DQ. Jew of Malta, Acts 1-5


Keep the following questions in mind as you read The Jew of Malta

Act 1

  • 1. Who is Machiavel and why does he open the show? What does he tell audiences about Barabas? Does his description of Barabas square with the character when we meet him?
  • 2. Describe Barabas and/or Machiavel’s world views. Do they challenge or corroborate plays we’ve seen so far this semester?
  • 3.How wealthy is Barabas? How does Marlowe convey his wealth to the audience?
  • 4. How does Barabas describe Christians? Jews? Does his description of either or both square with the Christians and Jews we meet later on? What’s Barabas’s point of view on state power?
  • 5. What role does the aside play in this play?
  • 6. Why does Ferneze take all of Barabas’s money? What’s your assessment of Fereneze’s leadership style? Of Calymath’s?  
  • 7. What do you think about Barabas’s relationship with Abigail? How does the Aeschylus reference overshadow it? 
  • 8. What’s the relationship between race and animals in Jew of Malta, Act 1?

Act 2 (& a little bit of Act 1)

  • 1. We see all sorts of new staging in this play. In what way is meaning effected by not only the asides, but also the funny business around the sign of the cross & X marks the spot at the end of act one? This play makes a lot of use of the balcony. What might the Romeo and Juliet resonances suggest: “What star shines yonder in the east” (2.1.42). Why all the little scenes?  
  • 2. What’s the effect of all the birds: “Birds of the air will tell of murders past” (Prologue 16), “Halycon’s bill” (1.1.39), “Raven Wakes the morning lark,” (2.1.60).  
  • 3. What work do all the other animal allusions do?  
  • 4. Slave Market Scene, 2.3: Who and what authorizes the sale of slaves?
  • 5. Who has done more terrible things, Barabas or Ithamore?
  • 6. How does Barabas plan to get his revenge against Fereneze? Is his revenge justified? 

Act 3

  • 1. How do Katherine, mother of Mathias, and Ferenze, father of Lodowick, respond to the deaths of their respective sons?
  • 2. What does Barabas’s orchestration of Lowick and Mathias’ death say about the theater? OR theater producers?
  • 3. Compare Abigail and Barabas.
  • 4. What do you make of Barabas and Ithamore’s relationship? What does it mean the Ithamore is Barabas’s heir?
  • 5. There are a lot of curses in this play? What rhetorical function does the “curse” serve?
  • 6. How does Barabas react to Abigail’s return to the convent? Is it out of proportion to her decision? 
  • 7. What’s Abigail’s dying wish? How can this scene be played for laughs?

Acts 4 & 5

Discussion Questions

  • 1. Compare the list of deeds Barabas says he done to the deeds he does over the course of the play. Is the speech at the end of 3.2 a spell or a script? Does Barabas determine, through language, the play’s outcome and his own tragic fate? 
  • 2. On Tuesday, we forgot to talk about Barabas and Ithamore’s relationship. So…what do you make of their relationship? How does their “friendship” compare to the other “parings” in this play?
  • 3. Let’s take a minute and read through Ithamore’s report of the Bernardine’s hanging (4.2.24-29). Compare this moment to other instances of “reporting” in Jew of Malta, 3.3.20-24 or 4.1.30-43. 
  • 4. There are a lot of letters in this play–Barabas’ forgeries to Lodowick and Mathias (4.1.49) and the blackmail letters Bellamira conns/demands that Ithamore write to Barabas (4.274-90) are just two examples. Why is reading and writing letters so important in this play? What do the letters tell us about the status of authorship in the this play?
  • 5. How does get revenge against Ithamore, Pilia-Borza, and Bellamira? 
  • 6. How does Barabas escape being prosecuted for the muders of the nuns, his daughter, the two friars, Lodowick, and Mathias?
  • 7. Who’s the best governor of Malta?  
  • 8. The final parting shot of Jew of Malta is of Barabas, first falling and the boiling to death inside the cauldron he set up for Calymath. How can we read Barabas’s fall? 
  • 9. What’s for dinner? Also how does the big cauldron at the end echo the pot that Barabas poisons?
  • 10. What is your final assessment of Barabas? Of the relative status of humans?

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