© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Jew of Malta

The Jew of Malta

by Christopher Marlowe

The Jew of Malta Summary

How It All Goes Down

So here we are on Malta, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. But this is pre-yacht days; instead of a relaxing vacation spot, Malta is an international hub of cultures, trade and politics.

Meet Barabas. Barabas is both the wealthiest merchant around and a member of Malta's "alien" Jewish community. What does that mean? He can live and conduct business on Malta, but he's not exactly a citizen.Barabas has two priorities: money, and his only daughter, Abigail. Between these two, he's done pretty well for himself, even managing to live peacefully with Malta's Christian government, led by Governor Ferneze and the Knights of Malta.

One problem: Malta is in a tricky political situation. Even though it's home to a majority Western, Christian population, it lives under shadow of the Turks (read: Ottoman Empire). To stay safe, Malta pays a monetary tribute to the Turks. In exchange for this protection money, the Turks protect them. From themselves. But they haven't paid the money in the decade, and Calymath, the son of the Turkish Sultan, is getting impatient.

What's a Governor to do? Why, go exploit the wealthiest sort-of-citizens of his population, of course!

Barabas and his fellow Jews are rounded up and brought before the Senate house, where they are given a choice. They must either:

  • give up half of their wealth and property on the spot
  • convert to Christianity
  • if they neither convert nor fork over half their estate, they lose all their estate

Barabas refuses, obviously, so Ferneze immediately confiscates all of his property and turns his house into a nunnery—complete with a hidden stash of gold that Barabas hasn't 'fessed up to. But Barabas has a plan: Abigail will pretend that she wants to convert to Christianity and join the nunnery. Oh, and meanwhile? Ferneze is striking a deal with the Spanish navy to fight the Turks.

Are you following all this? Well, buckle up, because it's about to get really confusing.

With his recovered gold, Barabas buys a slave, Ithamore. At the market where he's buying Ithamore, he talks to two guys: Lodowick and Mathias. Both these guys are really into his daughter Abigail, and Barabas separately promises to hook each of them up with Abigail. What about Abigail? She actually digs Mathias, but Barabas doesn't care. He actually wants the two guys to kill each other. And they do, when they fight a duel because they both think they're engaged to Abigail.

Body count: two.

Abigail thinks this is not too cool, and she decides to become a nun for real. Barabas is Not Happy, and he and his new partner-in-really-horrifying-albeit-creative-crimes, Ithamore, arrange to poison the entire nunnery. In her death throes, Abigail clues the friar Bernadine in to what Barabas has been doing, and he, along with fellow friar Jacomo, go to confront Barabas.

But Barabas has a plan. (Again.) He pretends to convert to Christianity and the two friars actually get into a bidding war over who gets to accept Barabas (and his money) into his respective monastery. Big mistake. Barabas kills Bernadine and then successfully frames Jacomo for it—and then the government executes Jacomo for murder.

Body count: four.

Meet some new character. Bellamira (local prostitute) and Pilia-Borza (her pimp) are plotting to get at Barabas's wealth. So, Bellamira seduces Barabas's loyal (and evil) servant Ithamore. Then, she and Pilia-Borza convince him to start blackmailing Barabas for money.

But Barabas has this sitch under control, too. He comes to Bellamira's house dressed as a fiddling clown, and convinces her to take his flowers. Which are poisoned. They don't take effect immediately, but we think the body count is about to get higher.

Ferneze is prepping Malta's fortifications for the oncoming Turkish siege, when Bellamira and Pilia-Borzacome to him and accuse Barabas of all the murders. Ithamore throws in his own testimony. Ferneze throws everyone in prison just to be safe, but surprise! All of them die. Guess the poisoned flowers really did work.

Except for Barabas, of course. Barabas has taken one of those nifty I'm-Not-Dead-I-Just-Look-Dead potions, so he's still very much alive when Ferneze has his body tossed over the walls.

Calymath, the Turkish leader, is ambling about the outer walls of Malta, trying to figure out how to best invade the city when he comes across Barabas, now wide awake and rarin' for some payback. They strike a deal: Barabas will help the Turks invade Malta, and Calymath will make Barabas governor.

And guess what? The plan works. Pretty soon, the Turks are in control of Malta, Ferneze and his buddies are in chains, and Barabas is declared governor.

But Barabas still isn't finished. He secretly makes a deal with Ferneze to kill all of the Turks in Malta in return for a huge sum of money, which Ferneze raises from the other Maltese citizens. Unfortunately for Barabas, this plan doesn't go so well. It almost works, until Ferneze betrays him at the last minute.

In the resulting chain of events, the Turkish army is destroyed (exploded, actually); Barabas is killed in the trap he devised for Calymath; and Calymath emerges as the Last Turk Standing. And by Standing, we mean Utterly At Ferneze's Mercy, because, hello, no more army.Ferneze, once again large and in charge, declares his intention to ransom Calymath (his dad's the Sultan of Turkey) for the restoration of Malta.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement