Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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

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.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Catholic World
In the course of Marlowe's play, the author manages to provide a negative depiction of two major religious...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The Jew of Malta is a five-act play. The exposition occurs in the first act when the audience learns of the injury done...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

Sixteenth Century: The Anglican Church is initially established in England in 1534, by Henry VII, who establishes Protestantism as the...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Try to imagine that the Nazis had staged The Jew of Malta during World War II. Discuss some of the reasons why they might have done...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Doctor Faustusf (1593) is Marlowe's best known and most frequently performed play. This play focuses on a doctor who sells his soul to...

(The entire section is 246 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Clapp, Susannah, "The Jew of Malta," in Guardian Unlimited, October 10, 1999.

Meyers, William,...

(The entire section is 323 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.

Danson, Lawrence. “Christopher Marlowe: The Questioner.” English Literary Renaissance 12 (1982): 3-29. Argues that the play is written in an interrogative mode. Characters ask questions without pausing for answers. These rhetorical questions draw the audience into the answering process.

Deats, Sara Munson, and Lisa S. Starks. “‘So neatly plotted, and so well perform’d’: Villain as Playwright in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.” Theatre Journal 44, no. 3 (October, 1992): 375-389. Examines the significance of the play’s metadramatic elements, its ambivalent attitude toward the theater and toward role-playing, arguing that these elements are a reflection of the violent debate raging in Shakespeare’s time about the moral worth of the theater, and that they shed new light on Barabas’ motives.

Rothstein, Eric. “Structure as Meaning in The Jew of Malta.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65 (1966): 260-273. Views the play as ironic parody and demonstrates this reading through an analysis of language and action. The play parodies the Bible, the pastoral, the code of friendship, and Catholicism, using Barabas to expose the weaknesses of other characters.