Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Malta. Small Mediterranean island group south of Sicily on which the entire play is set. Because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean, Malta was occupied by a succession of foreign powers, including the Ottoman Turks, who are besieging the island at the time in which the play is set, when the island has a Christian government ruled by the Knights of St. John.
Barabas’s house. Home of the wealthy merchant of the play’s title, Barabas, who alienates Malta’s governor by refusing to convert to Christianity or to give the government half of his property. The governor seizes his property to punish him, and transforms his home into a Roman Catholic convent, in which Barabas’s daughter Abigail is entered as a novice. Much of the play’s plot revolves around Barabas’s efforts to retrieve sacks of gold he has hidden under his house’s floor and to exact his revenge.
The convent’s upper and lower levels make for an effective scene on the stage with two voices in the dark. Barabas is on the lower level eulogizing his gold; Abigail is above eulogizing her father. Like the island itself, this protective enclosure is vulnerable; Barabas poisons everyone within his house, including his own daughter.
Barabas also has a second house, which he uses as a secret center for plotting against the city, its officers, and the nuns who occupy his first house.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bartels, Emily C. “Malta, the Jew, and the Fictions of Difference: Colonialist Discourse in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.” English Literary Renaissance 20 (1990): 1-16. An excellent Marxist reading of the text that posits imperialism as the controlling discourse and Malta as the object of the colonizer’s lust.
Bowers, Fredson Thayer. Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy: 1587-1642. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1959. Asserts that Barabas fails as a tragic hero because he avenges a material wrong with murder, because his motives are petty and treacherous, and because his demise is unconnected to his revenge.
(The entire section is 264 words.)