Questions for Marlowe's Jew of Malta


Jew of Malta Thinksheet questions

Please note that the readings from Shapiro notes on the hard copy syllabus have been dropped. Please focus on Jew of Malta and spend time with the helpful intro.

There is no thinksheet for Monday. If you need to make up a thinksheet (or would like to save credit for a rainy day) try question 3.

For Wednesday, please answer question 5.


1. The figure of Machivelli opens the play. What do you make of this reference?

2. How is Catholicism depicted in the play? How do the representations of Christians, Muslims and Jews compare?

3. In “Marlowe, Marx, and Anti-Semitism,” in Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (NY: Routledge, 1990), 40-58, Stephen Greenblatt writes:  

“Thus, on the one hand, Abigail, Don Mathias, and the nuns are killed off with remarkable ease and, in effect, with the complicity of the laughing audience.  (The audience of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s brilliant 1964 production roared with delight when the poisoned nuns came tumbling out of the house.)  On the other hand, the public invocation of Christian ethics or knightly honor is always linked by Marlowe to baser motives.” (44-5). 

“Years ago, in Naples, I watched a deft pickpocket lift a camera from a tourist’s shoulder bag and replace it instantaneously with a rock of equal weight.  The thief spotted me watching, but did not run away–instead he winked, and I was frozen in mute complicity.  In The Jew of Malta, the audience’s conventional silence becomes the silence of the passive accomplice, winked at by his fellow criminal.”  (51) 

Do you agree with Greenblatt?  Is this play pure comedy or, in his words, “absolute play?  Why or why not?  How does this comedy compare to that in Croxton

4. Greenblatt also points to the great number of proverbs in the play.  As with these below.  What is the effect of drawing upon so many proverbial saying–lines that may seem personal, but that at the same time as a usual part of cultural discourse. 

I. I. 188 “Ego mihimet sum semper proximus.” 
I.ii. 105 “Of nought is nothing made.” 
I. ii. 282-3 Religion/ Hides many mischiefs from suspicion.
V.v. 10.  For so I live, perish may all the world.

5. What do you make of Abigail's conversion? What does Abigail mean to Barabas and what do you see as her importance in the play?

6. What type of character is Barabas? Are we meant to feel any sympathy for him? Is he a mere object of scorn? How do you see him?