Alex's Reviews > The Jew of Malta

The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-villains, reading-through-history, 2010, rth-lifetime

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 compare, a perfect way to do it is to read this play and then The Merchant of Venice, which is a retelling of the same story. Merchant gets you inside Shylock's head, making you sympathize with him, trying to get you to understand how he ends up acting the way he does (more or less). This play? Not so much. Here, Barabas the Jew is just a cackling, scheming villain. No character development whatsoever: just dastardly deeds all the way.

And let's not dodge the elephant: it is terribly anti-Semitic. Merchant of Venice is fairly anti-Semitic, but it does show you how unjust the world was for a Jew of the time. Jew of Malta is not as interested in that. So brace yourself, there. Or don't read this play at all; I wouldn't blame you.

But you do root for both Barabas and Shylock, because they're both super fun. They capture your interest. And Barabas, with his infernal machines and traps and poisons, is a highly entertaining villain.

So what you'll get here is, from Shakespeare, a nuanced look at how society (and general villainy) conspire to produce a villain, and from Marlowe, woo! Murder! Merchant of Venice is better; Jew of Malta is...well, I'm not sure I can say it's more fun. But it's pretty fun.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 27, 2010 – Shelved
August 26, 2013 – Shelved as: best-villains
September 4, 2013 – Shelved as: 2010
September 4, 2013 – Shelved as: reading-through-history
January 2, 2015 – Shelved as: rth-lifetime

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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David Sarkies Cool review. I was a bit more sympathetic towards Barabas though because he did have all his wealth confiscated. I always thought that Shylok's pound of flesh in the region of the heart was a little harsh.

message 2: by P.E. (new)

P.E. Thanks for this comparative review of Shakespeare and Marlowe!

Alex You're welcome! I have a soft spot for Marlowe, thanks to a favorite professor back in college.

Ivana Books Are Magic Marlowe absolutely fascinates me! I can see this play as a sort of black comedy. In one sense it is sickening because it reflects the stereotypes of the time so well, but at the same time one feels that it undermines them by being over the top. A fascinating work!

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