By Charles Matthews

Monday, May 24, 2010

15. "The Complete Plays," by Christopher Marlowe, pp. 272-340

The Jew of Malta, Acts 2-5
Abigall retrieves Barabas's valuables from the nunnery. (When she appears on the balcony with them, we get what sounds like an allusion to Romeo and Juliet when Barabas says: "But stay, what star shines yonder in the east? / The lodestar of my life, if Abigall." But The Jew of Malta antedates Romeo, so Shakespeare would have to be alluding to Marlowe.) She throws down the bags, and Barabas rejoices, "O girl, O gold, O beauty, O my bliss!"

Ferneze is meeting with Martin del Bosco, the captain of a Spanish ship, who has captured the crew of a Turkish ship -- "Grecians, Turks, and Afric Moors." They want to sell them as slaves in Malta, but Ferneze is concerned because of their "tributary league" to the Turks. Del Bosco reassures him that the King of Spain wants to free Malta from the deal, so he says that they can keep the money they owe the Turks. Ferneze in turn agrees to let him sell the slaves.

Barabas, wealthy again, has bought a new house. He meets Ferneze's son, Lodowick, who wants to see Abigall because his friend Mathias has praised her beauty. He asks Barabas if he can sell him a diamond, and Barabas, to lure him to his house in order to kill him, agrees to sell him one. There is some double-meaning conversation between them in which Barabas is referring to Abigall as his "diamond." They stop at the slave auction and Barabas buys Ithamore, who "by my help shall do much villainy." He bids Lodowick farewell just as Mathias and his mother, Katherine, are arriving at the slave market. Mathias is suspicious that Lodowick has been talking to Barabas about Abigall.

Barabas tells Ithamore in an aside that Mathias loves Abigall "But I have sworn to frustrate both their hopes / And be revenged upon the governor." Mathias asks Barabas why he was talking to Lodowick, and Barabas reassures him, "we talked of diamonds, not of Abigall." Katherine is shocked to see her son talking to the Jew, so Mathias tells her "my talk with him was / About the borrowing of a book or two." She says, "Converse not with him, he is cast off from heaven."

When they are alone, Barabas tells Ithamore to be "void of these affections: / Compassion, love, vain hope, and heartless fear. / Be moved at nothing; see thou pity none, / But to thyself smile when the Christians moan." And he claims to "walk abroad a-nights / And kill sick people groaning under walls; / Sometimes I go about and poison wells." And he follows with a curriculum vitae that includes being a physician, an engineer, and "an usurer,"
And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting,
And tricks belonging under brokery,
I filled the gaols with bankrupts in a year,
And with young orphans planted hospiitals,
And every moon made some or other mad,
And now and then one hang himself for grief,
Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll
How I with interest tormented him. 
It's a speech full of anti-Semitic calumnies, of course, but in a play also full of double-dealing by gentiles. Ithamore tells Barabas that he has spent his time "In setting Christian villages on fire, / Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley slaves." And that once he was an ostler who cut travelers' throats. Barabas is pleased: "we are villains both."

Lodowick arrives for his diamond, and Barabas tells Abigall to flirt with him. She protests that she loves Mathias, but he insists on it and she complies. Then Mathias enters and Barabas stirs up his jealousy of Lodowick, promising that Mathias will marry Abigall. When he leaves, Barnabas tells Lodowick that Mathias has sworn to kill him and promises Abigall's hand to Lodowick. And so on until finally he has "set 'em both at enmity."

The prostitute Bellamira and her procurer, Pilia-Borza plot to steal from Barabas. Ithamore, returning from his mission to deliver messages that will cause Lodowick and Mathias to fight for Abigall, sees Bellamira and is smitten: "Now would I give a hundred of the Jew's crowns that I had such a concubine."

Mathias and Lodowick fight, and manage to kill each other. Ferneze and Katherine enter to discover their sons dead; they vow to find out who's responsible for their deaths.

Ithamore reveals to Abigall that Mathias and Lodowick are dead, and that Barabas is the one who goaded them on to fight. She resolves to return to the nunnery: "I perceive there is no love on earth, / Pity in Jews, nor piety in Turks." She sends Ithamore to bring one of the friars to her, and dismisses him when he returns with Friar Jacomo, who accepts her back into the nunnery. She vows "O Barabas, / Though thou deservest hardly at my hands, / Yet never shall these lips bewray thy life."

Barabas, however, learning that Abigall has returned to the nunnery, still fears that she'll tell what he has done. So he enlists Ithamore in a plot to take a pot of poisoned rice to the nuns who are celebrating a feast day.

Ferneze is meeting with Callapine and the Turks, whom he tells that the Maltese won't pay the tribute.Tthe Turks are, of course, outraged, and Ferneze, counting on the support of the Spanish, says, "naught is to be looked for now but wars, / And naught to us more welcome is than wars."

Friar Jacomo and Friar Barnardine meet to share the news that the nuns are all dying, including Abigall, who confesses to Barnardine what her father has done. But because "confession must not be revealed," Barnardine can't tell the authorities, or even Jacomo.

Barabas is delighted at the death of the nuns, as is Ithamore, who wants to "poison all the monks" in a nearby monastery, too." Barabas says, "Thou shalt not need, for, now the nuns are dead, / They'll die with grief" -- one of several jokes about the sexual intimacy between nuns and priests in the play. Ithamore wonders why Barabas is not grieving for Abigall, but Barabas says "I grieve because she lived so long, / An Hebrew born, and would become a Christian!" Jacomo and Barnardine enter, and Barnardine begins to chastise Barabas because of the crimes Abigall has revealed to him in her confession. Whenever Barnardine begins to denounce him, Barabas completes the sentence himself:
FRIAR BARNARDINE Thou hast committed -- 
BARABAS Fornication? But that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead. 
(The lines were famously used as an epigraph by T.S. Eliot for the poem "Portrait of a Lady.") Suddenly, Barabas tells the friars that he wants to turn Christian and that he will give his wealth "to some religious house, / So I may be baptized and live therein." Immediately the two friars begin bidding against each other. Barabas chooses Friar Jacomo and tells him to come to his house "at one o'clock this night." Barnardine is angry, and the two friars scuffle until Barabas sends Barnardine into his house with Ithamore. After Jacomo leaves, they strangle Barnardine and prop him up in a standing position. When Jacomo returns, he attacks the corpse of Barnardine and thinks he has killed the friar. Barabas and Ithamore accuse Jacomo of murder and take him to the police.

Bellamira and Pilia-Borza have concocted a plan to lure Ithamore into conning Barabas out of his money. Pilia-Borza reports to her that he met Ithamore "looking of a friar's execution" -- i.e., Jacomo's. Bellamira proceeds to seduce Ithamore and to enlist him in the plot to extort money from Barabas by threatening to "confess all." Barabas is furious at Ithamore's betrayal, and goes to Bellamira's house disguised as a French musician. Meanwhile, the drunken Ithamore is telling Bellamira and Pilia-Borza all about the trick played on Mathias and Lodowick and the poisoning of the nuns. When Barabas arrives, he gives Bellamira a poisoned bouquet, which she also has Ithamore and Pilia-Borza smell.

Ferneze is preparing for war with the Turks when Bellamira and Pilia-Borza come to him with the news that Barabas is responsible for his son's death, the poisoning of the nuns, and the murder of Barnardine. The officers bring Barabas and Ithamore to Ferneze, who sends them to jail when Ithamore confesses. But an officer returns to report that Bellamira, Pilia-Borza, Ithamore and Barabas are all dead. Ferneze orders Barabas's body thrown "o'er the walls, / To be a prey for vultures and wild beasts."

The officers "throw down the body," according to the stage directions, and everyone exits. But Barabas has faked death with "poppy and cold mandrake juice" and is ready to take his revenge by showing the Turks how to enter the city by way of a sewer: "I'll lead five hundred soldiers through the vault, / And rise with them i'th' middle of the town." The plot works, and Calymath and the Turks take Ferneze and the Knights prisoner, and make Barabas governor. Calymath departs, proclaiming "Farewell, brave Jew, farewell great Barabas."

Barabas isn't so sure he wants to be governor:
I now am governor of Malta. True,
But Malta hates me, and, in hating me,
My life's in danger; and what boots it thee,
Poor Barabas, to be the governor,
Whenas thy life shall be at their command. 
So he turns against the Turks and presents a plot to Ferneze to blow up a building with the Turkish army inside and to set a trap for Calymath and the bashaws. Ferneze agrees to the plot. Barabas is seen with carpenters setting up something that he explains to Ferneze:
Now, as for Calymath and his consorts,
Here have I made a dainty gallery,
The floor whereof, this cable being cut,
Doth fall asunder, so that it doth sink
Into a deep pit past recovery. 
He gives Ferneze a knife to cut the rope, and in an address to the audience says,
                                                 Why, is not this 
A kingly kind of trade, to purchase towns 
By treachery and sell 'em by deceit? 
Now, tell me, worldlings, underneath the sun 
If greater falsehood ever has been done.
But Ferneze turns the tables on Barabas and warns Calymath, then cuts the rope so that Barabas falls through the trapdoor into a cauldron. Barabas calls out for help, "But now begins the extremity of heat / To pinch me with intolerable pangs. / Die, life! Fly, soul! Tongue, curse thy fill and die!" Ferneze spares Calymath's life, but tells him that his army has been "Blown up, and all thy soldiers massacred."
O, monstrous treason! 
FERNEZE                  A Jew's courtesy; 
For he that did by treason work our fall, 
By treason hath delivered thee to us.

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