(Dominic Cavendish’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 3/27.)
How do you create an enemy within, a lone-wolf saboteur of everything you cherish? It’s not so very hard: just take someone who’s part of an oppressed religious minority and subject them to so much vilification, abuse and injustice that they become hell-bent on revenge, and even the overthrow of the state.
Hurtling down the centuries towards us and landing on the RSC Swan stage with the force and modernity of a missile comes Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589). It was written when he was young – 25 – and it retains the ardour of youth: it’s provocative, mischief-making, wickedly funny.
What it isn’t – as Justin Audibert’s exemplary period-dressed revival makes clear – is crudely rabble-rousing. There’s a heap of anti-Semitic sentiment in the play; but you’d have to be looking very fixedly in one direction not to see how vile prejudice unleashes the blood-thirsty, eye-for-an-eye antics of its wilier-than-thou anti-hero, Barabas.