full title · The Jew of Malta or The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta (1633 quarto)
author · Christopher Marlowe
type of work · Play
genre · Tragicomedy; satire of religious hypocrisy and Machiavellian scheming
language · English (Early modern English; Shakespearean prose)
time and place written · between 1589–1591, London
date of first publication · Earliest edition is a quarto dating from 1633, probably based on a copy by Marlowe
publisher · Nicholas Vavafour, London
narrator · "Machevill," a caricature of Machiavelli, the famous sixteenth-century author on statecraft
protagonist · Barabas
setting (time) · During the 1565 Turkish siege of Malta, an island in the Mediterranean
setting (place) · Malta's fortified town
point of view · Marlowe's; the playwright's ambiguous style seems to condemn all of his characters as immoral
climax · Abigail's conversion to Christianity may be understood as the play's heavily ironic moral climax. However, the dramatic climax occurs in the final scene, where Barabas's plot to kill Calymath backfires, and Barabas dies in a cauldron.
falling action · Barabas schemes to free Malta from Turkish rule but his plans founder when Ferneze saves Calymath's life. The protagonist dies, and the governor explains to the Turk that he will be Malta's prisoner until the island is freed.
tense · Present
tone · Deeply ironic; Marlowe plays with stereotypes and complicates our reactions to his characters. Barabas is simultaneously sympathetic and detestable. Many characters that are ostensibly "good" Christians, such as Ferneze, appear hypocritical and moralistic.
themes · Religion and religious hypocrisy; vengeance and retribution; Machiavellian strategy
motifs · Deception and dissimulation; proverbs and biblical allusions
symbols · Gold; Barabas' nose
foreshadowing · There is little foreshadowing in The Jew of Malta, although Abigail's first (false) conversion to Christianity may foreshadow her later one. The play relies more on parallels between the characters: Barabas's immoral actions are frequently compared to those of the Catholic clergy, Ithamore, Calymath and Ferneze.
The plot is an original story of religious conflict, intrigue, and revenge, set against a backdrop of the struggle for supremacy between Spain and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean that takes place on the island of Malta. The title character, Barabas, dominates the play's action.
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