Study Guide

The Jew of Malta

by Christopher Marlowe

The Jew of Malta Themes

Themes

Appearances and Reality
One of the central themes in The Jew of Malta is the differences between what is real and what only appears real. For instance, Ferneze suggests that in taking all of Barabas' wealth, he is not at fault, but only fulfilling the curse of the Jews' inherited sin (Matthew 27:25). But Ferneze uses religion when it is convenient. He ignores the Christian admonition of kindness toward all men, and he lacks any compassion for the Jews. When he needs money, the Jews are suddenly outsiders, although there is every evidence that the governor has made use of the Jews when he needed their financial assistance. But Ferneze is not alone in his deception. The friars pretend to be pious when all they really want is Barabas' money. But Barabas is the most accomplished at deception, pretending to be outraged and destitute at the governor's confiscation of his property, but when alone, dealing matter-of-factly with the events, since he still has plenty of money hidden away. Barabas also pretends to both Lodowick and Mathias that Abigail shall belong to both young men. He pretends to befriend them, when he is really plotting their deaths. He also pretends to the friars that he will convert, setting them against one another, and he even pretends to the Turks that he is their friend, when he plans to murder them all. Barabas is a master at deception, but in reality, he is little different than the other characters—only more willing to kill his victims, rather than rob them.

Betrayal
The most significant betrayal in this play is found within the relationship between father and daughter. Abigail loves her father enough that she consents to a deception of the nuns, so that she can retrieve his hidden wealth. But Barabas betrays his daughter when he plots to destroy the man she loves. Mathias has done nothing to injure Barabas, but he is useful because he is both Lodowick's friend and Abigail's suitor. Barabas thinks that Mathias can be sacrificed because he is a Christian and so has no value to Barabas. But in murdering the young man, he betrays his daughter's implied trust that a father would not deliberately injure his daughter. When Abigail is dying, she thinks only of saving her father. She tells a friar of her father's murder of the young men—not to injure him, since the priest is obligated to keep the secret by the sanctity of his office—but to try and save him. She still loves her father, not knowing that he...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)