The Jew of Malta and the Development of City Comedy: “The Mean Passage of a History”

Sarah K. Scott

A Thredbare Sharke.  One that neuer was Soldior, yet liues vpon lendings.  His profession is skeldring and odling, his Banke Poules, and his Ware-house Pict-hatch.  Takes vp single Testons vpon Oths till dooms day. Fals vnder Executions of three shillings, & enters into fiue groat BondsHe way-layes the reports of services, and cons them without booke, damning himselfe he came new from them, when all the while hee was taking the diet in the bawdie house, or lay pawn’d in his chamber for rent and victuals. Hee is of that admirable and happie Memory, that hee will salute one for an old acquaintance, that hee neuer saw in his life before.

         So Ben Jonson delineates the appropriately named Shift in Every Man out of His Humour (1600), an urban character with a likely Marlovian lineage.[1] This is why Alfred Harbage’s observation that Barabas should “have read the city comedies of the Stuart and Caroline stage” so that “he would have learned right ways of hoarding up filthy lucre” is a curious one indeed. He seems to have missed the point completely, because the playwrights working in this genre almost certainly knew The Jew of Malta and relished it in performance.[2] It is surprising that no one has written an article discussing its unnerving similarity to what would later be described as city comedy and analyzing the possibility of its actual influence on the development of this type of play. Many of Jonson’s prologues, in fact, seem to describe what Marlowe had already accomplished, especially as they outline most of the conventions now familiar to us. And, as T. S. Eliot remarked, one playwright was the heir of the other.[3]

         Jonson’s description of Shift certainly bears some resemblance to Barabas. In Marlowe’s play, we have a villainous Mammon consumed completely by the accumulation of wealth. It presents audiences with “a rich and famous Jew” (Prologue at Court 6) and a usurping “sound Machevill” (8) who delights “to see how full his bags are crammed” (Prologue 31) with “plenty” poured into his “lap” from “Ripping the bowels of the earth” (1.1.107-08).[4]As he locates honor in the hoarding of money, he realizes his motto “Ego mihimet sum semper proximus” (188) [I am always nearest to myself]. His riches are his sex, his religion, his power, his family—his all.

         Barabas also resembles Henry Condell-as-character in John Webster’s Induction to Marston’s The Malcontent:

Sly. Do you hear, sir? This play is a bitter play.
Condell. Why, sir, ‘tis neither satire nor moral, but the mean passage of a history; yet there are a sort of discontented creatures that bear a stingless envy to great ones, and these will wrest the doings of any man to their base, malicious applyment. But should their interpretation come to the test, like your marmoset they presently turn their teeth to their tail and eat it.
Sly. I will not go so far with you; but I say, any man that hath wit may censure if he sit in the twelve-penny room; and I say again, the play is bitter. [5]

Such a passage not only defines his own play but also outlines the contours of city comedy with its radically vengeful, self-interested characters propelled by myriad forms of consumption and greed who exhibit complexes of idiom and allusion, sometimes to the bedevilment of their audiences.

         When Brian Gibbons outlined the generic aspects of the form four decades ago, he found such striking similarities between Middleton’s Michelmas Term and The Jew of Malta that he considered categorizing Marlowe’s play as the first city comedy. He resisted this impulse, however, because its darkly ambiguous theology and morality would seem to preclude this innovative perspective, especially as articulated by G. K. Hunter’s 1964 essay that attempted to make sense of its ironic structure.[6] Both critics, like many before and since, avoid or rationalize the play’s anti-Semitism.[7] Although we do not know what particular aspects of Hunter’s argument convinced Gibbons that the play should not be generically associated with Michelmas Term, he was obviously persuaded that it was not appropriately comic, an attitude that persists. Still, he seems to accept Eliot’s idea that this type of “fictive life,” at least in Jonson’s version, “is not to be circumscribed by a reference to ‘comedy’ or ‘farce’ . . . but it is something that distinguishes Barabas from Shylock.”[8]

         Two definitions of the genre will serve to describe the lineaments of its primary features. Gibbons offers the following criteria: a timeline of 1597-1616; satiric, with urban settings and the requisite characters; an eschewing of “material appropriate to romance, fairy tale, sentimental legend or patriotic chronicle”; and an inclusion of “trickery episodes.”[9] Eighteen years later, Wendy Griswold offered some variations on these conventions:

City comedy presents wily, ambitious characters pursuing fortune, status, and love. The genre celebrates the adventures of urban and urbane rascals operating in the wide-open economic milieu of Renaissance London. Its characters demonstrate skills appropriate to an age of expanding opportunities, as they unblushingly lie, scheme, take risks, ignore propriety, flout conventional morality, fleece the gullible, and enjoy themselves hugely all the while.[10]

This play, possibly more than any other blockbuster that survives from the early 1590s, embodies all of the hallmarks of the genre as outlined by Gibbons, Griswold, and others.[11] In The Jew of Malta, audiences are presented with the moral depravity of urban Malta; an array of deceitful, self-centered, socially heterogeneous characters in pursuit of material gain or other forms of advancement that includes Jews, friars, nuns, a governor, a Turkish leader, a vice-admiral, a slave, and slave owners; an obsession with money; multiple thematic layers of conspicuous consumption, corrupt commerce, and religious pretense; an exclusion of romance, sentiment, and jingoism; and an ironic, “comic” conclusion with the Machiavellian policy of the Maltese Christian authorities “winning out” over the scheming of Barabas, unsettling audiences as it embeds further the idea of satire by excoriating something societal in a sometimes elevated way for the purpose of exposing and correcting it. Here we may be reminded of the tragicomic conclusion to the “vpside downe” world of The Honest Whore, Part I: the Duke’s declaration of Bellafront’s “conversion” by way of marriage to sleazy Matheo and his release of Candido from the insane asylum, initiating the tragic return to his cruel, waspish wife Viola.[12]

         To acknowledge the play’s comic and homiletic qualities as enunciated by Hunter would not bar it from functioning as scathing satire: mindless and inflexible Christianity and its hypocritical adherents in Malta and elsewhere whose use of the world-flesh-devil triad perpetuates unjustifiable and illegitimate authority. According to Isidore of Seville, the core idea of allegory, alienoloquium, is “the saying of things that do not belong to the matter in hand.”[13] It is sincere or didactic allegory that Hunter presumes of the play. But insincere alienoloquium defines ironia as well, and it is this reading of ironic allegory that allows Marlowe’s drama to be read as city comedy, providing audiences with a perverse burlesque that completely violates normative morality, just as it does in A New Way to Pay Old Debts (Sir Giles Overreach) or Women Beware Women (Livia and Bianca). It serves as a spirited exemplum of how not to act, offering a satirical portrait of Barabas’s tragedy and Catholic mercy. This essay will consider some of the general characteristics of the genre as they appear, specifically, in The Jew of Malta, especially the use of direct address. I will also demonstrate how its performance history reflects its comic intent and roots—in the theater, it has hardly been the generic mishmash that Eliot and others have defined it to be.[14] 

        Eliot’s description of the play (1919), “the farce of the old English humour, the terribly serious, even savage comic humour,” describes many of the predecessors of The Jew of Malta.[15] John Heywood’s A Mery Play Betwene Johan Johan the Husbande, Tib His Wife, and Sir Johan the Preest (1520-33) requires similar comic invention in performance. Influenced by the farce and fabliau traditions, the interlude mercilessly ridicules all of the characters involved—the cuckolded husband, his concupiscent wife, Tib, and her lover, a sybaritic priest—by offering a series of clever devices that invite audiences to revel in adulterous exploits, aided by inventions to distract Johan Johan. As he struggles in vain to mend a cleft water bucket with the wax of a lighted candle, the priest devours the warm pie that he and Tib offer. Sexual innuendo saturates the play. Like so many others of the period, it participates in a rich clowning tradition common to both sacred and secular dramatic forms. Much of the comedy depends upon the title character’s numerous asides, which signal both his sexual inadequacies and the knowledge of his wife’s enthusiastic infidelity: “And I chafe it so hard that my fingers krakkes!”; “Loke how the pil’d preest crammith in.” Audiences are almost compelled to laugh at the dynamic of abuse, jealousy, and sexual pleasure.[16] Barabas’s forebears from this period may also include the figure of the miles gloriosus and the trickster in, for example, Ralph Royster Doyster and Jacke Jugler, Worldly Man in Enough is as Good as a Feast, or the Vice in Horestes, named Newfangle in Like Will to Like.[17]

        The principal elements of city comedy appear in the first several lines of Marlowe’s play, and all by the end of the first act, with the exception of the comic conclusion. The urban setting is the polyglot, culturally cosmopolitan island of Malta, controlled by Catholic Christians and soon to be under siege by Muslim Turks. The energy of London and its environs intrudes even before the first scene, when Machevill announces to the audience that he has come to “frolic with his friends” while “here in Britaine” to deliver a lesson on “the tragedy of a Jew, / Who smiles” (Prologue 4, 29, 30-31). The verb “frolic” establishes that from the outset, audiences expect “To make merry . . . to play pranks, gambol, caper about” (OED frolic v.1) while witnessing an alien Jew’s downfall precipitated by a miscalculated confidence in the ruling authority. [18] The first scene opens abruptly, even beginning in mid-sentence to introduce the theme of commercial trade as both avaricious and voracious. Barabas is discovered in his counting-house assessing the returns on his investments through his fellow aliens and outcasts, such as Egyptians and Persians, while daydreaming of exotic enticements. His taxonomic description says as much about his greed as it does about the values of the world he inhabits: “Bags of fiery opals, sapphires, amethysts, / Jacinths, hard topaz, grass-green emeralds, / Beauteous rubies, sparkling diamonds / And seldseen costly stones of so great price” (1.1.25-28). Moreover, even before Barabas learns that his accounts have been seized by Ferneze, his pose is clearly that of the satirist scourging the human folly of his subjects in a speech functioning much like one of Jonson’s epigrams:

           Who hateth me but for my happiness?
           Or who is honoured now but for his wealth?
           Rather had I a Jew be hated thus,
           Then pittied in a Christian pouerty:
           For I can see no fruits in all their faith,
           But malice, falshood, and excessive pride,
           Which me thinkes fits not their profession. (1.1.111-17)

In this address to the audience, his rhetorical questioning sharply ridicules those who rule him and criticizes his subject’s hypocrisy, and as he concludes he is not suited to their Machiavellian policy, he disparages not only their behaviors but also indicates his own attempts at duplicity.[19] Certainly by this moment in the play an audience expects to be exposed to outrageous transgressions and manipulations, for “As with the self distortions of Mak, or later in The Alchemist with Subtle and Face, Barabas radically, obnoxiously, truthfully, and self-consciously, performs himself.”[20] By the end of the second scene, Marlowe introduces elements of corrupt commerce, religious pretense, and sexual innuendo: Ferneze levies the Turks’s tributes against the Jews by ordering over half of their estates unless they convert to Christianity—and all of their holdings if they refuse; Barabas’s house is turned into a nunnery out of spite, and his daughter feigns conversion to retrieve the wealth hidden therein. The friars reveal that their interest in saving her is sexual rather than spiritual when Bernardine estimates Abigail’s value as “a moving spirit”:  that is, worthy of the sort of sexual congress that causes the nuns to “swell” with pregnancy and, when poisoned, makes the friars “die with grief” (1.2.28; 4.1.6; 4.1.16). Thus, the city comedy stage is set with a portrait of the social, political, and religious corruption meet for satire.

        One approach to examining The Jew of Malta as a text suited for the performance of city comedy is to consider a range of Barabas’s direct addresses to the audience—especially his reactions in the form of character asides to persuade or compel the spectators to adopt his perspective, which are nearly always for humorous effect. They demonstrate the verbal facility and comic, fleering tone of the city comedy protagonist, often a figure from the social margins. In many instances, he shifts to the perspective of the satirist, sharing his amusement with and disdain for his surroundings with his auditors surrounding the platform stage.[21] These direct addresses contribute to the patently implausible, “non-illusory” drama of farce, allowing for a mode of “infinite flexibility” by denying an audience perspective that would allow it to “believe in the images on the stage.”[22] As in the thirteenth century, when “farce” was used to indicate “the extemporaneous amplification or ‘gag,’ or the interposing of impromptu buffoonery, which the actors in the religious dramas were accustomed to interpolate into their text,” the notion of farce as black comedy relies on the interpolation of opposing elements generating the tensions of antithesis.[23] Instances of direct address in The Jew of Malta rely strongly on the energy created by such tension, allowing for a sort of double vision resembling Marston’s notorious puns.[24] For many, it’s the difference between what one does and what one thinks one would like to do—perhaps especially when feeling wronged.

        Barabas’s enormous nose, sideways looks, or arched eyebrows are easily identified as conventions for the audience to process as farcical, but identifying forms of direct address in farce or city comedy depends upon the predispositions of the reader. Still, a conservative examination of the text yields over one hundred moments when a character speaks directly to the audience. This count includes one- or two-line commentaries, such as Barabas’s Machiavellian aphorisms that ironically comment on his own end, “Thus every villain ambles after wealth / Although he ne’er be richer than in hope: But husht” (3.4.25-54); Ithamore’s resolve to rob him, “I’ll go steal some money from my master to make me handsome” (4.2.51-2); and longer, reflective speeches spoken by a character solus, such as the opening to 3.4 when Barabas curses as he reads Abigail’s conversion letter: “Repentance? Spurca.” It also includes those moments when other characters on stage may or may not hear the speaker, as in the balcony scene of 2.1. A study of direct address in the play reveals a theater of cruel comedy by offering audiences multi-faceted perspectives from a conflated villain and clown figure and his targets.

        The 1633 quarto marks twenty-four asides and one “whisper,” all of which are assigned to Barabas, an indication that the audience is to privilege his social critique, which would have been ironic in itself during the drama’s initial performances.[25] This is true whether he shows outrage (“How liberally the villain gives me mine own gold”) (4.4.46); criticizes the social rot (“Nay, let ’em combat, conquer, and kill all”) (1.1.151); or responds to the present action (“but I must dissemble”) (4.1.47). Many demonstrate the verbal facility of the Janus-faced, socially marginalized protagonist who attempts to lure audiences into ironic conspiracy.

        The most concentrated number of lines identified in the 1633 quarto as “aside” appears, fittingly, at the slave market in 2.3, where “Every one’s price is written on his back” (2.3.3). Here, Lodowick and Barabas negotiate the exchange of the chaste virgin Abigail, the “bright and fair” diamond that “Outshine’s Cynthia’s rays” (2.3.59, 63) in a manner resembling George’s description of the shop’s finest lawn in The Honest Whore, Part I: “looke how euen she is, look how cleane she is, ha, as euen as the browe of Cinthia” (1.5.25-6). This sequence, laden with jocose innuendo as it commodifies Barabas’s daughter with puns on “jewel” and “foil,” and as it privileges verbal facility and wit over sentiment, is a hallmark of city comedy. Its multiple, shifting perspectives symbolize an intensely materialistic world where practically everything is for sale. Much of the dialogue that Barabas speaks while negotiating with Lodowick for his so-called jewel contains a marked aside: the quarto, for instance, indicates seven asides from “canst helpe me to a Diamond?” to “But now I must be gone to buy a slave” (2.3.49, 96).

        Other jokes abound, such as “Fornication? / But that was in another country; / And besides the wench is dead” (4.1.40-2); “What has he crucified a child? / No, but a worse thing” (3.4.49-50); and “That kiss again; she runs division of my lips. / What an eye she casts on me!” (4.3.131-32), alluding to or anticipating the Helen episode at 5.1 in Doctor Faustus. In recent productions, Barabas’s artfully inventive murders have provided the most laughter, especially that of the poisoning of the nuns and his “How sweet the bells ring” frisson that follows (4.1.2), and his French musician’s serenade as he delivers poisoned flowers (4.4). Such moments of carefully calibrated Schadenfreude with their sardonic wit and hyperbolic slapstick allow for a release of laughter at death and admiration for Barabas’s theatrical bravura. Their forward moving momentum exposes the sharp, clear, unforgiving edge of comedy, providing a fuller and more immediate release than similar episodes in tragedy.

        Although accounts from the first recorded performances of Marlowe’s satire do not indicate whether companies presented the play as comedy or tragedy, productions that privileged the idea of “Tragedy” generically in accordance with the title of the 1633 quarto surely would incur unintentional laughter.[26] It is far easier for twenty-first century readers or theatergoers to envision Strange’s or the Admiral’s Men catering to the popular Protestant audiences who relished the native dramatic tradition by interspersing a play like Doctor Faustus with comic scenes such as the Vatican episode. The revival of the play at the Cockpit in the 1630’s—a time characterized even more by fears of the Catholic menace, given the large number of plays ridiculing Continental strangers—also suggests The Jew of Malta would have been a logical fit with the popular city comedies in repertory at the time, many of which exhibited acute xenophobia.[27]

        A complex allusion in Thomas Heywood’s “Prologue to the Stage, at the Cock-Pit [The Phoenix]” suggests that his company may have intended Marlowe’s play for comic performance. The couplets praise the superior acting abilities of Edward Alleyn, the first Barabas, by commemorating his facility to construct a range of personae and characters: “by the best of poets in that age / The Malta Jew had being, and was made;  / And he, then by the best of actors played” (2-4).[28] Heywood then significantly compares this “peerless” thespian to an ancient Roman actor: “a man / Whom we may rank with (doing no one wrong) / Proteus for shapes, and Roscius for a tongue, / So could he speak” (8-11). This reference to the celebrated Quintus Roscius Gallus clearly aligns Alleyn with his legendary ancient counterpart and praises him for the same reason: verbal and theatrical artistry that observed the classical mean, in this case between kairos and decorum. The more important idea that Heywood encodes in his allusion, which he clearly expected his audiences to recognize, is that Roscius was best known for his exceptional acting abilities in comedy, just as he assumed that the spectators would recollect the theatrical milieu of the 1590s by his mention of the fabulously talented Alleyn.[29] Hamlet’s arbitrary and comic outburst at the entrance of the risible and doddering Polonius, “When Roscius was an actor in Rome” (2.2), suggests that we can locate Shakespeare’s reference within the same generic context. Thomas Nashe, among others, had made a similar equation between Alleyn and the Roman actor in the year before Marlowe’s death, 1592.[30] Cicero admired Roscius and mentioned him in De oratore. His most celebrated role was Ballio, the slave dealer and King of Pimps in Plautus’smost overtly theatrical comedy Pseudolus, a part that challenged him to play “a reprehensible character” who was completely unsympathetic and utterly believable without violating decorum. Therefore, a link between Roscius’s Ballio and Alleyn’s Barabas is not only easy but entirely natural to make, indecorous comic villains both.[31] Like Marlowe’s alien in Malta, Ballio is a self-reflexive, morally relativistic character acutely aware of his own necessities and inventiveness. For example, Pseudolus cries out against the bawd’s morally unsound suggestion that Callidorus should have cheated his own father in order to purchase his prostitute girlfriend Phoenicium from him. Obviously, the slave continues, no one should heed Ballio’s counsel. The perfidious procurer of women agrees. Indeed, given his profession, it is not his role to dispense sound moral advice: “that’s simply not in the Pimp’s Code of Ethics” (3.289). An analogous example is Barabas’s sententious comment to Abigail: “Tush, / As good dissemble that thou never mean’st / As first mean truth and then dissemble it; / A counterfeit profession is better / Than unseen hypocrisy” (1.2.289-93). The procurer’s religious attitudes also resemble those of Barabas: “If I were in the middle / Of a sacrifice to mighty Jove and suddenly the chance / to Grab some cash arose—end of sacrifice right then and there! / Cash! Under any and all circumstances, that’s my higher calling” (3.265-68). Moreover, thinking he’s outsmarted Pseudolus’s efforts to acquire Phoenicium for his master’s son, Ballio cries “I’d rather solemnly perjure myself a thousand times / Than let him make a laughingstock out of me once! / I’ll have the last laugh, the next time we meet— / Which, I do believe, should be in the [slave labor] mill” (16.1057-60).[32] Barabas attitude toward his faith is ironic: his fortunes are divine gifts, “blessings promised to the Jews,” riches of “old Abram’s happiness.” (1.1.104, 5). Vowing retributive justice and endeavoring to be “more a knave than fool,” Barabas promises to “be revenged on this accursèd town; / For by my means Calymath shall enter in”; “I hope to see the Governor a slave, / And, rowing in a galley, whipped to death” (2.3.37; 5.1.62-68). Both Ballio and Barabas exhibit a form of ethics resembling the secularism of early modern conceptions of the Machiavel. Given this interesting material and Heywood’s usefully complex message to his audience, N.W. Bawcutt’s claim that the prologue anticipated the play’s failure seems unfounded. Laurie Maguire’s response is most fitting in this case. Since “in the theatre one apologizes only for one’s most reliable offerings,” it would be “inconceivable that the Caroline company resurrected an anticipated failure.”[33]

        That The Jew of Malta was also considered popular in the saturnalian season of Shrovetide further suggests that its audiences must have perceived it as comic as well as tragic, regardless of the genre-specific habits that the actors are alleged to have worn. Edmund Gayton’s account in his commentary on Cervantes, Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot (1654), explains how the play may have been received:

I have known upon one of these Festivals, but especially at Shrove-tide, where the Players have been appointed, notwithstanding their bils to the contrary, to act what the major part of the company had a mind to; sometimes Tamerlane, sometimes Jugurth, sometimes the Jew of Malta, and sometimes parts of all of these, and at last, none of the three taking, they were forc’d to undresse and put off their Tragick habits, and conclude the day with the merry milk-maides.[34]

The passage clearly alludes to the company of the exiled prince, the future Charles II, but whether it refers to its tenure at the Red Bull or Fortune theatres is inconclusive.[35] Both public playhouses were, according to James Wright (1699), “mostly frequented by Citizens, and the meaner sort of People.”[36]  These theaters also catered to popular tastes in the 1630’s, which were for the “old-fashioned” in their “preference for the manner of Alleyn, Marlowe and their contemporaries, a style festive, ranting, traditional, nostalgic and Elizabethan—the old ‘national’ taste, in fact.”[37] This native tradition was, generally, comic, and the Red Bull, known especially for its outrageous and scandalous productions, could well have considered The Jew of Malta to have been a naturally irreverent choice.[38]

        Thus, Marlowe’s play almost certainly functioned as part of a greatly anticipated comic release, one that, even in a Protestant country in the seventeenth century, participated in customs hundreds of years old that “promote social solidarity or communal spirit,” including “the keeping of markets” and “the giving of alms,” which were, according to John Stow, “celebrated in the summer months.” Susan Wells discusses the relationship of city comedy’s bacchanalian traditions:
Such a distanced evocation of the norms of the marketplace allowed the writers of city comedy to subdue the motions of trade to the misrule of the feast, either by celebrating the freedom of exchange, its endless circulation, its possibilities for rapid shifting of roles and reversals of fortune, or by using the norms of the festival as a corrective to the norms of commerce—the voracity of misers and usurers can be educated by the rules of the feast.  Strangely, she finds that the Jew of Malta does not fit within this festival world: the play’s “intensity” and “ambiguity” are too strong. However, her fine analysis describes this aspect of Marlowe’s play with uncanny precision. For example, her contention that city comedy develops and emerges “through unbridled accumulation, as various characters try to outwit and swindle each other” could be a recruiting poster for any potential Barabas, as could her idea that greed is “the central ethical problem,” unmediated by “charity and contentment.”[39]

        The unforgiving satirical edge, the spectacle of cupiditas when one would expect caritas, is what Edmund Kean and Samson Penley apparently resisted when they presented a significantly revised version of the play at Drury Lane.  For Kean to render a somber, sympathetic portrait of Barabas, the decision was made to eliminate many of the most violent (and thus potentially most comic) scenes, including, for instance, the poisoning of the nuns; they also cut lines thought too grossly anti-Semitic. Although Kean’s performance was praised by many, the production yielded mixed results and lasted for eleven performances. According to one anonymous critic (probably Charles Bucke), “‘Mr. Kean is the person who introduced that barbarous production to the present stage.’”[40]

         In the 146 years that followed Keane’s 1818 staging, James L. Smith finds that most productions tended to emphasize the play’s satirical qualities. The 1922 Phoenix Society production at Daly’s Theatre in London (dir. Allan Wade) was apparently influenced by Eliot’s reading but did not follow his interpretation to its logical end. Baliol Holloway as Barabas engaged in “sportive asides” with “a curl of the lip and a wink at the house,” but the sponsoring body “did Marlowe a grave disservice.” Although “Kean squeezed all of the tragedy out of his partial reading of the play,” Wade “left much of Eliot’s savage farce untouched,” resulting in “a limited private success at Marlowe’s expense.” A more successful revival later in the century, one that emphasized satire, was Ian Calder’s 1954 production for Marlowe Players of Reading University (later transferred to Toynbee Hall, London). The play was performed with “farcical effects . . . utilized for larger and more savage ends,” with Barabas rendered as a villainous caricature. Ten years following, both the Victoria Theatre (VT) and Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) produced performances “juxtaposing tragedy and comedy, violence and humor, implying not primarily farce or satire, but rather … pantomime noir of Orton or Giles Cooper” to highlight a psychologically unstable Barabas. Directors Peter Cheeseman (VT) and Clifford Williams (RSC) created comic effects relying upon quick, calculated reversals. Of the two, William’s production received more critical attention with its black comedy calibrated for effect “in direct proportion to the threatened violence of the action it anaesthetizes.” The poisoning of the nuns episode was met with “howls of uncontrollable laughter,” making “clear that the entire play is built upon the concept of the sick joke.”[41]

        The adage “death is easy; comedy is hard” characterizes the most of the productions based on reviews by critics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.[42] Although the pendulum has swung occasionally to sentimental tragedy, overall the most successful productions have been comic.[43] Barry Kyle’s 1987 RSC interpretation was a standout. Resembling a fictional “strip-cartoon,” Alun Armstrong as Barabas performed unsympathetically to an audience unable to suppress its ironic “cataclysmic laughs” as he indulged in “farcical massacres” to the play’s conclusion, which featured a “diabolical drawbridge” transforming into a cathedral to “sardonic variations” of “Ave Maria” and Ferneze revealing himself as Machevill as he removes his wig.[44] Another noteworthy performance was that of Phil Daniels who played the “rodent-like pet” Ithamore.[45] For Jeremy Kingston, RSC’s combination of “laughter and death” created “a sort of pantomime noire.”[46] Michael Grandage’s production for the Almeida Theatre Company in 1999 was another well-received production. Ian McDiarmid played Barabas with “sardonic glitter” and “bravura display.”[47] His ironic, over-the-top humor, “frisky and flouncing, and brimming with silky contempt,” created a cartoonlike “universal snarl” to realize Grandage’s vision of the drama as “‘a very, very funny play . . . a farce.’”[48] New York’s Theatre for a New Audience staged The Jew of Malta (dir. David Herskovits) alongside Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in 2007(dir. Darko Tresnjak). Charles Isherwood panned the production, finding it a failed postmodern farce, “an absurdist romp.” F. Murray Abraham’s Barabas resembled, for instance, “a harmless cartoon” from a Scooby-Doo episode, and even though the production drew “plenty of humor from Barabas’s sardonic asides to the audience,” Charles Isherwood found that Abraham’s portrayal “vitiates the character’s power.”[49] This brief survey of performance reviews over the past two centuries demonstrates a pronounced tendency to stage The Jew of Malta as comedy, as well as the difficulty in staging it at all, lending credence to Maguire’s claim that the play was “obviously valued in the 1630s for the superb city comedy it is.”[50]

         The evidentiary material from the first known revival to its last offers ample reasons to believe that initial performances of The Jew of Malta predicted city comedy, and must have informed its development. Moreover, the 1633 date of the quarto during the great age of the genre situates the play in the same milieu as many of its fellows, as well as others outrageous, bizarre, and mixed in form, such as Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Heywood’s Londini Emporia, Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Marmion’s Holland’s Leaguer,and Rowley’s A Match at Mid-night, all of which were published or performed between 1632 and 1633. Surely Marlowe’s intended Barabas to resemble the ridiculous Vice figure derived from the moral plays, an object of derisive laughter as well as a satiric and subversive provocateur of it, and therefore theatre audiences, attracted to his vitality and sinister humor, witnesseda forerunner to city comedy, “So neatly plotted, and so well performed” (3.3.2).

1. The Comicall Satyre of Euery Man out of His Humour, as It Was First Composed by the Author B. I. (London: Printed for William Holme, 1600), sig. Aiiii.

2. “It never even occurs to him to prostitute his lovely daughter: he is mindful of Abigail’s chastity when actually using her as a decoy; the grounds of the intrigue at this point are the honorable intentions of her rival lovers. The whole book of sexual criminality is closed to Barabas—and as a sensualist he fails to compete.” See “Innocent Barabas,” Tulane Drama Review 8.4 (1964): 55; 47-58.

3. See “Ben Jonson,” in Selected Essays: New Edition, ed. T. S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1950), 133. Eliot noted, as many have since, that Volpone owes much to Barabas. Jonson also admired Marlowe’s 1599 translation of Amores 1.15, and the version in Poetaster (1602) differs insubstantially, as if Jonson had simply refined it according to his tastes. Other critics have noticed these parallels between the playwrights and the idea of generic influence. M. M. Mahood says of The Jew of Malta: “As in Jonsonian comedy, the rogue who deceives everybody except himself is far more acceptable than the self-deceiving hypocrite who flatters himself that his own shady deeds are directed by the highest motives.” See Poetry and Humanism (London: Jonathan Cape, 1950), 78. J. B. Steane is especially alive to the comic possibilities in the play and Eliot’s idea that Volpone is a different version of Barabas, who is “himself a comic villain but a brilliant one, the man whose personality dominates all around him and who . . . can beat them all in resourcefulness and enterprise. He is also the man who makes you laugh; and, in a lively and imaginative reading, The Jew of Malta is a very funny play. There are several levels of humour.” See Marlowe: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 171. Steane also invokes the idea of Barabas resembling movie characters played by Peter Sellers and Alec Guiness, as well as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd (172). In hugging his moneybags, he is “passionately absurd as any conventional comic figure in rapture” (184).

4. All references to the play follow The Jew of Malta, ed. James R. Siemon, New Mermaids Series (London: A & C Black, 1994), and are indicated by act, scene, and line numbers in parentheses. The editor emends the quarto’s spelling of “Macheuil” to “Machevill.”

5. John Marston, The Malcontent, ed. M. L. Wine, Regents Renaissance Drama (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), 10.

6. Hunter examines The Jew of Malta’s theological background, finding it provides “the clue to a correct focus on the central character.” Through a discussion of historical conceptions of Jews and Jewishness, a study of the character of Barabas as an inverted Job figure constructed, like Faustus, with considerable early modern theological orthodoxy, and an examination of ironic uses of in utero Virginis and thesaurus meritorum, he concludes that the satirical tensions created by the play pull “with equal force in opposite directions” so that its moral message is a deeply ambivalent one. See “The Theology of Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 27 (1964): 211-40; 213, 240.  Gibbons: “Marlowe could well be regarded as the first playwright of City Comedy if we take the catastrophe of The Jew to be comic; but on this see G. K. Hunter’s article on the play.” See Jacobean City Comedy: A Study of Satiric Plays by Jonson, Marston and Middleton (London: Hart-Davis, 1980), 133 n12.  

7. Hunter, for example, finds that Marlowe’s methodological approach to the figure of Barabas is allegorical and thus not theologically or typologically anti-Semitic. For Hunter, the idea of the Jew is one that was “like many other words which are nowadays taken in an exact racialist sense . . , a word of general abuse, whose sense, in so far as it had one, was dependent on a theological rather than an ethnographical framework” (11). Alan C. Dessen also interprets the character of the stage Jew in the period as a stereotype not limited by a particular race or religion but as rather one that embodied an array of ethical evils, corrupt habits-of-mind, and morally reprehensible actions judged unchristian. “The Elizabethan Stage Jew and Christian Example: Gerontus, Barabas, and Shylock,” Modern Language Quarterly 35 (1974): 231-45. When thinking about precursors and antecedents to Marlowe’s play, we may consider the device not necessarily reflecting a playwright’s anti-Semitic bigotry. The treatment of Barabas also resembles the rich Syrian Jew Jonathas in The Play of the Sacrament (c. 1461), a conversion play that shares with The Jew of Malta a thematic indictment of avarice and outsiders. Jonathas visits the wealthy Christian merchant Aristory in exotic Heraclea, Spain, to entice him to steal and deliver a Eucharist from the local church for the sum of one hundred pounds. Jonathas aims to prove that the “cake” is not an embodiment of Christ but simply a wafer of bread. He and four other Jews then proceed to pierce the host five times, followed by immersing it in a cauldron of boiling oil, burning it in an oven, and nailing it to a post. The play emphasizes his blasphemy, not his Jewishness. Lloyd Edward Kermode also reads Barabas as a type encompassing multiple forms of strangers in “Marlowe’s Second City: The Jew as Critic at the Rose,” Studies in English Literature 35 (1995): 215-29. Moreover, the logic of Walter Goodman’s comment regarding the question of anti-Semitic elements in present-day performances of Marlowe’s play is apt: “As for the tiresome question ‘Is the play anti-Semitic?’ the enlightened answer is, of course not—unless you find something offensive about the proposition that the insatiable greed and murderous vengeance come naturally to Jews.” See “Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta,” New York Times, March 23, 1987. Eric Rothstein’s “Structure as Meaning in The Jew of Malta,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65 (1966): 260-73, analyzes Barabas’s status as menace and outsider as veiled comment on the threat that the Jesuit mission was thought to present. Similar is Arata Ide’s “The Jew of Malta and the Diabolic Power of Theatrics in the 1580’s,” Studies in English Literature 46 (2006): 257-79, which reads Barabas, via the Prologue, as a type of the Jesuit. Jesuit missionaries such as Father Campion were sometimes described like Jews, physically, stereotypically, e.g., Reginald Scot, Discovery of Witchcraft.  For the opposite viewpoint, that Barabas’s portrayal is anti-Semitic in any age, see Peter Berek’s “The Jew as Renaissance Man,” Renaissance Quarterly 51 (1998): 128-62; and Aaron Kitch, “Shylock’s Sacred Nation,” Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 131-55. See also Stephen Greenblatt, “Marlowe, Marx, Anti-Semitism,” Critical Inquiry 5 (1978): 291-307.

8.See Eliot, “Ben Jonson,” in Selected Essays, 36. John D. Cox observes that although The Jew of Malta “is certainly the funniest of Marlowe’s plays,” it offers only sardonic irony and wit and could hardly be thought of as comedy, by any definition” (64): “Devils and Power in Marlowe and Shakespeare,” Yearbook of English Studies 23 (1993): 64; 46-64.

9.See Jacobean City Comedy, 25.

10. See Renaissance Revivals: City Comedy and Revenge Tragedy in the London Theater, 1576-1980 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 14. However, Griswold categorizes Marlowe’s play as revenge tragedy (58-64). While The Jew of Malta can be thought to embody both genres and certainly unsettles our sense of what they are, its sharp focus on economic exchanges, religion, and materialism, the immediacy and tempo of the action, the overall satiric tone of the play, the caricaturized portrait of the self-interested protagonist, in this case, an outsider, ironic treatment of both him and his “normative” alienating milieu, and ambivalent attitude seem to fulfill her definition of city comedy instead. For a treatment of the “complex interplay within and between the commercial and ideological spheres” within the context of revenge drama, see David H. Thurn, “Economic and Ideological Exchange in The Jew of Malta,” Theatre Journal 46 (1994): 157-70. He observes, however, that Marlowe’s play “is laughable because even as it draws us into complicity and asks us to admire such resources of cunning, it exposes the absurdity, the baselessness of investment in a plot which multiplies occasions for loss” (167).

11. For additional definitions of the genre, see Alexander Leggatt, Citizen Comedy in the Age of Shakespeare (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973); Susan Wells, “Jacobean City Comedy and the Ideology of the City,” English Literary History 48 (1981): 37-60; Theodore K. Leinwand, The City Staged: Jacobean Tragedy, 1603-1613 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), 6-7; William R. Dynes, “The Trickster-Figure in Jacobean City Comedy,” Studies in English Literature 33 (1993): 365-84; Angela Stock and Anne-Julia Zwierlein, “Introduction: ‘Our scene is London . . . ,’” in Plotting Early Modern London: New Essays on Jacobean City Comedy, ed. Dieter Miehl, Angela Stock, and Anne-Julia Zwierlein (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 3-4; Elizabeth Hanson, “‘There’s Meat and Money Too’: Rich Widows and Allegories of Wealth in Jacobean City Comedy,” English Literary History 72 (2005): 209-38; Jean Howard, Theatre of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 19; Alizon Brunning, “City Comedy,” in Teaching Shakespeare and Early Modern Dramatists, eds. Andrew Hiscock and Lisa Hopkins (New York: Palgrave, 2007), 132-34.

12. Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Honest Whore, With the Humours of the Patient Man, and the Longing Wife, in The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953-61), 2: 81.

13. “Allegory is the saying of things that do not belong to the matter in hand (alienoloquium), for one thing is said, another is understood; as tres in littore cervos conspicit errantes, where the three leaders of the Punic war, or the three Punic wars are indicated; and in the Bucolics, aurea mala decem misi, i.e., ten pastoral eclogues to Augustus. There are many species of this figure, of which seven are conspicuous: irony, antiphrasis, enigma, charientismus, paroemia, sarcasmus, astysmus.” See Ernest Brehaut, An Encyclopedist of the Dark Ages: Isidore of Seville (New York: Columbia University [Press], 1912), 101.

14. For an account of the play’s earlier critical traditions, see Kenneth Friedenreich, “The Jew of Malta and the Critics: A Paradigm for Marlowe Studies,” Papers on Language and Literature 13 (1977): 318-35; and Millar MacLure, ed. Marlowe: The Critical Heritage: 1588-1896 (London: Routledge, 1979).

15.“If one takes The Jew of Malta not as tragedy, or as a ‘tragedy of blood,’ but as a farce, the concluding act becomes intelligible; and if we attend with a careful ear to the versification, we find that Marlowe develops a tone to suit this farce, and even perhaps that this tone is his most powerful and mature tone. I say farce, but with the enfeebled humour of our times the word is a misnomer; it is the farce of the old English humour, the terribly serious, even savage comic humour, the humour which spent its last breath in the decadent genius of Dickens.” See Eliot, “Christopher Marlowe,” 104-5.

16. John Heywood, A Mery Play Betwene Johan Johan the Husbande, Tib His Wife, and Sir Johan the Preest, in Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1975), 508, 527.

17. For a critical account of Barabas’s dramatic lineage from the interlude and moral play tradition, see, for example, Bernard Spivack, who has given the fullest account of Barabas’s descent from the Vice tradition in Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil: The History of a Metaphor in Relation to His Major Villains (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), 346-53. Douglas Cole compares the vice Infidelity in Lewis Wager’s The Life and Repentance of Mary Magdaline (1567), the Jew Gerontus in Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London (1584), and the king’s advisers in Thomas Legge’s Richardus Tertius (1579-80) to Marlowe’s character. See Suffering and Evil in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), 132-33, 137-38. David Bevington: “The Vice has been secularized in the person of Barabas,” who is “far more subtle and lifelike” than his predecessors in The Longer Thou Livest and Worldly Man in Enough Is as Good as a Feast. See From Mankind to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in the Popular Drama of Tudor England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 219, 225.

18. OED includes several other contemporaneous uses of “frolic” that date from the time of Marlowe’s death to performances in the 1630’s: Tell Troth’s New Year’s Gift l. 29 (1593), Marston’s Pasquil & Katherine 1.52 (1601) and Dekker and John Ford’s Sun’s Darling 5.1 (1624).

19. This satirical voice is also captured in Marston’s Prologue to The Malcontent: “I protest with my free understanding I have not glanced at disgrace of any but of those whose unquiet studies labour innovation, contempt of holy policy, reverend comely superiority, and established unity. For the rest of my supposed tartness, I fear not but unto every worthy mind it will be approved so general and honest as may modestly pass with the freedom of a satire (4).”
Following this, Marston proceeds to call his play a comedy.

20. Rick Bowers, Radical Comedy in Early Modern England: Contexts, Cultures, Performances (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 29.

21. See, for example, Karen Cunningham’s “Renaissance Execution and Marlovian Elocution: The Drama of Death,” PMLA 105 (1990): 209-22: In The Jew of Malta, “Marlowe carries asides to the extreme, particularly their capacity to create multiplicity and to emphasize the precariousness of contrived events.  . . . Endowing Barabas with running asides, Marlowe sustains a figure impervious to the pressures of justice and desirous only of persisting in his self-designated path. In each play, Marlowe uses asides to suggest alternative, clandestine motives that upset the pronouncements of officialdom, undermine the development of a monological version of events, and imply unlimited possibilities” (217).

22. J. L. Styan,  Drama, Stage and Audience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 181, 180. He adds: “Non-illusory theatre is the kind that positively encouraged the notorious English practice of mixing, and sometimes synthesizing, dramatic genres and elements which seem to belong on different stages” and that “the savage and ironic tone of [The Jew of Malta’s] wit may account for its being the most popular play between 1592 and 1597 according to Henslowe’s receipts.” See 182, 187, respectively.

23.OED, “farce” n.2.etymology.

24. Consider Marston’s “seller” / “cellar” pun in The Dutch Courtesan: “’Tis your just affliction; remember the sins of the cellar, and repent, repent!” Here, Cocledemoy can be understood to warn Mulligrub about both a seller of wares and a storage room. See the1605 quarto that reads “sellar” (modernized to “cellar”) and the 1633 edition that prints “seller.” See also The Dutch Courtesan, ed. Wine, 7.  

25. Act 1: 6 asides (2 “aside to her”) and 1 whisper (“to her”); Act 2: 10 asides; Act 4: 8 asides. See The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta (London: Printed by I[ohn] B[eale] for Nicholas Vavasour, 1633). Erich Segal: “He is not only every thing orthodox Elizabethans were against, he is every one.” See “Marlowe’s Schadenfreude: Barabas as Comic Hero,” in Veins of Humor, ed. Harry Levin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 81; 69-91.

26. Henslowe records twenty-nine performances of “Jew of malta” (variant spellings: “Jewe of malta,” “Jew of mallta,” “Jewe of malltuse,’ and “Jewe of mallta”) from 26 February 1591 to 21 June 1596 by Strange’s Men, Sussex’s Men, the Queen’s Men, and Admiral’s Men (or the Chamberlain’s Men). See Henslowe’s Diary, ed. R. A. Foakes and R. T. Rickert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 16-25, 34, 37, 47. Steane remarks that Barabas’s last speech as he boils in the pot “cannot have passed, even around 1590, as tragic utterance intended to impress a straight-faced audience” (192).

27. John Parker: “No single explanation for the crises of the 1630s and 1640s was more often cited by contemporary writers than the accusation that the Church and State had fallen victim to a Catholic plot.” See “Barabas and Charles I,” in Placing the Plays of Christopher Marlowe: Fresh Cultural Contexts, eds. Sara Munson Deats and Robert A. Logan (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 174; 167-84.

28. Gerard Langbaine: “This Play was in much esteem, in those days the Jew’s Part being play’d by Mr. Edward Allen, that Ornament both to Black-friars Stage.” See An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (Oxford: Printed by L. L. for George West and Henry Clements, 1691), 343.

29. Peter Ramus, for instance, refers to “Roscius the Comedian.” See A compendium of the art of logick and rhetorick in the English tongue Containing all that Peter Ramus, Aristotle, and others have writ thereon (London: Thomas Maxey, 1651), 22.See also Edward Phillips’s epithet, “Roscius the Comedian,” in Theatrum poetarum, or, A compleat collection of the poets (London: Charles Smith, 1675), 27. John Northbrooke makes note of Roscius in a dialogue between Youth and Age:

Youth: I haue hearde saye, that one Plautus a Comicall Poet, spent all his substance vpon Players garments. Also one Roscius a Romane and a player in Comedies (whom for hys excellencie in pronunciation and gesture, noble Cicero called his iewell) the Romaines also gaue him (as hystories reporte) a stipende of one thousande groates for euery daye (which is in our mony Lucius Silla being Dictatour, gaue to him a ring of golde &c. Sith these and such other gaue to such vses, why may not we doe the like?

See Spiritus est vicarius Christi in terra. A treatise wherein dicing, dauncing, vaine playes or enterluds with other idle pastimes  &c. commonly vsed on the Sabboth day, are reproued by the authoritie of the word of God and auntient writers. (London: Printed by H. Bynneman for George Byshop, [1577]), 58. See also François-Hédelin Aubignac: “’Tis true, that in our Age our Poets having recovered the Way to Parnassus, upon the Footsteps of Euripides and Terence, and there happening to be Actours amongst us, who might in Rome it self have match’d with Aesopus the famous Tragedian, and Roscius the no less Renown’d Comedian.” The whole art of the stage containing not only the rules of the drammatick art, but many curious observations about it, which may be of great use to the authors, actors, and spectators of plays (London: William Cadman, 1684), 12.

30. “Not Roscius nor Æsope those Tragedians admyred before Christ was borne, could euer performe more in action, than famous Ned Allen.”  See Pierce Peniless his supplication to the diuell (London: Printed by Abell Jeffes for John Busbie, 1592), H3r. See additionally Ben Jonson’s Epigram 89, “To Edward Allen”:

IF Rome so great, and in her wisest age,
            Fear’d not to boast the glories of her stage,
As skilful ROSCIUS, and grave ÆSOPE, men,
            Yet crown’d with honors, as with riches, then;
Who had no lesse a trumpet of their name,
            Than Cicero, whose every breath was fame:
How can so great example dye in me,
            That ALLEN, I should pause to publish thee?
Who both their graces in thy selfe hast more
            Out-stript, than they did all that went before:
And present worth in all dost so contract,
            As others speak, but only thou dost act.
Weare this renowne. ’Tis just, that who did give
            So many Poets life, by one should live.

The Workes of Beniamin Ionson (London: Will Stansby, 1616), 793. Other writers such as John Weever and Thomas Fuller link the two. See E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 2:297.

31. For a discussion of these concepts, see Joseph J. Hughes, “Kairos and Decorum: Crassus Orator’s Speech de lege Servilia,” in Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis, eds. Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 128-37.

32. Plautus: Four Plays, ed. David Christenson (Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2008).

33. Laurie E. Maguire, “Marlovian Texts and Authorship,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, ed. Patrick Cheney (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 51.

34. Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot (London: Printed by William Hunt, 1654), 271.

35. See G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941-68), 6: 271. Two of the three plays mentioned in the passage are clearly Marlowe’s, and the third is William Boyle’s 1600 drama Jugurth, King of Numidia (now lost), presumably which chronicles the 106 BC Roman defeat of the North African ruler.

36. Wright, Historia Histrionica (London: Printed by G. Croom for William Haws, 1699), 5.

37. Martin Butler, Theatre in Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 183.

38. The players were famous for their irreverence toward authorities and for their “Jigs and slapdash plots.” According to State Papers, on 29 September 1639 the Red Bull’s players and author of the anonymous and now lost The Whore New Vamped were called before the Attorney-General for their performance, which savagely attacked aldermen, proctors, and the government (see Bentley, 6:166 and 1:314). Earlier in the year, the company was called to the Court of High Commission on 2 May (1:282) for ridiculing the church in The Cardinal’s Conspiracy at the Fortune:
Thursday last the players of the Fortune were fined £1,000 for setting up an altar, a bason, and two candlesticks, and bowing down before it upon the stage, and although they allege it was an old play revived, and an altar to the heathen gods, yet it was apparent that this play was revived on purpose in contempt of the ceremonies of the church. (1:277)
See Bentley, Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 6:166 and 1:314, 282, and 277, respectively.

39. For these quotations, see Wells, 43, 49, 54 respectively.

40. “A Friend to Justice, Reply to the Defense of Edmund Keane, Esq. with Observations: In Answer to the Remarks on the tragedy of ‘The Italians’ (which is performed on Saturday night at Drury Lane)” (London: John Miller, 1819) n.p., qtd. in Stephanie Moss, “Edmund Kean, Anti-Semitism, and The Jew of Malta,” in Placing the Plays of Christopher Marlowe: Fresh Cultural Contexts, ed. Sarah Munson Deats and Robert F. Logan (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008): 43. For reviews of the production, see “Revival of the ‘Jew of Malta’ by Edmund Kean 1818” in Marlowe: The Critical Heritage, ed. MacLure, 70-77.

41. Surveying nine revivals of the play from 1818 to 1965, Smith finds all but one performed as some form of comedy. For the material in this paragraph, see “The Jew of Malta in the Theatre” in Christopher Marlowe: Critical Commentaries ed. Brian Morris (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), 12-16; 1-23.

42. This period also includes two adaptations: the 1996 Theater for the New City’s Irondale Ensemble project, Andrew Carnegie Presents The Jew of Malta, and Hall for Cornwall’s Barabas. The experimental New York production aimed to “collide” Marlowe’s text with the calamitous 1892 Homestead, Pennsylvania, steel mill strike. Director Jim Niesen’s employment of Machiavellian themes in Marlowe’ s play to draw out Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick’s brutality was judged by D. J.R. Bruckner as an overall success, notwithstanding some “cornball” moments. See his “Andrew Carnegie Presents The Jew of Malta,” New York Times, 27 November 1996. Anna Coombs’s 2008 adaptation, Barabas, boasted “corpses and corpsing galore,” inspiring Lyn Gardner to liken the production to “binge-drinking Sunny Delight laced with cyanide” even while it drew parallels between Marlowe’s corrupt world and aspects of modern-day Cornwall. Gardner registers unease at the play’s overall effect when she writes “it doesn’t make you feel as uncomfortable as it should.” See Lyn Gardner, “Barabas,” The Guardian, 30 September 2008.

43.One such serious treatment was New York Shakespeare Center’s 1987 presentation, which caused critic Walter Goodman to place the evil Jew (performed by Owen S. Rackleff) alongside Richard III and Iago. See his review, “Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta,” New York Times, 23 March 1987. More well-received was Peter Zadek’s production at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 2002, starring Gert Voss as Barabas. Held up at gunpoint, he becomes a victim of violent social injustice, and his subsequent drive for revenge results in madness and isolation. This production, according to Michael Billington, demonstrates a fashioning of Barabas’s amorality that shows the play “has to be seen in the context of a society where Jews are routinely stereotyped, plundered, persecuted. See his account in “Theatre of the repressed,” The Guardian, 19 January 2002.

44. A similar effect was achieved in the 1985 American Shakespeare Company production with the doubling of parts, and it is another of the late twentieth century productions that interpreted Marlowe’s play as farce, progressing from “trenchant satire” to “burlesque” to vaudeville (6). See Sara Deats, “The Jew of Malta,” Marlowe Society of America Newsletter 5 (1985): 6-7.

45. Irving Wardle, “Swarm of modern carnage / Review of ‘The Jew of Malta’ at the Swan, Stratford,” The Times, 15 July 1987

46. Kingston, “Review of ‘The Jew of Malta’ at the Barbican,” The Times, 25 March 1988. Commenting on the winning productions of Williams and Kyle (and the popularity of Peter Whelan’s The School of Night), Billington avers The Jew of Malta is Marlowe’s best play and that Eliot’s reading is “triumphantly vindicated”: “even the lurking anti-Semitism pales before Marlowe’s exuberantly farcical picture of a world ruined by Machiavellian policy and naked expediency.” See Billington, “Is there Life after Deptford?; For 400 years, Christopher Marlowe has divided the literary fraternity,” The Guardian, 3 April 1993.

47. Michael Billington, “Evil, but no offence: The Jew of Malta,” The Guardian, 7 October 1999.

48.Susannah Clapp, “Hey Jude, don’t let me down,” The Guardian, 10 October 1999; “The Case of the Small but Perfectly Performed Theatre,” Birmingham Post, 11 August 1999.

49. Charles Isherwood, “O, Villain, Villain, Loosed in Elizabethan Minds,” New York Times, 5 February 2007.

50. Maguire, 51.