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The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe
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The Jew of Malta

by Christopher Marlowe

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http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2715659.html

I just loved this. Barabbas, the Jew of the title, is screwed out of his substantial property by the Christian rulers of Malta, and exacts revenge upon his enemies - at great personal cost, in particular as regards his own beautiful daughter Abigail. I paused after reading the first act, rather hoping that Barabbas would find some way of delivering his Christian oppressors into the hands of the Turks; well, without undue spoilers, I was more than satisfied by the way it ended.

Despite the grim subject matter (large numbers of violent deaths on and off the stage) there's also a deadpan humour about it, and I felt Marlowe was satirising both the cliches of bloody revenge (which I think are accepted rather less sceptically in Tamburlaine) and the unquestioning anti-Semitism of his times - Barabbas does end up as a villain, sure, but it is very clearly the Christians who have pushed him into it through state-sanctioned theft and humiliation - and if any religious group is subjected to cliche, it is the monks and nuns who were of course a focus of fear and disgust in Marlowe's England. Machiavelli introduces the play by saying, "I count religion but a childish toy", and I don't think that Marlowe is necessarily agreeing with him but I do think he is stressing that Christians can be every bit as evil as non-Christians (Machiavelli was also of course a tremendously loaded figure in Marlowe's England).

I found Barabbas a better rounded character than Shylock, to whom he clearly is closely related. Of course the Merchant of Venice is probably better in the end - the plot is less linear and more interesting, the other characters apart from the lead better rounded out - but the dialogue between the two plays is more equal than I had realised. And Barabbas gets one of the best lines in the whole of Marlowe, brought up before a tribunal of Christian clerics and accused of all manner of sins:

FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed--
BARABBAS. Fornication: but that was in another country;
And besides, the wench is dead.

I'd really love to see this, more perhaps than any other of Marlowe's plays. I think the resonances with our own time could be played out in a way that would make an audience of today justifiably uncomfortable. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Dec 11, 2016 |
Does not compare to Shakespeare's much better rewrite, _The Merchant of Venice_. Marlowe's is simple and a bit vulgar without using either quality to its advantage. ( )
  valzi | Sep 7, 2016 |
5
  kutheatre | Jun 7, 2015 |
I actually read an online version of this text provided by my teacher as part of my Introduction to Drama course, so this is not the same version I'm writing about, but is the same work. In many ways, this is the predecessor to The Merchant of Venice, which is a distinction that would already make it notable, but it also has a great amount of value in its own right. While perhaps not as powerful or seemingly progressive as its counterpart, there are very good dramatic speeches, powerful characters, and a tragic ending to consider, and it is certainly a great glimpse into the society from which it came. I certainly would suggest it to anyone that has an interest in dramatic works. ( )
  TiffanyAK | Oct 29, 2013 |
Like Merchant of Venice, which shamelessly ripped this play off, but so much nastier. And, yes, horribly anti-Semitic. I'm not giving five stars to that part.

I sometimes imagine how pissed off Marlowe might have been, as the preeminent playwright of his time, and then here's fuckin' Shakespeare and ah, shit, now I'm a footnote. How much does it suck to be pretty good at what you do but just happen to be born a little before Shakespeare? That only happened once! ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486431843, Paperback)

Prejudice, the intricacies of Mediterranean politics, and Machiavellian strategy abound in this masterpiece of Elizabethan theater. The eponymous character in this suspenseful drama, a prototype for Shakespeare's Shylock, schemes desperately against Christian and Moslem hostility to cling to his wealth, his status, and his daughter.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:17 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Prejudice, the intricacies of Mediterranean politics, and Machiavellian strategy abound in this masterpiece of Elizabethan theater. The eponymous character in this suspenseful drama, a prototype for Shakespeare's Shylock, schemes desperately against Christian and Moslem hostility to cling to his wealth, his status, and his daughter.… (more)

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