Summary of Act Three, scene one
Bellamira, the courtesan, enters and complains that since the town has been besieged, she has lost customers. She used to have lots of clients, and she knows her beauty has not changed, so now she has to be chaste against her will. Her only follower is Pilia-Borza, who stays at her house. Pilia-Borza enters and gives Bellamira a bag of silver for spending money. She says she hates silver, and Pilia-Borza says that the Jew also has gold, and he will get her some. He took this bag of silver from him, from his counting-house, but heard some noise in the house and ran away. They see Ithamore coming and hide the bag and leave quickly.
Ithamore enters and is enchanted with having seen Bellamira’s face. He wishes he could have the Jew’s gold to get a concubine like her. He has just delivered the false challenges to the two friends, Lodowick and Mathias, and looks forward to their killing each other in a duel.
Commentary on Act Three, scene one
Though Barabas always seems to be on top of his enemies, this scene shows how vulnerable he is in another way. Everyone considers him fair game, a Jew, and the one with the money, to be wrested from him one way or another. Pilia-Borza is a crook and bully, and uses the tools of a thief to climb up to the counting-house. As we find out, Barabas was fully aware that Pilia-Borza robbed him. He discloses earlier that he enjoys letting some thieves get his money so he can entrap them.
The introduction of Bellamira and Pilia-Borza are important, for they will help to undo the Jew. Like him, they are marginal and underground figures, yet ultimately, they will act as good citizens to turn in Barabas. They are more acceptable in Malta than Barabas. This shows that Barabas’s status is truly outside all boundaries of Maltese life. Though he befriends his slave, Ithamore, Ithamore is already thinking how he can get the Jew’s gold. This is also a foreshadowing of Ithamore’s path.
Ithamore not only does Barabas’s dirty work but also seems to enjoy it. He likes to think about the coming duel between the friends.
Summary of Act Three, scene two
Mathias enters, saying, that this is the designated place, and now Abigail shall see how dear she is to him. Lodowick enters, and they begin to fight. Barabas watches from a balcony above and urges them on until both fall. Barabas exits as Ferneze and Katherine enter, wailing over their dead sons. Both parents want revenge, but they can find no one to revenge themselves on, since their sons were best friends. They ask, who made them enemies? Katherine considers killing herself on her son’s sword, but Ferneze stops her. They decide to bury their sons in one tomb and to grieve together until they find the cause of the tragedy. They bear the bodies away.
Commentary on Act Three, scene two
The scenes are shorter and more full of action now. Barabas’s plan is working as the two young men fight over Abigail and die, to the grief of the parents. Barabas likes to work psychological suffering on his victims, and each revenge is suited to the insult he feels he has borne from his victim. Though Mathias did Barabas no wrong, he is a tool to get to Lodowick and the governor. Barabas might also be thinking it was a good way to get rid of Abigail’s Christian suitor whom he does not approve. He does not seem to give a thought to his daughter’s feelings, and in this he underestimates the situation.
Summary of Act Three, scene three
Ithamore enters, delighted at the outcome of the duel. Abigail joins Ithamore and asks why he is laughing. He says because he has the most secret and subtle master anyone ever had. He tells her of the duel between Mathias and Lodowick and the forged challenges that he carried to them. When Abigail understands her father caused their deaths, she tells Ithamore to go to the new nunnery and to ask for a friar to come to her. Ithamore makes a joke about the nuns sporting with the friars, and Abigail scolds him.
Abigail in monologue calls her father hard-hearted to make her play a part in the deaths. She sees he is bent on revenge, but he has only succeeded in murdering her. She sees no love on earth, no pity in Jews and Turks. Ithamore brings Friar Jacomo, and Abigail asks to be admitted as a nun. Jacomo reminds her that she was a nun and did not like it. She explains that at that time she was “chained to the follies of the world” (line 60), but now she has experience and grief of the world and fears her sins. Jacomo says he will admit her but cautions her to change no more. She blurts out that all of her changing nature was her father’s fault, but she does not tell the friar any details and says in an aside she will never betray her father.
Commentary on Act Three, scene three
The contrast between the virtuous Abigail and the abnormal cruelty of her father and Ithamore allows for some normal human perspective and emotion in this play, where most of the characters act in an inhuman and violent manner. Abigail can only conclude that the world is a cruel place and wants to be out of it. She feels sinful for the part she played in the conspiracy, even if it was unintended. A life of withdrawal and prayer and Christian penance is appealing to her, thus highlighting her horrified reaction to her father’s revenge. Even so, she does not want to betray her father and vows silence about his crime, though ironically, his further actions against her will force her to confess those crimes on her deathbed.
Ithamore’s indiscretion in telling Abigail about the crime demonstrates his less careful nature. He is impulsive and undisciplined. Perhaps he thought Abigail would admire what her father did. This blurting out of Barabas’s secrets foreshadows his eventual betrayal of his master.
Summary of Act Three, scene four
Barabas reads a letter from Abigail explaining she has become a nun and asking her father to repent. He fears that she knows what he has done. He decides that if Abigail “varies from me in belief” (line 10), “she loves me not” (line 11). Ithamore enters and Barabas is suddenly affectionate to him. He calls Ithamore his “second self” (line 15) and says Ithamore is his only happiness now. Ithamore tells him he saw Abigail with a friar, and Barabas is angry, thinking it is the friar’s fault that Abigail got converted. He tells Ithamore that he disowns his daughter and curses her as Adam did Cain. Now Ithamore will be his friend whom he will adopt as his heir. Ithamore will be rich when he is dead, and meanwhile, he gives him half his fortune. He can take his keys and buy whatever he wants. First, however, he must fetch the pot of rice they were going to have for supper.
He tells Ithamore to witness the death of Abigail, so he can be the heir. He shows Ithamore the poison he bought from an Italian that only works forty hours after it is taken. It is Saint Jacques’ Eve when everyone sends gifts to the nunnery. Barabas will send the poisoned pot of food. Ithamore should go unseen. Barabas curses the rice and sends it with Ithamore.
Commentary on Act Three, scene four
Although commentators sometimes call this play a tragic farce because Barabas’s villainy is almost comic, like a satire, it has tragic dimensions as well. Comedy ends with marriages and a continuation of society to the next generation. Barabas, however, kills off the younger generation, so there is no heritage. His vengeance has turned very ugly here when he decides his daughter has betrayed him and he must kill her too. He seems to use Ithamore to take her place in his affections and even makes him his heir. But his last words make it seem that he intends to trick Ithamore too as he swears vengeance on him. Perhaps he guesses he leaked the truth to his daughter.
Summary of Act Three, scene five
Ferneze, with Del Bosco and the Knights, welcomes a Bashaw of Calymath who has come for the tribute money. Ferneze replies that before that shall happen, he will lay waste the island and let the ocean destroy it. The Bashaw says there is no need, for Calymath will come himself to destroy the island. When he leaves, Ferneze tells his men to prepare for war.
Commentary on Act Three, scene five
Ferneze acts boldly because he has Del Bosco at his side, who represents the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. He feels he will have adequate reinforcements and so does his duty to fight the Turks. The action thus moves swiftly to violence on a larger scale with Malta at war, and Barabas fighting his own secret war of rebellion against the town.
Summary of Act Three, scene six
Friars Jacomo and Barnardine are concerned because all the nuns are sick and dying. Even the Abbess has sent for a confessor. Abigail enters, the only nun still alive, but she feels near death. She wants Jacomo to hear her last confession, but he has gone to confess another, so Barnardine confesses Abigail. One sin above others worries her soul and that is her part in the deaths of Lodowick and Mathias. She tells Barnardine she was engaged to Lodowick whom she never loved, but she loved Mathias, for whose sake she became a nun. Her father set them at enmity so they would kill each other. She gives him the false challenge written on paper as proof. She confesses for the sake of her soul but begs the friar not to reveal what she has said. He says that canon law forbids him to repeat what he hears in confession, on pain of death. She asks the friar to convert her father and to witness she dies a Christian.
Abigail dies, and the friars bury all the nuns. Barnardine tells Jacomo they must go to the Jew to exclaim against him, for he has heard a terrible thing in confession that he may not repeat.
Commentary on Act Three, scene six
Barabas undoes himself many times with his clever schemes. In this case, by killing his daughter in the nunnery, he does not foresee she has to confess before dying. She tells her father’s secret only to ease her soul, thinking that the friar cannot repeat what she says. She has given him physical proof though in the form of the written challenge. Although Barnardine assures Abigail he cannot repeat the secret, he is already planning how to use it against the Jew. Marlowe shows these friars to be hypocrites in the usual satire on Catholic monks: Barnardine is not so much grieved about Abigail’s death as that she died a virgin. Jacomo is gone at that time hearing the confession of “fair Maria” (line 5). These friars are greedy and lecherous. Thus, Abigail’s attempt to escape the corruption of the world is futile in the Christian nunnery, Marlowe shows. Of all the characters in the play, she is the most virtuous and genuine. The behavior and hypocrisy of the friars, however, would have furnished great comedy to Marlowe’s Protestant audience.