restricted access 5. Failures of Fortification and the Counting Houses of The Jew of Malta
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172  Chapter 5 Failures of Fortification and the Counting Houses of The Jew of Malta Protected Christians and Vulnerable Jews If, as Emily Bartels points out, the title of The Jew of Malta (1592) “demands that we consider what it means to be‘of Malta’while deciding what it means to be ‘the Jew,’” the drama soon provides an answer.1 Just one hundred lines into the play, Barabas soliloquizes about Jewish wealth, highlighting the singularly rich Jews inhabiting various lands: “There’s Kirriah Jairim, the great Jew of Greece, / Obed in Bairseth, Nones in Portugall, / My selfe in Malta” (1.1.121–23).2 We thus readily can understand Christopher Marlowe’s title in economic terms. Because he is “wealthier farre then any Christian” as well as any other Jew on the island, Barabas is the Jew of Malta (1.1.124). However, if we consider Marlowe’s play from a geographical perspective, the notion of a “Jew of Malta” proves more problematic and even contradictory . For, while Jews were notorious for their spatial disenfranchisement, Malta was famous for its spatial power and privilege. As we shall see after comparing the space of the Jew to the space of the island, their geographic disparity threatens to render the phrase “The Jew of Malta” something of a non sequitur. At least since Augustine, Christians contended that God punished a sinful Jewish people by depriving them of spatial security. The biblical Barabas figured pivotally in such claims about the geography of Jewish guilt.3 When FAILURES OF FORTIFICATION 173 the Jews chose to free the imprisoned radical Barabas instead of Jesus, taking the latter’s “blood . . . on us and our children”(Matthew 25:25–26),they supposedly set themselves up for an eternal punishment with important spatial dimensions. Namely, as Marlowe’s likely source, French explorer Nicolas de Nicolay (1517–83),puts it in his The nauigations,peregrinations and voyages,made into Turkie (1568),ever since the Jews told Pilate “hys blood bee vppon vs and our children . . . their sinne hath followed them and their successours throughout al generations”so that,from the siege of Jerusalem “vnto this present day,” Jews “hadde at no time any certayne dwelling place vpon the face of the earth,” and “alwayes gone straying dispearsed and driuen awaye from Countrie to countrie.”4 In this passage, from Nicolay’s description of Constantinople, an Ottoman metropolis where many early modern Jews lived, the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and embrace of Barabas prompted God to deprive them of not only Israel but also any “certayne dwelling place” or stable habitation on earth. Ten years before Marlowe began writing The Jew of Malta, the protestant martyrologist John Foxe would elaborate publicly and with offensive ingenuity on the spatial aspects of Jewish disenfranchisement.5 Delivered at the 1 April 1577 christening of Yehuda Menda, a Jew from North Africa, Foxe’s sermon conceives of Jews as “always stuck at the present moment of the Crucifixion, in effect amalgamated with their ancestors” and thus forever suffering from the geographic consequences of their forbearers’crime.6 Foxe brings to vivid life the utter destruction entailed by the siege of Jerusalem, when the temple was “consumed by fire, the altar throwen downe, and the citie put to the sacke and destroyed,” so much so that not “one stone” was left “standing vpon an other of your whole citie.”7 He emphasizes the ongoing nature of such historical assaults on contemporary Jews, whose “habitations are become waste and desolate” and who “haue now neither citie nor temple, kingdome nor priesthode.”8 Jews, Foxe stresses, can’t hope for any future resolution to their troubles. Although the Hebrew prophets foretold a time of “securite” and inhabiting “the land confidently” (Ezekiel 28:26), their texts require typological interpretation. Thus Ezekiel points not to the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem but rather “to the spirituall king|dome of Israel” or heavenly Jerusalem.9 Foxe’s geographic understanding of Jewish disenfranchisement is such that it extends from actual buildings to architecturally conceived mentalities. The Christian spiritual fulfillment of biblical prophesies “doeth vn|ioynte and shyuer in pieces all the strong bulwarkes of your [Jewish] vnbeliefe, euen to the very bottome of the foundation.”10 Supersession, as portrayed by Foxe, lays siege to the Jewish mindset in in the manner of Jerusalem’s attack; it causes the “bulwarks” of Jewish unbelief, however well fortified, to tremble and break apart. 174 CHAPTER 5 The national and local contexts of...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews in literature.
  • Antisemitism in literature.
  • English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Antisemitism -- England -- History.
  • Jews -- England -- History.
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