The Jew of Malta

The Jew of Malta Summary and Analysis of Act 2

Act 2, Scene 1

Night has fallen. Barabas enters with a light in hand, lamenting the events that have befallen him. Just as he prays to God to safely direct his daughter, on the model of God directing Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness, Abigall enters above with bags of gold and jewels. Faintly able to perceive her, Barabas thinks he sees a ghost. He soon realizes that the figure is Abigall, who begins to throw down bags of treasure to him. Barabas declares that he is now entirely happy, equating happiness with having his daughter, his gold, and beauty all together. Abigall warns him that the nuns will begin to wake up as midnight approaches, and she retires back into the house.

Act 2, Scene 2

Ferneze enters with Martin del Bosco, the vice-admiral of Spain who has just arrived on his ship, the Flying Dragon. Del Bosco carries a freight of Greek, Turkish, and Moorish slaves, which he would like to sell in Malta. Ferneze welcomes the vice-admiral but says that he does not dare buy the slaves due to the tributary league with the Turks. Upon hearing this-and with the encouragement of the Maltese First Knight-del Bosco urges Ferneze to break Malta's league with the Turks. He declares that the Spanish King has title to the island, and he promises to send for aid in fighting off the Turks. He tells Ferneze to keep the tributary money rather than give it to the Turks. With new hope, Ferneze decides to buy the slaves whom del Bosco is holding in cargo. The scene closes with Ferneze trumpeting his resolution to fight the "barbarous misbelieving" Turks, exclaiming that "Honour is bought with blood and not with gold."

Act 2, Scene 3

Two officers arrive at the marketplace with the newly-purchased slaves. Noticing Barabas, the First Officer mutters that the Jew would have bought all the slaves had his fortunes not been seized. As it turns out, Barabas has recovered a substantial proportion of his fortune with the help of Abigall, and he has just purchased a new mansion. In an aside, Barabas swears to take out his revenge against Ferneze as well as his son Lodowick. The Jew boasts of his ability to dissemble-to put on a show of gentleness and innocence while injuring others.

Lodowick enters and seeks Barabas in hopes of acquiring permission to visit Abigall. Barabas responds to Lodowick's request to "help [him] to a diamond," insinuating through a series of innuendoes that Abigall is well and available to the young man. Barabas also tells Lodowick that he now sees the light of Christianity. He praises Ferneze for converting his former mansion into a nunnery, albeit with the pointed suggestion that the nuns and friars engage in illicit sexual activities. All this time, he has been revealing his true intentions through a series of asides within hearing of the audience, saying that he hopes to kill Lodowick and set the nunnery on fire.

Accompanied by Lodowick, Barabas examines two slaves before finally settling on Ithamore (who is cheaper because he is skinnier). Mathias and Katherine enter the marketplace. Barabas and Mathias engage in secret conversation such that Katherine, Mathias's mother, cannot hear. The Jew invites Mathias to come and see Abigall at his house, whereupon Mathias inquires about Barabas's conversation with Lodowick. Barabas responds that they were speaking of diamonds. He and Mathias part with unrelated talk in order to fool the anti-Judaic Katherine. All but Ithamore and Barabas exit the scene.

The Jew teaches his new slave to be cold and cunning, embarking on an extended speech to brag about his own evil and anti-Christian deeds. To this story, Ithamore in turn enthusiastically responds with the cruel deeds that he has himself committed against Christians. Barabas promises to pay Ithamore handsomely, so long as he remains faithful. The two meanwhile have arrived at Barabas's house, where Lodowick is arriving to see Abigall.

Barabas orders his daughter to entertain Lodowick to the best of her abilities, as if she were truly in love with him. The young pair enter the house, while Barabas remains outside to greet Mathias. The Jew then puts on a show of sadness, saying that although he intended his daughter for Mathias, Lodowick has been imposing himself on his daughter. Mathias draws his sword at once, ready to fight with Lodowick, but Barabas manages to calm him with the promise that he will firmly reject Lodowick.

Lodowick sees Mathias exit and inquires after him. Barabas laments that Mathias has sworn Lodowick's death, for he is in love with Abigall as well. Barabas again forces his daughter to declare her love for Lodowick, claiming that "It is no sin to deceive a Christian." Abigall leaves the scene thoroughly upset, but Barabas assures Lodowick that her tears are just what one would expect of Jewish maidens who are about to be married. Happy to be promised Abigall's hand in marriage, Lodowick departs without hampering Mathias when Mathias returns once again.

Barabas tells Mathias that if not for his intervention, Lodowick would surely have stabbed Mathias then and there. The Jew then tells Mathias that Abigall now belongs to him and that Lodowick has gone to visit Mathias's mother--being anti-Judaic, Katherine will "die with grief" upon hearing about her son's relationship with Abigall. Mathias thus exits in pursuit of Lodowick. Abigall's father expresses disappointment that she wants to marry a Christian, and she laments her father's malicious scheming, especially since she wishes no harm to come to Mathias.

Ithamore takes Abigall into the house, after which Barabas orders him to give Mathias a feigned challenge from Lodowick. The act closes with Barabas vowing that he will set the two young men against each other.


Given a choice between his fortune and his daughter, which would Barabas choose? In the opening scene of the act, he associates four types of fortunes in a parallel structure: "O girl, O gold, O beauty, O my bliss!" Just as Abigall lovingly carries out her father's wishes, so too does Barabas seem to genuinely love his daughter: "Abigall, Abigall, that I had thee here too!" Whether this appearance captures the reality of his preferences is a question that will be answered in the following act.

In the meantime, Ferneze continues to reveal his hypocritical ways. Martin del Bosco's offer to assist Malta in its coming war against the Turks strikes the governor as highly desirable. After all, he will be able to keep the tribute money taken from the Jews-an easy financial gain that will appear to the public as righteous. To be sure, Ferneze may feel genuinely relieved to be associated with Christian Spain rather than the Ottoman Empire. Still, his talk of how "honour is bought with blood and not with gold" is nonsense, from his point of view. He knows that his honour as a Christian has been bought with gold, so his courageous defiance of the Turks only comes after the assurance that Spain will come to Malta's aid. Besides, it is the blood of the Spanish, more than that of the Maltese, that will spill. In exchanging one protector for another, though, Malta is likely to face new challenges and costs.

In a manner similar to his father's, Lodowick shows his deep taste for wealth. It is not without reason that he refers to Abigall as a diamond. As Barabas's daughter, after all, it is clear that Abigall will inherit a considerable fortune. Lodowick hastens to assure the Jew: "'Tis not thy wealth, but her that I esteem, / Yet crave I thy consent." Now if Abigall were ugly, Lodowick would have good reason to make such a comment. But given that the young men describe her as exceedingly pretty, Lodowick's comment seems to reveal his preoccupation with the fortune he will inherit as a son-in-law. (Note that he is trusting in her father's continued success in maintaining his fortune even under difficult circumstances on the island.) Love and the desire for wealth, then, once again are the motives that lead to action, not Lodowick's religious or ethical motives.

The lady Katherine clearly displays her anti-Judaic sentiments, but her son Mathias hardly considers religion or family as providing motives that will trump his love for Abigall, in all her beauty. Similarly, Lodowick affects none of his father's animosity towards Barabas, reflecting mainly his father's love of women and gold irrespective of religion or family vendettas Meanwhile, Barabas keeps a vendetta alive, though it remains unclear where his priorities lie among gold, family love, and revenge.

Revenge has become a powerful force in the play. Barabas notes that he has regained much of his fortune through Abigall, and he has bought a new mansion; nonetheless, he is more driven than ever to take revenge on Ferneze. To do so, he is more than willing to sacrifice Lodowick-and probably Mathias along the way as well. The Jew of Malta, then, fits well with the popular tradition of revenge tragedy in English theater, typified by such works as Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Revenger's Tragedy (sometimes attributed to Thomas Middleton).

In plotting his revenge, Barabas reveals his extreme shrewdness. Like Shakespeare's Iago in Othello, he knows precisely how to manipulate others to do his will. When he meets Ithamore, for example, Barabas presents himself in the image of the stereotypical medieval Jew:

As for myself, I walk abroad a-nights
And kill sick people groaning under walls;
Sometimes I go about and poison wells. (II.iii.177-79)

Encouraged by his new master's taste for evil, Ithamore responds with an equally exaggerated-if not entirely fabricated-story of his crimes against Christians. Barabas also revels in his malicious maneuvers. In the third scene, he repeatedly states his true intentions through asides. While this serves as a dramatic device-to clarify matters for the audience-the extent and the number of asides suggest Barabas's sheer pleasure in planning his revenge.

Finally, the third scene of Act 2 marks a development in Abigall's character. She has, thus far, followed all her father's wishes, staying true to her name's literal meaning, "father's joy." (In English, though, ending the name with "gall" suggests a negative experience: 'father's gall.') Now, as two suitors are set up to compete for her, possibly to the death, she begins to assert her own opinions and desires. Must she really help her father set up Mathias and Lodowick? A tension thus arises between romantic love and familial love; she seems more concerned with this conflict at this point than with the possibility of losing her inheritance if her father's fortune is confiscated again. Another way of looking at the conflict is to see it between Abigall's love and Barabas's hate (a form of his love for revenge).