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The Jew of Malta | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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The Jew of Malta | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary



This scene opens with master and slave rejoicing at their success in annihilating the nuns. Perhaps most shocking, Barabas is especially jubilant over the death of Abigail.

Yet the jubilation is short-lived. Friars Jacomo and Barnardine enter, admonishing Barabas to repent. They strongly hint that they know about the villainous, forged challenge that incited Lodowick and Mathias to a fatal duel. In response, Barabas pretends to wish to convert to Christianity. He boasts of his wealth and suggests that he will endow a monastery with treasure.

A dispute erupts at once between the friars, as they compete for Barabas's philanthropic largesse. The friars break out into a fight. After Barabas calms the situation, the friars make their exit, and Barabas cynically vows to take both their lives. One of them, he says, turned Abigail to Christianity, while the other knows enough about Barabas to have him executed.

Ithamore reports that Friar Barnardine has fallen asleep on the premises. Both he and Barabas proceed to strangle the friar. They then use the friar's staff to prop him up. Afterward, they conceal themselves, and Friar Jacomo re-enters. Seeing what he takes to be the sleeping form of Barnardine, Jacomo strikes him with the staff. Barabas and Ithamore emerge from hiding and accuse Jacomo of Barnardine's murder. Seizing him, they tell Jacomo that they will take him to court, where he will have to answer to the legal authorities.


In the portrayals of Friar Barnardine and Friar Jacomo, which amount to heavily ironic caricature, the play's tone reverts to dark comedy. The Christian friars are satirized for their greed and violent jealousy. Ithamore's line introducing the friars is notable: "Here come two religious caterpillars." Once again, Barabas employs dissimulation successfully. His manipulation of Jacomo and Barnardine parallels, to some extent, his previous playing off of Lodowick and Mathias against each other. This time, however, Barabas embellishes his deceit with an elaborate pretense of repentance and fervor for Christian conversion.

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