The Jew of Malta: Novel Summary: Prologue

Text: Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, edited by Irving Ribner, The Odyssey Press, 1970.


Summary of Prologue


Machiavel enters and tells the audience although the world thinks Machiavel is dead, his soul has flown over the Alps to view the land of England and his friends there. He has lately been in France with the Duc de Guise. He may have a bad name with some, but he is most admired by those who hate him, for some even secretly read Machiavel who aspire to “Peter’s Chair” (title of Pope). Machiavel believes religion is childish stuff, for only ignorance is a sin. Might makes right, and law is most secure when founded on bloody violence. He has not come to Britain to lecture but to present the tragedy of a Jew who used his methods to get his wealth.


Commentary on Prologue 


Marlowe has Machiavelli (1469-1527), the author of The Prince (1532) as the speaker of the prologue introducing his protÈgÈ, Barabas the Jew, who has gained his wealth using Machiavellian methods. Some think Machiavelli the embodiment of evil with his philosophy of opportunism and cynical use of power, he says, but even Popes read his book and use his methods. Marlowe here slams the Catholic religion and Rome that tried to control European politics. England had withdrawn its church from the rule of Rome, and the Popes were always trying to bring England under control again by sponsoring England’s Catholic enemies. The Duc de Guise (1550-1588) was a Machiavellian, he claims, the inspirer of the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre of 1572 in Paris, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Protestants. Machiavelli was seen as an arch-villain in Renaissance writings because he advocated gaining power through expediency and discounted moral or religious ethics. His was basically the view that the strongest should rule and keep order, and that sometimes violence was necessary. Marlowe associates the immoral politics of Machiavelli with Barabas, the Jew of Malta, but warns that the Jew’s story is a tragedy.