Strangers' and 'Stratagem' in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta.
Due to their novel position, the stage representations of Eastern protagonists, who lived in Europe as subjects of Christian states, require separate critical attention. Characters like the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice and Othello in Shakespeare's famous play were depicted on the Elizabethan stage in a manner which made them distinct from the dramatic portrayals of the Ottoman and Moorish rulers in their own lands. 1 Yet, the characters of Eastern foreigners in European settings need to be considered in the context of the dominant Turkish Empire, which provides a frame of reference for most of their actions and speeches. In particular, figures such as Calymath and Ithamore in The Jew of Malta, developed the concept of the Eastern intruder in Western lands. This article presents the pattern of ideas and themes that are raised by the motif of the exotic stranger, of either Turkish or Moorish origin, in the play written by Christopher Marlowe.
The play is representative of the distinctly antagonistic reaction of some of the prominent English playwrights to the idea of strangers from the East in European societies.
A sequence of events initiated by England's unprecedented trade agreements with Ottoman Turkey and the North African states of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in the 1580s, conspired to turn the attention of the playwrights and the audience to the adverse implications of the English approach towards the nations living East of the Mediterranean, which included Moors, Jews and Turks in particular. In this author's view the failure of the English plot to install Don Antonio in Portugal with the help of the North African governments ended in a debacle that occasioned the ignoble return of Lord Essex's naval party from Portugal in 1589, the denunciation of Dr. Lopez who had acted as the Jewish agent in the affair and that of his compatriots in his trial (1593-94), and the dubious reception of the Moorish embassy to London (1600-1). All these events combined to create an environment conducive to anti-alien feeling.
It appears to be more than a coincidence that dramatic works, written mainly on the subject of the contemporary Moor and his status in Western society, appeared soon after the key events that took place during the Don Antonio saga. The historical accounts of the period indicate that the ensuing complications with the Ottoman and Barbary regimes did create some measure of disillusionment with Eastern financiers who had been involved in funding the mission. Critics need to be reminded that the plays which presented Turks and moors in European lands were conceived against a background of the well known historical expeditions involving knights of the realm like Essex, Francis Drake and John Norris, and that the Elizabethan public was aware of the well publicized complications that had arisen in East-West relations.
The author believes that the depiction of characters of Eastern men dwelling in Christendom reflected the suspicion and mistrust that both the playwrights and the concerned audience felt towards the new English commerce with the East and indeed towards the interference of these strangers in England's politics and foreign policy.
The following interpretation of the play concentrates on the dramatist's perception of the English mercantile approach as well as the perceived complicity of the English establishment with the non-Christian 'strangers' from the East in ambiguous enterprises. When Hakluyt dedicated the 1599 edition of Principal Navigations to Sir Robert Cecil, he implied that there was a section of society in England that persisted in its hostility to employing and assimilating 'strangers' of oriental background, even after twenty years of Anglo-Ottoman treaties. He vehemently rejected and criticism of English foreign policy towards the East and felt compelled to justify the English traffic with the Ottomans:
Now here if any man shall take exception against this our new trade with Turkes and misbeleevers, he shall shew himselfe a man of small experience in old and new Histories, or wilfully lead with partialitie, or some worse humour[...] who is ignorant that the French, the Genouois, Florentines, Reguseans, Venetians, and Polonians are at this day in league with the Grand Signior, and have beene these many yeeres, and have used trade and traffike in his dominions? Who can deny that the Emperor of Christendome hath had league with the Turke, and payd him long a pension for a part of Hungarie? And who doth not acknowledge, that either hath travailed the remote parts of the world, or read the Histories of this later age, that the Spaniards and Portugales in Barbarie, in the Indies, and elsewhere, have many kindes of Gentiles and Pagans, and that which is more, doe pay them pensions, and use them in their service and warres? Why then should that be blamed in us which is usuall and common to the most part of other Christian nations? Therefore let our neighbours, which have found most fault with this new league and traffike, thanke themselves and their own foolish pride, whereby we were urged to seeke further to provide vent for our naturall commodities. 2
Hakluyt's apology for trade with the misbelievers indicates some of the themes which can be discerned in the play. His view took into consideration the stirring events that had taken place in the last decades of Elizabethan rule, which had alarmed the public. Later, Purchas also corroborated this high level of English involvement in the 'voluntarie English adventures in the Civill uncivill broiles of Ice-frozen Muscovia, of Sunne-scorched Barbarie, of Turkish and Persian fights by sea, the Mogols by Land'. 3
By the end of the sixteenth century, the official culture of emergent capitalism was too well established to be displaced by traditional values that opposed any league with 'Turks and misbeleevers'. There was a tacit acceptance of commercial, and even military alliance with the Eastern people as a necessary evil practiced by nearly all the other nations of Christendom. It is not surprising that the theatrical depiction of the Jewish strangers, as well as their Arabic and Turkish associates, assumed a deep significance against the crosscurrents of social, political and mercantile forces that drove England's foreign ventures.
The 'knights' in 'league with the Turks'
Thus, set against this background of political, commercial and strategic intrigues, it is surprising that critics generally do not acknowledge or juxtapose many of the incidents that were echoed in Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (1589-90), written in the aftermath of the failure of the Portuguese mission. It was conceived against a general sense of betrayal felt by the nation at the losses suffered by the English in the project. This brings to light certain issues of the play that have not been given due notice by critics. What is accepted is that it proved to be a highly successful play with at least thirty-six performances that took place mostly at the Rose and were recorded by Henslowe between February 1592 and June 1596. 4
This author believes that Marlowe was one of the first to exploit, for theatrical purposes, both the political and sectarian tensions of his day. According to Harold Bloom, Marlowe's own planned murder in 1593 by Ingram Frizar implies that the playwright had become a threat for the government. 5 It was more than a coincidence that Frizar was in the employment of Sir Thomas Walsingham, cousin to the famous minister of Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham. The Privy Counselor's involvement in the Eastern policy matters has already been well established in the historical and official records of the day. Marlowe's knowledge of the English enterprises with Eastern nations has not yet been focused upon in the interpretation of the play. It is based on a compendium of ideas derived from the prevailing climate of bigotry and intolerance towards foreigners, particularly for those from the East. Some critics consider the portrayal to be an ironic condemnation of the very attitudes towards the characters.
Bloom finds that Barabas' 'hyperboles here are so outrageous that Marlowe's insouciant identification with Barabas becomes palpable'. 6 In Stephen Greenblatt's view, the play depicts Renaissance international relations as a kind of glorified gangsterism, a vast 'protection' racket. 7 The ambiguity in the depiction of Malta's resistance to the Turks and its treatment of strangers, both friendly and hostile, is conveyed by the very nature of the establishment that administers the place.
Emily C. Bartels has noted that 'everyone - from the Christian and Jew, to the Italian and Turks seems to be a stranger' in Malta and the plurality of the place 'defies definition and whose inscription within a self/ other, Establishment/ Outsider dichotomy can only ring hollow, and ring of exploitation'. 8
While it is plausible to assert that the play defies such dichotomies, it is also true that the Turks are presented as new arrivals in the island. Their brief appearance on stage is often ignored by critics as it is confined to just three or four scenes, but this author feels that they are crucial in setting the stage for the internal conspiracies and intrigues that take place in Malta. It is the Turks who initiate a chain of events that brings about a fundamental change in the social and moral fabric of Maltese society.
We are told that 'a fleet of warlike galleys' from 'Turkey' (I.i.145-146) threatens to besiege the island. They have arrived to exact, from the Maltese knights, the 'ten years' tribute money that remains unpaid' (I.ii.7). The Turkish 'embassy', composed of visiting Bashaws and Calymath, the Sultan's son, does not wish to 'tarry' (I.ii16) in Malta. Unlike the Christian Knights and the Jewish inhabitants lead by Barabas, the Turks make it clear that Malta is not their home. Their professed 'Desire for gold' (III.v.A), is the only reason which has prompted them to arrive in Malta. Significantly, this aspect of the plot is considered as the playwright's own invention as there is no historical evidence that Malta ever paid tribute to Turkey. 9 Clearly, the paradigm presented by Marlowe's Malta should be viewed in the context of England's own policy towards the Turks and the Jewish intermediaries involved in it.
In the play world, the emphasis is on the debt that the Maltese knights owe to the Ottoman Sultan to survive as a seemingly autonomous state. It is Jewish gold, in the form of Barabas' wealth, that is exploited by the knights to ensure their security.
Indeed, the Spanish buccaneer, Martin del Bosco, accuses the Maltese of bowing to the Turkish demands. The knights are condemned for violating their holy mandate as Knights Hospitallers of Rhodes which was formed to wage a crusade against the Turks: 10
Will knights of Malta be in league with Turks, And buy it basely, too, for sums of gold? (II.ii.28-29).
The islanders are primarily interested in commercial gain and profit from the proceeds of the slave market (II.iii), and by divesting rich merchants, like Barabas, of their wealth (I.ii.52-54). Barabas makes it obvious that he is one of the prominent Jewish financiers of Europe (I.i.120-127). He has built his vast fortune by his trade with the 'Arabians', the 'merchants of Indian mines' and the 'wealthy' Moors (I.i.1-21). He admits that he has followed different careers in Renaissance Europe. Initially, he had been a physician and then an engineer in Italy and a usurer while in France and Germany (II.iii.188-195). He is portrayed as a Machiavellian survivor who employs all his skills to discomfit his enemies and remain in control of his wealth. However, like his compatriots, he claims that 'we come not to be kings' (I.i.128). Malta is his home because it is a haven for those who wish to pursue trade and material success.
The portrayal of Malta as the center of international commerce suggests that it is a paradigm for the state of affairs in England at that time. In the scathing denunciation of the Maltese knights, the audience is reminded of the English knights and merchants who had considered funding their campaigns in the Mediterranean region and Africa with Turkish and Moorish loans. 11 The politics of Malta in playworld reflects the English government's wish to embark on various ventures with their Turkish allies. The play is a critique of the English mercantile and political scene in which the knights, Drake, Norris and Essex, appear in less than glorious light.
This caricature of contemporary Elizabethan society apparently aimed to subvert the expedient measures taken by the English government, motivated by commercial concerns that sought Jewish and Turkish aid in its foreign schemes. However, the consequences of this kind of political manipulation are seen to be drastic in the playworld, both in military and moral terms. The dictates of a vengeful Providence are fulfilled when the Maltese suffer because of their transgressions and their violation of Christian values.
The initial losses suffered by the Maltese also serve a cathartic function as the evil within the island is destroyed by the wicked machinations of Barabas and his Turkish slave, Ithamor. The Turk is another Eastern character who has been brought to the island by the Spanish slave ship. His devious nature and sadistic antics in Arabia and the Levant (II.iii.205- 214), parody the stereotypical image of the gullible and licentious Turk.
He boasts of burning Christian villages and his habit of stealing into 'travellers' chambers to cuts their throats. He has a completely amoral approach towards his host society and willingly embarks on an orgy of death and destruction which culminates when he helps his master to poison the nuns who have made Barabas' house a nunnery (III.iv.111-112), and to strangle the avaricious friars (IV.i.150). It is not surprising that he is also eventually killed by his master in a bid to silence any revelations he might make of Barabas' part in the murder of the Governor's son (V.i.50). Thus, the monetary advantages of introducing slaves from the East into the island's society prove to be an illusion. The fate of the Turkish slave is a prelude to the misfortune awaiting the Turkish Prince.
After many acts of subterfuge and espionage, Barabas tries unsuccessfully to rehabilitate himself in Maltese society by holding the Turkish soldiers prisoners 'to procure/ A dissolution of the slavish Bands/ Wherein the Turk hath yoaked your land and you?' (V.ii.76-78). He keeps his pledge to:
The life of Calymath, surprise his men, And in an out-house of the City shut
His souldiers, till I have consum'd' em all with fire? (V.ii.79-82)
The results of these episodes are meant to impress upon the audience that the Knights' league with the Turks is doomed to fail. It indicates the futility of any treaties with 'infields' or heretics and reinforces the theoretical premise of the play that tolerance of Eastern strangers in Christendom, beyond serving a limited purpose, is bound to be destructive both for the host nations and those who seek to accept them.
However, in a magnanimous act, the Governor of Malta saves the Turkish Sultan's son, Calymath, from the trap laid but Barabas, (V.v.91-93), before imprisoning the Turk himself and holding him to ransom. The governor's triumph is symbolic of the regeneration of this Christian society. Clearly, the Turk is not only a more promising captive, with greater hope of gain, his capture also serves as a safeguard for the island against future foreign invasion: 'As sooner shall they drink the ocean dry,/ Then conquer Malta, or endanger us' (V.v.120-121).
When the knights regain control of the island, a new order is established in which the Turkish Prince remains a hostage until the Sultan, 'hath made good / The ruines done to Malta and to us' and thus 'Malta shall be freed' (V.v.111-1112). The idea of the Turkish hostage held for ransom is an ironic inversion of the historical event of Don Christobal's imprisonment by the Moroccan King. The Turkish Prince is held captive by the Knights to ensure that the Turks give reparations to the Maltese for the losses suffered by Malta.
Marlowe, through these events arbitrarily lends the Maltese Knights a legitimacy that they had lost at the fall of Rhodes. The Malta of the playworld admits the possibility of salvation and a degree of spiritual regeneration. The play miraculously transforms loss and defeat into triumph. The ending seems credible because of its very conventionality. Marlowe contrives to reinstate the religious mandate given to the knights, which they had lost when they were tributaries of the Turks:
So march away, and let due praise be given Neither to Fate nor Fortune, but to Heaven (V.v.123-124)
There is deliberate emphasis on the temporary nature of any prosperity or victory that the Turks achieve. It is the newly discovered faith and self-reliance of the Knights that ensure a more lasting triumph (V.v.110-113).
To suggest that the play ends on a 'powerfully ironic' note that exposes the 'hypocritical sententiousness' 12 of the Governor's speech seems to misrepresent the dramatic intent and direction of the play. In this regard, Stevie Simkin also refers to the danger of ignoring the reaction of the Elizabethan audience 'steeped in prejudice against the Jewish people and suspicious of Machiavellian politics'. 13 Throughout, the dramatist has deliberately exploited the cultural milieu of the Renaissance and it would be inconsistent to read the ending in the light of our modern experience of the text, and to ignore 'the potential gap between the audiences, over four hundred years apart... reminding us both of cultural and historical differences'. 14
Marlowe's genius manipulates both the conventions of a morality play and a burlesque to convey a criticism of his society that does not preclude the possibility of reform. Given the disastrous failure of the Drake and Norris mission despite the huge investments, the moral insistence on faith in 'heaven' alone, and not on any other agency, is not as facile as it may appear. The dramatist's aggressive attack on the vices of his world is itself a proof of his close engagement with the extra- political reality beyond the playworld. The play is informed by a deep scepticism against the excessive materialism of early modern England. It presents a dramatic indictment of the English war party's failings and the perceived hypocrisy of the English government in choosing to depend on material aid from the East. The main idea of the play appears to be based on a renunciation of any collusion between the Turks and the Christians is any form of capitulation or agreement, whether financial or strategic.
1 Dympna Callaghan, " 'Othello was a White Man': Properties of Race on Shakespeare's Stage" in Terence Hawkes (ed.), Alternative Shakespeares, Vol. 2, London: Routledge, 1996, pp.192-215 (p.196). Callaghan has argued that in regimes of cultural representation, negritude and blackness on stage was presented to intensify, subsume and absorb all aspects of otherness.
2 Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries of the English Nation, vols. 12, Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1903, pp. lxix-Ixx.
3 Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes, vols. 20, Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1905, VI, pp.53-54.
4 N.W. Bawcutt (ed.), "Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta" in The Revels Plays, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988; Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978, p. 1. All further references to the text of the play are from this edition.
5 Harold Bloom (ed.), Christopher Marlowe, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2002, p.16.
6 Harold Bloom (ed.), Elizabethan Drama, (Introducation), Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publications, 2004, pp. 1-26 (p .5).
7 Stephen Greenblatt, "Marlowe and the Will to Absolute Play", in New Historicism and Renaissance Drama, edited and introduced by Richard Wilson and Richard Dutton, London and New York: Longman Group Limited, 1992, pp. 57-82.
8 Emily C. Bartels, Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, p.91.
9 Ibid, p.88. Marlowe is said to have subversively rewritten Maltese history to show that the Turks are in nominal control of the island.
10 See Richard Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, op.cit., V, p.6. See also the information available in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries regarding the history of Malta in Vivien Thomas and William Tydman (eds.), Christopher Marlowe: The Plays and their Sources , London: Routledge, 1994, p.301; Nicholas Nicholay, The Nauigations, peregrinations and voyages into Turkie, London: Thomas Dawson, 1585, STC 1857, is considered to be one of the sources familiar to Marlowe. In Purchas His Pilgrimes , vols. 20, op.cit., pp. 220-233 (p.23l), the account of 'Sandy's Relation of Africa' (1611), describes the Maltese as subsisting on expeditions which are piratical and conducted only for booty.
11 In this regard, it is also interesting to read that there was an incident involving the Maltese and an English ship Bark Roe. The ship arrived suddenly in Malta with its booty of captured Greeks who were the subjects of the Sultan. The Queen had to apologise to the Turks for the English sailors' act of piracy, as recorded by Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Nauigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation, deuided into three seuerall parts, (London: G. Bishop for Ralph Newberrie, deputies to Christopher Barker, 1589), STC 12625, p. 171. This individual and reckless act was not only detrimental to the Turkey trade but was at the same time misconstrued by the Maltese Inquisition as a hostile act by the English and their Turkish partners.
12 Stephen Greenblatt, op.cit., p.71.
13 Stevie Simkin, Marlowe: The Plays, London: Palgrave, 2001, p.115.
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|Title Annotation:||Christopher Marlowe|
|Publication:||Pakistan Journal of European Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 31, 2009|
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