English Literature » Notes » The Jew of Malta: A Typical Marlovian Tragedy

The Jew of Malta: A Typical Marlovian Tragedy

Marlovian tragedy is significant due to its newness, Renaissance influence, Machiavellian morality, powerful and passionate expression, element of tragic, inner conflict, its tragic hero, popular literary type, high seriousness, bombastic language and blank verse.

Medieval drama was linked with church and there were only Mysteries and Morality plays but after the rise of a new wave of the Renaissance in Europe, there was a great change in the taste of audience. After the Reformation Movement, Mysteries and Morality plays lost all their influence on audience, rather they were disliked by the people because of their link with the old church. Interludes, Masques and Pageants were introduced and touch of comedy was felt in English Drama but all these innovations were in chaotic state when Marlowe and other “University Wits” started their career. With the revival of learning in the fifteenth century, the translation of the Senecan tragedy greatly influenced English writers. Christopher Marlowe is rightly acknowledged for his outstanding achievement of bringing English Drama from the worst condition of mere and imitation of the Senecan tragedy into its maturity. Swinburne says:

Before him there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.

Medieval tragedy was a matter of kings or princes and the plot of these tragedies was mainly concerned with the rise and fall of the royal personalities but Marlow has a modern conception of tragic heroes. A Marlovian tragic hero belongs to a humble family but he is a great man because he possesses great qualities. Barabas, the central character of “The Jew of Malta”, possesses all the qualities of typical Marlovian tragic hero. Barabas is not a king or a prince but a common Jew who has got importance in the state of Malta because he has acquired a lot of wealth by his trade ships in several countries. Barabas gets such a high status with the help of his “policy” that he dethrones Ferneeze, the ruler of Malta, and himself occupies his seat. He is not a popular person but he is a deadly enemy of the existed order. He is a symbol of common man to challenge the despotic of princes and kings.

A typical Marlovian tragedy has a strong influence of Machiavelli, a socio-political writer of Italy. Machiavelli rejected orthodoxical morality admired ambition as the only operated virtue of a prince and emphasized morality of new and more attractive kind which operated for the good of the individual. In “The Jew of Malta” we find Barabas as the disciple of Machiavelli who is ambitious for power through wealth and exploits all resources to accumulate wealth. He uses Lodowick, Mathias, Ithamore, Abigail, Jocomo, Barnardine, Ferneeze and Calimath to get his required targets and never cares for any one by holding the audience spell-bound.
One of the most important features of Marlovian tragedy is that it has the element of inner conflict and a lot of responsibility lies on the character of tragic hero in the occurrence of the tragedy while in ancient tragedy it mainly owes to the unseen hand of blind fate. In “The Jew of Malta” this inner conflict is not so articulate. Ferneeze, in “Jew of Malta” deprives Barabas of all his wealth while Barabas cunningly manages to take back and even becomes himself the governor of Malta there. He commits a fatal mistake and takes Ferneeze in confidence and discloses his further plan and quite naturally meets his tragic end.

Marlovian tragedy discards the old concepts of tragedy as a medium of teaching conventional morality. His tragedy is born out of the fall of protagonist’s Machiavellian morality caused by some tragic flaw in his character which is responsible for his ruin. Barabas’ revengeful motives are justifiable but the tragic end which Barabas faces in not foreign but his very own fatal mistake causes his ruins.
Marlovian tragedy is also notable for high seriousness and beautiful poetry in mighty blank verse.

Shakespeare would not have been Shakespeare had Marlowe never written or live. He might not have been altogether the Shakespeare we know.