Summary of The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe

“The Jew of Malta” is a play written by Christopher Marlowe in the late 16th century. It is a dark comedy and a tragicomedy that explores themes of greed, revenge, and the consequences of moral corruption. The play is set on the Mediterranean island of Malta and follows the story of Barabas, a Jewish merchant.

Act 1: Introduction of Barabas The play begins with the introduction of Barabas, a wealthy Jewish merchant in Malta. Barabas is a cunning and shrewd character who is more interested in accumulating wealth than following religious or moral principles. He is introduced as a man with a strong desire for gold and is willing to engage in dubious activities to amass riches.

Act 2: Machinations and Betrayal Barabas, in an attempt to secure his wealth, engages in various devious schemes. He manipulates the political landscape of Malta, playing off the Turks against the Christians. He lends money to the state, and when the governor fails to pay back the loan, Barabas seizes the opportunity to further his own interests.

Barabas also betrays his own daughter, Abigail, who has become a Christian. Unbeknownst to her, he plans to use her in a sinister plot involving poisoned nuns. This act of betrayal underscores the ruthless nature of Barabas as he is willing to sacrifice even his own flesh and blood for personal gain.

Act 3: Tragedy Strikes The political machinations take a dark turn when Abigail becomes a victim of her father’s plotting. Barabas orchestrates a plan to poison her, which results in her death. This event marks a turning point in the play, as it triggers a series of tragic events that will ultimately lead to Barabas’s downfall.

Act 4: Revenge and Deception Following the death of his daughter, Barabas becomes consumed by revenge. He devises a scheme to manipulate various characters in Malta, pitting them against each other. Barabas feigns conversion to Christianity to gain the trust of his enemies, only to further his own malevolent agenda.

As the characters in Malta grapple with political and personal conflicts, Barabas continues to deceive and manipulate, sowing seeds of discord and chaos. The play becomes a web of intrigues and double-crossings, with Barabas at the center, pulling the strings.

Act 5: Downfall of Barabas As Barabas’s schemes unravel, he finds himself entangled in a complex web of betrayal and revenge. The Christians and Turks join forces against him, and he is eventually captured and forced to give up his ill-gotten wealth. In a last desperate attempt to escape justice, Barabas sets a trap for his enemies using a trapdoor and a boiling cauldron, but his plan backfires, and he falls into his own trap.

The play concludes with the death of Barabas, highlighting the consequences of his greed and treachery. The Christian governor, Ferneze, regains control of Malta, and order is restored, albeit at the cost of several lives.

Themes in “The Jew of Malta”:

  1. Greed and Corruption: The play explores the destructive nature of unchecked greed and the moral corruption that can result from the relentless pursuit of wealth.
  2. Religious Prejudice: The characters in the play are divided along religious lines, with tensions between Christians and Jews. The play critiques religious intolerance and exposes the hypocrisy that can exist within religious communities.
  3. Revenge and Betrayal: The narrative is driven by themes of revenge and betrayal. Characters seek vengeance for perceived wrongs, leading to a cycle of deceit and retribution.
  4. Machiavellian Tactics: Barabas employs cunning and Machiavellian tactics to achieve his goals. The play explores the consequences of political manipulation and deceit.
  5. Tragicomedy: “The Jew of Malta” combines elements of tragedy and comedy. While there are moments of dark humor, the overall narrative is marked by tragedy, especially in the downfall of Barabas.

In conclusion, “The Jew of Malta” is a complex and thought-provoking play that delves into the darker aspects of human nature. Through the character of Barabas, Marlowe paints a portrait of a man consumed by greed and willing to sacrifice morality for personal gain. The play’s exploration of themes such as revenge, betrayal, and religious prejudice resonates with audiences, making it a timeless work that continues to be studied and performed today.