The Jew of Malta
What’s Up With the Title?
The Jew of Malta. Pretty straightforward: Barabas is a Jew who lives in Malta.
But you know what? We're pretty interested in that little "of Malta," there. In Barabas's Character Analysis, we talk about how he doesn't really belong anywhere. (Missed that? Check it out and then head back.) Jews aren't allowed to be full citizens, so Barabas is an "alien."
But not in the title. In the title, he's the Jew "of Malta." He belongs to Malta, even if Malta doesn't want to admit it. And that makes us think that Marlowe is suggesting that Malta is partly to blame for how Barabas is. Maybe Barabas is such a psychotic killer because his status as an outsider has forced him into it. If Malta were a more open, accepting community, Barabas would never have been forced into his murder spree.
And one more thing. In 1633 quarto (i.e. the first published version of the play) the title page reads "The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta."
Check it out:
- The primary descriptor of Barabas, rather than Evil or Clever, is Rich. In a play where money is arguably the biggest motivator of human action, Barabas is being billed as both a stereotypical Jew, and also a guy who's got a lot of power.
- Key word: Tragedy. It can be tough to know how to feel about this play, and whether you approach it as a tragedy or as something else really changes your perception. For more, hop on over to the Genre section.