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The Jew of Malta

Christopher Marlowe

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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.

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