(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Barabas, a Christian-hating merchant of Malta, receives in his countinghouse a party of merchants who report the arrival of several vessels laden with wealth from the East. At the same time three Jews arrive to announce an important meeting at the senate. The import of the meeting is that the Turkish masters of Malta demand tribute long overdue. The Turkish grand seignior purposely lets the payment lapse over a period of years so that the Maltese will find it impossible to raise the sum demanded. The Maltese have a choice of payment or surrender. The Christian governor of the island, attempting to collect the tribute within a month, decrees that the Jews will have to give over half of their estates or become Christians. All of the Jewish community except Barabas submits to the decree of the governor. The governor seizes all of Barabas’s wealth as punishment and has the Jew’s house turned into a Christian convent.

Barabas, to avoid complete ruin, purposely fails to report part of his treasure hidden in the foundation of his house. Then he persuades his daughter, Abigail, to pretend that she has converted to Christianity so that she might enter the convent and recover the treasure. Abigail dutifully enters the nunnery as a convert and subsequently throws the bags of money out of the window at night to her waiting father.

Martin Del Bosco, vice-admiral of Spain, sails into the harbor of Malta for the purpose of selling some Turkish slaves he has aboard his ship. The governor is reluctant to allow the sale because of the difficulties he is having with the grand seignior. Del Bosco, by promising military aid from Spain, persuades the governor to defy the Turks and to permit the sale.

Barabas buys one of the slaves, an Arabian named Ithamore. During the sale, Barabas fawns upon Don Lodowick, the governor’s son, and Don Mathias. He invites the two young men to his house and orders Abigail, now returned from the convent, to show favor to both. In his desire for revenge, Barabas...

(The entire section is 821 words.)