Summary of Act Two, scene one
It is night, and Barabas enters with a light uttering a soliloquy about his mental torment. He curses the Christians again and prays to the God of Abraham to let Abigail find his hidden fortune. He remembers the tales about ghosts hovering around hidden treasure and feels he is one. Abigail meanwhile searches under the plank and finds the gold and jewels. She bids the god of dreams to send her father a message wherever he is sleeping to come to her and get the treasure. Barabas is awake, however, and waiting under her balcony. He discovers Abigail there, and she throws down the money bags to him. He is in rapture and hugs the bags as Abigail exits.
Commentary on Act Two, scene one
Barabas walks abroad as a creature of the night, comparing himself to a bird of ill omen, the raven, and to a ghost. Once he gets back his gold, however, he wants to sing with the morning lark. He hugs the bags as though they are his daughter, a foreshadowing of his casting off his daughter to further his own fortune. This incident also shows Barabas’s ability to land on his feet, like a cat. He has confidence in his ability to get out of tight spots, but unfortunately, as we see by his speech to Abigail, he feels he has the right to adopt any methods he needs at the time, without moral consideration. In the beginning he pretends he needs his wealth because it is his legacy to his daughter, but that pretense is discarded later on, and even here, it is obvious what is nearest to his heart.
Summary of Act Two, scene two
Ferneze enters with the Knights of Malta, officers, and Martin Del Bosco. Ferneze asks Del Bosco why he is anchored at Malta without his leave. He is the Vice-Admiral of Spain and came in his ship, The Flying Dragon, to see Ferneze. He has recently engaged the Turkish fleet in battle and won. Now he brings the slaves he captured to sell in Malta. Ferneze says he dares not insult the Turks to whom he owes money by letting Del Bosco sell Turkish slaves in Malta.
One of the Knights appeals to Del Bosco over the Governor’s head to convince the Governor to let them fight the Turks. They could use the money they raise for that instead of appeasing them with a tribute. Del Bosco reminds Ferneze that they were lately ousted from Rhodes by the Turks, and the Emperor gave them Malta as fortress to use against the Turks. Ferneze pleads that his force is too small to resist them. Del Bosco wants to know how much they owe, and Ferneze replies that it is a hundred thousand crowns. Del Bosco tells him to keep the money. The King of Spain owns Malta, and Del Bosco will write for reinforcements. He will not leave until Malta is free of the Turks. Ferneze agrees and makes Del Bosco Malta’s general. He gives him leave to sell his slaves.
Commentary on Act Two, scene two
Political background about the Siege of Malta by the Turks is laid out here. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain, is the one who gave the island to the Knights of Malta, so that is why Del Bosco says the King of Spain owns it. The Knights were given sovereign rule over the island in exchange for the service of keeping down the Barbary pirates on the North African coast, who were allies of the Turks, and in keeping the Mediterranean free from Turkish control. Malta was a naval base from where the Knights could attack Islamic shipping. Although it was the duty of the Knights to attack the Turks, Ferneze reminds Del Bosco of their small forces. Del Bosco promises reinforcements. In the actual battle, the reinforcements came from Sicily, part of Charles V’s Empire. The Battle of Malta was felt to be decisive for all of Europe in defeating the spread of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
This scene ends with both Del Bosco and Ferneze discussing the cost of maintaining Malta’s freedom. They speak of Rhodes where the Knights held out for six months but were defeated and “not a man survived/ To bring the hapless news to Christendom” (lines 50, 51). They know it will be a bloody war.
Summary of Act Two, scene three
In the Malta marketplace, officers bring in the slaves from Del Bosco’s ship. They see Barabas approaching and remark how if he were still rich, he would buy all of the slaves.
Barabas speaks a monologue, explaining he is once again as wealthy as he ever was. He has brought his daughter home from the nunnery, and he has bought a new house as grand as the governor’s. He says he cannot forget an injury and will get the governor and his son for his humiliation. Jews know how to look innocent but bite hard, and he has had practice seeming to be beat down while plotting revenge. He sees Don Lodowick, Ferneze’s son. Lodowick sees Barabas and thinks about Abigail. He wishes to see her.
The two meet and Lodowick introduces himself as the governor’s son. Barabas mutters insults in asides to the audience. Barabas also insults Lodowick to his face by telling him he can only speak to Gentiles while in the fresh air to avoid contamination. It is to the Jews that the promise belongs. Lodowick ignores this insult and asks if Barabas can help him find a diamond. Barabas replies the governor took all his diamonds but one, meaning his daughter. That is the diamond Lodowick refers to, but under his breath Barabas says that he would sacrifice his daughter on a pile of wood rather than give her to him. They speak metaphorically about “the diamond,” and then Barabas invites him to come to his house, promising he will be satisfied, meanwhile making threatening asides.
Barabas goes to buy a slave, with Lodowick accompanying him, and comments on how high the prices are. He jokes that the slaves must be able to steal, at that price. Barabas looks at the selection and then buys Ithamore, a slave from Thrace, brought up in Arabia. The widow Katherine and her son, Mathias, enter the marketplace, and Mathias is suspicious about why Barabas and Lodowick are speaking privately. He knows it has something to do with Abigail. Lodowick leaves.
Barabas mentions in soliloquy that Abigail and Mathias are in love, but he has sworn to frustrate their union so he can be revenged on the governor. Barabas speaks to Mathias privately about his coming marriage to Abigail and tells him to think of him as a father. He swears he only spoke to Lodowick about diamonds.
Katherine asks her son if he was speaking to the Jew? Mathias swears he spoke to Barabas about borrowing a book. She warns him not to speak to Barabas, an outcast from heaven. Everyone leaves but Barabas and his new slave, Ithamore.
Ithamore, the Turkish slave, introduces himself and says he will do whatever Barabas commands. Barabas says he will teach him: he must have no love or compassion for Christians. Ithamore agrees. Barabas says that he himself is a poisoner and poisons wells and old people on the streets. He learned physic in Italy and practiced on priests there. Then he became an engineer pretending to serve Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, but he slew both friend and enemy alike. Then he became a moneylender (usurer) and filled jails with bankrupts. Ithamore then confesses his evil deeds: he has set Christian villages on fire and cut people’s throats in the night. Barabas is happy to have found a fellow villain. They both hate Christians. He promises Ithamore gold.
At Barabas’s house, they meet Lodowick and ask him to come in. Barabas tells Abigail she must promise to love Lodowick and act “like a cunning Jew” (line 232). She protests she is in love with Mathias. He insists and leaves them alone. He receives a letter that a merchant who owes him money skipped out on the debt, but he is not worried about it. He has enough money, and soon he will have his revenge on the governor through Lodowick.
Mathias enters and Barabas swears Abigail shall be his, but the governor’s son is with her now and is forcing himself on her, and he has no power to stop it. Abigail does not respond to his suit, but Lodowick comes anyway. Mathias draws his sword, but Barabas says he will have no quarrels in his house. He invites him to sneak in and watch.
Lodowick and Abigail enter hand in hand, and Mathias is beside himself but says he will deal with it later. He leaves. Lodowick sees Mathias leaving, and Barabas says Mathias has sworn Lodowick’s death because of Abigail. Lodowick is surprised and asks if Abigail loves Mathias. Barabas denies it, but Abigail affirms it in an aside. Lodowick asks Barabas if he will give Abigail to him, and Barabas says yes, but he knows that he might disdain marrying a Jew. However, he will give Abigail a large dowry. Lodowick swears he wants not wealth, but Abigail herself. Barabas agrees, and Abigail is downhearted to find herself betrothed to Lodowick instead of Mathias.
Barabas tells her to pretend to be engaged, for it is no sin to deceive a Christian. Abigail plights her troth in ambiguous words, reserving her heart for Mathias. Lodowick notices Abigail’s color has changed, and then she leaves. Barabas makes excuse that Jewish maidens are shy. Lodowick sees Mathias and wants to go after him, but Barabas holds him back.
Barabas then goes to Mathias and tells him that he has saved Mathias from being stabbed, for Lodowick is jealous. He swears Abigail will be his. Mathias leaves, and Abigail asks her father why he has incensed both men? She wants to make them friends again. She swears she will have Mathias for a husband.
Ithamore and Barabas talk about how to get the two men to quarrel using forged challenges.
Commentary on Act Two, scene three
Barabas’s plans for revenge unfold. Marlowe uses soliloquies and asides to give us the deeper thoughts of Barabas as well as his two-faced interactions with people. Sometimes he is openly sarcastic with people like Lodowick, but he can also act like a gentle puppy and fawn all over his intended victims, like Lodowick and Mathias, whom he sets up, using his daughter as bait. His speech to them is peppered with venomous asides revealing to the audience his true intentions. The asides also help us to know the inner feelings of Abigail who is forced into becoming engaged to a man she does not love.
The officers in the marketplace still think of Barabas as poor, but he does not mind what people think of him on the surface. He is focused completely on his revenge, putting the same energy into that that he put into his business. In this scene there is a lot of back and forth banter about religion. Christians feel Jews beneath them because Jews are all condemned to hell. Barabas says to the governor’s son that perhaps he won’t want to marry a Jewish woman, who would be beneath his station and religion. Mathias has to hide his relationship to Barabas, his future father-in-law. Mathias says to his mother that he is with Barabas to borrow books, and Lodowick claims he is trying to buy a diamond. It is an unequal social situation between Jews and Christians, with the Jews perceived to be a vile minority. On the other hand, Barabas proudly tells Lodowick he walks in the open air to purge himself of the stink of Gentiles. He believes Jews are the chosen people. None of this conflict seems to deter the young men from wanting to marry Abigail.
The meeting between man and master, Ithamore, the Muslim Turk, and Barabas the Jew, is interesting in their vying to outdo each other in evil. Barabas claims they have a bond because they are both villains and both hate Christians. They will have a good time together revenging themselves on the Maltese citizens. Barabas assumes the role of mentor to Ithamore, since Ithamore is still young and not as practiced in devious ways. Barabas coaches Ithamore not to be too rash, but to be cunning in how he performs his acts.
Barabas also tries to mentor his daughter in Machiavellian ways when he tells her it is not a sin to deceive a Christian. They themselves do not honor their dealings with non-Christians whom they call heretics, but from the Jewish point of view, “all are heretics that are not Jews” (line 311). He upbraids her for loving Mathias, a Christian.
Ultimately, everyone but the young lovers benefits from the religious tension for it allows them to use other people. Ferneze likes the racial division, for he can feel justified extorting money from the Jews. Barabas would not be able to make a living but for the Christians. They are forbidden from charging interest, and that is how he makes his money. Viewing the Turks as enemies also has an advantage in that it justifies making them into slaves. The economy of hatred is thus the status quo on Malta that everyone secretly defends. The young lovers step into a mine field.