Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
We have three main religious groups at play here—Christians, Jews and Muslims. Do you think any of these groups escape criticism, or comes out on top? Do you think that the play is really anti-Semitic, and suggests that Barabas is a bad dude because he's Jewish?
Is there anything redeeming about Barabas? Is he a realistic character?
What does Barabas want? Revenge? To control Malta? Just to kill everybody in impressively creative ways? Is this guy just crazy, or do you think he's got a more lucid agenda?
What about Ferneze? He ultimately brings about Barabas's death, and restores Mata to the Maltese—does that make him a hero? Are we supposed to like him or be on his side?
At the beginning of the play, Barabas professes to really love his daughter, Abigail. Does he? If so, why does he poison her later?
There are a lot of critics who think that Barabas's character and motives are so erratic that the first two and last three act were actually written by different authors. Does that seem plausible? Or is there a way to make sense of his weirdness?
You've probably cottoned on that Machiavellian political tactics are a big deal in this play. In general, Renaissance authors demonized Machiavelli. Do you think that this play criticizes these tactics or affirms their effectiveness?
Obligatory Merchant of Venice Comparison Question #1: How do Shylock and Barabas measure up? Do you find one more sympathetic than the other?
Obligatory Merchant of Venice Comparison Question #2: Both Shylock and Barabas are single fathers to teenage daughters who eventually convert to Christianity and abandon their Jewish dads. Do the guys relate to their daughters in the same way? Do the daughters relate to their fathers similarly? Why couldn't they have sons?