Study Guide

The Jew of Malta Hypocrisy

By Christopher Marlowe

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Rather had I, a Jew, be hated thus
Than pitied in a Christian poverty;
For I can se no fruits in all their faith
But malice, falsehood, and excessive pride,
Which methinks fits not their profession (1.1.113-17)

Why on earth would anybody want to be a Christian? If you ask Barabas, all they do is talk about how righteous they are and then turn around and do the opposite. And they don't make good money. Definition of the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Honour is bought with blood and not with gold (2.2.56)

Think about the context here: Bosco is offering to fight off the Turks so that he can sell his Turkish slaves on Malta, and Ferneze breaks his promise to the Turks. Now that he's got some back-up, he can get them killed and then make money off of the Turkish slave trade. See any honor there? We sure don't.

Excess of wealth is cause of covetousness,
And covetousness, oh, 'tis a monstrous sin. (1.2.122-23)

Ferneze is preaching that, on top of all of his other totally legit reasons for confiscating Barabas's wealth, he's doing Barabas a favor by saving him from the sin of covetousness. This is pretty rich coming from a guy who's blatantly stealing from a disenfranchised minority group to save his own bacon.

Barabas: Entreat the Abbess to be entertained.
Abigail: How, as a nun?
Barabas: Ay, daughter, for religion
Hides many mischiefs from suspicion. (1.2.276-79)

Barabas is fighting fire with fire here: if Ferneze can steal from the Jews by using the talisman of religiosity, so can Abigail. While it makes perfect sense that you'd pretend to be a nun in order to sneak into a nunnery, Barabas remarks more broadly that people expect you're doing good if you act under the mantle of religion.

It's no sin to deceive a Christian,
For they themselves hold it a principle,
Faith is not to be held with heretics;
But all are heretics that are not Jews. (2.3.309-12)

It was a pretty common view among both Christians and Jews that promises made to people of other religions weren't actually binding—those considered heretics were 'faithless', and so you weren't obligated to "keep faith" by sticking to the promises you made them. That…sounds like a recipe for disaster.

\BARABAS: Are strangers with your tribute to be taxed?

KNIGHT 2: Have strangers leave with us to get their wealth?
Then let them with us contribute (1.2.59-61)

Well, no one's really right here. Barabas acts as though he owes Malta nothing, even though, as the Knight points out, his success has depended upon being allowed to live and work on Malta. The Knight, for his part, acts like the Jews are just being taxed like any normal citizen, when really they're being singled out.

Will you then steal my goods?
Is theft the ground of your religion? (1.2.94-5)

Here we are again with Barabas's idea that Christians basically talk all day about how good they are and then turn around and do the exact opposite. To Barabas, Christians are inherently predatory. Like sharks. Or housecats.

What? Bring you Scripture to confirm your wrongs?
Preach me not out of my possessions.
Some Jews are wicked, as all Christians are.
But say the tribe that I descended of
Were all in general cast away for sin,
Shall I be tried for their transgression? (1.2.110-15)

Barabas points out that, even though Ferneze's using the bad rep the Jews get from the Bible to justify his actions, he's really just stealing. Hello, hypocrisy. Even though Barabas claims, reasonably, that he shouldn't be punished for what the Jews did thousands of years ago, he loves pointing the finger at Christians for their own ancient indiscretions.

A counterfeit profession is better
Than unseen hypocrisy (1.2.289-90)

According to Barabas, it's okay for Abigail to pretend to be a Christian and know she's pretending than to truly convert to Christianity while acting, blindly, in an un-Christian way. While Ferneze is probably Barabas's star example of a hypocrite, do you think he's unaware of his own hypocrisy? Further, do you think that this statement is affirmed or undercut by the way the play ends?

ITHAMORE: Fie upon 'em, master.Will you turn Christian when holy
friars turn devils and murder one another?

BARABAS: No, for this example I'll remain a Jew.
Heaven bless me! What, a friar a murderer?
When shall you see a Jew commit the like? (4.1.188-92)

So, Jacomo hasn't actually murdered Bernadine, but both friars have acted in such a way that it's been confirmed that they are "devils." They've shown they care more about money than about justice, and Jacomo, who actually thinks he has killed Bernadine, tries to run away. Not very Christian, Bernie.

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