Marlowe and More? (Jordan Cook)

During the Paper Stage reading of Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, I discovered that reading along with a voice other than your own can open one’s eyes to concepts and ideas that might have been missed otherwise. I read Jew of Malta for one of my modules this year, and actually saw a performance of the play as well at the Marlowe theatre; however, it was at the Paper Stage reading where I think I got the most out of the play in one sitting.

The Machiavellian presence in the play is undeniable, and during my first reading of the play that was the concept I focused on when it came to political ideologies. Nonetheless, there is a particular sentence in the play that I had previously missed, and was just as easy to miss whilst passively observing the play. However, whilst both listening and reading during the Paper Stage I finally took notice.

BARABAS Tush, take not from me then,
For that is theft; and, if you rob me thus,
I must be forced to steal and compass more. (Jew of Malta, I. II.)

Upon noticing this phrase during the reading, I could not help but dwell on it: it brought to mind the ideologies of Thomas More in Book One to his Utopia. Barabas’ words echo those of Raphael Hythloday when he argues that the government punishes thieves too severely, and instead of helping the situation, they are in fact just forcing the criminals into no choice but to commit more crime.

For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them. (Utopia, Thomas More)

Barabas’ words are just a few lines among many that illustrate how politically literate the play, and of course Christopher Marlowe himself, was at the time of composition. This particular example also demonstrates how cleverly Marlowe can subtly intertwine these political ideas within the plot, whilst simultaneously making the Machiavellian aspect so apparent through the prologue’s personification.

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