Abigail is Barabas’s only child, his virtuous daughter. She is loyal to her father, doing all he wishes though it is distasteful to her. He makes her pretend to join the nunnery so she can retrieve his money hidden there. He forces her to become engaged to Lodowick, the governor’s son, though she loves Mathias. Finally, when Barabas causes the death of Lodowick and Mathias, Abigail joins the nunnery and becomes a Christian. She is cursed by Barabas for this, and he contrives to murder all the nuns, including his daughter.
Barabas is the wealthiest Jew in Malta, a successful merchant with ships arriving from all over the world. He tends to hoard his money and spends his time counting it in a counting house. When the Governor of Malta, Ferneze, impounds his fortune to pay off the Turkish tribute money, Barabas plans his elaborate revenge against the Governor and the town of Malta. He arranges for the death of the Governor’s son, Lodowick. Because Barabas is completely unscrupulous and cruel, he devises all kinds of strange deaths for his victims, who include anyone who crosses him. After betraying Malta to the Turks, he is made Governor of Malta, and then he double-crosses the Turks with the help of his old enemy, Ferneze. Ferneze also knows how to double-cross and tricks Barabas in falling into his own cauldron of boiling oil that he had set up for the Turk, Calymath.
Barabas is cunning, deceitful, and arrogant. He believes himself superior as a Jew, the race favored by God and promised worldly success and wealth. It is no sin to deceive a Christian, he thinks. He uses other people, such as his daughter and Ithamore. He has a long background as a poisoner of people and public wells. As a military engineer, he learned many kinds of traps for the enemy, which he employs to blow up all of Calymath’s soldiers. He is also a moneylender who charges interest, an occupation forbidden to Christians.
Barabas loves no one but his daughter, and when she becomes a Christian, he curses and kills her. He swears love and loyalty to Ithamore, his slave, who betrays him and is killed. Barabas dies alone, shouting for the mercy he could never give to others.
Barnardine is a friar and the one who hears Abigail’s last confession. He learns from her that it was Barabas who arranged the deaths of Lodowick and Mathias. He tries to use what he has heard in confession against Barabas to intimidate him, though that is against his vows. Barabas instigates a fight between the two friars over who shall have all his money when he joins their monastery. Barabas and Ithamore strangle him. Barnardine is a coarse man, whose only reaction at Abigail’s death is that it is too bad she died a virgin.
Bellamira is a courtesan of Malta, who is worried that her business has fallen off. She and Pilia-Borza who is her client and bully, use Ithamore to blackmail Barabas for money, after they learn of his crimes from Ithamore. Bellamira flatters Ithamore into being her lover in order to learn Barabas’s secrets. Barabas, disguised as a French musician, goes to Bellamira’s house and poisons her, Pilia-Borza, and Ithamore with a deadly-scented nosegay.
Selim Calymath is the son of the Grand Seignior of Turkey, sent by his father to collect the tribute money from Malta. He gives the Maltese a little time to collect the money before his return. When he comes back, the Maltese under Del Bosco, resist, and with the help of Barabas, Calymath invades and takes over Malta. Barabas treats Calymath with respect, offering to have a great feast in his honor, planning all the while to betray him and boil him in a cauldron of oil. Ferneze saves Calymath by dropping Barabas into the cauldron instead. He then holds Calymath hostage to negotiate with the Emperor of Turkey.
Martin Del Bosco
Martin Del Bosco is Vice-Admiral of Spain. He comes ashore to Malta without permission because he says the Spanish King is the true owner of Malta. He has recently engaged in battle with the Turks and taken many as slaves. He comes to sell a load of slaves, among whom is Ithamore, purchased by Barabas. When Ferneze is afraid to have Del Bosco sell Turkish slaves because Malta is at the mercy of the Turks and would insult them, Del Bosco promises military aid from Spain. The Knights of Malta swear to follow Del Bosco as their general in battle.
Ferneze is Governor of Malta when the play opens and when it closes. He originally capitulates to the Turks and agrees to pay them tribute money. Del Bosco tells him to keep his money and fight the Turks. The Spanish will back him up. Ferneze won the eternal enmity of Barabas by taking away all his wealth to pay the Turkish tribute. Ferneze persecutes the Jews and takes half their wealth. Ferneze’s son Lodowick woos the Jewish maiden, Abigail, and Barabas uses this to get revenge on Ferneze by causing his son’s death. Barabas completes his revenge by helping the Turks to invade Malta. They make Barabas governor and Ferneze is a prisoner. Barabas makes the mistake in trying to use Ferneze as an ally to betray the Turks. Ferneze then betrays Barabas, causing his death.
Ithamore is a Turkish slave bought by Barabas to help him in his crimes. Ithamore was born in Thrace and brought up in Arabia. When he hears of Barabas’s cruelty, he brags that he can match that, for he has cut throats in the night, set Christian villages on fire, and crippled Christian pilgrims. Ithamore carries out Barabas’s orders to forge the challenges to Mathias and Lodowick, and to poison the nuns. He strangles the friar Barnardine. He finally betrays his master Barabas when Bellamira seduces him and gets secrets out of him. He sends blackmail letters to Barabas and is finally killed by him.
Jacomo is a friar, the one who converts Abigail, and therefore Barabas wants revenge on him. Barnardine told Jacomo that Barabas killed Mathias and Lodowick, so Jacomo has to be done away with, because he knows too much. Barabas frames Jacomo for Barnardine’s death. He is tried and executed for the crime.
Katherine is the mother of Mathias. She would most likely oppose Mathias’s love for Abigail, so Barabas negotiates secretly with Mathias to snare him with Abigail’s love. When Mathias is killed by Lodowick in the duel, she is so grieved, she wants revenge. When that is denied to her because Lodowick is already dead and was Mathias’s best friend, she wants to kill herself. Ferneze persuades her to join him in uncovering the villainy behind their deaths.
Lodowick is the son of Ferneze, the Governor of Malta. He is best friends with Mathias. Both are in love with Abigail, a fact that Barabas uses to make the two jealous and fight one another to the death. Barabas forces Abigail to be engaged to Lodowick, though she loves Mathias. Causing Lodowick’s death through a forged challenge to duel is Barabas’s revenge on Ferneze for taking his wealth to pay the Turks.
Machiavel is the ghost of the Italian politician come to speak the Prologue and to explain though he is dead, he now haunts Malta, as he had haunted France when the Duke de Guise perpetrated the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre there. He explains his philosophy of ruling through power and violence. He does not believe in religion or morality, and he introduces the story of Barabas who has gotten wealthy using his principles.
Mathias is a young gentleman of Malta, in love with Abigail. He is heartbroken when Abigail is engaged to Lodowick, his best friend, at her father’s insistence. Barabas seems to promise Abigail to Mathias as well, secretly, so his mother would not find out. He uses his daughter Abigail as bait for both to revenge himself. Mathias fights Lodowick to the death after receiving a forged challenge.
Pilia-Borza is Bellamira’s attendant and bully, or protector. He once broke into Barabas’s counting house and stole money. When Bellamira uses Ithamore to get Barabas’s secrets, Pilia-Borza is the messenger who goes to Barabas with Ithamore’s blackmail letters demanding money to keep quiet. Barabas describes Pilia-Borza as scarred from fights and all hacked up. He is a criminal type with rough speech, a man who uses violence to make his way. He is poisoned by Barabas.