland's The Jew (1794), which showcases the selflessness and humility of Sheva, the titular character. Sheva gives vast sums of money to his impoverished acquaintances while living frugally himself, and is extremely embarrassed when his generosity is acknowledged by the other characters. A slightly more mocking portrayal is that of Moses Manasses in The Cozeners, who relies on Fleece'em and Flaw to get him into a select men's club from which he has been blackballed because of his religion. Manasses' plight is a recognition on the playwright's behalf of the many barriers that existed to prevent Jews from rising socially and from integrating into upper-class English society. The few sympathetic portrayals of Jewish characters are nevertheless subject to unfortunate stereotyping, preventing the development of a fully nuanced character that demonstrates a complex cultural understanding.

Works Cited:

Foote, Samuel. The Cozeners. London: T. Sherlock, for T. Cadell, 1778. Literature Online. 12 August 2008.

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List of Plays

The Fashionable Lover (Cumberland)

The Jew (Cumberland)

The Nabob (Foote)

The Cozeners (Foote)

Love A-La-Mode (Macklin)

The School for Scandal (R.B. Sheridan)

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©2008 Arden Hegele