The Jew of Malta
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The Jew of Malta

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  1,451 ratings  ·  59 reviews
'Tell me worldlings, underneath the sun, If greater falsehood ever has been done'


The Jew of Malta, written around 1590, can present a
challenge for modern audiences. Hugely popular in its day, the play
swings wildly and rapidly in genre, from pointed satire, to bloody
revenge tragedy, to melodrmatic intrigue, to dark farce and grotesque
comedy. Although set in the Mediterranea...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published May 30th 2009 by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama (first published 1589)
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Community Reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
This is a profoundly subversive black comedy which shows its contempt for the practitioners of each of the three major religions, all of whom Marlowe sees as being motivated by nothing save avarice and (occasionally) lust. Barabas the Jew of Malta--aided by his psychopathic Muslim slave Ithamore--plots the destruction of both Christians and Muslims and eventually falls into a boiling cauldron he has prepared for his remaining enemies, but not before contriving half-a-dozen murders, poisoning an...more
Alex
If you haven't read Marlowe, I recommend him. He's more lurid and over the top than Shakespeare, and nowhere near as subtle - well, not subtle at all, if we're being honest - and he's not as good, but then it's a little uncool to compare anyone to Shakespeare. He is good.

Sucks to be this guy, really. He was very popular in his time, and then along came Shakespeare and whammo, he's a footnote. It's not Marlowe's fault he was the guy right before The Guy.

Anyway, if you want to see how the two comp...more
David Sarkies
For a long time I felt that Kit Marlowe's best play was The Tragical History of Doctor Faust, and though I had read this play previously, it had not stuck in my head in the same way that Doctor Faust did. I suspect it is because the last time that I read this collection of plays I had read them all on one go (that is reading the plays one after the other without having a break in between) and because I had been so blown away by Doctor Faust, I ended up not paying all that much attention to the...more
Yngvild
The Jew of Malta is one of those glorious rollicking Elizabethan dramas that make modern plays with their bickering couples look merely squalid. Christopher Marlowe does not settle for a single villain or a few venal sins, he goes for massive extortion and wholesale slaughter.

The basic setup is quite simple and maps with depressing ease to modern global politics. The Turks have demanded an impossible tribute from the Island of Malta, and the Maltese government have cravenly raised the amount by...more
Nicolas Shump
This is a much more developed and mature piece of writing than Dr. Faustus. It is longer and better-written. In addition, there are numerous well-developed characters like Barabas and his daughter Abigail.
However, as you would expect, this play is ripe with anti-Semitism and Barabas is totally unredeemable and his servant is even worse.
The plot is better developed than in Faustus, but I feel the ending is a bit rushed. It still is not of the caliber of The Merchant of Venice, but it stands up...more
Kent
The Jew of Malta is kind of like Merchant of Venice on crack. At least in terms of how conniving, how duplicitous, how despicable a stereotype can be drawn of a Jew. But I think that I'm going to think that every Marlowe play is on crack after reading Tamburlaine. Maybe Marlowe is like a Tarantino kind of playwright, where the delight comes with all extremities being given vent at once.
Keith
This is a play that grabs your attention immediately, but unfortunately peters out a bit at the end. The first half of the work, though lacking the sheer poetic beauty of Tamburlaine or Dr. Faustus, is exciting reading and, I would imagine, even better viewing. Few books hook me immediately like this one.

I must admit I picked it up with some trepidation. Was it a racist rant? Well, it certainly showcases every Jewish stereotype known to Elizabethan England, and maybe adds some new ones. But it i...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in March 1999.

Christopher Marlowe's play is certainly not in tune with the spirit of the second half of the twentieth century, with its portrayal of the Jew, Barabas, as the epitome of deceit and treachery. In his introduction to this edition, Peter J. Smith quotes Barry Kyle, who directed a revival in 1987, as originally thinking that the anti-Semitism would make it unstageable. He lessened the impact of this aspect of the play by using a clever trick to mak...more
Libby
The language is bombastic, passionate and orotund. The plot is full of deceit, betrayal and revenge. It reflects English suspicions and prejudices. Anti-semitic fear and loathing are epitomized in Barabbas, the Jew of the title. The plot also reveals the ancient distrust of the English for those of Mediterranean origin. This play takes 21st century correctness and stomps that sucker flat. So how can a modern reader feel the love for this one? ( I have similar ambiguities about Richard III, too,)...more
Christopher
THE JEW OF MALTA is one of the handful of works by Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright who dabbled in political intrigue and atheist proselytizing and died in a barfight before the age of 30. As the play opens, the Ottoman Empire is threatening the Christian island of Malta, whereupon the governor expropriates the holdings of a rich Jewish trade to buy the Turks off. Barabas, this Jew of Malta, doesn't take this too kindly and hatches various plans to destroy people close to the stat...more
Tiffany
I actually read an online version of this text provided by my teacher as part of my Introduction to Drama course, so this is not the same version I'm writing about, but is the same work. In many ways, this is the predecessor to The Merchant of Venice, which is a distinction that would already make it notable, but it also has a great amount of value in its own right. While perhaps not as powerful or seemingly progressive as its counterpart, there are very good dramatic speeches, powerful characte...more
Charles
I was meaning to read Marlowe's 'The Jew of Malta' for a long time now. Today, I have finally read the play. Marlowe is one of my favourite playwrights, and I believe the world owes a huge debt to this genius, including, most probably, Shakespeare the Great himself.

The Jews first arrived in Malta after the Roman Titus ransacked the Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD. One can still find ancient Jewish catacombs scattered across Malta. The 'Menorah' is a prominent feature in such sites. At first, the Jew...more
Julianthebarbarian
We have to respect Marlowe's legacy to us - he created the blank vearse structure that his colleague Shakespeare went on to use so well. According to some scholars, he could be considered as one of the founding father of the theatre in English, as his first play, "Dido and Aneas" was one of the very first plays staged in an English theatre. But this play is a simple two dimensionsal exercise in anti-semeticism, with Barabus (the baddie, a jew) being evil through and through, with no redeeming fe...more
Michael Mingo
There is no land of concentrated evil quite like Marlowe's Malta. Lecherous friars, blatantly unjust rulers, duplicitous slaves, and to top it all off, Barabas. Everyone on the island is at least somewhat despicable, and what emerges is a brutal portrait of religious hypocrisy. Uncomfortable at times? Oh, undoubtedly, as when Barabas gleefully lists off all the (imaginary?) stereotypical atrocities he's committed to Ithamore. But Marlowe spreads out the unrepentant evil across his whole cast; he...more
Sammy
"I count religion but a childish toy
And hold there is no sin but ignorance."
-- Prologue

Christopher Marlowe's theatrical career was, tragically, cut short by his death. Because of this, it's an odd legacy which he left. Of his seven plays, one is his training wheels ("Dido"), two are experiments with the form which lack dramatic structure ("Tamburlaine") and one exists only as a half-remembered script ("The Massacre at Paris"). This leaves three plays to really explain who he was, beyond the bea...more
Jay
The play is interesting from a historical, political, and symbolic perspective. The political interchanges, alliances and betrayals, between the three Abrahamic religions are worth note, as not much has changed on the international stage.

Of course, as the title of the play suggests, we see the centuries old "Jewish question" and proclamation of ethnic networking across state borders emerge early on in the dialogue of Barabas (who is the Jew of Malta):

"They say we are a scatter'd nation: I canno...more
علی
مکان واقعه در جزیره ی مالت، و زمان، دوران نبرد تاریخی میان اسپانیا و امپراطوری عثمانی بر سر تصرف این جزیره است. نوشته اند که شکسپیر نمایش نامه ی "تاجر ونیزی" را تحت تاثیر این اثر کریستوفر مالرو نوشته است. باراباس، شخصیت اصلی نمایش نامه، به دلیل چند گانگی شخصیت پیچیده اش، تماشاگران را تحت تاثیر قرار می دهد. مساله ی اقلیت حسابگر و تاجرپیشه ی کلیمی در دوران الیزابت در انگستان، از مسایل حاد بوده. در پیش پرده ی ابتدای نمایش نامه، شخصیتی به نام "ماکیاول" بر صحنه می آید که بر مبنای شخصیت واقعی نیکولو م...more
Jo
Well, the flat characters are tolerable; the complete lack of subtlety is tolerable, as is the overuse of sex and violence as a device to create tension. I’m okay with all that. It’s my first Marlowe play and I’m a little underwhelmed, but chances are the man has written better plays.

What I find totally, utterly unbearable, that’s the blatant, disgusting anti-Semitism in this play. Call it a masterpiece, call it what you will - you can't rationalise the ugly truth.
Zachary Guthrie
This play best accounts Christopher Marlowe's feelings and thoughts toward religion as something to be mocked and torn. His play on religious facets and human depravity give depth to the criticism of sinful people. The cunning and coniving of Barabas and other characters in the play draw the reader into the conflict and arouse pity for those that pay with their life. This play is easier to read than Shakespeare but not as good. Nonetheless, I recommend the Jew of Malta as a play anybody could re...more
Elizabeth
It's so difficult to rate this because it's disgustingly anti-semitic but also a really enjoyable and well-written play? I've given it 3 stars but it's really 5 stars for the writing and 0 stars for its treatment of Jewish people.
Jamie
In the English dictionary betrayal and treachery should include in their definition: Barabas, the Jew of Malta. The audacity of Barbaras is astounding and quite entertaining; manipulating a number of characters and their lives, even his own daughter, for his ultimate gain. The Turks rule Malta in this story, fortunately that event only resides in fiction thanks to the Knights of Malta. For a play written around 1589, it is quite captivating. The prologue captures the spirit of this play well:

"I...more
Abdullah
I liked the play and the way it moves between acts and scenes smoothly. The play is about deception and lies. I think it presented all three world major religions in a bad way. Jews (Barabas and the other three Jews), Christians (Ferenze, the two Friars) and Muslims (Ithamore and Turks) are all presented and deceptive.

Many people consider it as an anti-Jews play but I don't think so. It dealt with revenge, deception and fraud between people to achieve personal gains.

The actions in the final sc...more
Charles
When I say I liked this play, I must use many qualifiers. The language is exciting and fun, as I expected, but as exciting as the syntax was, the diction left me at times gasping for breath because of the blatant Jew-baiting. I don't believe in censorship of any type, so I urge anyone interested in the birth of modern English, English drama, the Renaissance, etc. to read this play. Nobody, Christian, Muslim, or Jew, comes out very well but why should they? Marlowe was a heretic and a mocker. I s...more
Samar
Not the best drama written by Marlowe yet it provides a powerful insight of society everywhere and not only England. Personally I have always appreciated this dramatist more than Shakespeare. There is more depth to his stories and ideas than the latter. Dr. Faustus is again a case in point. Not for nothing has he been one of the University Wits. Shakespeare's poetry is more beautiful and certainly more captivating. Yet Marlowe seems to be more of an expert regarding human behavior and society, a...more
Wordsmith
Surprisingly hilarious. I don't know how I missed reading the actual play "The Jew of Malta." I've read fictionalized accounts, and so many references to this old classic I can only surmise that I thought I HAD. No...I had not. My mistake, because it was laugh out loud funny. Obviously, no copyright, get your copy and check it out, if you haven't already. Everybody needs a laugh now and then. And Christopher Marlowe can deliver.
Kate
This isn't a bad play but it's probably not the best thing I've read this year. The whole premise surrounds a man who gets his money taken away by the Christians and he thus gets revenge on them. It was an easy read and it's a short play. I like that the text wasn't overly traditional so it was pretty easy to keep up without having to look at end notes constantly. Overall it's pretty good but I probably wouldn't read it again.
Katie
Read this for my senior thesis course. Our topic is Revenge Tragedies and this book certainly fit. The characterization was great, especially Barabas, but the plot got too convoluted and some of the revenge schemes were just absurd. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was better. I suppose Christopher Marlowe was probably hearing that all his life haha. Sorry Marlowe, I will always prefer Shakespeare over your plays.
Mike Jensen
Surely the last three acts were revised by someone else. They are far lesser work, but give this 5 stars due to Marlowe's clear hand in the first acts and the fascination of reading this troubling play. A lot of tosh has been written about it, but a lot of wisdom too. The essays in Irv Ribner's edition (not the one pictured here) contains both, but all are worth reading.
Amy Wolf
I love Marlowe, but it's very hard to get past the anti-Semitism woven into this play. Barabas is a villain straight from a melodrama, who runs around plotting & poisoning the "good" Christians & even a member of his own family. He is parsimonious, and ultimately plots with the Turks against his own city. Basically, I felt faint disgust reading this & would not revisit.
Betsy
I might be rating this much higher than it deserved, but after reading Tamburlaine and then this... I feel a huge sigh of relief. Comedy, action, love, religion (okay, Tamburlaine had all of these things too, but I just didn't get into it). But I completely, and utterly suggest The Jew of Malta if you are required to read a Christopher Marlowe selection.
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Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (baptised 26 February 1564 – 30 May 1593) was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. The foremost Elizabethan tragedian next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his magnificent blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his own mysterious and untimely death.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christop...
More about Christopher Marlowe...
Doctor Faustus The Complete Plays Edward II Tamburlaine Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, Parts 1-2

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“I count religion but a childish toy
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.”
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