‘Beautiful Abigail and Jessica serve to contrast with the hyperbolic representation of Judaism presented by their fathers.’
Jessica and Abigail both have a variety of different similarities and differences. Both are from wealth obsessed, single parent families that are controlling and manipulative. Their fathers are seen as protagonists throughout both the plays and similarly are both from a Jewish background. This makes the audience prejudge them as inferior characters with possible sinful traits. On the other hand, both are accepted by the remaining characters in which believe in the Christian religion.
As well as similar backgrounds and basic character personalities they also portrait the stereotypical Jewish actions towards situations. In Elizabethan times Jews were discriminated and prejudged in the status focused society. They were accused for stealing, adultery and other Christian sins. In the play, both the father-dependent daughters commit the sin of stealing. Abigail steals from the nunnery to retrieve her fathers’ misplaced wealth. ‘Thus father shall I much dissemble…then father here receive thy happiness.” She describes the money as her fathers ‘happiness.’ This indicates that her reason for completing the sin was to fulfill her fathers’ desire. This shows dramatic purpose because it allows the audience to experience the revelation of loyalty between herself and her father Barabas. A Shakespearean audience would interpret this scene as a negative development of Abigail’s character. She is disrespecting the law and the Christian religion. The audience will begin to associate Abigail with evil, danger and her father. A modern audience will also develop a negative opinion towards Abigail. However, this interpretation will occur because of the betrayal of law rather than the disrespect towards the Christian religion. Jessica also steals in Act 2 Scene 6. As well as betraying her father by eloping she additionally steals a large amount of ducats from her fathers strongly admired money. The faithlessness of Jessica has been an issue of discussion for many centuries, with the debate raging over whether she is justified in leaving her father. The crucial difficulty is that she does not simply run away but insists on stealing from Barabas also. Thus when Gratiano remarks, “Now, by my hood, a gentile and no Jew”, we can only see it as the dramatic purpose of irony. It is indicated as ironic because she is stealing from her father’s money, and Gratiano is implying Christians are thieves. Similarly to their response to Abigail, the audience interprets this scene as an unforgivable action from Jessica. However, the action could also be indicated as self-protection for Jessica. The taking of the many ducats is simply to provide her with enough wealth to keep her in a sustainable lifestyle. Especially after betraying her only relatives for Christians she is being smart to be well prepared for the worst.
The two characters are also similar because of their betrayal towards their fathers. Shylock receives large quantities of discrimination with in the play because of his Jewish beliefs. This relates to the context of the play as discrimination and prejudice towards Jewish citizens was very frequent and common in that era. Because his daughter converted to Christianity and left her father isolated and alone it is used as a dramatic purpose. This is because it adds suspense to the story because of the audience waiting to see how the fathers will react to the situation. Jessica’s last speech in Act 2 Scene 3 makes her Christian conversion quite clear: ‘Alack, what a heinous sin it is in me…To be ashamed to be my father’s child… But though I am a daughter to his blood…I am not to hi manners.’ The ‘heinous sin’ is not that Jessica is a Jew but that she is denying her