The Jew of Malta | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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The Jew of Malta | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary



This scene opens at night, outside the house of Barabas. The Jew enters with a light, praying that God will guide Abigail in her mission in the same manner that the ancient Israelites were guided through the Red Sea in their exodus from Egypt. Abigail enters on the upper level, handling bags of gold. At first, father and daughter do not see each other in the gloom. Then, however, Abigail begins to throw the bags of treasure down to her ecstatic father, who welcomes his riches with jubilant exclamations. Abigail warns Barabas that the nuns will awaken at midnight. After she departs, Barabas lyrically welcomes the dawn of a new day.


This brief scene packs together a number of literary techniques and devices. Barabas opens the action with a simile, comparing himself to a raven, conventionally a symbol for death, illness, or evil. (Symmetrically, Barabas closes the scene with an invocation of the morning lark, which takes the place of the ill-starred raven.) Barabas next proceeds to a grandiloquent Biblical allusion, as he asks God to guide Abigail the way the Israelites were guided out of bondage (see Exodus 13:18–22).

In a touch of dramatic irony—in which the audience is aware of something of which the characters are oblivious—Abigail does not at first recognize her father in the dark. Her wish for his happiness, however, is soon fulfilled, and she begins to throw down the bags of gold, pearls, and jewels to him. Barabas almost faints with pleasure. His blended pleasure in his gold and his daughter, as critics have remarked, strongly resembles the satisfaction that Shylock takes in his gold and in his daughter Jessica in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Barabas is so ebullient, in fact, that he breaks into Spanish twice. At line 39, before he recognizes Abigail he laments, Bueno para todos mi ganado no era ("my flock, or wealth, good for everyone else, is not good to me"). But soon afterward, Barabas closes the scene with the exclamation, Hermoso placer de los dineros ("Oh, the beautiful pleasures of money")—a line that the actor playing Barabas may have delivered in song!

The scene vividly illustrates the fine line between melodrama and comedy that is so characteristic of the play as a whole.

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