The Jew of Malta: Novel Summary:Act five

Summary of Act Five, scene one


Ferneze, the Knights, Del Bosco, and officers discuss the fortifications of the town. Ferneze warns that everyone must be resolute because Calymath will either win or die. The Knights swear they will never yield.


Pilia-Borza and Bellamira enter and tell Ferneze how his son died through the plotting of the Jew. They also report the death of the nuns and friars as due to him. Ferneze says they need proof, and Bellamira replies that Barabas’s slave is at her house and will confess. The officers go out to arrest Barabas. 


They bring back Barabas and Ithamore. The officers threaten torture unless Barabas confesses. Ithamore confesses all, but Barabas says that Ithamore is a slave and Bellamira a courtesan. He wants the law. He vows to live in spite of anything they may do. In an aside, he hopes the poison flowers will work soon.


Katherine and Ferneze grieve over the murders by the Jew, but the officers re-enter to say that they are all dead—the courtesan and her man, the slave Ithamore, and even Barabas is dead. They all remark how strange the sudden deaths are. Ferneze counts it divine justice and says to bury them all except for Barabas. His body should be thrown over the walls to the wild beasts. Now they must all go to the fortifications to await Calymath and the Turks.


They leave, but the body of Barabas miraculously rises outside the town walls. He has taken a sleeping potion that made him seem dead but now awakes and vows to help Calymath take the town.  When Calymath and his Bashaws enter, he tells them how to enter a tunnel under the town for drainage. While Calymath assaults the walls, Barabas will go with soldiers in the tunnel to the town and open the gates. Calymath says if it works, he will make him governor. If it doesn’t, he will die.


Commentary on Act Five, scene one


Once again, Barabas lands on his feet, like a cat. He has eliminated his witnesses. He is a master poisoner, able to make himself appear dead. Now he switches sides to his own advantage. It is bad enough to be a murderer, but he is also committing treason against his country by helping the Turks win. He has no allegiance but to himself. It is a gamble, for if the Turks lose, he is dead. His service to the Emperor, Charles V, as a war engineer comes in handy now as he helps breach the walls of Malta.


Summary of Act Five, scene two


Alarums ring out as the Turks enter Malta triumphantly with Barabas. Ferneze and the Knights are captives; Calymath bids them kneel to their conquerors. He makes Barabas Governor of Malta and turns Ferneze and the Knights over to him. Ferneze cries out at his terrible fate to be subject to the Jew. Calymath leaves Barabas with a guard and examines Malta with his soldiers. As Ferneze is led away, he tells Barabas that heaven will be revenged on him. 


Barabas soliloquizes that though he is governor, everyone hates him, and that means his life is in danger. He consoles himself by reciting the Machiavellian wisdom for rulers. When you get something through wrong, you have to maintain it through firm policy. He must try to win some allies. He sends for Ferneze.


Barabas brags that both Malta and Ferneze are under his power now. Ferneze says he is not afraid of death. He expects nothing but cruelty of Barabas. Barabas replies he does not want Ferneze dead; he wants him to live for him and Malta. He as the new Governor intends to lift up Malta again. Ferneze asks if he will be good to Christians? Barabas asks what Ferneze will give him to break the bondage of the city to the Turks? Ferneze says he will raise money in the town to pay Barabas and let him continue as governor. Barabas sets Ferneze free to get the money and shakes hands. He only asks Ferneze to attend the dinner he is giving for Calymath. He will ask him to perform one task that will set the city free.


When Ferneze leaves, Barabas returns to his Machiavellian soliloquy: he will make friends with whoever gives him the most advantage. He goes to surprise the Turkish soldiers with a trap, and then to arrange the dinner for Calymath.


Commentary on Act Five, scene two


This scene contains a lot of Machiavellian philosophy, which Barabas believes to be the best way to rule. He will use whoever serves his purpose, and this is the way Jews lead, he says, because it is the way Christians rule as well. He wants to accomplish everything at once, killing the Turks and Calymath, as surprise prevents interference. Barabas speaks of his “secret purpose,” (line 122) in this case, to double cross the Turks, but then, he always has a secret purpose to protect his own interests.


Barabas is now in a different situation as a ruler. As a merchant, he could make his way alone, but as a ruler, with everyone hating him, he needs allies. He does not have a good sense of how to make allies, except through fear. He is taking a risk with his old enemy, Ferneze, whose son he has killed and whose country he has taken over. He believes he can forge a new bond now to eject a common enemy, the Turk. The Christians are permanent residents, and he needs their help. The Turks come and go. He is weighing his policy for maintaining his own power, however, rather than for thinking of the good of the country. As all villains do, he overreaches, thinking he will be invulnerable forever. He thinks he can trust Ferneze, and that is his mistake.


Summary of Act Five, scene three


Calymath and his Bashaws say they have seen the city and are now causing the ruins to be repaired. This island is secure now. A messenger enters inviting them to a banquet before they leave, set out for them by Governor Barabas. Calymath does not think this a safe idea in a newly sacked town, but the messenger says that Barabas has a pearl of such rich price that it would feast them all for a month. The soldiers can eat in a monastery outside of town and the bashaws can dine at Barabas’s house. They agree and retire to their tents.


Commentary on Act Five, scene three


The action drives swiftly to a climax. Calymath has destroyed the town and sees no place for feasting, but Barabas has set up the monastery for the soldiers, which he has set with explosives. His house will also be a trap for the nobles. Calymath knows it is dangerous to accept the invitation, but it would also be pleasant to feast before a long sea voyage and to acknowledge his new governor. Calymath merely suspects the Maltese citizens of possible harm, but not Barabas, whom he counts as an ally.


Summary of Act Five, scene four


Ferneze commands his Knights whom he has stationed near Barabas’s house, not to come forth until a canon is shot off. Then they must come in and rescue him. They say they will risk all rather than be Turkish slaves.


Commentary on Act Five, scene four


Ferneze apprises his men of Barabas’s intentions to defeat the Turks. They must rush the house and support him when the canon goes off. Marlowe creates suspense, as all the enemy forces converge, no one certain as to who is allied to whom.


Summary of Act Five, scene five


Barabas is inspecting the work of carpenters in his house who have built a special gallery for the banquet tables. He praises them and gives them gold and opens his wine cellar to them. The messenger returns and says Calymath will attend the banquet. Ferneze approaches Barabas with the money he has collected—a hundred thousand pounds for Barabas to eject the Turks. Barabas accepts, though it is less than he hoped for. He tells Ferneze his plan to defeat the Turks. Gunpowder has been placed in the monastery to blow up Calymath’s soldiers. And in the banquet hall for Calymath and his nobles, Barabas has constructed a gallery with a floor that will collapse when a cord is cut and dump Calymath into a pot of boiling oil. He gives the knife to Ferneze and tells him to cut the cord when he hears a warning gunshot from the tower. He says he will not take the money until he has delivered his promise.


Barabas congratulates himself on his trickery. He waits on the gallery floor he has constructed, and when Calymath and the Bashaws enter and greet Barabas, he bids them to ascend the stairs. Ferneze comes forward and stops Calymath, saying he will show the Turk greater courtesy than Barabas would. A Knight sounds a charge, and Ferneze cuts the cable, the floor collapses, and Barabas plunges into the pot of boiling oil. The Knights and Martin Del Bosco quickly enter. Calymath asks the meaning of this, while Barabas is calling for help from the cauldron below. Ferneze shows Calymath that the trap was meant for him. Calymath tells his Bashaws to run, but the Knights prevent it. Christians and Turks together witness Barabas’s end, as he yells for pity and mercy, but no one responds. Barabas as he dies confesses his crimes and then curses them, Turks and Christians both.


Ferneze explains that he chose to save Selim Calymath rather than ally himself to the treacherous Jew. All Calymath’s soldiers are blown up, so now he takes Calymath prisoner of war, a hostage to deal with his father, the Emperor of Turkey. Now Malta is free, praise be to heaven.


Commentary on Act Five, scene five


As Barabas has constantly betrayed others, he in turn is betrayed. His confidence that he had Ferneze where he wanted him was unrealistic. He allowed Ferneze enough freedom to make his own plans, and so the trap of the collapsing floor and cauldron become a fit symbol of Barabas’s mentality and his blind spot. Ferneze gives Barabas a last tribute, however, saying that his double treason finally delivered the enemy into Malta’s hands.