The Jew of Malta



  • A play by Christopher Marlowe, first performed inLondon in 1590; Edward Alleyn created the role of the villainousJew Barabas. Although a less three-dimensional character than Shylockin The Merchant of Venice, the role of Barabas can be quitepowerful on stage; Edmund Kean excelled in both roles inthe early 19th century. In 1965 the Royal Shakespeare Company presentedboth plays in repertory.

    At the beginning of the play the Governor of Malta confiscatesthe wealth of Barabas, a Jew. Barabas, however, has more hidden inhis house, which has been made into a nunnery. He persuades his daughterAbigail to convert to Christianity for long enough to retrieve theriches. Barabas also encourages her to arouse jealousy between herlover and the governor's son, who then kill each other. When Abigailchooses to enter the convent as a nun, Barabas and his Turkish slave,Ithamore, poison her along with all the other nuns. Barabas then poisonsIthamore for betraying him to the governor. He escapes punishmentby swallowing a potion to feign death, surviving to betray the Christiansand become governor himself. He then plots against the Turkish PrinceCalymath but is double-crossed and dies in a pot of boiling oil.