Summary of Act Four, scene one
Bells are ringing to toll the death of the nuns, and Barabas utters one of his famous villainous lines about the bells sounding sweet, now the nuns are dead. Ithamore asks Barabas if he is afraid the deed will be known? He of course will not tell. Barabas threatens to cut his throat if he does. Ithamore begs Barabas to let him poison the monks in the nearby monastery. Barabas makes a joke and tells him he won’t need to poison them, for they will die of grief without the nuns. Ithamore asks Barabas if he sorrows for his daughter’s death? Barabas says he only grieves that she lived so long to become a Christian.
The friars enter and they begin to accuse Barabas of being wicked. He must repent. Barabas thinks they know of his crime. He keeps interrupting them when they try to accuse him, and finishes their sentences for them. Finally the friars bring up the deaths of Lodowick and Mathias and the forged challenge. Barabas realizes that Abigail confessed his secret, and so he quickly takes a different tack. He pretends to be greatly troubled by his sins and asks if he can turn Christian? He has wealth but has lost his soul. He wants now to fast and pray and give his money to some religious house. Jacomo and Barnardine begin to fight over which monastery will receive Barabas and his money. Barabas tells Barnardine to come home with him now and he will meet Jacomo at one o’clock in the night. Barnardine goes with Ithamore.
Barabas remains and speaks a soliloquy on how he will revenge himself on both friars, one for converting his daughter, the other for knowing too much from the confession.
Commentary on Act Four, scene one
There is no end to the murder Barabas has to commit to cover up for each of his crimes. As with the young men, he distracts the friars by promising them each something and getting them to fight over a prize. This proves that greed drives all humans, no matter what they profess. Barabas remarks on their stupidity that they would confront him directly and then believe in his story. He is portrayed as a great actor and able to manipulate people through their weaknesses.
Although Barnardine made a big speech about not violating his vow of silence regarding confession, he has told Jacomo and then confronted Barabas directly. Ostensibly he could say it was to honor Abigail’s last wish to convert her father, but more likely, he has blackmail in mind. Barabas is shrewd enough to see this and to play on the friars’ desire for prestige and wealth.
Summary of Act Four, scene two
Barabas and Ithamore discuss Barnardine. He is sleeping in one of the chambers in Barabas’s house, one that is not near the street. No one will hear him if he calls for help. Barabas tells Ithamore to take off his belt, and then Ithamore strangles Barnardine without leaving any marks on his neck. Ithamore leaves the body upright and leaning on his staff near the entrance to the house, looking as if he were still alive. They expect Jacomo, as it is nearly one o’clock.
Commentary on Act Four, scene two
Barabas and Ithamore are a well-coordinated and diabolic team. Ithamore’s thought to make it look like Barnardine is still alive will play into the trap for Jacomo, whose end will be more cruelly imaginative.
Summary of Act Four, scene three
Jacomo enters and is excited that he will convert an infidel and bring his gold into the monastery. Suddenly, he sees Barnardine seeming to stand in his way at the entrance to the house. He thinks Barnardine is going to intercept his visit to Barabas. Asking why he will not speak or move, he strikes Barnardine with his staff, and the corpse falls down.
Just then Ithamore and Barabas enter and upbraid Jacomo for killing Barnardine. Jacomo confesses but says they are the only ones who know. Barabas says they will not be quiet about it because they would be thought to be accessories. They take Jacomo to the magistrate, all the while Barabas tells his alibi: he shut out Barnardine from his house, and the friar sat there, refusing to move. Barabas was going to covert and go with Jacomo when he came, but now that he sees friars killing one another, he will remain a Jew.
Commentary on Act Four, scene three
Barabas frames Jacomo for the murder, thus getting him out of the way. Jacomo believes that he did it. Barabas acts righteous and drags Jacomo off to the magistrate. This scene borders on comedy, and is often played that way. Jacomo seems very gullible, and supposedly he knows Barabas’s guilty secret, so it does not make much sense why he would believe in this trick.
Summary of Act Four, scene four
Pilia-Borza and Bellamira discuss a love letter she sent by him to Ithamore. Pilia-Borza says Ithamore read it and looked like someone in heaven, happy to receive a love letter from such a beautiful woman. Pilia-Borza delivered the letter to him in the shadow of the gallows where a friar was being executed.
Ithamore enters speaking a soliloquy on Friar Jacomo’s death. He has never seen anyone so meek at his own execution. While he watched the hanging, a man with a large dagger and moustaches gave him a love letter from Bellamira. He therefore goes to her house but feels unworthy of her attention. Pilia-Borza calls him a gentleman, and Bellamira flatters him. Both treat him with deference. Ithamore wants to go and steal money from Barabas to make himself presentable, but Bellamira will not let him go. Pilia-Borza says he can have his master’s wealth if he wants, but Ithamore objects that Barabas buries it and hides it. Pilia-Borza pushes Ithamore, saying he probably knows the Jew’s secrets that he would be willing to pay to keep quiet. Ithamore agrees and says he will make the Jew give him half his money. He asks for pen and paper. Pilia-Borza coaches him to write a blackmail letter that demands three hundred pounds by the bearer, or otherwise, he will confess what he knows.
While Pilia-Borza goes to deliver the letter, Bellamira makes love to Ithamore, giving him a banquet to make him feel like a prince. Ithamore speaks in clumsy poetic clichÈs to Bellamira about being her Adonis and she, a Venus. Pilia-Borza returns with the money. He bullied Barabas into giving him money, but Barabas only gave ten crowns. Ithamore next writes him to send five hundred crowns. Ithamore gives the ten crowns to Bellamira telling her to spend it as she likes. She claims she loves him, not the money. They retire to the bedroom.
Commentary on Act Four, scene four
Marlowe shows a world of survival of the fittest, where everyone is preying on everyone else. Pilia-Borza and Bellamira see a way to get to the Jew’s money through the servant. Bellamira seduces Ithamore to use him. Ithamore, the slave, first feels he is not good enough for Bellamira, a fine lady. He feels dirty and common. Soon, however, he feels confident and special with the courtesan making love to him and Pilia-Borza bullying his master. Marlowe makes a comic love scene between Ithamore and Bellamira, reminiscent of Bottom making love to the Fairy Queen Titania, in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Marlowe even makes a parody of his own poem, “Come live with me and be my love,” having Ithamore swear by “Dis above.” Dis is the god of hell in Greek mythology.
Barabas tries his usual tricks to get out of paying, only giving ten crowns and swearing that Ithamore is his faithful servant. Pilia-Borza keeps putting pressure on Barabas, upping the amount he must pay each time. One anticipates that Barabas will get some kind of revenge as he once threatened Ithamore he would do.
Summary of Act Four, scene five
Barabas reads the letter from Ithamore demanding three hundred crowns. Barabas berates the wicked courtesan and her bully, Pilia-Borza, whom Barabas describes as being frightening with a long beard and a “face” like “a grindstone for men’s swords” (line 9). The man is all butchered up with scars. He calls him a swindler. Pilia-Borza comes in just then and demands the money. He wants five hundred more than the letter asks for. Barabas says that Ithamore should come to fetch it. Pilia-Borza keeps pressuring, and Barabas keeps making excuses why he cannot get the money. Pilia-Borza says he will pick the lock himself, so Barabas gives the gold. When alone, he says he is being tormented by a “shag-rag knave” (line 59). Now he must think of a way to get rid of them all. He will disguise himself and go see them.
Commentary of Act Four, scene five
Pilia-Borza does not allow Barabas to delay or distract the discussion from the money. He knows his business of how to shake someone down for cash. He is threatening with his scarred appearance. And yet, it is an interesting battle between the physical bully and nimble-witted Barabas. Barabas temporarily plays his submissive role, then turns around and thinks of a vicious underhand revenge. By now, the audience is cheering Barabas on, even though he is the villain. He places himself in the role of the underdog, and each time it is suspenseful how he will get out of a trap or get revenge. In this way, he is often like a cartoon bad guy.
Summary of Act Four, scene six
At her house, Bellamira, Ithamore, and Pilia-Borza are toasting to their success, and everyone is a bit drunk, especially Ithamore. The more he drinks, the more he tells Barabas’s secrets, including how the governor’s son died. He tells how they poisoned the nuns and killed the friars. Pilia-Borza and Bellamira decide they will tell the governor after they have gotten more gold from Barabas.
Barabas enters with a lute, disguised as a French musician. Bellamira asks to have the posy in his hat. They all smell the flowers. In an aside Barabas admits the flowers were poisoned. They offer the musician a drink and bid him play. Ithamore asks the musician if he knows the Jew. He begins to tell false things about him, such as that he eats pickled grasshoppers and never wears a clean shirt. Barabas corrects Ithamore’s lies under his breath, getting angry, as he plays the lute. Finally, Barabas excuses himself. Pilia-Borza urges one more letter to the Jew, but Ithamore tells Pilia-Borza to say to Barabas directly to give a thousand crowns by the same token that the nuns loved rice. That should do it.
Commentary on Act Four, scene six
This would play as a very comic scene with Barabas, probably in the Jew’s red wig and false nose, trying to look and speak like a French musician. Ithamore is very drunk and careless, incensing Barabas with insults, and it is obvious he is heading for a fall. Suddenly, the allegiance of the Jew and Turk against Christians falls apart, and Ithamore is trying to identify with the citizens of Malta: “To undo a Jew is charity, and not sin,” he says (line76). We are left in suspense whether Bellamira and Pilia-Borza will have time to tell the governor the truth before dying.