The Jew of Malta

The Jew of Malta Essay Questions

  1. 1

    The three Jews of Malta compare Barabas's suffering in Act 1 to that of Job. Further references to the biblical story are present throughout the play. What does this comparison suggest about Barabas's suffering, or about the Christians who inflict suffering on him? More generally, how does this play use biblical references or allusions to improve the audience's appreciation of the events?

  2. 2

    In a play that shows the hypocrisy of so many Christians, Abigall's second conversion to Christianity may seem strange. How can we understand her change? Why might Marlowe have presented her conversion in this way? How does it contribute to the plot or to Marlowe's presentation of Christianity?

  3. 3

    In the Bible, Barabas is the thief and murderer who is released from prison instead of Jesus. How does Barabas's role in The Jew of Malta compare with that of his namesake and with that of Jesus? Who suffers, who dies, and is there any sacrificial, redemptive death in the play? What are the implications of Marlowe's choices in these matters?

  4. 4

    Barabas is both the oppressed and the oppressor, victim and villain. Is he more one than the other? Can his evil actions be justified as reactions to crimes committed against him? Does the audience's sympathy towards him tend to increase or decrease over the course of the play? To what extent can you identify Renaissance stereotypes about Jews that might appeal to the audience?

  5. 5

    How does Marlowe present anti-Judaic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian tendencies or sentiments in the play? Consider what characters say and do with regard to people from other religions, including verbal criticism, implicit criticism, irony, and sarcasm. Also consider what characters say and do in their own right (overtly or in hypocritical ways) and how Marlowe presents their words and actions in the play.

  6. 6

    Love, wealth, religion, and revenge are perhaps the four most important forces in the play. Are they related, and are some more important than others? Are there other forces that should be considered? (Consider approaching this topic through a specific incident or character.)

  7. 7

    Make clear the choices of the criminals and their victims in the cases of bribery, theft, or extortion. What does each party stand to gain and lose?

  8. 8

    Consider the men's views of the women in the play. For example, Ithamore addresses Bellamira like a goddess, whereas she is merely a courtesan or prostitute. The holy nuns are repeatedly debased by insinuations of illicit sexual activity. Abigall alone is both beautiful and chaste, but she is the evil Jew's daughter. How do the women view themselves or use their own attributes to their advantage?

  9. 9

    Compare Abigall's two conversions/confessions. What distinguishes a false from a true confession?

  10. 10

    In the first act, Barabas states that he would not like to be a king; in the final act, he willingly relinquishes his title as governor. Why does Barabas dislike political power? Use evidence from the play in terms of the political leadership on Malta.

  11. 11

    Katherine despises Jews, but Mathias is more than happy to mingle with Abigall and Barabas. Similarly, Lodowick demonstrates none of his father's anti-Judaism. What could account for this generation gap? Is there evidence of a similar gap in any other way, such as in views of Muslims, Spaniards, relations between the sexes, or moral principles?

  12. 12

    To the extent that this play is a revenge tragedy, one should examine the relationships among desire, trust, and betrayal in order to understand the play more fully. What happens when trust is betrayed or when desire becomes a motive for betrayal?