Audience response to discontinuities in Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta" and Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"

Linda Clare Tolman, Marquette University


The popularity of Marlowe's The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida on the modern stage can be understood more fully by focussing on the audience's role in completing the meaning of the plays. To assess modern audience's expectations and responses, I have examined the reviews and programme notes of these plays mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company within the last thirty years. Chapter one offers a theoretical perspective based on the work of critics who focus on the dialogical relationship a literary work has with the public of each age. Chapter two provides a history of the reception of The Jew of Malta, focussing on three criticisms from readers of the past: the weakness of the plot, the flattened characterization, and Marlowe's catering to anti-Semitic prejudices. A changed twentieth-century attitude toward the play is seen in the reviews of recent RSC productions. Chapter three focusses on the differing expectations of Renaissance and modern audiences for Marlowe's play, based on the stereotyye of the Jew and the Machiavel. In chapter four, three qualities which mark Marlowe's play are discussed: the engagement and detachment of the audience's response to Barabas, the narrative's speed and collapsing of time, and the indeterminate ending. Chapter five describes Troilus and Cressida's historic reception. Troublesome for readers of earlier centuries were the play's episodic structure and the radically divergent presentation by Shakespeare of the Trojan War heroes and their motivation for fighting. Chapter six deals with several points of commonality between the Renaissance and modern periods--in mutability, in questioning human centrality, and in shifting perspectives--which help explain modern audiences' receptivity. Chapter seven focusses on the defamiliarization strategies within the Shakespearean text that disrupt an easy reader/spectator response, especially Shakespeare's departure from The Iliad in his portrayal of Thersites and Achilles. Additionally, Shakespeare calls into question the historic presentation of Cressida as whore. Constantly shifting perspectives, Shakespeare keeps from the audience any sense of surety in its knowledge of her. Chapter eight closes with a discussion of modern, non-Aristotelian literary theories which reveal a changed mindset toward tragedy, and consequently, the plays.

Recommended Citation

Tolman, Linda Clare, "Audience response to discontinuities in Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta" and Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9411527.