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The Jew of Malta

Christopher Marlowe

(III.i); (III.ii); (III.iii)

(II.iii)

(III.iv); (III.v); (III.vi)

Summary

(III.i)

This scene introduces the courtesan Bellamira and her pimp Pilia-Borza. While the prostitute complains about the lack of business after the Turkish blockade of Malta (no ships can get through, and so no merchants have arrived from Italy), Pilia-Borza appears and throws her a moneybag of silver. He explains how he entered Barabas's counting house at night, was disrupted by a noise, and ran off with only one bag, although there was plenty of gold to be had. The friends are interrupted by the appearance of Ithamore; Pilia-Borza warns Bellamira not to stare at him. It is too late, however, because the slave has seen the prostitute and fallen in love with her. He knows that she is a courtesan by her clothing and states that he would give "a hundred of the Jew's crowns" to have her. Ithamore mentions that he has delivered the challenge to Mathias, and only awaits the duel where the young man and Lodowick will kill one another.

(III.ii)

Mathias and Lodowick meet to duel. Lodowick enters reading a letter—no doubt forged like the one Barabas sent to Mathias—which is in some manner offensive. The men start fighting, observed by Barabas from a balcony. Barabas jeers at the men as they fight. After they have killed each other, Ferneze and Mathias's mother, Katherine, enter and find their dead children. Both vow revenge, but, realizing that their sons have killed one another, they seek to find it in the person who set the young men against one another. The bereaved Ferneze suggests the young men should be buried together in a monument, where he can "offer up / My daily sacrifice of sighs and tears" and force heaven to reveal what caused these events. Ferneze then suggests to Katherine that they "take equal share."

(III.iii)

Ithamore meets Abigail and boasts about the success of his and Barabas's cunning plot. While the slave cackles in self-congratulation and lauds the "bravest policy" of his master, Abigail shows no reaction. She asks Ithamore to fetch her any friar from the order of "St Jacques" (i.e. a Dominican priest). The slave leaves, and Abigail is left to rail against her "hard-hearted" father and despair at what he has done to Mathias, Lodowick, and herself. Ithamore then enters with the priest Jacomo, and Abigail asks if she can be admitted to his convent. Although the priest brings up the fact that she was admitted before and "didn't like holy life," Abigail blames this on her father. She states that experience "purchasèd with grief" has taught her the error of her ways. When the friar asks her why Barabas is to be blamed, Abigail refuses to say and states to herself that she will be loyal to her father unto death. She leaves saying that her "duty" is now to the priest.

Analysis

The introduction of the prostitute and her pimp add an ordinary criminal element into the plot. Bellamira and Pilia-Borza have no money because business has been slack; thus, they are attracted to the relatively easy pickings of Barabas's gold. Ithamore's vow to spend 100 "crowns" of his master's money hints at his growing lust for gold, although this is directed toward buying Bellamira. In some ways, this scene is reminiscent of Act II, scene iii, where Lodowick describes Abigail as a diamond that he wants to buy. Although Ithamore responds to the prostitute's beauty, his mind turns immediately to the money that would be required to purchase her. Throughout the play, the language of money is used in connection with the language of love. Characters express their romantic sentiments with a keen eye to striking a deal, and figures such as Bellamira and Barabas are fully aware of this reality. Just as Barabas bought Ithamore in Act II, scene iii, so the slave now seeks to procure Bellamira. Most characters in the play ascribe to the philosophy that money can get you what you want; if this also involves lying to or betraying someone else, so much the better. In fact, Marlowe uses this scene as the first link in the chain of events that will lead to Ithamore betraying and attempting to bribe Barabas in Act IV, scene ii.

Vengeance again comes to the fore in Act III, scene ii. In their grief, both Ferneze and Katherine vow to avenge their sons' deaths and look to heaven for divine retribution. This contrasts with Abigail's reaction to news of the men's deaths in the next scene. Rather than railing against the world, she decides to enter a convent in atonement for her sins. Abigail remains outwardly composed while experiencing turbulent emotions; her reasoned response to Ithamore's callous joking shows her ability to keep a cool head. Abigail is different from the play's other characters in that she does not turn to vengeance as a means of channeling her grief. However, one suspects that Abigail's conversion to Christianity and her comment, "I perceive there is no love on earth, / Pity in Jews, nor piety in Turks," are intended to be heavily ironic. The Catholic clergy is so obviously corrupt that Abigail's decision to convert appears naïve, not to say ridiculous. Marlowe warns us not to take this scene at face value when Ithamore states, "Why, was there ever seen such villainy, / So neatly plotted, and so well performed?" Seemingly, while Ithamore congratulates himself on his crimes, the playwright slyly commends his own stage work. We cannot ignore the sense that Marlowe is toying with his audience's expectations, as he does throughout the play. The playwright uses improbable events, such as Abigail's conversion, to make ironic statements about religious hypocrisy and society's prejudiced status quo.

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