The Jew of Malta

The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta is a tragedy written by Christopher Marlowe sometime between 1590 and 1592. It was one of the most performed and financially successful plays of its time.



The ghost of Niccolo Machiavelli presents himself as a misunderstood man. But actually he did not want to give a lecture, but to present the following story of a Jew from Malta.

[Act I, Szene 1]

Barabas Barabas is a highly successful Jewish merchant on the island of Malta. He is devoted to his only daughter Abigail, his business is going well – he is content with himself and the world. Two Jews report that the Ottoman war fleet is anchored in the harbour and that all Jews should come to the town hall.

[Act I, Scene 2]

Selim Calymath, the son of the Ottoman sultan, demands that the Maltese governor Ferneze pay the tribute that Malta has not paid for the last 10 years. It now only grants a one-month deferment. In order to obtain the necessary money, a new decree is issued: All Jews must hand over half of their assets. Those who refuse lose everything and must convert to Christianity. Only Barabas is outraged, whereupon all his possessions are confiscated and his house is turned into a nunnery. According to Abigail, the nuns have already taken over the building, which is why her father can’t get to the treasures he has hidden for emergencies. Therefore, Barabas asks his daughter to become a nun in order to get access to the hiding place. They stage a scene to convince everyone that Barabas has disowned his daughter because she has converted.

[Act I, Scene 3]

Mathias, who is in love with Abigail, tells his friend Lodowick, the governor’s son, that Abigail has become a nun. As he raves about her beauty, Lodowick also wants to see her once.

[Act II, Scene 1]

With Abigail’s help, Barabas manages to get his hidden riches out of the nunnery.

[Act II, Scene 2]

Martin del Bosco, the Vice-Admiral, of the Spanish King, has come to Malta. When he learns from Ferneze that the Ottomans want to collect the due tribute, he persuades the governor to keep the money. He would support the island in the struggle and also ask the emperor for help.

[Act II, Scene 3]

Barabas buys the slave Ithimore at the market. Lodowick, who in the meantime has also become enthusiastic about Abigail, who has left the nunnery, negotiates with Barabas for a diamond, although it is clear to both of them that it is actually about Abigail. Her father takes this as an opportunity to hatch a perfidious plan. Mathias, who is watching the two, now also wants to "do business" with Barabas. When Lodowick visits Barabas, he tells his daughter to be especially nice to his guest, even though her love is for Mathias. The latter finally recognises his friend as a competitor. Barabas cleverly exploits this by promising each of them Abigail’s hand and setting them against each other.

[Act III, Scene 1]

The courtesan Bellamira complains that her wealthy customers have been absent since the Ottomans anchored off the island. Only the thief Pillia-Borza comes regularly, but can only pay her in silver. In passing, Ithimore catches sight of the courtesan and immediately falls for her.

[Act III, Scene 2]

Incited by Barabas, a quarrel breaks out between Mathias and Lodowick over Abigail, which ends fatally for both. Ferneze and Katherine mourn the death of their sons.

[Act III, Scene 1]

Ithimore not only tells Abigail about Mathias and Lodowick’s death, he also enlightens her about the role her father played in it. Abigail is shocked. She enters the nunnery again of her own free will.

[Act III, Scene 4]

Barabas is horrified by what his daughter has done. Together with Ithimore he wants to poison the entire convent.

[Act III, Scene 5]

Calymath demands payment of the tribute through a delegated pasha, which Ferneze refuses. This means war between the Ottoman Empire and Malta.

[Act III, Scene 6]

Brother Bernardine tells Brother Jacomo that he has been called to the nunnery for confession because all the nuns are ill. Once there, he only finds Abigail alive. Before she too dies, she confesses to the monk how Barabas drove Mathias and Lodowick to their deaths. Together with Jacomo, Bernardine wants to prosecute Barabas.

[Act IV, Scene 1]

Barabas' joy at hearing the death knell for the nuns is disturbed by Jacomo and Bernardine. Before they make their accusation aloud, Barabas promises to repent and enter the monastery along with his fortune. Overcome by greed, each of the monks tries to lure Barabas into his monastery. He promises Jacomo to convert with him and sends him away. After he leaves, Barabas and Ithimore murder Bernardine. They lean his body against a stick. Jacomo, who has returned, believes that Bernardine wants to persuade Barabas to enter his monastery, which is why he beats the friar. Barabas and Ithimore then convince him that he killed Bernardine, which is why they take him to prison.

[Act IV, Scene 2]

Bellamira has sent Ithimore an invitation. On the way to her, Ithimore tells of Jacomo’s execution. In order for Ithimore to court Bellamira, he needs money. Pillia-Borza suggests blackmailing Barabas. Ithimore agrees. He sends Pillia-Borza with a message to his master and meanwhile enjoys himself with Bellamira.

[Act IV, Scene 3]

Barabas is enraged about the blackmail by his slave. In addition, Pillia-Borza also demands hush money.

[Act IV, Scene 4]

Barabas comes dressed as a musician to Bellamira, who is hosting a banquet. One after the other, she, Ithimore and Pillia-Borza smell a poisoned bouquet of flowers that Barabas has brought.

[Act V, Scene 1]

The battle with the Ottomans is imminent. Bellamira and Pillia-Borza reveal to Ferneze that Barabas is responsible for Lodowick’s death. As soon as Barabas and Ithimore are brought forward, the latter confesses everything. No sooner are the two taken away than an officer reports that not only Bellamira, Pillia-Borza and Ithimore, but surprisingly also Barabas have died. They throw his body over the city wall. In fact, Barabas has taken a sleeping draught. Awakened again, the approaching Ottomans find him. Barabas offers to show them a secret passage into the city.

[Act V, Scene 2]

With Baraba’s help, Calymath defeated the Maltese. In gratitude, he makes him the new governor of the island. Instead of enjoying his position, Barabas promises Ferneze that he will liberate Malta from the Ottomans and reinstate him as governor if he is financially compensated.

[Act V, Scene 3]

A messenger delivers Calymath Baraba’s invitation to a banquet for all Ottomans. While Calymath and the pashas are to dine with Barabas in the citadel, everything is being prepared for the soldiers in a cloister outside the city.

[Act V, Scene 4]

Ferneze instructs his soldiers.

[Act V, Scene 5]

Barabas informs Ferneze of his plan. The place where the Ottoman soldiers will celebrate the banquet has been turned into a booby trap. Calymath and his pashas will dine on a specially constructed gallery in which a trapdoor has been built. As soon as they enter this gallery, Ferneze should give the signal for the blast and cut the rope of the trapdoor. The governor triggers the signal but warns Calymath and operates the trapdoor while Barabas is still on the gallery. He falls into the cauldron hidden underneath and dies. As Calymath's soldiers have all been killed, he must remain a prisoner in Malta. Ferneze becomes governor. The status quo ante is restored.


The drama consists of 1,836 sentences with a total of 18,328 words and a vocabulary of 2,999 words.1 Marlowe used 14 words for the first time in a new meaning, 14 words were used by him for the first time, 3 words he used in a hitherto unknown grammatical construction and also 3 words occur in this meaning only in Marlowe.

Revised By Thomas Heywood, Or Not After All

When Marlowe began to be rediscovered in the 19th century, The Jew of Malta posed a problem. Beginning with Edward Dowden’s Transcripts and Studies (1888), which included an essay on Marlowe that had already appeared in the Fortnightly Review in January 1870, a glorification of Marlowe began in which his work was read as a kind of autobiography. The dramatic characters were merely the mouthpiece for the poet’s views. It was during this period that Marlowe became the first Romantic, a boundary-pushing seeker of beauty and truth, mentioned in the same breath as Keats, Shelley or Byron. 2 Such genius could produce Tamburlaine, who is after power, Faustus, who is after knowledge, and Edward II, who is after self-realisation, but Barabas, who is after money and revenge, did not fit into this rapturous concept. Moreover, an artist like Marlowe could only write profound tragedies, against which the last three acts of The Jew of Malta in particular speak. While the beginning of the drama was said to be highly artistic, the end was considered a hasty work of art that the author could no longer revise.3 Together with the late printing and Heywood’s additions, the theory that the entire play did not come from Marlowe’s pen was thus nourished. In the meantime, there are several theories on this.

  • Heywood had laid a hand on the drama, which is quite clearly noticeable in IV,4.4
  • John Webster could be the author of the last three acts.5
  • Heywood wrote the third and fourth acts.6
  • The play was created in collaboration between Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.7
  • The rewrite is by Thomas Dekker rather than Heywood.8

Only T. S. Eliot contradicted the general view in 1919:

"[…] if one take The Jew of Malta not as a tragedy or as a 'tragedy of blood', but as a farce, the concluding act becomes intelligible, and if we attend with careful ear to the versification, we find that Marlowe develops a tone to suite this farce, and even perhaps that is his most powerful and mature tone. I say farce, but with the enfeebled humour of our times the word is a misnomer, it is the farce of the old English humour, the terribly serious, even savage comic humour which spent his last breath in the decadent genius of Dickens."9

It was to take another three decades before science subscribed to this view. Leo Kirschbaum10 attempted to prove that the brothers' scenes repeatedly attributed to Heywood were actually by Marlowe, and J. C. Maxwell saw no compelling argument in the late print edition for reworking by other authors, because "[…] manuscripts, unlike apples, do not become corrupt simply by lying in a drawer."11 Kenneth Friedenreich, who wrote a detailed analysis on the authorship debate, asked the crucial question in this regard:

"[…] we are compelled to ask why, if […] Heywood decided to revise The Jew of Malta extensively for its 1633 revival at Court and the Cockpit, he would begin working from the middle of the play on, or why he would have felt that only half the play needed revision at all."12


The exact date of creation is unknown. Taking into account the reference to the death of Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, the drama could not have been completed before 23 December 1588. Philip Henslowe recorded the first performance of the play for 7 March 1592. The drama was not entered in the Stationers' Register until 27 May 1594.

xvijto maij
Nicholas Linge
Thomas Mill-
Entred for theire copie vonder the hand of Master Warder Cawood.
the famouse tragedie of the Riche Jewe of Malta ………………vjdC

This edition was probably never printed at all. The earliest surviving print was made thirty-nine years later, making The Jew of Malta the only existing sixteenth-century English drama not printed until the thirties of the following century.13

200 Nouembris 1632
Nicholas vavasor Entred for his Copy vnder the handes of Sir Henry Herbert and
Master Weaver warden a Tragedy called the Jew of Malta. [by Christopher
Marlowe ] ………………………………………………………………………………vjd

In addition to the text of the play, this quatro contains a dedication by Thomas Heywood to the lawyer Thomas Hammon, as well as two prologues and epilogues, also by Heywood.


There do not seem to be any clearly literary sources that Marlowe drew on, although Jews had been portrayed on English stages before. The so-called Croxton Play of the Sacrament was probably written around 1465. It tells of Jonathas, a Jewish merchant who, with his fellow believers, buys a consecrated host from a Christian. This is subjected to all kinds of tests because the Jews want to see whether Jesus is actually present in the wafer. The Jews convert to Christianity when they witness the miraculous powers of the host. The similarities, however, are limited to Jonathas' opening monologue, which is reminiscent of Barabas'.14 Around 1584, the drama The Three Ladies of London was written, the author of which is believed to be Robert Wilson. In it, the Jewish moneylender Gerontius is portrayed as an honest, generous businessman with moral integrity, while the Christian merchant Mercadorus is a villain. But here, too, the parallels to Marlowe’s play are marginal at best. In The School of Abuse (1579), Stephen Gosson mentions a drama called The Jew, the text of which can no longer be found.15

The question of why the action takes place in Malta is not entirely unjustified, since some of Marlowe’s statements about the local conditions are surprisingly accurate, while others are completely wrong, starting with the fact that hardly any Jews lived there, as in England.16 On the other hand, according to Marlowe, there are hardly any Maltese at home on the island.17 This strengthens the assumption that, despite the similarities that occur with the real Malta , the plot location is a contrived one, tailored to the expectations of the Elizabethan audience,18 who had probably already heard of Malta one time or another, since English travellers began arriving from the 1580s onwards, coinciding with the expansion of England’s Mediterranean trade relations.19 The English image of Malta was ambivalent from 1524 until the beginning of the 18th century. Literary figures portrayed it either as a place of war, heroism and honour, or as a place of deceit, slave trade and erotic machinations. 20

A reference work that Marlowe at least knew had been published by Nicolas de Nicolay in 1568 under the title Les quatre premiers livres de navigations et peregrinations orientales. In 1585 it had been translated by Thomas Washington as The navigations, peregrinations and voyages made into Turkie. It contains an entire chapter on Malta.21 In addition, Marlowe again uses Richard Hakluyt’s The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation.22 In these books, the rumour repeatedly appeared that the Jews had committed treason against the Christians with the Ottomans. de Nicolay even accuses them that, after being expelled from Spain and Portugal, they not only put their knowledge and craftsmanship at the service of the Ottomans, but even instructed them in them. In 1599, in the third volume of his Principal Navigations, Hakluyt reported on a Jewish doctor who had been sent to Rhodes by the Ottomans to spy.23 With regard to the siege, Marlowe may have used newsletters as a source in addition to historical reading. England took an interest in the fate of beleaguered Malta and there are at least two such writings from 1565 that may have been accessible to Marlowe.24 Another source for both The Jew of Malta and The Massacre at Paris would be the pamphlet Legende de Saint-Nicaise, published in 1547, which went into print again in 1581 under the title La Légende de Dom Claude de Guise, Abbé de Cluny. Gilbert Regnaut is presumed to be the author. Claude Fiacre, who was considered an illegitimate son of Claude de Guise, is accused in this writing of a series of crimes of which the Duke of Guise was actually suspected. These included numerous poisonings.25 H. D. Purcell believes Marlowe would have used Fortescue Whetstone’s The English Mirror not only for 1 Tamburlaine but also for The Jew of Malta. However, the examples given are not really convincing.26

The consistently positive portrayal of the Ottoman emissaries, especially in comparison with the Spaniards, could have propagandistic backgrounds. England at that time lived in fear of a Catholic world conspiracy that could have ended in the invasion of the island. Even though we know today that this assumption was unfounded, it was real for the Elizabethans. A threat from the Ottomans, on the other hand, was completely alien to them. To portray those of a different faith, such as the Muslims, as more honest and trustworthy than the Catholics did not seem so far-fetched. Politically and economically, there were indeed rapprochements on the part of England with the Ottoman Empire.27 Points of contact with the theatre were not given, but a benevolent portrayal before a broad audience probably did not come amiss.


There were virtually no Jews in Marlowe’s immediate vicinity. Ashkenazi Jews from northern Europe lent money to William the Conqueror, whom they accompanied to England.28 The first Jewish communities emerged in Oxford and Cambridge during the 11th century. When Richard I was crowned in London on 3 September 1189, the English mob began murdering his Jewish fellow citizens nationwide. There were such riots in the capital that Richard of Devizes already spoke of a "holocaustum".29 On 18 July 1290, Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion, which forced all Jews to leave England and was not repealed until 1655. Minimal resettlement did not occur until Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon signed the Alhambra Decree in Spain on 31 March 1492. It decreed that all Jews had to leave Spanish territory by 31 July of that year unless they converted to Christianity. The consequence was initially the exodus of around 100,000 Jews, who had formed a considerable part of the financial, medical and intellectual elite. Christian doubts soon arose about the sincere convictions of the remaining converts, who were called marrans. The Inquisition watched them warily to see if they were not secretly following their old faith, which was considered a form of heresy and punishable by burning at the stake. Therefore, in the following years, more and more marrans settled outside the Spanish sphere of influence. Some reached England and settled secretly on the island, which was well known to the English rulers. It was possible to speak of a small Marran community in London from the 1530s onwards. Over the next few years it grew to about a hundred members, who attracted little attention. It was not until the reign of Elizabeth I that marrans such as Hector Nuñez and Rodrigo Lopez attained economic and political importance for a short time, without their actual religion playing any external role.30
Since the Middle Ages, Jews in England did not work as moneylenders, the traditionally "Jewish" profession. Those who needed money in London went to men like Horatio Palavicino, who financed Leicester’s campaign in the Netherlands, Thomas Sutton or Philip Henslowe. Ein Zinssatz von zehn Prozent wurde als fair angesehen. Damit lag man aber immer noch weit über dem der jüdischen Finanziers auf dem Festland, die oft nur sechs Prozent verlangten. 31 Barabas did not conform to the stereotypical image of the evil Jew from the Middle Ages, but was in many ways the personification of the modern, aspiring, international capitalist who had not been known in England for too long. From the beginning of the Reformation until the 1570s, the English were preoccupied with national problems. Through Elizabeth I, the country came to rest internally and from then on could take care of foreign policy as well as international trade. English merchants and investors adopted the methods of the mainland entrepreneurs, which was viewed critically by some contemporaries. They particularly felt that the decline of ethical values in the economy was the result of a vicious foreign influence.32 The clear commonality that Marlowe’s title character had with the Jews living in England was their widespread trading activity. Due to the massive migration of Jews from Spain, large families extended across the entire continent. Consequently, an international network emerged that transported goods and information from the Levant to the Indian Islands. Apart from a few English investors, the English were excluded from this profitable trade. Spain imposed a trade embargo in 1585 to dissuade England from supporting the Netherlands. Elizabeth I., for her part, reacted with an embargo against Spain. The English therefore had no opportunity to work on Spanish territory; this was only possible for Jewish merchants.33

Ironically, the absence of Jews was much more helpful for the manifestation of antisemitic stereotypes. They could be accused in the pulpit of the most heinous acts and disgusting rites without having to reckon – as on the continent – with angry Christians causing a massacre in the nearest ghetto. 34 In the eyes of the Elizabethan public, and certainly in Marlowe’s, a Jew was an abstract figure from the Bible, history or foreign lands. By no means was it a real person whom one knew or did business with in one’s own country. For the Elizabethan, a Jew was not comprehensible because he could succeed in gaining money and prestige through his own skill, thus clearly contradicting the hierarchical social order and becoming a topos for the fear of social change.35 At the same time, he was also intangible. In the late 16th century, English national consciousness developed. The "true" Englishman was born on the island, had Anglo-Saxon or Norman ancestors and was an Anglican. In contrast to this was the Jew, who had no real homeland and belonged to a different religion, but had an adaptability that did not allow the English to recognise the "foreigner" as such. The Elizabethan’s rejection of the Jews resulted from political and religious considerations, but in no way from racial prejudice.36 Probably neither Marlowe nor his audience gave any thought to whether and to what extent this drama would evoke anti-Judaic animosity. On the one hand, such considerations did not correspond to the way of thinking at the end of the 16th century and, on the other, as I said, there were no real fellow human beings who would have actually felt these animosities. In any case, Jews did not correspond to the typical Elizabethan image of the enemy. This position was reserved for men like Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise or Philip II of Spain and for Catholics in general. Thus, what is really perfidious in The Jew of Malta is not the presentation of commonly known stereotypes and anti-Judaic prejudices, but the fact that Marlowe put his audience in the dilemma of having to choose either the Jew or the Catholic.37 For the survival of Christians has no moral justification in the play. Barabas always exposes those who boast themselves Christian but never act Christian: "Marlowe’s primary purpose is not to justify the Jew, but to belabour the Christian."38

Even more vehemently than in 1 Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta propagates the maxim that one does not have to keep one’s word to those of a different faith. It supposedly dates back to the Council of Constance, where Jan Huss was granted immunity that put him directly on the stake. Prominent supporters of this practice included Thomas Lupton in A Persuation from Papistrie from 1581 or Jean Bodin in the Six Livres de la République.39 In fact, Marlowe would not have had to delve into any writings at all; a look at everyday politics would have sufficed. Charles V wanted to have all the Jews expelled from Naples in 1533. When the Jewish community paid him 10,000 ducats, he promised a delay of ten years. Seven years later, the emperor broke his promise. Henri II refused to pay his debt to Gracia Mendez when rumours arose that she was secretly practising the Jewish faith again. A papal bull of 1555 decidedly excluded the Jews from Christian charity and tolerance anyway.40 In fact, in the late 16th century, the breach of word between Christians and Jews was less frequent than that between Christians and Christians. During the Wars of Religion in France in particular, both the Huguenots and the Catholics justified breaches of treaty on the grounds that their opponents were of a different faith. With The Massacre at Paris, Marlowe even dedicated a play of its own to this development.


From the beginning of the Reformation until the 1570s, the English were preoccupied with national problems. Through Elizabeth I, the country came to rest internally and from then on could take care of foreign policy as well as international trade. English traders and investors adopted the methods of mainland entrepreneurs, which was viewed critically by some contemporaries. They particularly felt that the decline of ethical values in the economy was the result of a disgraceful foreign influence.41 On the continent, greed had long become one of the defining drivers of social evolution. This development reached its first peak in the Elizabethan era. The magic word that caught everyone’s attention was: money. Adventurers, upstarts, soldiers of fortune, nouveau riche and exploiters had their moment of glory.42 Marlowe’s heroes fit perfectly into this period. Ruthless striving for power and wealth is repeatedly thematised, but nowhere as obviously as in The Jew of Malta. This Malta, as I said, lacks Maltese. There are Italians, Spaniards, Ottomans, Africans and Jews. This apparent absence of geographical affiliation by birth reinforces the impression that motives such as patriotism or nationalism are alien to the characters involved. Instead, they are driven by personal self-interest, which does not ask where one comes from, but what one can get for oneself out of the place one is currently in. 43 The voyagers did not simply sail to new lands, they took possession of them, killed the population and exploited the resources. They "consumed" them, like Tamburlaine in 2 Tamburlaine (IV,1,194-195). 44 Marlowe conveyed the achievements of contemporary explorers like no other English writer.45 The unifying factor of the heterogeneous society in Malta is the greed for wealth in several variations.46 It is no coincidence that in The Jew of Malta was the first time a slave market was shown on an English stage.47 Barabas sees his daughter as a valuable asset in which he has invested. As soon as she refuses to continue to fulfil this function, she is replaced by another investment – Ithimore.48 Even human relationships have become a business transaction: "Barabas braucht einen Menschen, weil er ihn benutzen will: Folglich geht er auf den Markt und kauft ihn sich."49

Massive spending and consumption were a sign of luxury as well as a way to gain the favour of others.50 This is true of all Marlowe’s works and would explain his preference for luxury objects51 , because for Marlowe beauty is not luxury but power.52 Accordingly, in his work the courtship of a woman is an early capitalist negotiation with victory and defeat and not an act of affection,53 as the bargaining for Abigail between Barabas and Lodowick shows.


From 7 March 1592 to 1 July 1596, the drama was performed a total of 36 times, earning Henslowe £62 2 shillings 6 pence (approx. €9,190.63). This was equivalent to the income of a builder for 3 years and 150 days, or the price of seven horses.54 This made it both the most frequently performed and the most profitable work recorded in the Henslowe Diary. The title role was played by Edward Alleyn. The effect must have been similarly enormous to that of 1 Tamburlaine, for years later the performances were still occupying England’s writers. In 1612, the epigrams of Sir John Harrington were published, who was remembered by posterity more for his invention of the water toilet than for his poetry. In Of A Devout Usurer it says:

"Was ever Jew of Malta or of Milan Than this most damned jew more jewish villain?"55

Because of the allusion to a sermon by Henry Smith on usury, it is assumed that the epigram was written as early as 1592. The day before the play was entered in the Stationers' Register, John Danter had a ballad entitled the murtherous life and terrible death of the rich Jew of Malta entered. Unfortunately, nothing more is known about it.56 In Platoes Cap. Cast at the Yeare 1604, being Leape-yeare , printed by Jefrey Chorlton in 1604 and possibly written by Thomas Middleton, the author ironically expresses that it would already be an act of poisoning for brewers if their brew actually contained malt: "it is … much to bee doubted … that each Ale-brewer will play the Jewe of Malta, and put but a little Malt in the Ale: so I hope there will bee fewer Red-noses this yere than was of a Yeere a great while."57 William Rowley spoke in the pamphlet A Search for Money (1609) about the artificial nose Barabas wore on stage.58

When Rodrigo Lopez was convicted of treason, he was considered a conspirator in the service of Spain. His religious affiliation was never an issue.59 Nevertheless, Margaret Hotine suspects deliberate antisemitic propaganda in the performances of The Jew of Malta 1594 in connection with the proceedings against Lopez. The case only became known to the public when the doctor was taken to the Tower.60 This is contradicted by the fact that the revival of the drama took place the following day (Henslowe had not performed the play for over a year), which – taking into account the necessary rehearsal time – would characterise Henslowe as an almost uncannily foresighted man. Fourteen further performances of the play took place during the year. Between early February and mid-May, however, the Rose was only open for twelve days and in June the Admiral’s Men played at Newington Butts. These closing times included the pronouncement of the sentence, the day of the scheduled execution and the actual execution of Lopez. So if someone like Essex really wanted to use Marlowe’s drama to stir up popular sentiment against the Jew, the Master of the Revels put a spoke in his wheel.

The cauldron used in the fifth act was listed by Henslowe in an inventory in 1598. In May 1601, he spent a whopping £5 10 shillings on miscellaneous items for The Jew of Malta, which could argue for a revival.61

The quarto shows that Queen Henrietta’s Men performed the play at Whitehall and the Cockpit Theatre in 1633. Thomas Heywood wrote a prologue and epilogue for each of these occasions. Although Charles I agreed to the revivals of such dramas because of their royalist tenor, he allowed the attacks on Catholicism typical of the Tudor period to be used against him, since his clearly Catholic tendencies unsettled his subjects just as much as the attempts to establish an absolutism alien to the English.62 Equally, the performances and the printing by Nicholas Vavasour could stand for a completely different reading, in which not the Catholic-Protestant divergences, but the struggle of the English Church against the adherents of Calvinism living in the country, led by Archbishop William Laud, was decisive.63

During the Restoration, The Jew of Malta also went unnoticed. In 1780, the play was reissued in England by Isaac Reed in the second edition of Robert Dodsley’s Selection of Old Plays.64 On 24 April 1818, the Dury Lane Theatre performed The Jew of Malta with Edmund Kean in the title role, who had chosen the play himself. Despite the praise for his portrayal, there were only eleven performances. The reason for the cancellation may have been the unease that the production had caused among both closet antisemites and avowed philosemites.65 At least Marlowe had returned to the English stage.

Meanwhile, the work arouses ethical and moral objections that were unimaginable to audiences of past centuries.66 Whether or not The Jew of Malta is an antisemitic drama is of central importance to both researchers and theatre practitioners. Looking at the situation of the Jews in England at the time of Marlowe, it becomes clear that antisemitism existed in a form that is not identical with the racial mania of the 19th and 20th centuries. Judaism was seen as a religion at odds with Christianity. A change of denomination made the former Jew, a full member of the Christian community, which is why one speaks of antijudaism until about 1800. In 1897, when this had long since been replaced by an antisemitism based on racism, Eugen Mory wrote:

"Hat Barabas schon wenig von einem Juden an sich, so besitzt Abigail noch weniger von einer Jüdin. Sie ist weder lebhaft noch phlegmatisch, sie zeigt nichts von jener Abneigung gegen häusliche Beschäftigung, die den Israelitinnen eigen ist; […]"67

Consequently, he concludes that neither Shakespeare nor Marlowe ever really met Jews, for neither playwright took their racial characteristics into account. And Marlowe was not antisemitic enough for the Nazis either, who merely performed a reworking of his play. Otto C. A. zur Nedden, dramaturge at the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar, fabricated in 1939 Der Jude von Malta. Schauspiel in fünf Akten nach der Idee von Christoph Marlow ,68 which had its premiere in Weimar in March of the same year. Directed by Lutz Heinle, Walter Grüntzig played the title role.69 There was even a special performance for the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft on 24 April 1939. This prose adaptation meets the ideological requirements of its time in every respect. Abigail is an orphan girl raised as a Christian in Barabas' house. Ithimore has a Greek father, a Turkish mother and, of course, a Jewish grandfather. Barabas even acts as rabbi in a synagogue scene. The Bellamira scenes were combined, but Pillia-Borza was omitted.70 In a telegram dated 24 April 1939, Heinrich Himmler suggested to the Burgtheater that Nedden’s adaptation be performed71 and the Werkverlag was keen to see this version performed at the Munich Kammerspiele. The dramaturge there, however, successfully pointed out that Nedden’s adaptation was not appropriate for Marlowe.72

Thus The Jew of Malta is not a work instrumentalised by the Nazis like Richard Wagner’s operas, for example, although this has not yet become generally known. Andres Müry assured his readers on the occasion of a premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna:

"Kein Wunder, dass "Der Jude von Malta", das Gräueldrama des Shakespeare-Zeitgenossen Christopher Marlowe, bei den Nazis in hohem Ansehen stand und nach 1945 im Giftschrank der Dramaturgien verschwand."73

Based purely on the content, representatives of the three world religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam are shown, whereby the Muslims clearly come off best. They are willing to compromise, fair and faithful to contracts, which only brings them annoyance in Christian-ruled Malta. The fact that religion is mainly a means to an end in this drama and that the accumulation of antisemitic stereotypes does not necessarily reflect on the Jew Barabas is meanwhile also accepted by commentators in the German-speaking world, for whom Joachim Zelter has his say here by proxy:

"Während Shylock in Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice (1596–97) nicht mehr als 360 Zeilen spricht und bereits in dieser Hinsicht eine marginalisierte Figur ist, steht Barabas in The Jew of Malta im Zentrum aller Aktivitäten. Er ist weniger Objekt als vielmehr handelndes und sprechendes Subjekt der antisemitischen Klischees in Marlowes Drama. Dies aber führt zu einer Umkehrung der üblichen Blickrichtung: nicht mehr der antisemitische Blick der herrschenden Verhältnisse auf einen jüdischen Außenseiter, sondern der kritische Blick dieses Außenseiters auf das Christentum. Eine solche umgekehrte Blickrichtung impliziert auch die Inversion fest etablierter Glaubensstandpunkte. Damit hält er dem Christentum unter verkehrten Vorzeichen genau das vor, was üblicherweise dem Judentum angelastet wird: das Andersartige als Perversion des eigenen Standpunktes, der als einzig wahrer und möglicher Standpunkt gesehen wird."74

The decisive question should therefore not be whether the drama can be shown, but how it should be shown, because the play, unlike Veit Harlan’s Jud Süss, is not a propaganda work commissioned by the state to stir up antisemitic resentment in the population.

"Transposed in a period following the curse of Nazism, the act of composing such a play would be inexcusable. The Jew of Malta performed in modern dress would be, at the very least, a dangerous blunder."75


On 27 April 2002, on the occasion of the 8th Munich Biennale, the chamber opera The Jew of Malta had its world premiere. Composer André Werner also wrote the libretto, basing it on Eduard von Bülow’s translation. The 75-minute work was directed by Stefan Herheim with a set by Jan A. Schroeder.

Film Adaptation

Despite performances with renowned actors such as Alun Armstrong or F. Murray Abraham, no theatre production was ever recorded. Douglas Morse adapted the play in 2012 with Seth Duerr in the title role. The film is unlikely to have been released in Europe and never appeared on DVD.76


In autumn 1993, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a radio play version with Ian McDiarmid in the title role.

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Berek, Peter. 1998. “The Jew as Renaissance Man.” Renaissance Quarterly 51 (1): 128–62.
Bonnell, Andrew George. 2008. Shylock in Germany: Antisemitism and the German Theatre from the Enlightenment to the Nazis. London: Tauris Academic Studies.
Campos, Edmund Valentine. 2002. “Jews, Spaniards, and Portingales: Ambiguous Identities of Portuguese Marranos in Elizabethan England.” English Literary History 69 (3): 599–616.
Deutsch-Schreiner, Evelyn. 1980. “Nationalsozialistische Kulturpolitik in Wien 1938 – 1945 unter spezieller Berücksichtigung der Wiener Theaterszene.” Dissertation, Wien: Universität Wien.
Felsenstein, Frank. 1990. “Jews and Devils: Anti-Semitic Stereotypes of Late Medieval and Renaissance England.” Journal of Literature and Theology 4 (1): 15–28.
Lesser, Zachary. 2004. Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Meissner, Johannes. 1884. Die Englischen Comoedianten Zur Zeit Shakespeares in Oesterreich. Wien: Konegen.
Müry, Andres. 2001. “Mit Gift, Gas Und Melone: Provokation Verpufft: Peter Zadek Inszeniert Das Antisemitische Stück Der Jude von Malta.” Focus 52.
Nedden, Otto C. A. zur. 1939. Der Jude von Malta: Schauspiel in Fünf Akten Nach Der Idee von Christoph Marlow. Bühnenmanuskript. München: Das Werk Verlag.
Petzet, Wolfgang. 1973. Theater: Die Münchner Kammerspiele: 1911-1972. München: Desch.
Reed, Isaac, Octavius Gilchrist, and John Payne Collier, eds. 1825. A Select Collection of Old Plays. New Edition. Vol. 8. London: Septimus Prowett.
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  1. Ule (1979)↩︎
  2. Dabbs (1991)↩︎
  3. Symonds (1900); Swinburne (1926)↩︎
  4. Wagner (1876)↩︎
  5. Fischer (1886/89)↩︎
  6. Brooke (1922)↩︎
  7. Henderson (1937)↩︎
  8. Lake (1983)↩︎
  9. Eliot (1932), 123↩︎
  10. Kirschbaum (1946)↩︎
  11. Maxwell (1953), 438↩︎
  12. Friedenreich (1977), 326↩︎
  13. Lesser (2004)↩︎
  14. Freeman (1962)↩︎
  15. Thomas and Tydeman (1994)↩︎
  16. Farley-Hills (1965); Hopkins (1997); Andrea (2007)↩︎
  17. Bartels (1999)↩︎
  18. Maguin (1985)↩︎
  19. Freller (2004)↩︎
  20. Allen (2008)↩︎
  21. Kellner (1887)↩︎
  22. Atkinson (1949)↩︎
  23. Kellner (1887)↩︎
  24. Brennan (1993)↩︎
  25. Harrison (1948)↩︎
  26. Purcell (1966)↩︎
  27. Andrea (2007)↩︎
  28. Shapiro (1996)↩︎
  29. Ackroyd (2002)↩︎
  30. Shapiro (1996)↩︎
  31. Hotine (1991)↩︎
  32. Vitkus (2006)↩︎
  33. Campos (2002)↩︎
  34. Felsenstein (1990)↩︎
  35. Berek (1998)↩︎
  36. Shapiro (1996)↩︎
  37. Kermode (1995)↩︎
  38. Hunter (1964), 240. See also: Levin (1964); Jelinek (2001); Kang (2012)↩︎
  39. Bawcutt (1970)↩︎
  40. Goldberg (1992)↩︎
  41. Vitkus (2006)↩︎
  42. Breuer (1975)↩︎
  43. Bartels (1999); Allen (2008)↩︎
  44. Greenblatt (1977)↩︎
  45. Ribner (1963)↩︎
  46. Carpenter (1951); Cartelli (1988)↩︎
  47. Hardin (2010)↩︎
  48. Hunter (1964); Allen (2008)↩︎
  49. Breuer (1975), 420↩︎
  50. Hattaway (1970)↩︎
  51. Hillier (1945); Berek (1982)↩︎
  52. Singh (2018)↩︎
  53. Brooks (1957)↩︎
  54. TheNationalArchives.2021↩︎
  55. Reed, Gilchrist, and Collier (1825), 243↩︎
  56. Marlowe (1991)↩︎
  57. Jackson (1982), 133↩︎
  58. Berek (1998)↩︎
  59. Berek (1998); Campos (2002)↩︎
  60. Hotine (1991)↩︎
  61. Marlowe (1991)↩︎
  62. Parker (2008)↩︎
  63. Lesser (2004)↩︎
  64. MacLure (1998)↩︎
  65. Moss (2008)↩︎
  66. Smith (2003)↩︎
  67. Mory (1897), 15↩︎
  68. Nedden (1939)↩︎
  69. Bonnell (2008)↩︎
  70. Keller (1941)↩︎
  71. Deutsch-Schreiner (1980)↩︎
  72. Petzet (1973)↩︎
  73. Müry (2001)↩︎
  74. Zelter (1998), 107-108↩︎
  75. Maguin (1985)↩︎
  76. Basso (2013)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 17.01.2023

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