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The Jew of Malta
by Christopher Marlowe
The Jew of Malta Act 1, Scene 1 Summary
Meet the Jew. What a coincidence: he's named after the Biblical Barabbas. Barabas is "in his countinghouse, with heaps of gold before him ," because apparently Marlowe never met an anti-Semitic stereotype he didn't like. Barabas cozies up with his impressive stash of gold, silver and jewels, chuckling about the power it gives him. A few merchants drop by to talk about his incoming ships of wares. Barabas is clearly kind of a big deal in Malta—everyone knows his ships when they see them, and to get credit at the customhouse all you have to do is name-drop "Barabas the Jew ." Barabas, alone now, claims that his riches are the "blessings promised to the Jews ." He says that Maltese Christians are essentially jealous haters. Jews may not get to be kings, he says, but whatevs. They get to be super-duper rich, which is a lot more stable and permanent than kingship. (Oh, and by the way, he has a daughter.) A bunch of Barabas's fellow Jews enter with the news that a fleet of Turkish warships is approaching Malta, looking to cause trouble. Uh-oh. Barabas tells them to chill out. Who cares if the Turks want to war with the Maltese Christians? As long as they don't involve Barabas, his daughter, or his money, the Christian-Turkish beef isn't his problem. We find out that there's a treaty between the largely Christian population of Malta and the scary Turks who control most of the surrounding area. The other Jews tell Barabas that he still has to show up at the senate house (think City Hall) to watch the proceedings. Secretly, Barabas knows something's up—the Maltese have been paying off the Turks for a long time in exchange for safety, and the Turks have continued upping the price. Barabas figures the Christians can no longer afford the tribute and the Turks have come to take over Malta. Again, though, why should Barabas care? He closes the scene uttering some Latin to the effect of "sorry man, no es my problemo ."
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