The Jew of Malta Theme of Justice and Judgment
If Barabas were a teenager, he'd be stomping off to his room to slam the door and scream, "It's not fair." And it's not. The events of The Jew of Malta are set off by one moment of blatant unfairness, when Ferneze basically steals the Jews' property to pay off Malta's debt to the Turks. But Ferneze packages this action not just as right, but as legal. So, we have some questions. Is law just a political tool? Or is it a safeguard of justice? Is there any true justice to be found? Or is everything that happens simply the outcome of various power plays? If Barabas told you at the end that he fought the law and won, would he be right?
Questions About Justice and Judgment
- Ferneze sometimes configures Malta's civic law around his notions of "heaven's law." When does he do that, and why?
- Do you think that Barabas's death is an act of justice? Is he's somehow being punished for all of his misdeeds? Or is it just the outcome of Ferneze's having outwitted him, and being the better trickster at the right moment?
- What law is Barabas fighting against? Maltese civic law? Heavenly law? Just…basic moral principles?
Chew on This
There is no real force of justice in this play; law is simply a political tool for people to leverage.
While things are pretty crazy for most of the play, the ultimate defeat of the Turkish threat and Barabas's death demonstrate that there is in fact a force of justice at work.