Barabas dominates The Jew of Malta; the other characters are merely sketched. The plot of the play seems to have come wholly from the fertile mind of Christopher Marlowe, whose exotic plots and romantic heroes set a pattern that was followed by subsequent Elizabethan playwrights, including William Shakespeare. The Jew of Malta begins well, but it degenerates into an orgy of blood after the second act. Although Marlowe may have found his initial inspiration for the story and its hero in the person of Juan Michesius, recorded in Philippus Lonicerus’s Chronicorum Turcicorum (1578) and in Sebastian Munster’s La Cosmographie Universelle (1575), it is clear from a comparison with the aforementioned works that the character of Barabas owes at least as much to the tradition of Italian revenge tragedy, to the English morality plays, and to Marlowe’s own preferences in characterization as demonstrated in Doctor Faustus (1588), in Tamburlaine the Great, Part I (1587), and in Tamburlaine the Great, Part II (1587). Considered the most important English dramatist before Shakespeare, Marlowe was of a social background similar to that of his illustrious successor, although Marlowe’s formal schooling was more extensive than Shakespeare’s. Marlowe’s theatrical career, however, was unfortunately much briefer. Marlowe constructed his greatest plays around characters obsessed with one thing or another; for them,...
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