The Jew of Malta

‘The Jew of Malta’ summary and analysis written by Christopher Marlowe.

The Jew of Maltaor ‘The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta’ (written in 1589/1590) is one of the six plays written by one of the eminent ‘University Wits’ Christopher Marlowe. ‘Dido, Queen of Carthage, Dr. Faustus, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris’ and ‘Tamburlaine’ are other plays of Marlowe. In his whole dramatic career, he wrote only tragedy and in all his tragedies, he used blank verse. In this article, Christopher Marlow’s ‘The Jew of Malta’ will be summarised and analyzed. The details are as follows :

‘The Jew of Malta’ summary

The Jew of Malta‘ commences with introducing “ the tragedy of a Jew” by a character Machiavelli, who was based on Niccolo Machiavelli, a Senecan ghost. By saying, ” Count religion but a childish toy,/ And hold there is no sin but ignorance.” Machiavelli expressed his cynical view of the amorality of power.

Barbas, a Jewish merchant who was waiting for news about the return of his ships from the East. He discovered that they (the ships) had docked in Malta without any harm. After that, he got the important information from three Jews that they (all Jews of Malta) must go to the senate-house to meet the governor. When he went to the senate-house,

he came to know that along with every other Jew of the island he had to donate half of his estate to the government so that the government could pay tribute to Turks. But Barbus protested the governor’s order of donating his estate, consequently the governor Fernez not only confiscated all of his wealth but ordered to turn the house of Barbus into a convent. 

Barbus was determined to take revenge from his enemies.  But before taking revenge, he tried to get those treasures which were hidden by him in his own mansion. Barbus’ daughter Abigail pretended that he had embraced Christianity, entered  the convent and smuggled out her father’s gold at night.

After gaining his wealth with the help of Abigail, Barbus did a murderous conspiracy with the help of his slave Ithamore, against the governor’s son and his friend (friend of governor’s son), so that they could fight with each other . Barbus got success in his plan. To get Abigail, Don Lodowick( governor’s son)and his friend fought with each other. Both of them became fatally wounded and as a result, they both died.

After the death of Don Lodowick and his friend, Barbus became further incensed. When Abigail came to know the role of his father in the death of two friends, she became dejected and horrified. She ran away to the convent to become a nun. Abigail’s decision of becoming a nun enraged Barbus, he decided to send poisoned rice for the nuns.

Barbus gave so many instructions to Ithamore about delivering poisoned food. Eating the poisoned rice, all nuns died and it made Old friar Barnardine and Jaocmo full of sorrow.

Barbus had no grief at the death of his daughter. In fact, they (Ithamore and Barbus) were delighted when they heard about the death of nuns. Two friars, Jacomo along with Barnardine entered with sole intention of confronting Barbus. Barbaus immediately felt that undoubtedly his daughter had confessed about his heinous crime to Jacomo.

He planned against the two friars so that he could distract them from doing their task. He told (actually pretended) the priests that he wished to convert to Christianity and he would donate all his property to that monastery whichever he would join.

Once again, it was due to Barbas’ evil plot, two friendly person i.e. Jacomo and Barnadine started fighting to join him in  their monastery. Meanwhile, Barbus hatched a plan and tricked Bernardine into coming home with him. In the house of Barbus, his slave, Ithamore strangled Barnardine. Barbus açcused that Jacomo had murdered him (Bernardine).

After that the action switched.  The slave of Barbas Ithamore fell in love of a prostitute named Bellamaria. The prostitute and her pimp persuaded (Ithamore) to bribe Barbas. Drunken slave told them about every crime of his master. When Barbas came to know that his slave had betrayed him, he became mad with anger and he poisoned them.  After that, when his evil plot was exposed in front of the  governor  through the confessions of Bellamaria  Pilla Borza and he was arrested, he faked his own death and  escaped to find Calymath.

Barbas informed Turkish rulers that it was best to storm the town (Malta). Consequently, Turkish forces sieged Malta and Barbas was made governor. So, after all, Calymath prepared to leave Malta. At that point of time, Barbas, once again, switched the side to the Christian, because he was fearful about his life and the security of his office.

Barbas assured Ferneze that he not only would free Malta from Turkish rule but in exchange of a huge amount of money he would kill Calymath as well. When the former governor (Ferneze) became agree with him, he invited Calymath at his home for a feast.

But, ironically, when Calymath arrived at Barbas’s house, it was Ferneze who prevented Barbas from killing him (Calymath). Both of them, Calymath and Ferneze watched Barbas when he was dying in a cauldron which was prepared by himself to kill Calymath. Christians of Malta and Turks agreed to solve their problems without any more violence.

Analysis of ‘ The Jew of Malta’

‘The Jew of Malta’ characters : 

  • (i) Major characters of the play: Barbas ( a Jewish merchant), Ithamore (slave of Barbas), Abigail (Barbas’ daughter), Firenze (governor of Malta), Jacomo and Bernardine ( two friars), Don Lodowick (  son of the governor Ferneze and friend of Mathias), Don Mathias (son of  Katherine and lover of Abigail), Katherine ( Mathias’ mother) Bellamaria (a prostitute) and Pilla Borza ( pimp of Bellamaria).
  • Minor characters: Machiavelli (Prologue’s speaker ), Selim Calymath (son of Turkey’s emperor), Callapine ( a bashaw),  Martin Del Bosco (Vice Admiral of Spain), and Abbess, etc. are minor characters in ‘The Jew of Malta’.
  • Title and theme(s) of ‘The Jew of Malta:. Undoubtedly and unhesitantly it can be said that ‘ The Jew of Malta’ is the most suitable title. It is closely connected to Barbas who is a Jew. The whole action of the play is woven around him. His effective presence is seen in all the acts of the play. Whenever not active, the actions of other characters of the play affect Barbas.

Title and theme(s) of ‘The Jew of Malta’

Undoubtedly and unhesitantly it can be said that ‘ The Jew of Malta’ is the most suitable title. It is closely connected to Barbas who is a Jew. The whole action of the play is woven around him. His effective presence is seen in all the acts of the play. Whenever, not active, the actions of other characters of the play affect Barbas.

‘Religious hypocrisy, love and avarice, betrayal, revenge, brutality and cruelty, greed for money, conspiracy, Machiavellian strategy, moral corruption’  and ‘prejudice’ etc.are notable themes in ‘The Jew of Malta’.


In this article, after introduction, first of all, the summary of ‘The Jew of Malta’ has been provided. Then, in brief characters, the title and themes of the play are mentioned. It is expected that the article will be useful for the readers.

u003cemu003eHow many acts are in Christopher Marlowe’s play ‘The Jew of Malta’u003c/emu003e

u003cemu003eThere are five acts in ‘The Jew of Malta’.u003c/emu003e

Who is Abbess in ‘The Jew of Malta’?

u003cemu003eAbbes is the head nun at the new convent that is moved into the house of Barbas when the governor confiscates his (Barbas) goods.u003c/emu003e

u003cemu003eBesides Christopher Marlowe, writer of ‘The Jew of Malta’ who are other ‘university wits’ ?u003c/emu003e

u003cemu003eBesides Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, John Lyly, and George Peele –  also come under the group university wits.u003c/emu003e