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The Jew of Malta | Study Guide

Christopher Marlowe

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Course Hero. "The Jew of Malta Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 May 2018. Web. 27 May 2023. <>.

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The Jew of Malta | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Prologue and Act 1

The soul of Machiavel (Machiavelli) speaks the prologue. He announces that the play will deal with greed and hypocrisy. In the first scene, the protagonist Barabas, the Jew of Malta, gloats about his immense riches. His complacency, however, is ruffled when a meeting is called at the senate-house. Ferneze, the governor, must find a way to pay a large tribute to the Ottoman Turks that is 10 years past due. His solution is to penalize the Jews of Malta, especially Barabas, who has his entire estate confiscated and must surrender his house for the establishment there of a nunnery. Outraged, Barabas vows vengeance. As it happens, he has a means at hand. Persuading his beloved daughter, Abigail, to feign conversion to Christianity, he tells her to join the nunnery, where she will have access to a large portion of his treasure squirreled away underneath the floorboards. Abigail complies.

Act 2

Abigail is true to her orders and flings down bags of the treasure before Barabas. Meanwhile, the Spanish vice admiral Martin del Bosco persuades Ferneze to defy the Turks, with Spain supporting Malta's resistance. Barabas busies himself with purchasing a new slave, the Turk Ithamore, with whom he holds a bragging contest about the criminal and violent deeds that both men have accomplished. Barabas artfully manipulates Abigail's two suitors, Lodowick and Mathias, determined to lead both to their ruin.

Act 3

Barabas's cunning plans reach fruition promptly. Incited by a forged challenge, Lodowick and Mathias engage in a mutually fatal duel. When Ithamore reports these doings to Abigail, she is shocked, for she truly loved Mathias. Now full of guilt and eager to repent, Abigail makes an authentic conversion to Christianity and rejoins the nunnery. Barabas is aghast at what he considers his daughter's betrayal. He resolves, with Ithamore's aid, to poison all the nuns, including Abigail. This plan too promptly succeeds, and Abigail dies with loyalty to Christianity on her lips.

Act 4

Barabas and Ithamore rejoice at their villainy, but Barabas becomes disconcerted by the hints of Friars Barnardine and Jacomo that the Christian priests know about the Jew's involvement in the deaths of Lodowick and Mathias. Barabas and Ithamore strangle the sleeping Friar Barnardine and then frame Friar Jacomo for the murder. Meanwhile, Bellamira seduces Ithamore, and both characters, joined by Pilia-Borza, blackmail Barabas for increasing amounts. To obtain revenge, Barabas disguises himself as a French musician and poisons Pilia-Borza, Bellamira, and Ithamore with a nosegay of flowers.

Act 5 and Epilogue

Bellamira, Pilia-Borza, and Ithamore disclose Barabas's crimes to Ferneze, the Maltese governor, who arrests Barabas. Barabas, however, feigns death by drinking a sleeping potion and escapes. Bellamira, Pilia-Borza, and Ithamore die as a result of the poisoned flowers. Barabas strikes a deal with the Turkish leader, Calymath, who captures the city with Barabas's aid. Although he receives the governorship as a reward, Barabas is still dissatisfied. He decides to play the Turks and the Christians off against each other and conspires with Ferneze to overthrow the Turkish invaders in exchange for a huge amount of money. Barabas invites the Turkish host to an elaborate banquet and then oversees the construction of a huge contraption that will assure their slaughter. But Ferneze betrays Barabas at the last minute, sending him to a violent death. The Jew dies with curses on his lips. Ferneze regains the upper hand in Malta. In the epilogue, an actor begs the indulgence of the sovereign and the audience.

The Jew of Malta Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Ferneze takes Barabas's wealth to pay the Turkish tribute.

Rising Action

2 Abigail joins the nunnery to rescue Barabas's fortune.

3 Martin del Bosco persuades Ferneze to resist the Turks.

4 Barabas engineers the deaths of Mathias and Lodowick.

5 Abigail converts to Christianity and joins the convent.

6 Barabas poisons all the nuns, including Abigail.


7 Barabas and Ithamore murder Friar Jacomo, framing a suspect.

Falling Action

8 Ferneze betrays Barabas, sending him to a gruesome death.


9 Ferneze assumes his old position as Malta's governor.

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