Study Guide

The Jew of Malta Revenge

By Christopher Marlowe

Revenge

Pray leave me in my patience. You that
Were ne'er possessed of wealth are pleased with want.
But give him liberty at least to mourn
That in a field amidst his enemies
Doth see his soldiers slain, himself disarmed,
And knows no means of his recovery.
Ay, let me sorrow for this sudden chance.
'Tis in the trouble of my spirit I speak;
Great injuries are not so soon forgot. (1.2.199-207)

Barabas is accusing the other Jews of being wusses because they don't take revenge on Ferneze. That said, he also makes the point that they don't have as much reason to seek vengeance as he does because they didn't lose as much as he did. This is kind of interesting, because it makes vengeance seems like a math problem. It's not just a case of "you hurt me, now I'm going to hurt you," it's "you hurt me this much, and I'm thus especially sensitive to the need for vengeance."

I am not of the tribe of Levi, I,
That can so soon forget an injury. (2.3.18-19)

Okay, a little tricky, but what Barabas seems to be saying here is that the desire for vengeance is a key element of Jewish identity. (Hint: tribe of Levi = Jews.)

Here comes Don Lodowick the Governor's son,
One that I love for his good father's sake. (2.3.30-31)

It must be opposite day on Malta, because Barabas doesn't actually love Lodowick. In fact, he plans to kill Lodowick to get revenge on Ferneze. And isn't the only time you see children used against their parents. Think about the way that Ferneze uses Calymath as a bargaining chip at the end of the play to negotiate for Malta's restoration with Calymath's father, the Turkish Sultan. Is that different from what Barabas is doing here with Lodowick?

FERNEZE: Oh, Lodowick! Hadst thou perished by the Turk,
Wretched Ferneze might have venged thy death.

KATHERINE: Thy son slew mine, and I'll revenge his death.

KATHERINE: Hold. Let's inquire the causers of their deaths,
That we may venge their blood upon their heads. (3.2. 13-15, 28-9).

At this point Ferneze doesn't know that Barabas set up the duel that killed his son, and so, unlike the audience, he has no idea that he's embroiled in a revenge cycle that he himself triggered by taking away Barabas's wealth. (It's okay, though; he's totally going to win.)

Admit thou lov'dst not Lodowick for his sin,
Yet Don Mathias ne'er offended thee.
But thou wert set upon extreme revenge
Because the Prior disposed thee once,
And couldst not venge it but upon his son,
Nor on his son but by Mathias's means,
Nor on Mathias but by murdering me. (3.3.40-46)

Abigail reasons that Mathias's death is the result of Barabas's "extreme revenge." Buuut, this is kind of questionable. Barabas probably could have killed Lodowick in a million different ways that didn't involve Mathias, and we're not totally with her when she attributes Mathias's death simply to the "extremity" of Barabas's revenge. What do you think?

Oh, unhappy day!
False, credulous, inconstant Abigail!
But let 'em go. And, Ithamore, from hence
Ne'er shall she grieve me more with her disgrace,
Ne'er shall she live to inherit aught of mine,
Be blest of me, nor come within my gates
But perish underneath my bitter curse
Like Cain by Adam for his brother's death. (3.4.26-33)

Barabas takes Abigail's conversion as a personal betrayal, and ends up killing her for it.But it sounds like Barabas needs to read up on his GenesisGod punishes Cain for killing his brother, not Adam.

ITHAMORE: I am gone.
Pay me my wages, for my work is done.

Exit Ithamore

BARABAS: I'll pay thee with a vengeance, Ithamore. (3.4.114-16)

Here's a weird one, Shmoopers—why on earth would Barabas ever want to seek revenge against Ithamore? Not only has Ithamore done nothing wrong to Barabas (uh…yet, anyway), Ithamore's actually on his side. You might want to think about this quote alongside the famous "so I live, perish may all the world" (5.2.10) quote. What does these lines say about Barabas's sense of vengeance?

I'll be revenged on this accursèd town,
For by my means Calymath shall enter in.
I'll help to slay their children and their wives,
To fire the churches, pull their houses down
Take my goods, too, and seize upon my lands.
I hope to see the Governor a slave
And, rowing in a galley, whipped to death. (5.1.62-8)

Well, this is interesting. Barabas is no longer seeking vengeance against a people or group of people, but rather the civic entity of Malta; the town itself. Why does he want to take down the city? Wouldn't that put an end to his sweet trading deals?

Oh, villain, heaven will be revenged on thee. (5.2.26)

Malta's been betrayed to the Turks and all the Christians are enslaved, so yeah, Ferneze's plenty unhappy. His response to the situation, though, isn't "I hate you and I'm going to get you back," it's more along the lines of "this isn't the way things should be, so heaven (the ordering principle of the universe) will punish you." Of course, it turns out that he does get revenge. (If you want something done right …)

…Barabas, since things are in thy power,
I see no reason but of Malta's wrack,
Nor hope of thee but extreme cruelty,
Nor fear I death, nor will I flatter thee. (5.2.58-61)

With Barabas in control of Malta, Ferneze figures that Barabas is coming for him. But no. Instead, his next move is to make a deal with Ferneze. What does that say about Barabas's motivations?