English Literature » Notes » The Jew of Malta: The World of Malta

The Jew of Malta: The World of Malta

After a careful study of “Jew of Malta” it can be said without any exaggeration that the society of Malta is full of social, political and religious evils like greed, corruption, hypocrisy, prejudice, treason, blackmailing, exploitation, lawlessness, social injustice, religious fanaticism, pride and selfishness. The play is a satirical exposition of the Machiavellian politicians, hypocrite and lusty priests, ruthless Jews and the so-called Christians who have forgotten the fundamental principles of their religion, such as tolerance, patience, pity and selflessness. The picture of Malta is very loathsome and detestable and it looks like a hell.

Marlowe strikes the key-note of the play when he introduces Machiavelli in the opening scene of the play. Right from the beginning we start feeling that “All is not well in the state of Malta” and all our fears prove true when we withers that “evil desires, evil thoughts and evil doings fill its five acts of the full”. The central character, Barabas, is found in his counting house, counting his gold coins and pleasing his eyes and soul with the sight of his heap of wealth. With the passage of time we come to know that he is so much obsessed with passion for wealth that he can cross any limit for it. He is ruthless, selfish, materialist who leaves no stone unturned to accumulate wealth by hook or by crook and hold other people in the grip of his own benefit. He may have some personal grudge against certain Christians but his hate for all the Christians and his grudge against the whole nation cannot be justified at all. He has always an excuse ready for his misdoings as in the case of Lodowick and Mathias. He thinks:

It’s no sin to deceive a Christian

He gives the details of his ruthlessness in the heroic terms. He tells Ithamore:

There I enrich’d the priests with burials,
And always kept he sexton’s arms in ure
With digging graves and ringing dead men’s knells.

But is happy:

But mark how I am blest for plaguing them.
I have as much coin as will buy the town.

Barabas’ brutality is at the peak, when we find him so brutally planning for the murder of his own daughter.

He ridicules religion and thinks it no more that it
Hides many mischiefs from suspicion.

Barabas has a materialistic and utilitarian outlook which places the advantages of the nation.

From this detailed description of Barabas’ devilish activities we start thinking whether Barabas is the single fish who spoils the whole pond but such a criticism is not just because with the only exception of Abigail, almost all major and minor characters of the play are the chips of the same block. If Barabas is possessed with passion for wealth, same is the case with Ferneze, the knight, Calimath and Del-Bosco who have such respective policies to acquire more and more wealth.

When Ferneze asks the Turks what thing had driven them to Malta, the reply was significant:

The wind that bloweth all the world besides,
Desire of gold.

Even the religious characters like Jacomo and Barnardine are equally avarice who altercate with each other only for Barabas’ treasure. The character of low life, Ithamore, Bellamira and Pilia Borza join hands together to get as much as they can from Barabas’ wealth.

When we think about the law and order situation in Malta, we find that both the government administration and ecclesiastical figures defy and violate own rules and principles. Ferneze plays his crafty statesmanship on highly political ground. He has well convinced policy for the sake of his personal benefit and aggrandizement. He takes the tribute money from Jews on the basis of the jungle law that might is right but never pays this tribute to the Turks. In order to sell a cargo of the Turkish slaves, the Spanish vice admiral Del Bosco inculcates in Ferneze’s mind the idea of breaking the treaty between Malta and Turks. The condition of church authorities is not different because they are also found worshipping the manner of gold. Barnardine is only sorrow at Abigail’s death.

Ay, and a virgin too; that grieves me most.

The most important features of the Malta society are religious fanatics and ethane prejudice. Katherine advises her son to avoid Barabas because he is a Jew.

Converse not with him; he is cast off from heaven.

In short the word of Malta is devoid of such virtues as love, warmth, charity, pity and patience. Each character whether high or low is certainly low and mean in mentality.

As Harry Levis remarks:

Morally, all of them operate on the same level and that is precisely what Marlowe is pointing out.

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