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The Jew of Malta

Christopher Marlowe

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Barabas  -  The protagonist of the play. Barabas is a Jewish merchant who only cares for his daughter Abigail and his vast personal fortune. When Ferneze appropriates Barabas's estate to help the government pay Turkish tribute, Barabas is enraged and vows revenge. His clever plots lead to the deaths of many characters, including Abigail and the governor's son. The protagonist is marked as an outsider within Maltese society because of his religion and because of his Machiavellian cunning. However, in many ways Barabas is the least hypocritical character in the play. He is generally honest about what motivates his crimes, and he never attempts to justify his actions by religious doctrine. Nevertheless, as Barabas grows to delight in his own wickedness, we see how many of his murders are in fact motiveless acts driven by hate.

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Abigail -  Barabas's daughter. Abigail is initially dutiful to her father and unwittingly helps him mislead Mathias and Lodowick. However, when she discovers her father's involvement in their deaths, Abigail decides to convert to Christianity to atone for her sins. Her conversion could be read as a moral climax within the play, for it suggests that the true path to salvation lies in Christian redemption. However, Abigail's rejection of her heritage in favor of joining a hypocritical Christian clergy is in many respects unconvincing. Marlowe probably intended this action to be deeply ironic, and as such it reinforces the play's essential ambiguity.

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Ithamore  -  Barabas's slave, whom the protagonist vows to make the heir to his estate after Abigail's conversion to Christianity. The men share a similar hatred for Christians and vow to cause them as much disruption as they can. Similarly, both are obsessed by money and the power that it affords. However, while Barabas is a criminal mastermind, Ithamore is more of a common thief and cutthroat. The slave fails his great test of loyalty when he falls for the prostitute Bellamira, bribes Barbabas, and confesses Barabas's crimes to the governor. Once again, Marlowe shows how another person close to the protagonist abandons Barabas. As with Abigail, the merchant responds to this betrayal by killing Ithamore, along with his cohorts Bellamira and Pilia-Borza.

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Ferneze  -  Barabas's great enemy and the governor of Malta. Ferneze hides his real motives behind ideals of Christian morality. Ultimately, his role in undermining Barabas and bribing Calymath shows how he uses Machiavellian tactics to his own advantage.

Read an in-depth analysis of Ferneze.

Machevill -  The narrator of the Prologue. Machevill is based on Machiavelli, but he is more of an ironic than a genuine characterization of this author. Marlowe uses Machevill to set the scene for a drama filled with irreligion, intrigue, and duplicity—traits that Elizabethans mistakenly identified as quintessentially Machiavellian. Thus, Marlowe shows his gift at dramatizing contemporary beliefs in a way that may be read as serious or satirical.
Selim-Calymath -  The Turkish leader and son of the Ottoman Emperor. Calymath awards Barabas the governorship of the island following Barabas's help in its capture. Calymath then becomes embroiled in Maltese politics as Barabas and Ferneze scheme against one another. Ultimately, Ferneze's tactics result in Calymath's capture, through which Marlowe shows how a great warlord can be felled by Machiavellian intrigue.
Don Mathias -  Abigail's lover and Lodowick's friend. Mathias and Lodowick kill each other in a duel masterminded by Barabas, making Mathias the first innocent victim of Barabas's many plots to exact revenge.
Don Lodowick  -  Ferneze's son. Lodowick loves Abigail and is misled by Barabas into believing that he will marry her. This leads to the duel between Lodowick and Mathias.
Friar Jacomo -  The Dominican friar who converts Abigail. Jacomo is a flawed priest, who, Marlowe implies, sleeps with nuns and lusts after money. As such, he personifies the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy. Barabas frames Jacomo for Bernardine's murder, and Jacomo is subsequently executed.
Friar Bernardine -  Jacomo's friend and a friar, though of a different order from Jacomo. Bernardine fights with Jacomo as both men want Barabas's money to go to their own monasteries. Bernardine is strangled with his own belt by Ithamore after Barabas pretends that he is converting to Christianity. Like Jacomo, Marlowe uses Bernardine to lampoon the corruption of the Catholic clergy.
Bellamira  -  The prostitute who dupes Ithamore into bribing Barabas. Bellamira is willing to resort to crime if her business dries up and thus displays a basic interest in money as a means of survival. She is murdered by Barabas with the use of a poisoned flower.
Pilia-Borza -  Bellamira's pimp. Pilia-Borza is crude but not easily deceived, as shown by his reluctance to dine with Barabas. Ironically, he is still poisoned by Barabas along with Bellamira and Ithamore.
Katherine -  Mathias's mother and a voice of prejudice. Even before she discovers his role in her son's death, Katherine states her dislike for Barabas on the basis of his race.
Martin del Bosco  -  The Spanish vice-admiral who convinces Ferneze to break his alliance with the Turks in return for Spanish protection. Marlowe shows how this protection fails when, with Barabas's help, Calymath storms the city walls.

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