Jews weren't popular in Renaissance Europe. (We know, you're shocked to hear that: The Jew of Malta is so full of praise.) They frequently faced the decision of either converting to Christianity or being expelled from their country. Remind you of anybody?Ferneze's Convert Or Fork Over Your Wealth bargain, even though it sounds crazy, would have sounded relatively normal at the time The Jew of Malta was being performed. But the ordeal didn't end with conversion. There was a lot of paranoia over whether or not these Jews had really converted or were still practicing Judaism in secret—being obdurate. Barabas is a prime example of exactly what the Christian world was losing sleep over. He absolutely refuses to convert, wholeheartedly embraces every horrendous Jewish stereotype, and is really, really (really really really) hard to take down.
Questions About Perseverance
Why do you think that, amongst all of the Jews, Barabas is the only one reject to Ferneze's friendly offer to take half his wealth?
The other Jews basically encourage Barabas to buckle down and endure through his trials, but Barabas has a different vision of how to survive. How is it different, and why doesn't he like their ideas on how to persevere?
For the daughter of the most famous Jew in town, Abigail's initial conversion to Christianity is met with basically no scrutiny. Why is that?
Who's Barabas really fighting? Ferneze? Christians? The whole world?
Chew on This
Barabas has to die, because once he moves from wanting money to wanting control of Malta, there's nowhere to go but down.
Despite his professed maniacal will to survive, Barabas loses, instead of gains. The play suggests that maybe compromise is the way to go.