Item #4172 The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta. Christopher Marlowe.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.

The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew [Ievv] of Malta.

London: Printed by I.B. for Nicholas Vavasour, and are to be sold at his Shop in the Inner Temple, neere the Church, 1633.

Price: $225,000.00

Quarto: 7 x 5 1/4 in. A-I4, K2 (lacking initial blank A1)


Bound in modern full dark brown morocco circa 1984, in a custom box. A fine copy, lightly washed, unpressed, the paper preserving its rattle. All edges gilt. Provenance: Ximenes (sold 1993), with receipt and scan of a note from Steve Weissman regarding the sale.

"Although written about 1589 and entered in the Stationers' Registers in 1594, no earlier edition than the present is known. The fact that the 1594 entry (Arber II 650) entitles the play, 'The famous tragedie' seems to indicate some relation with the present for which Vavasour made an original entry in 1632. However, the text here printed has been edited and revised by Heywood at a date which does not admit of this being a reprint of a 1594 edition while the use of the world 'famous' in the title of this edition may be from the tradition of the play-bills, as was the case in Cooke's Greenes Tu Quoque, and not from the usage of an earlier printed title." (Pforzheimer)

“The first recorded performance of play took place at the Rose Theatre on 26 February 1592. “Whether Marlowe could have been present at the play's opening in February is uncertain, for a month earlier he had been arrested for 'coynage'—coining money—in Flushing, or Vlissingen, in the Netherlands, and deported back to England 'to be tryed'.”(DNB)

“Christopher Marlowe’s controversial career was abruptly curtailed when he was stabbed to death at the age of 29. His reputation as the greatest of the pre-Shakespearean dramatists rests on just seven plays written in the late 1580s and early 1590s. The best known of these is “Doctor Faustus” a thunderous study of magic and damnation. But perhaps the bleakest and most challenging of his works is ‘The Jew of Malta” now at the Swan theatre in Stratford in a new production by the Royal Shakespeare Company directed by Justin Audibert.

“The timing of this revival is almost uncanny. While “Doctor Faustus” scared its early audiences with visions of hellfire, “The Jew of Malta” seems tailor-made for more topical fears. Its chief theme is antisemitism. It is a story of religious tensions and racist violence, of tangled motives and shifting sympathies, played out against the backdrop of a cynical society whose true creed is neither religion nor ideology but grasping materialist greed. A searchable online text reveals the play’s keywords to be “gold”, which occurs 38 times, followed by “death” (25), “villain” and “villainy” (24), “money” (23), “poison” (18), “slave” (16) and “policy” (13) – the last in its Elizabethan sense of cunning machiavellian stratagems. The presentation of the eponymous Jew, Barabas, veers between victim, anti-hero and monster. Brutalised – or as we now say “radicalised” – by ill treatment, he goes on a spree of cold-blooded killings. His victims are mostly Christians, but they also include his own daughter Abigail, who has fled to a nunnery, and a troop of Turkish soldiers burned alive in their garrison. He sums up his code of conduct, or survival, thus:

First, be thou void of these affections:
Compassion, love, vain hope, and heartless fear;
Be moved at nothing; see thou pity none.

“All this might suggest an uncomfortable evening in store, but with Marlowe such expectations are there to be upended, and this toxic cocktail of alienation and murder is laced throughout with deadpan black comedy. Think “Wolf Hall” reimagined by Quentin Tarantino, and you begin to get the feel of it. The title page of the first extant edition (1633) describes the play as a tragedy, but as TS Eliot observed nearly a century ago, it becomes more “intelligible” if one takes it “not as a tragedy … but as a farce”, written in a tone of “serious, even savage comic humour”. Eliot also enjoyed the equivocating shrug of Barabas’s response to a charge of fornication – “But that was in another country, / And besides the wench is dead” – and took it for the epigraph for his poem “Portrait of a Lady”.

“The play is sometimes dated to around 1589, as it mentions the death of the Duke of Guise (December 1588), but the chronology of Marlowe’s plays is largely guesswork. The first record of it on stage was on 26 February 1592, when it was performed by Lord Strange’s Men at the Rose theatre in Southwark, with Edward Alleyn in the title role. It was the Rose’s top-earning play of the 1592-93 season, in a repertory that included such crowd-pleasers as Thomas Kyd’s “Spanish Tragedy” and Shakespeare’s “Henry VI Part I”. A line in the latter – “My heart, sweet boy, shall be thy sepulchre” – sounds like an echo of Barabas’s “These arms of mine shall be thy sepulchre”. This foreshadows the more extensive reverberations of Marlowe’s play in Shakespeare’s presentation of Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice”.

“A successful later run at the Rose in 1594 can be related to the high-profile arraignment of the Queen’s physician, Rodrigo López. A Portuguese Jew, López was charged in February 1594 with conspiring to poison the Queen, and was executed with the usual barbarities in June. His trial, in the absence of hard evidence, featured a good deal of anti-Jewish propaganda, and it cannot be doubted that the concurrent revival of the play cashed in on the public mood arising from this. Marlowe was dead by this point (and anyway the playscript belonged to the Rose’s owner Philip Henslowe), so it was not he who cashed in on it.

““The Jew of Malta” is certainly a play about antisemitism, but is it also (as is often thought) an antisemitic play? It is true that Barabas is given the stock negative attributes of the Jew – rapacious and avaricious, a usurer who has “filled the gaols with bankrupts”, a hater of Christians – and that his name, echoing the Barabbas of the Gospels, alludes to the view that Jews were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion. It may also be true that Barabas was played wearing a large false nose, since a minor Jacobean comedy, “The Search for Money” by William Rowley, describes a usurer as wearing a “visage like the artificial Jew of Malta’s nose”: this is a late reference (c1609) so it may not describe the original production, though one notes that Marlowe’s text refers to Barabas as a “bottle-nosed knave”.

“But Marlowe’s purpose in presenting us with this pantomime Jew is surely to satirise the crudity of the stereotype. It is a provocative or Hebdoesque piece of religious cartooning that challenges the complacencies and credulities of his audience. The outlandish elements of the portrait – “that Jew: he lives upon pickled grasshoppers and sauced mushrumps … He never put on clean shirt since he was circumcised …The hat he wears, Judas left under the elder when he hanged himself”, etc – are a reductio ad absurdum of antisemitic attitudes. It must be remembered that Jews were comparatively rare in Elizabethan England – they had been “expelled” three centuries earlier – so the populist fear of them that the play taps into was essentially folkloric. Contemporary accounts of Marlowe paint him as a trenchant critic of religious superstition – one who “perswades men … not to be afeard of bugbeares and hobgoblins” – and it seems unlikely he actually held the views that are voiced onstage (any more than he actually believed that the scholar Faustus deserved eternal damnation for his extracurricular studies in the occult). I offer this reading of the play as a corrective argument rather than a deeply held conviction – the latter is anyway a currency Marlowe valued very little.

“Though Barabas bestrides the stage like a problematic colossus, there is a sense in which the presiding figure of the play is the one brought on at the beginning to deliver its 35-line prologue. The first words of the playscript are a stage direction: “Enter Machevill”. Here too we have a provocative stereotype, for “Machevill” (or “make-evil”) is of course a punning pronunciation of Machiavelli. The Florentine political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli had died more than 50 years previously, but in England he remained a kind of bogeyman, deplored by the orthodox as one who divested political action of morality. He was essentially a banned author – none of his political texts had appeared in English. There were editions in Italian and Latin, and there were translations in manuscript, but no publisher had dared to print them. Another half-century would pass before Edward Dacre’s translations were printed: the Discourses in 1636, and that handbook of stark realpolitik, “The Prince”, in 1640. Marlowe’s machiavellian prologue is the coup de theatre of 1592, trailing these dangerous ideas – “I count religion but a childish toy / And hold there is no sin but ignorance” – and fixing the play’s dominant critique. When Barabas briefly becomes governor of Malta he muses in machiavellian vein on the need to profit from his power:

For he that liveth in authority,
And neither gets him friends nor fills his bags,
Lives like the ass that Aesop speaketh of,
That labours with a load of bread and wine,
And leaves it off to snap on thistle tops.

“These lines typify the toughness and stripped-down clarity of Marlowe’s versification, and they convey the play’s central message that the demon Barabas is in essence no different from the Christian governor, Fernese, who has been busily following the same amoral code of power, violence and profit under a cloak of religious hypocrisy – “Ay policy! That’s their profession, / And not simplicity as they suggest.”

“Marlowe was himself no stranger to the tawdry world of political intrigue that is the milieu of the play, nor indeed to the dangers of being demonised. In the spring of 1593 he was incriminated by informers as a heretic and blasphemer: the presentation of him in such documents as the infamous “Baines Note” might well be described as the “pantomime atheist”. On 20 May he was brought before the privy council for questioning; 10 days later he was fatally stabbed through the right eye in a Deptford lodging-house – a dissident author (in one reading of this sequence of events) disappearing in a huddle of snoops and spies, those “climbing followers”, to borrow an ominous phrase from “The Jew of Malta”, who sought advancement in the downfall of others.”( Charles Nicholl, reviewing “The Jew of Malta” as staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre (Stratford on Avon), in The Guardian, March 2015).

STC 17412; Greg II 475; Pforzheimer 642; ESTC S109853;; Arber IV 288; Huntington C.L. 275; Ashley Cat. III 116; W.A. White Cat. 86; Hoe Cat III (1903) 116; Wrenn Cat. III, 117; Clark Bibl. of T. Heywood, 144

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