The Jew of Malta
by Christopher Marlowe
The Slave Market
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Flush with his recovered gold, Barabas shows up at the slave market to spend a little cash. There, he buys Ithamore and turns him into his evil sidekick. So, it's obviously an important setting for the play. But the slave market isn't just a place where some plot-related stuff happens. In fact, some critics think it serves as an allegory for the entire play. Let's take a look:
The first thing we hear when we see the market is an officer explaining the market:
Everyone's price is written on his back, / And so much must they yield or not be sold. (2.3.3-4)
Hm, everyone has a price. We're sensing Major Theme, here. So, how does this idea work outside the market?
- Ferneze doesn't bother the Jews until the amount of money he has to pay the Turks gets too high.
- Jacomo and Bernadine are hell-bent on bringing Barabas to justice until he offers to convert and donate all his money to their church.
- Near the end of the play, Barabas offers to work with his arch-enemy, Ferneze, but only for a price.
Yeah, we're thinking this is important. Apart from introducing the idea that everyone has a price, the market is also where Barabas negotiates with Lodowick and Mathias to hook them up with Abigail, and where they talk about Abigail as if she's a commodity, a thing to be bought like a diamond, or a book.
But if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you get yet another view: A Jewish man is buying a Turkish slave captured by the Spanish Christians who have convinced the Maltese to break league with said Turks just so they can legally sell Turkish slaves. Complicated, right?
Just like Malta. The slave market shows us how money works as a social dynamic, but it also helps us see the multicultural nature of Maltese society. All these different groups of people with different political aims and religious identities meet at one spot for one goal:to buy and sell people—and not just slaves.