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Free Download. PDF version of The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe. Apple, Android and site formats also available. EBook PDF, MB, This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML Vol.2 contains the following plays - the Jew of Malta, Edward the Second, the. Request PDF on ResearchGate | The Jew of Malta | It is the fate of Marlowe's Jew of Malta to find himself forever lurking a few steps behind.

Speaking of 'new principalities acquired with the help of fortune and foreign arms', Machiavelli recommends the example of Cesare Borgia: Completely disregarding the alternative model of oderintdum metuant [let them hate me as long as they fear me], Machiavelli elsewhere explicitly advises that 'a prince should want to have a reputation for compassion rather than cruelty'.

It might well be profitable to compare his pinpointing of the weak spot in the defences with a parallel action by two captured Knights, and perhaps even to relate his psychologising approach to that of Grand Master La Valette himself.

Knights on Malta When the Knights of Malta first arrived on the island in there was uneasiness at their presence, and of the breaking by the Emperor Charles of an earlier promise that the islands would never again be alienated from the Aragonese crown.

The indigenous Maltese nobility never in fact came to terms with their presence; excluded from membership of the Order, they sat out the Siege in Mdina. The other inhabitants, however, seem to have found among the shared stress of the Siege a strong bond with the Knights, and particularly with the Grand Master, Jean Parisot de la Valette, whose personal presence served as an infallible rallying point and who also refused to retreat to the safety of St Angelo when that meant abandoning the Maltese in Birgu and Senglea to the mercy of the Turks.

Accounts of the Siege unfailingly stress the heroism and indomitability of La Valette, who, at the age of seventy, untiringly directed operations. Equally, however, they stress the fact that he was not engaged in physical warfare alone, but in an unremitting psychological battle both with the Turks and also, especially in the earlier stages of the Siege, with his own men. La Valette's age meant that he was one of the few Knights to have had personal experience of the loss of Rhodes and the peregrinations thereafter; he had also served as a galley slave, and so was accustomed to appalling hard ship.

At the outset of the Siege, he experienced some difficulty in holding in check the younger Knights, who, with little direct experience of combat, were spoiling for a fight rather than being prepared to husband their resources and endure the prolonged attrition of siege warfare. Knowing that pitched battle against the vast numerical superiority of the Turkish troops was simply not a viable option, La Valette had his work cut out to restrain them.

His task became even more difficult during the dreadful last days of St Elmo, when the Knights in the doomed fort clamoured insistently to be allowed an open sally against the enemy rather than being slowly picked off. Faced with what amounted effectively to a revolt, the Grand Master lashed the dissenters with scorn: A volunteer force has been raised under the command of Chevalier Costantino Castriota. Your petition to leave St Elmo for the safety of Birgu is now granted.

This evening, as soon as the relieving force has landed, you may take the boats back. Return, my Brethren, to the Convent and to Birgu, where you will be in more security. For my part, I shall feel more confident when I know that the fort - upon which the safety of the island so greatly depends - is held by men whom I can trust implicitly.

The Grand Master has been universally acclaimed as heroic, but it is still possible to argue that there are pronounced similarities between his reliance on psychology rather than force in the enforcement of his authority, and Barabas' decision to opt for a power based on placing the island in his debt.

The Grand Master was, moreover, capable of ruthlessness. His action of poisoning wells, so closely parallel to Barabas' alleged activities, was of course fully justified by the necessities of war, but it is hard to say the same for his decision to imprison the Spanish knight La Cerda, who had himself evacuated from St Elmo when La Valette felt that his wounds were insufficiently serious to justify such an action.

He has also been much criticised for his retaliation to the Turks' mutilation of those who had defended St Elmo: Even La Vallette's faithful friend Sir Oliver Starkey, finding the heat and conditions of life on Malta intolerable, 'a few months before the Siege It is a well-known fact that the friendship between the English and the Prince of this island and the ambitions and desires of the Knights would impel them to do all kind of harm to the Catholic Commonwealth and to the King of Spain.

For this purpose there cannot be an easier place from where to assault and cause havoc than from Malta, because of its strategic position.

The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe

Since the Maltese islands had been the gift of Spain, and since his own territory of Sicily would be so directly threatened if Malta was lost, the Knights looked repeatedly to Don Garcia for support, but the help he provided was minimal. He hedged around every offer of help with ludicrous conditions - he would send relief only if the Grand Master would despatch to him the galleys of the Order, which were , as he must have realised, inescapably hemmed into Grand Harbour by the Turkish blockade - and when he finally allowed the Piccolo Siccorso to leave Sicily it was only with express orders that it was not to land unless St Elmo were still in the Knights' hands.

He did, however, leave his son, Frederic, as a pledge of his goodwill; the boy fought gallantly and was eventually killed in action during the siege of Birgu.

The stark contrast between the heroism of young Frederic and the dilatoriness of his father - the English agent in Spain commented that Toledo 's'etait completement deshonore' [had completely dishonoured himself] 57 - may well seem quite closely analogous to the distance which separates Abigail's loving commitment, dying alongside the nuns in the community which her father has destroyed, and Barabas' opportunism.

The latter is a quality he also shares with Don Garcia, who, despite the pitifully small part he had played in events, was not slow to be publicly associated with the Grand Master after the Turks' eventual withdrawal.

Don Garcia arrived on the island with the final Sicilian relief force, and shared in a celebration banquet. Since provisions were naturally scarce, however, he brought his own food to it: To banquet with him in his citadel?

I fear me, messenger, to feast my train Within a town of war so lately pillag'd Will be too costly and too troublesome V. Another possible influence on Marlowe's portrayal of Barabas comes from a rather later stage in the Knights' history. If The Jew of Malta is clearly related primarily to the events of the Great Siege, other details work to situate it also within the Malta of Marlowe's own maturity.

Thomas and Tydeman point to the often poor fit between the events of the play and those of documented history: Laparelli, the architect of Valletta, who arrived on the island in December , had gained his previous experience working with Michelangelo on the Farnese Palace, and used the Palace as a model for some of his Maltese building.

As for the character of the Governor, the history of the Knights after the Great Siege could again have provided a model. Grand Master Hugues Loubenx de Verdalle, known as Verdala, who accepted the Cardinal's hat which La Valette had declined, has been described by a recent commentator as 'the Cardinal Prince Verdala who could bamboozle friend and foe alike where his worldly nature and lust for money were concerned'; 62 his possession of a private corsairing fleet is one of the points of similarity suggested by David Farley-Hills between the real island and the corruption of the fictional community.

In view of the immense importance of Navarre's religious affiliation for English foreign policy, Marlowe, with his government involvement, could well be expected to have been aware of all the possible ramifications of the situation; moreover, Navarre himself was a character in his own The Massacre at Paris.

Certainly the slippery Verdala, with his uneasy relationship with the Spanish, 64 seems in many ways close to Marlowe's Ferneze.

One further aspect of the representation of Ferneze also deserves to be compared with other available views of Malta and its affairs. At III. The song that rapidly spread as a commemoration of the Siege, 'famous in the Mediterranean', 65 offers a direct contradiction of this: Malta of gold, Malta of silver, Malta of precious metal, We shall never take you!

Such an action would certainly be well in accord with Marlowe's overall characterisation of Ferneze, and in that sense an uncovering of it may seem to add little to a conventional reading of the play, though it would certainly sit well with Coburn Freer's brilliant exploration of the significance of lying in general in the play; 68 but knowledge of such a dynamic nevertheless subtly shifts our understanding of the politics of the scene, and implies decisively that the key to decoding such exchanges must lie in understated irony rather than in any overt authorial guideline.

One other small incident, this time dating from the early part of the Siege, may find an echo in Marlowe's treatment of events.

On their initial reconnaissance the Turks captured two Knights of the Order, the French Adrian de la Riviere and the Portuguese Bartolomeo Faraone, who under torture informed them that the weakest point of the defences was the post of Castile. The standard account of events is that when this later proved to be untrue, the two were bastinadoed to death; but the post of Castile did, nevertheless, later prove a considerable liability to the defenders after it had been mined, and Henry Paget, in his letters home, offered an alternative version in which the Knights' information had actually been correct, writing that 'some of the Maltese begin to fly to their enemies, and a French deserter having given information of their weakness, the Turks gave a general assault both to the Burgo and St Michael'.

Once again, Marlowe seems to have twisted truth into a complex web of representation which precludes easy categorisation. Barabas gives information to the enemy; but so did the two Knights, and in their case it is usually accepted a brave and praiseworthy action, but is capable of directly contrary interpretation. Barabas mines the monastery - but this leads to the triumph, rather than the defeat, of the Knights and their governor.

The oppositions which seem so firm in the accounts of the Great Siege shift and dissolve under the pressure of Marlowe's dramatic reworking of events.

Siemon's edition gives this speech to Bernardine, but comments in a note that 'the assignment of the friars' speeches has long been a problem', and that Q allotted it to Jacomo. It would seem more than coincidence that Marlowe's choice of Orders for his two friars corresponds so exactly with the actual religious houses represented in Birgu. As for the nuns, there is a similar sharpness of correspondence between Marlowe's portrayal and practice on the island.

When the Abbess first enters, she says, we love not to be seen: Slaves and Prostitutes on Malta The remarkable prevalence of both slaves and prostitutes on Malta was often remarked.

Then they would be taken to the dungeons hollowed out of the rocky foundations of the adjacent Fort St Angelo'.

You men of Malta, hear me speak; She is a courtesan and he a thief, And he my bondman, let me have law, For none of this can prejudice my life. As Harry Levin points out, 'it is not merely in the slave-market, but in the counting-house and the senate chamber, that men are bought and sold. As for the traffic in women, Ithamore becomes ensnared in it'. So, too, does one more detail: Ithamore arrives at Bellamira's house on his way back from witnessing an execution at the gallows IV.

Such a journey precisely mirrors the actual passage from Gallows Point through the prostitutes' quarter to the dockyard in Grand Harbour. Roma Gill suggests that the presence of prostitutes in such quantity may have been a particularly sensitive issue in the years immediately before the composition of The Jew of Malta: In the late s, when I think this play was written, Malta was very much in the news in England I can hardly believe that such a scandal would not have been known - and rejoiced over - in Elizabeth's England, and especially by such spirits as Marlowe.

Such telling juxtapositions of clashing values lie close to the essence of his art. Phoenicians on Malta Until this century, 'Malta's rich prehistoric legacy was all wrongly attributed to the Phoenicians by scholars and travellers'; 87 and the Phoenicians certainly did settle the island, leaving rock-cut tombs as evidence of their stay, 88 as well as the Maltese language, still easily intelligible in Tunis 89 though the name Malta itself is suggested to derive from the Hebrew malat, to escape.

First will we race the city walls ourselves, Lay waste the island, hew the temples down, And, shipping of our goods to Sicily, Open an entrance for the wasteful sea, Whose billows beating the resistless banks, Shall overflow it with their refluence.

Certainly it would make sense for Christians faced with a Turkish invasion to destroy their places of worship themselves rather than leave them to face desecration.

But that word 'hew', with its connotations of rough stonework and great blows, might just suggest the more massive architecture of monumental ruins like Hagar'Qim or Ggantija; and such structures would surely have been of interest to a dramatist credited by Richard Baines' note with a distinct interest in alternative belief systems this is a point to which I will return later in considering Marlowe's possible areas of interest in the story of Malta.

The suggestion cannot, though, ever be more than a highly tentative and speculative one. Nevertheless, even without any direct reference to Malta's impressive legacy of prehistoric architecture, anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the island must surely have been aware of the obviously non-European origins of much of its architecture, language and population.

The reason given by the Knights for excluding the indigenous nobility from their number was explicitly the fear that their ancestry might be tainted by Arab elements; and Maltese as a language - lyrically described in a modern historical novel as 'the soft, slurring dialect that Dido and Hannibal spoke' clearly proclaims its affiliation with Arabic, as is obviously demonstrated in the very place-names that were to play so marked a part in the siege: The most cursory investigation into the history and geography of Malta and I hope to have shown that Marlowe's researches seem to have been far from cursory would have revealed it as a place once colonised by a people of Semitic origin, who were universally believed to have been those identified in the classical world view as the Phoenicians.

Marlowe had already written about the Phoenicians in what seems likely to have been his first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage. At this point he reminds me very much of Aeneas in Marlowe's Dido Queen of Carthage, when he has decided to disobey the gods and make a new home in Carthage.

He too comes in with, as it were, the tools of the trade: Marlowe delights in humiliating his heroes - not humiliating them, so much as cutting them down to size. But that was in another country: And besides, the wench is dead.

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But it is, above all, the sin of the roving Aeneas, loving and leaving behind him the suicidal Dido. The echo is hardly a strong one, but it may perhaps serve to remind us of the ways in which Mediterranean settings with Phoenician connections had already proved of interest to Marlowe the dramatist. Faith, Psychology, and Fortifications on Malta There were also elements of Malta's more recent past that were likely to have been of profound interest to Marlowe.

When writing Tamburlaine the Great, Marlowe seems to have had access to a manuscript version of Paul Ive's treatise Practise of Fortification, 95 which suggests a serious concern with the subject; and Paul H.

Kocher has argued that in Tamburlaine in particular, but in others of the plays as well, 'all the action and much of the characterization The word occurs sixteen times, at I. In the context of the Great Siege, the primary referent of 'town' must be Birgu, but Marlowe's 'town' also contains clear references to other cities: When, at a late stage of the Siege, the Turks abruptly decided to invest it, the Governor, Don Mesquita, found himself with far too small a garrison, and turned to bluff: All his available cannon were also brought to the ready and taken round to the side from which the Turkish troops were certain to approach.

This was in fact the second time that the Chevalier Mesquita had saved the day; the Turks' most determined assault on Birgu had been deflected only when the Chevalier despatched a lightning raid from Mdina on the Turkish base at the Marsa, killing the sick and destroying the baggage.

Thinking they faced a full-scale assault from the rear, the Turkish troops fell back and Birgu was reprieved. The audacious tactics of the Chevalier Mesquita, complementing the psychological warfare exerted by La Valette on his own side, provide precisely the kind of method of gaining ascendancy over others that Marlowe showed himself so fascinated to explore in his account of the career of Tamburlaine.

In their deployment of deceit authorised by religion, moreover, they touch at the heart of some of the issues with which The Jew of Malta is so centrally concerned. Not the least remarkable feature of Barabas is the strength of his attachment to his Jewishness. Roma Gill comments that 'Marlowe has thoroughly researched a Jewish identity for Barabas, creating from the Old Testament a character far richer than any of the stereotypes that he could have inherited from popular tradition which would only have given him the features that Ithimore can describe'; even Stephen Greenblatt, who sees Barabas' identity as 'to a great extent the product of the Christian conception of a Jew's identity', nevertheless notes that 'Marlowe invokes an "indigenous" Judaism'.

Rather had I a Jew be hated thus, Than pitied in a Christian poverty: For I can see no fruits in all their faith, But malice, falsehood and excessive pride, Which me thinks fits not their profession. Happily some hapless man hath conscience, And for his conscience lives in beggary. They say we are a scattered nation: I cannot tell, but we have scrambled up More wealth by far than those that brag of faith. Barabas seems to take the term 'Jew' as synonymous with 'wealthy', and to have little sense of other possible connotations of Jewishness, since he denies knowledge of the very diaspora which has, presumably, brought him to Malta, and associates the concept of 'faith' with Christianity alone.

As good dissemble that thou never mean'st As first mean truth and then dissemble it; A counterfeit profession is better Than unseen hypocrisy. Marlowe's Malta may be introduced by Machiavelli and peopled by men like Ferneze and Barabas, but it does also contain 'Abigail, the single disinterested character in the play, who is characterised by the first four words she speaks: Malta has been largely taken to have been chosen as a location largely because of a suitable distance from England and general air of exoticism, and to have been depicted in as cavalier a manner as Shakespeare's Vienna, peopled entirely by characters with Italian names, or his Bohemia, which he so improbably endows with a sea-coast: a recent study of the sources of Marlowe's plays asserts that 'it is obvious that The Jew of Malta makes no pretence to historical veracity'.

The Knights Hospitallers of Saint John - formerly of Jerusalem - had settled at Malta when Rhodes fell to the Turks in , and successfully held out when besieged in , presumably the period of the drama.

Their baroque capital, with its bastioned port, was both an outpost of Christendom and a citadel against Islam, but the spirit of the crusaders who founded it had yielded to the emergent interests of the merchant adventurers. Despite their Semitic ancestry and the Arabic origins of their language, the Maltese felt no kinship with the Turks; they had suffered repeatedly from their depredations - the vast majority of the inhabitants of Malta's sister island Gozo had been taken into slavery after a corsair raid of - and during the Great Siege of they remained obstinately loyal to the Knights, even when offered opportunities to leave without molestation.

As for the Knights themselves, they had taken warning from the fate of the Templars, and rigorously eschewed all contact with any form of Arabic influence - indeed they went so far as to prohibit the Maltese nobility from joining the Order because of their Semitic ancestry. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Levin tacitly but significantly misrepresents the physical nature of the Malta which withstood the Great Siege.

The island's 'baroque capital, with its bastioned port' can only refer to Valletta, of which it is a very accurate description; but the construction of Valletta was not begun until , being in fact Grand Master La Valette's direct response to the Siege. Before that, the Knights had had their base at the former fishing village of Birgu, rechristened Vittoriosa in honour of its successful resistance, and its adjacent town of Senglea and their principal military positions had been the three fortresses of St Elmo, St Michael and, above all, St Angelo.

The only other significant settlement on the island was the old capital of Mdina, also called Notabile, to which the indigenous nobility had retreated after the advent of the Knights and which had played virtually no part in the siege. Since the one part of Levin's account which is absolutely accurate is that the play does indeed seem to offer some kind of representation of the events of , Valletta has no part to play in the story.

I relay this information not from any desire to score cheap points off Levin, whose account of the play in general is extremely perceptive and who is unusual in paying any attention at all to the Maltese setting, but to suggest that ideas about Renaissance Malta are often poorly formed and patchily applied, in the belief that they are of no real importance to the examination of Marlowe's play.

I wish to argue, on the contrary, that The Jew of Malta is radically informed by a very precise set of perceptions of the island and its role in the history of Europe and of Christendom, and that where it does actually deviate from historical truth it does so in the service of a very specifically formulated aesthetic, representational and political agenda.

In order to register the extent and significance of such deviations, I propose to map very closely the extent of the fit between Marlowe's portrayal of the island and the information probably available to him about it, and then to consider the methods and purposes of his use of that information. Bartels situates the play interestingly in the context of other contemporary representations of foreign settings, pointing out that The Jew of Malta was being produced alongside Mully Mollocco, The Spanish Comedy, The Spanish Tragedy, Orlando Furioso, and Sir John Mandeville, all plays that center on foreign themes, characters, or interests.

Marlowe's play, too, looks to the world outside and how it was being shaped by and giving shape to the European inside. Marlowe sets Barabas on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, a key site of cross-cultural commerce and conflict, demanding that we consider what it means to be 'of Malta' while deciding what it means to be 'the Jew'.

Roma Gill, who herself explored Malta in an attempt to establish the existence of any possible Marlovian connections, comments that: Marlowe seems to have known a lot about the island of Malta, its geography, and its recent history.

In the play's first scene Barabas, its protagonist, defines Malta's precise location. Looking out from his counting-house, he can see the weather-vanes and his 'Halcions bill', which are indicating a wind direction 'East and by-South'.

From this quarter the wind will bring his 'Argosie from Alexandria' safely 'through our Mediterranean sea', passing the island of Crete 'by Candie shoare' , to harbour in 'Malta Rhode' ll. When he interviews the merchant-seamen, Barabas demonstrates his knowledge of sea-lanes. Among those lords and knights accompanying him was the young French nobleman Nicolas de Nicolay, geographer to King Charles IX; in Nicolay published at Lyon a narrative of his journey in four books, which appeared in Thomas Washington's translation of as The Navigations, Peregrinations and Voyages, Made Into Turkey Passages in Tamburlaine suggest that Marlowe knew this work, and while composing The Jew he might well have recalled from Nicolay Public interest in Malta ran high in sixteenth-century England, particularly during and immediately after its heroic stand in the Great Siege.

Michael Brennan has recently established the existence of at least two English-language newsletter accounts of the siege, though they survive in so fragmentary a state that little can be deduced about their contents or Marlowe's possible awareness of them. And the history of Malta was in one sense already intimately interconnected with the very location of Marlowe's profession, for the Master of the Revels, whose job it was to censor plays, had his office in the palace of Clerkenwell, historic home of the Order of St John in England.

But Malta is a tiny island Marlowe must have had access to some other source for what he knows of the island's topography. The earliest of all known maps of Malta was drawn by a French knight, Jean Quintin. Gill also postulates a possible personal connection: He could have read Malta's history in books - there were several in French, Italian, and Spanish, although little was written in English; and he might have acquired an appreciation of the island's geography through his skill as a map-reader.

But books and maps alone cannot explain his interest I would suggest that Marlowe's experiences as petty spy and go-between somehow equipped him with the insight he needed to create his own world in The Jew of Malta. There is, however, a more direct link between Marlowe's theatre world and the events dramatised in the play.

The Jew of Malta was written when Marlowe '"bore name to serve" Lord Strange as a play-maker', 16 and Lord Strange's uncle Sir Edward Stanley, implicated in a plot to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots in and 'listed as a recusant and a "dangerous person" in , 17 is almost certainly identifiable with the Sir Edward Stanley who was one of the only two Englishmen in the relief force known, because of its small size, as the 'piccolo siccorso' which the Chevalier de Robles brought to the aid of his beleaguered brethren in June The 'piccolo siccorso' arrived on the island at a crucial stage in the siege, immediately after the fall of Fort St Elmo, key to the harbour of Marsamxett, a small and poorly-defended fortress which, quite contrary to Turkish expectations that it would fall in five days, had with desperate gallantry resisted for almost a month.

The loss of St Elmo triggered a complete change in the strategic situation and the conduct of the siege, which was now directed entirely at the peninsula towns of Senglea and Birgu and at Fort St Angelo, all on the other side of Grand Harbour.

The 'piccolo siccorso' was transported in Sicilian galleys which actually had orders not to land if Fort St Elmo was not still in Maltese hands, since possession of it was considered so vital that the island was to be written off as lost if it was gone; but the Knight of St John who was sent ashore to learn the situation lied to the Sicilian commander and the force was landed anyway.

In fact, Turkish brutality to the captured defenders of St Elmo had been so monstrous that the loss of the fort had, if anything, stiffened the backbone of Maltese resistance; determined to avenge their dead brethren, and heartened by the fact that this, their smallest fortress, had put up so lengthy a resistance which had bought time for strengthening the fortifications of Senglea, Birgu and St Angelo , the Knights were grimly resolved to defend their position to the last man, and the indigenous Maltese gave them complete support.

Sir Edward Stanley, then, arrived at a vital turning-point of the siege. Spared the lingering horrors suffered by the indomitable defenders of St Elmo, spared too the discussions attendant on the Grand Master's agonised decision to leave them to their fate, spared the sight of the decapitated bodies, their hearts gouged out of their chests, which the current wafted across to St Angelo, Sir Edward served not in the living hell of the tiny, ruined fort but in a large, well-supplied garrison fired by furious determination and, thanks to the length of the resistance offered by St Elmo, a reasonable chance of survival, which improved significantly with every extra day they could hold out.

When the Turks finally did abandon the siege in September, two and a half months after he arrived, Sir Edward also witnessed the withdrawal of their humiliated army, in poor morale and devastated by the loss of some of their ablest commanders, and the ensuing jubilation and thanksgiving of the Knights, the Maltese, and the Sicilians who had brought the final relief force.

There is no indication of when he left the island, but he would surely have been aware that Grand Master La Valette had immediately begun making plans for its regeneration and for the foundation of the new capital, to bear his own name of Valletta.

Since Sir Edward did not die until , he would presumably have been well able to give evidence of his experiences. When Marlowe wrote his play, then, he did so in the service of a patron whose own immediate family had significant experience of both the island of Malta in general and the Great Siege in particular, and for an audience who were likely to be well aware of the strategic and historic role that Malta had played.

Nevertheless, there is clearly no simple relationship of direct correspondence, if only because the outcome of real siege and fictional one are so radically different.

It is these areas of similarity and difference between play-text and historical event which I now propose to trace. Jews on Malta In her history of the Order of St John, Claire-Eliane Engel comments that during the Great Siege, 'les juifs de Malte avaient ete d'une loyaute au-dessus de tout eloge' [the Jews of Malta had behaved with a loyalty above all praise].

Anyone who went on such a mission faced certain death, but nevertheless two Jews of the island chose to join the relief expedition, although in the event the boats carrying the would-be volunteers were unable to get past the Turkish cannon and were forced to turn back to Birgu. However, relations between Jews and Maltese had not always been so happy: since the islands were dependencies of the Aragonese crown, Jews had been officially expelled from them in , and their property confiscated: It appears from a notarial deed of 2 June , that the monastery of St Scolastica had just been founded The monastery was then occupying what had once been the synagogue of the Jews that had been expelled from the island only four years earlier.

The monastery of St Scolastica eventually moved to Birgu. Their short stay at Mdina is fairly well documented. On several occasions they sought help from the Universita, as in when the city wall had collapsed, pulling down part of the monastery with it. Originally situated in the old capital of Mdina, it is later moved to Birgu, which, if there is any pretence at topographical accuracy at all, would logically be the principal setting of The Jew of Malta, since it was the only major town involved in the Siege.

The collapsing wall, too, is reminiscent of Barabas' blowing up of the house with the Turkish soldiers in, though there is also a parallel there with two other significant acts of undermining which had a telling effect on the course of Maltese history: the virtual destruction of the bastion of Castile during the Great Siege, 21 and after it La Valette's attempt to forestall a second invasion planned by the Turks for the following year by having his spies in Constantinople set the arsenal on fire by blowing up magazines.

Malta owes much of its fame, some of its place-names, its distinguished Christian ancestry and, legend avers, its freedom from snakes, all to one very famous Jew: St Paul. As such, he might well serve as an interesting comparator for the analogous conversion of Abigail; moreover, anyone familiar with accounts of the Siege would be aware that the final engagement was fought in St Paul's Bay, legendary scene of the saint's shipwreck, where the Turks suffered a decisive defeat and left the beach and waters clogged with their dead.

It fits well with the ironic, ambiguous tone of Marlowe's play to remember this story of a Jew distinguished by adherence to Christianity, and the same kinds of complexities of association play over the name of the Knights' patron saint. As Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem , they brought the island, argues Cecil Roth, 'into a sort of sentimental dependence upon the Holy Land', 25 even though, by a particularly savage irony, 'it was expressly forbidden for any person of Jewish blood to be received into the Maltese Order'.

Rather than seeing the Jew as the Other, in short, this network of associations forces us instead to see him as essentially the Self. Indeed the play in one sense at least engineers precisely such an identity of viewpoint, since, as David Farley-Hills points out, 'Marlowe's use of the term "City of Malta" is incidentally paralleled in contemporary Jewish references'.

Abraham Abulafia of Saragossa, born in and 'founder of the practical Cabbala', 28 was exiled to Comino in around , and composed one of his works there. There is ample evidence that members of Marlowe's circle were interested in the Cabbala: Giordano Bruno, who seems to be represented in Doctor Faustus 29 and whose influence on Tamburlaine David Farley-Hills has recently pointed out, 30 showed much interest in occult writing and wrote a work called Cabala del cavallo pegaseo; 31 John Dee, who seems overwhelmingly likely to have had links with Marlowe, 32 was 'a practical cabalist'.

Despite their official departure in , there were Jews on the island during the Siege. The great Turkish attempt on the island in which, according to contemporary rumour, the Jews actually financed was certainly watched by them with eager eyes, and their disappointment at its failure must have been extreme. Jewish scholars referred to it with an unwonted maledictory formula. A Messianic prophecy current at the beginning of the seventeenth century detailed how the Redemption would begin with the fall of the four kingdoms of unrightreousness, first among which would be Malta.

There were, then, essentially three basic patterns of Jewish behaviour on Malta that might have been available for Marlowe to draw on: the Jew as treacherous collaborator with the Turk, the Jew as dispossessed landowner and victim, maltreated by Christians, and the Jew as selfless hero, prepared to die alongside the Christian defenders of St Elmo.

I would like to suggest that he actually makes use of elements of all of them , although, in typically Marlovian manner, with additional twists and complications. The most obvious correlation is between Barabas' expulsion from his house and the requisitioning of the former Synagogue for a convent in Mdina. There is a more or less direct parallel here, to the extent that one might even regard the historical episode as a possible source for this aspect of the play - had Marlowe known of the event, he would surely have savoured the irony of Christians inhabiting a building already sacred to another faith.

Christopher Marlowe "The Jew of Malta". Barabas character in his opening speech

However, he has also used the episode in a very different way from that in which its historical analogue functioned. The actual nunnery of St Scolastica was founded in or shortly before , sixty years before the Siege and thirty before even the loss of Rhodes.

It stands as an isolated incident, with no motivational or structural connections with the successive engagements with the Turks; it represents merely a clash between Christianity and Judaism. Marlowe, however, has turned it into a three-cornered affair, focusing not binary oppositions but a complex and shifting pattern of racial and religious allegiances, personal qualities and political implications.

His chronological dislocation of the event makes it into the immediate stimulus for Barabas' vengeance as well as an apt symbol for the Christians' opportunism and rapacity. The 'medecin juif renie' of the fall of Rhodes and the Jewish moneylenders alleged to have collaborated with the Turkish besiegers do so, in the historical accounts, out of mere malice.

This is a stereotypical reading of Jewish behaviour which Barabas in fact invokes in his extravagantly virtuoso introduction of himself to Ithamore: As for myself, I walk abroad a-nights And kill sick people groaning under walls: Sometimes I go about and poison wells; II. Poisoning of water was a repeated feature of the knights' defence - a very wise precaution on so barren and hot an island. Before the Turkish invaders arrived La Valette gave orders for the poisoning of all the wells in the Marsa, the area of low-lying ground at the head of Grand Harbour; 40 when the Knights defending St Elmo unsuccessfully begged permission to make a final sally, the contemporary observer Balbi records that they wrote in their letter to the Grand Master that 'should they fail, they would at least die happy, and they would leave instructions that, in case of disaster, the water in the fort should be poisoned and the guns spiked'.

And it is of course doubly ironic that Barabas' very evil is, in one sense, an essential element for the proper functioning of the contrasting charitable activity of the Knights. And even his most gratuitous act of cruelty, the poisoning of the entire convent of nuns, was actually a scheme proposed in the name of true belief and statecraft, when a plan was drawn up to eliminate all the students of the English College at Rheims by poisoning their well - a plan of which Marlowe would have had good reason to know, since the man responsible for it was his posthumous accuser, Richard Baines.

Whatever his intentions, the actual effect of his actions is to work towards the Knights' complete victory. Internet Explorer 9, 10 and 11; Chrome latest version, as it auto updates ; Firefox latest version, as it auto updates ; and Safari latest version, as it auto updates.

James R. Siemon is Professor of English at Boston University. This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Cookie Policy.

It looks like you are located in Australia or New Zealand Close. Visit the Australia site Continue on UK site. PDF eBook Watermarked. Visit the Australia site.To have a shag-rag knave to come [force from me] Three hundred crowns, and then five hundred crowns! He did, however, leave his son, Frederic, as a pledge of his goodwill; the boy fought gallantly and was eventually killed in action during the siege of Birgu.

Make fires, heat irons, let the rack be fetch'd. Two Merchants. The island's 'baroque capital, with its bastioned port' can only refer to Valletta, of which it is a very accurate description; but the construction of Valletta was not begun until , being in fact Grand Master La Valette's direct response to the Siege.

Some wicked trick or other: I must confess we come not to be kings: Preach me not out of my possessions.

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