Study Guide

The Jew of Malta Act 1, Scene 1

By Christopher Marlowe

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Act 1, Scene 1

  • Meet the Jew. What a coincidence: he's named after the Biblical Barabbas.
  • Barabas is "in his countinghouse, with heaps of gold before him," because apparently Marlowe never met an anti-Semitic stereotype he didn't like.
  • Barabas cozies up with his impressive stash of gold, silver and jewels, chuckling about the power it gives him.
  • A few merchants drop by to talk about his incoming ships of wares.
  • Barabas is clearly kind of a big deal in Malta—everyone knows his ships when they see them, and to get credit at the customhouse all you have to do is name-drop "Barabas the Jew."
  • Barabas, alone now, claims that his riches are the "blessings promised to the Jews."
  • He says that Maltese Christians are essentially jealous haters.
  • Jews may not get to be kings, he says, but whatevs. They get to be super-duper rich, which is a lot more stable and permanent than kingship.
  • (Oh, and by the way, he has a daughter.)
  • A bunch of Barabas's fellow Jews enter with the news that a fleet of Turkish warships is approaching Malta, looking to cause trouble.
  • Uh-oh.
  • Barabas tells them to chill out. Who cares if the Turks want to war with the Maltese Christians?
  • As long as they don't involve Barabas, his daughter, or his money, the Christian-Turkish beef isn't his problem.
  • We find out that there's a treaty between the largely Christian population of Malta and the scary Turks who control most of the surrounding area.
  • The other Jews tell Barabas that he still has to show up at the senate house (think City Hall) to watch the proceedings.
  • Secretly, Barabas knows something's up—the Maltese have been paying off the Turks for a long time in exchange for safety, and the Turks have continued upping the price.
  • Barabas figures the Christians can no longer afford the tribute and the Turks have come to take over Malta.
  • Again, though, why should Barabas care? He closes the scene uttering some Latin to the effect of "sorry man, no es my problemo."

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