Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is a violent, bloody, destructive play that literally jars the senses. Part of this is due to the modern reader's background: we see the characters through modern eyes, with distinct views of "low class" and "high class." It would be easy, as such, to discount The Jew of Malta as only appealing to the base interests of its time, and it would be only slightly less easy to protest that it has meaning beyond any crude first glance, and that the extreme acts presented are merely metaphors for deeper social commentary. Steane writes:
There is a general feeling that this is a play of distinctive character, and an equally widespread difference of opinion as to what that character exactly is. Few plays have been given more names: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, tragical-comical, farcical-satirical, 'terribly serious' or 'tediously trivial'; 'terrifying', it seems, cannot be too heavy a term, nor 'absurd' too light [sic]. (166)
The Jew of Malta is extreme, and is meant to be extreme. The protagonist, Barabas, is gleeful, scheming evil, and does not represent anything other than himself. Barabas, with his frequent asides, betrayals on top of betrayals, and unending blood-thirst, is the eye of the play's chaotic, whirling storm.
Marlowe, too often seen in Shakespeare's shadow as an inferior whose modest body of work either pales to the mighty canon of Shakespeare or merely subtly influences him as a popular contemporary, produced in The Jew of Malta, and in Barabas, wit and savagery, perhaps to a degree foreign to most audiences. Much is also made of Barabas as a Jew...
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...ontested status of Huckleberry Finn). But a given work, even as edgy a work as The Jew of Malta, can be reasonably expect a fair break from the "liberal arts" critical interpreters, who, doubtless, will reveal hidden meanings, as well as postulate new meanings, in this worthy work in the coming years.
Deats, Sara Munson, and Lisa S. Starks. "'So neatly plotted, and so well perfom'd': Villain as Playwright in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta." Theatre Journal. Vol. 44, 1992. 375-389.
Eliot, T. S. "The Blank Verse of Marlowe." The Sacred Wood. London: Methuen, 1964. 86-94.
Henderson, Philip. Christopher Marlowe. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1974.
Marlowe, Christopher. The Jew of Malta. Ed. James R. Siemon. London: Black, 1994.
Steane, J. B. Marlowe: A Critical Study. London: Cambridge UP, 1964.
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