Act II opens with Barabas again bemoaning the loss of his money as he approaches what used to be his mansion in the dead of night. He compares himself to a man close to death or a soldier who is scarred with the memory of his "former riches." The protagonist's anguish is alleviated somewhat by Abigail, who appears above him having retrieved his hidden stash. She throws down the treasure, and in his ecstasy Barabas shouts, "Oh girl, oh gold, oh beauty, oh my bliss!" as he hugs the moneybags. Abigail warns her father to leave as the nuns will soon be arising for the day's first worship. Barabas exits, still eulogizing over his daughter and the dawn. He vows to sing over his recovered gold as the "morning lark" does her young.
The action returns to the governor, Ferneze, who is meeting the vice-admiral of Spain, Martin del Bosco. He states that he has many Turkish slaves to sell, captured during a skirmish between some of his ships and those of the Ottoman fleet. Ferneze regrets that the slaves cannot be sold in Malta, since there is an alliance between his state and the Turks. Bosco persuades the governor to break this alliance, saying that the Spanish king will send military support if Malta's enemies attack. The governor agrees to this proposal and appoints Bosco Malta's general. The Spaniard points to the behavior of the garrison at Rhodes, whom he says fought to the death in order to repel the Turkish forces. Both statesmen agree to give their lives to defend the island against Calymath, and Ferneze leaves pronouncing a neat rhyme, "we are resolved, / Honour is bought with blood and not with gold."
In Act II, scene i, Barabas appears to be a caricature of Machiavellian avariciousness as perceived by Elizabethan society. Barabas states that he is more grieved by the loss of his wealth than he would be at the loss of his life. Light and dark imagery plays a key role in this short scene. Barabas stalks through the darkness of the night, alluding to his own black mood, and awaits reunion with his gold. When this happens, Barabas's language changes completely; he launches into a poetic rapture that dazzles with overblown emotion and light imagery. Implicitly, Barabas compares the glow of dawn to that of gold when he pronounces, "Now Phoebus ope the eyelids of the day." Marlowe suggests that Barabas's love for his daughter is intertwined with his joy at recovering his money. Indeed, it is difficult to determine what it is that Barabas rejoices at, since his language is quite ambiguous. His exclamations of "[o]h girl, oh gold" are similar in many ways to lines in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, where a character asserts that he overheard "Shylock" shout "O my ducats! Oh my daughter!" In this instance, however, Barabas's cries are those of elation rather than despair. Marlowe thus highlights his protagonist's emotive response to money. The belief that others (both within the play and, more pointedly, in sixteenth-century England) place in religion is secularized in the character of Barabas;he is a man with faith after all, but his hopes of redemption are rooted in financial gain rather than heavenly salvation.
In the next scene, the first of many oaths are broken that will be foresworn within the play. Ferneze breaks his league with the Turks in order to gain material advantage and military protection from the Spanish. Although this is really an example of shrewd statecraft as Machiavelli might have supported—the Spanish are bound by religion and trade interests to help the Maltese—Del Bosco and Ferneze disguise the financial motivations behind their agreement by couching it in terms of honor and morality. The governor's last lines are misleading, for in fact the two men have struck a commercial deal by which the Turkish slaves will be sold for Spanish profit. In turn, the Maltese will be freed from their financial obligations to the Turks. Ferneze is not alone in his careful accounting of benefits and disadvantages. This motif of calculation—both for self-interest and the interest of the state—runs throughout the play and is employed by nearly all of its characters. Everyone knows what it is that he or she wants and will scheme to get it, disguising his or her real intentions if necessary.
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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