The Jew from Malta

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The Jew of Malta ( The Jew of Malta ) is a drama by the English playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) based on Italian sources from the time of Machiavelli .

Title page of the quarto edition of The Rich Jew of Malta , 1633

The exact time of the creation of the work is unclear; it was probably written between 1589 and 1592. The first documented performance of the play took place on February 26, 1592 by the drama company of the Lord Strange's Men at the Rose Theater in Southwark , with Edward Alleyn in the lead role. According to Philip Henslowe's records , The Jew of Malta was played 36 times over the next four years and was obviously very popular with the audience at the time.

In May 1594, the printing rights for the piece under the title the famouse tragedie of the Riche Jewe of Malta by Nicholas Ling and Thomas Millington were entered in the Stationers' Register . However, only an early four-high edition of the work from 1633 with the full title The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta with two prologues and two epilogues in verse by Thomas Heywood has survived . The text of this edition is unlikely to be based on an autograph or authored manuscript and contains numerous subsequent changes or revisions, possibly by Heywood. Previous prints of the work are not known or passed on; Even the question of the specific sources and templates for Marlowe's drama can no longer be clarified with sufficient certainty.

The work exemplifies the conflict between the three monotheistic world religions, a conflict that Lessing also interpreted in German literature during the Enlightenment in his play " Nathan the Wise ". In contrast to Lessing, the tragedy Der Jude von Malta by Marlowe was long seen by critics as anti-Semitic , but it has always been topical as a negative example of how the three religions deal with one another. More recent performances took place u. a. on American, British and German stages, although in more recent productions the play is increasingly seen as a provocative parody or sartiran farce by Marlowe of the stereotypical and prejudicial image of the Jew.


The drama is preceded by a prologue in which the Italian state philosopher Machiavelli appears. This refers generally to the reckless use of power by the protagonists of the subsequent drama, but otherwise has no direct reference to the further action:

The Ottoman ruler has a longstanding tribute demanded from the population of Malta . Since this cannot pay the horrific tribute, the rich Jews of the island are obliged to pay. Barabas, the richest Jew in Malta, refuses and the governor Farnese orders his property to be confiscated; his property becomes a convent for Catholic nuns. Outraged by the robbery of his fortune, Barabas begins a cunning plot to overthrow the governor. He urges his daughter Abigail to go to the monastery as a nun and steal a hidden treasure that he had hidden in his house in case of need. Thanks to his daughter, Barabas makes money again. He unscrupulously cheats on his daughter's lover, who is killed in a duel, and then also murders the perpetrator, commits mass murder of Catholic nuns and priests and poisons his devoted Turkish housemaid Ithamore. Barabas escapes punishment by disappearing and helping the Turks conquer Malta. He leads the Ottoman troops through a secret passage into the city that is being conquered. The Turks now appoint Barabas governor. He is now offering his predecessor, Governor Farnese, arms aid against the Muslim occupation. But he recognizes the devious schemes of the Jew and has him arrested. Barabas, charged with his crimes, falls into the boiling water of the kettle in which convicted Turks were to be killed. In vain he now calls the Christians for help. The Christian crusaders ultimately win. Malta is destroyed.


  • Barabas , the Jew of Malta, is a merchant who has more wealth than all the rich Christians in Malta. He is portrayed as cunning and cynical, bloodthirsty and calculating, greedy and hypocritical, intelligent and scheming. Barabas is a person without a conscience and without belief, a character that is dangerous to the public who only strives for power and wealth in his actions. He is thus a figure strongly inspired by anti-Semitic prejudices.
  • Ithamore is a young Thracian, a former slave whom Barabas bought from the Spanish Vice Admiral. He becomes a devoted assistant to his employer Barabas and unscrupulously emulates him in all outrageous acts. He ultimately betrays his master and is killed by him.
  • Farnese , the governor of Malta, is Barabas' greatest opponent. He is a Christian, law abiding but unscrupulous about his interests. He presents himself as the guardian of public order and is essentially a devout hypocrite. “We do not stain ourselves with blood, that would be against our faith,” says the Christian when he expropriates the Jews in order to fight the Muslim.
  • Abigail, the beautiful daughter of Barabas, was promised to Don Lodowick by her father. But she loves the noble Mathias and becomes a nun because of him. Abigail is poisoned by Ithamore on behalf of her father. Barabas does not regret the death of his daughter because she confessed to Christianity as a Jew.
  • Selim Calimath , the son of the Ottoman ruler , conquers the city with the help of Baraba and is taken prisoner. Farnese, the governor, saved him from death but kept him in prison.
  • Martin del Bosco , Vice Admiral of Spain, drives the Christian knights to fight the Turks.
  • Bellarmina , a courtesan, gives Ithamore an hour of love and learns from him that he and Barabas have murdered. She brings the news to Governor Farnese.

Style and form of language

Christopher Marlowe created the verse drama in blank verse . The blank verse consists of five-part iambas as shown in the following example: My name is Barabas. I am a Jew.

Single issues

  • Christopher Marlowe: The Jew of Malta. Edited by David Bevington. Manchester University Press, New York 1997, ISBN 0-7190-5180-0 .
  • Christopher Marlowe: The Jew of Malta . Edited by TNR Rogers. Dover Thrift Edition. Dover Publications , Mineola, New York 2003, ISBN 0-486-43184-3 .

German translations


Chamber opera by Andre Werner, premiered in 2002 at the 8th Munich Biennale

Web links

supporting documents

  1. Bruce E. Brandt: The Critical Backstory. In: Robert A. Logan (Ed.): The Jew of Malta - A Critical Reader . The Arden Shakespeare , London 2013, ISBN 978-1-4081-9154-5 , p. 1.
  2. David Bevington, Eric Rasmussen (Ed.): Doctor Faustus and Other Plays . Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-283445-2 , Introduction. P. XXVIIIff. See also Bruce E. Brandt: The Critical Backstory. In: Robert A. Logan (Ed.): The Jew of Malta - A Critical Reader . The Arden Shakespeare, London 2013, ISBN 978-1-4081-9154-5 , pp. 3ff. Most of the editors suspect that the print of 1633 could have been based on a theater manuscript ( prompt book ) or a copy of it; some Marlowe researchers assume, however, that the printing copy of the four-high edition from 1633 could be traced back to a copy of a handwritten manuscript by Marlowe.
  3. ^ Robert A. Logan (Ed.): The Jew of Malta - A Critical Reader . The Arden Shakespeare, London 2013, ISBN 978-1-4081-9154-5 , Introduction. S. If. For possible sources or inspirations for the work, see also the article by Bruce E. Brandt contained therein: The Critical Backstory. P. 5ff. See also TNR Rogers (Ed.): Christopher Marlowe: The Jew of Malta . Dover Thrift Edition. Dover Publications , Mineola, New York 2003, ISBN 0-486-43184-3 Introduction , S. Vf. For the history and dating of the work, see also the information in Charles Nicholl's review The Jew of Malta - antisemitic or a satire on antisemitism? . In: The Guardian. March 27, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  4. See, for example, the review by Charles Nicholl on the occasion of a new performance of the work by the Royal Shakespeare Company in March 2015: The Jew of Malta - antisemitic or a satire on antisemitism? In: The Guardian . March 27, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2017. See also Peter J. Smith's review: The Jew of Malta, by Christopher Marlowe . In: The Times . April 2, 2015. Retrieved May 19, 2017.