The Jew of Malta

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The Jew of Malta (full title: The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta) is a play by Christopher Marlowe, written in 1589 or 1590. The plot primarily revolves around a Maltese Jewish merchant named Barabas. The original story combines religious conflict, intrigue, and revenge, set against a backdrop of the struggle for supremacy between Spain and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean that takes place on the island of Malta. There has been extensive debate about the play's portrayal of Jews and how Elizabethan audiences would have viewed it.

The play opens with the character Machiavel, a Senecan ghost based on Niccolò Machiavelli, introducing "the tragedy of a Jew." Machiavel expresses the cynical view that power is amoral, saying "I count religion but a childish toy, / And hold there is no sin but ignorance."

Barabas begins the play in his counting-house. Stripped of all he has for protesting the Governor of Malta's seizure of the wealth of the country's whole Jewish population to pay off the warring Turks, he develops a murderous streak by, with the help of his slave Ithamore, tricking the Governor's son and his friend into fighting over the affections of his daughter, Abigail. When they both die in a duel, he becomes further incensed when Abigail, horrified at what her father has done, runs away to become a Christian nun. In retribution, Barabas then goes on to poison her along with the whole of the nunnery, strangles an old friar (Barnadine) who tries to make him repent for his sins and then frames another friar (Jacomo) for the first friar's murder. After Ithamore falls in love with a prostitute who conspires with her criminal friend to blackmail and expose him (after Ithamore drunkenly tells them everything his master has done), Barabas poisons all three of them. When he is caught, he drinks "of poppy and cold mandrake juice" so that he will be left for dead, and then plots with the enemy Turks to besiege the city.

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