The Jew of Malta


(V.i); (V.ii)

Summary (V.i); (V.ii)

Our fears that Barabas will simply fizzle out of the play are soon put to rest. The ugliness of Ferneze's comment that Barabas's body should be slung over the town walls "[t]o be a prey for vultures and wild beasts" is countered by the farcical speed with which the protagonist recovers and continues about his scheming. As always, Marlowe balances the humorous elements of his play with its darker undertones of prejudice and racial hatred. These tensions even play out on the stage of international conflict and diplomacy. Barabas's decision to aid the Turkish and be revenged on the whole "accursed town" of Malta suggests how dangerous and all-encompassing his game of vengeance has become. While Elizabethan theatergoers might have chuckled at the poisoning of a convent of lusty nuns in Act III, scene iv, Marlowe clearly intends for them to blanch at the prospect of Christian "children" and "wives" dying at the hands of Malta's enemies.

In the next scene, the stage widens to include God as a participant in the conflict. The governor calls on Heaven to suggest that human events are determined by Divine Providence. Ferneze's comment, "Oh fatal day, to fall into the hands / Of such a traitor and unhallowed Jew! / What greater misery could Heaven inflict?" is particularly suggestive. It foreshadows his comments at the end of the play that God is to be thanked for Malta's deliverance. Marlowe seems to be juxtaposing the idea of human strategy with divine will, posing the question of which has more influence on events in the world.