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The Jew of Malta | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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The Jew of Malta | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary



Act 5, Scene 5

Barabas busies himself putting the finishing touches on a "contraption" that will ensure the ruin of the Turkish troops. He pays the carpenters and invites them to taste the wines in his cellar. Ferneze enters with a bag of money. Barabas explains the workings of the devices he has rigged up and gives Ferneze a knife to cut the cord that will act as a trigger mechanism. Ferneze conceals himself while Barabas gloats over his new status as practicing a "kingly trade." He purchases towns by treachery, he says, and sells them by deceit.

Calymath enters, saluting Barabas. Suddenly, Ferneze reveals himself and cuts the cable, sending Barabas tumbling down into a cauldron. Screaming for help, Barabas defiantly shouts that it was he who caused Lodowick's death. He dies in agony, but not without a final curse. Ferneze informs Calymath that the Jew's treachery has caused the massacre of all the Turkish troops at the monastery on the outskirts of town. Calymath will remain a hostage in Malta until the Turkish sultan repairs all the damage caused by the invasion. Ferneze closes the scene by thanking heaven.


In the "epilogue spoken at court," the speaker begs the sovereign's pardon if the play has proved "tedious." In the "epilogue to the stage," the speaker asks for the approval of the audience.


The outcome of the play ironically highlights poetic justice, as Barabas is finally disposed of through one of his own elaborate devices. One is compelled to wonder why he takes the foolish step of explaining the operation of the contraption to Ferneze, whom he should know by now is untrustworthy. Perhaps the answer is that Barabas, like many of Marlowe's protagonists, is what literary critic Harry Levin described as an "overreacher." His hubris, or excessive pride, is best captured in his boast about his "kingly kind of trade" of buying and selling towns. Marlowe also hints that Barabas's pride has displaced his greed when he has Barabas decline payment from Ferneze, at least for the time being, until the destruction of the Turks. The play closes on a somber note, with Ferneze's praise of heaven sounding hollow, considering his previous cruelty and hypocrisy.

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