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Chapter 6 - Exposing Religious Dissimulation

The Stage Machiavel in Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 August 2023

Kilian Schindler
Université de Fribourg, Switzerland


This chapter contextualises the rise of the stage Machiavel in the suppression of the Elizabethan Puritan movement in the late 1580s and early 1590s and the period’s distrust in the hidden, inward self of religious dissenters. The stage Machiavel of the early 1590s, most prominently embodied by Barabas in Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, bears traces of anti-Puritan polemics that have been mostly overlooked so far. Hence, the stage Machiavel can be read as a predecessor of the stage Puritan and as a theatrical convention, most notably in his typical revelation of his plans to the audience, which showcases the theatre as an institution that grants access, or rather a fantasy of access, to the inward secrets of religious dissenters. Marlowe’s Jew of Malta can be read as an expression of such a desire to make windows into men’s hearts and as a poetological statement that flaunts the complicity of the theatre in this enterprise.

Religious Dissimulation and Early Modern Drama
The Limits of Toleration
, pp. 160 - 188
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023
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This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0

While the previous chapters were mostly concerned with the increasing intolerance towards outward conformity from the perspective of religious dissenters, this chapter focuses on conceptions of theatricality that advertised the theatre as a potential ally in the exposure of religious dissent and suggests that Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta embodies this ethos of exposure in exemplary fashion. This chapter begins with an exploration of the connections between late Elizabethan conceptions of theatricality and the ideological project of exposing the hypocrisy of religious dissenters. A crucial catalyst for the development of this strain was arguably the Marprelate controversy, in which the theatre came to be conceptualised as an ally in the conservative project of rendering transparent Puritan hypocrisy and discovering the secret seditious intentions that the Puritans allegedly harboured.

The impact of the Marprelate controversy on subsequent drama and the representation of religious dissent on London’s public stages has received a good deal of attention, especially with regard to the genesis of the stage Puritan. However, the stage Puritan was by no means the first embodiment of religious dissimulation in post-Reformation England. An earlier and much more dangerous type of dissembler, the stage Machiavel, can equally be linked to the conservative reaction against the Elizabethan Puritan movement. I will accordingly make a case that the stage Machiavel is partly a product of this conservative strain in late Elizabethan drama and functions as a theatrical gesture of disclosure that fulfils a fantasy of total transparency and advertises the theatre’s ability to discover, at least in the realm of fiction, the dangerous secrets of religious dissenters. The stage Machiavel of the early 1590s is thus not only an updated embodiment of abstract evil in the vein of the morality play, a sixteenth-century version of the Senecan villain, or the symptom of a growing awareness of the autonomy of politics from ethical or religious values.Footnote 1 As I illustrate in my reading of Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, the stage Machiavel is, to a significant extent, also the product of religious polemics and the theatre’s conscious alignment with policies of persecution. Finally, the last section of this chapter will consider the citations from Marlowe’s plays in the notorious Dutch Church libel in the context of the anti-stranger protests of the early 1590s in order to reconstruct the ideological continuities between anti-Puritan satire and distrust in the religious probity of Protestant refugees from the continent.

Discovering Dissent

In Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England (1998), Elizabeth Hanson has offered an important corrective to the received opinion about Elizabethan England as a relatively tolerant regime that was benignly unconcerned with the inward thoughts and beliefs of its subjects.Footnote 2 As Hanson argues, ‘[t]he hostile discovery of another’s innermost being, with its concomitant insistence on that other’s secrecy, constitutes one of the most prevalent and historically specific versions of inter-subjectivity in Renaissance England’.Footnote 3 The separation between inwardness and outwardness, on which theatrical performance hinges, has to be considered in this larger context of early modern approaches to subjectivity as well. Especially in a politically charged climate, with rising fears of Puritan and Catholic conspiracies, attacks on the theatre were often ideologically related to controversies in the Elizabethan policy of outward conformity.

A case in point is Philip Stubbes’ denunciation of the theatres as ‘Schooles or Seminaries of pseudo christianitie’ in his Anatomy of Abuses from 1583,Footnote 4 which explicitly suggests a connection between the theatre and religious dissimulation. The Anatomy covers a wide range of abuses beyond the theatre, including what Stubbes perceives to be an excessive toleration for religious dissimulation in the Elizabethan policy of outward conformity. Philoponus, the main speaker of the dialogue, finds fault with the religious life of his compatriots and laments that many of them ‘plaie the Hipocrites herein egregiouslie; and vnder this cloke of Christianitie, and profession of the Gospell … commit all kinde of Deuilrie, purchasing to themselues the greater damnation, in that thei make the worde of God, a vizard to couer their abhominations withall’. Such hypocrisy is not only a matter of ordinary moral failures. Especially Catholics, whose duplicity is unmatched, ‘are suffered with too much lenitie amongest them’. They ‘lurke secretely in corners’, Philopomus tells us, ‘or els walk openly, obseruyng an outward decorum, and an order as others doe; and then maie no man saie blacke is their eye, but thei are good Protestants’.Footnote 5 As Stubbes insists, Catholics should not ‘haue this freedome amongest vs’.Footnote 6 Stubbes’ theatrical vocabulary (‘plaie’, ‘cloke’, ‘vizard’) suggests a close conceptual link between religious dissimulation and the theatre, which he attacks more specifically later in his treatise.

It is important to note that, despite his sympathies for a number of Puritan concerns, Stubbes was by no means a nonconformist. On the contrary, he even urged his more radical brethren to conform with the Established Church on contentious issues such as liturgical vestments.Footnote 7 Neither Stubbes’ critique of the theatre nor his misgivings about outwardly conforming Catholics were the exclusive province of Puritan hardliners. Such concerns about dissembling Catholics were widely shared among Elizabethan Protestants and also voiced in government propaganda. In his justification of the government’s use of torture, Thomas Norton likewise warns against rebellious Catholics, who ‘keepe themselues couert vnder pretence of temporarie and permissiue obedience to her Maiestie’, only to rise up ‘so soone as there were sufficient force whereby the bull of her Maiesties depriuation might bee publikely executed’.Footnote 8 The increasing persecution of both Puritans and Catholics in the 1580s and a concomitant intolerance for dissimulation arguably also forced the theatre to reflect on its own political implications.

As I have already suggested in the Introduction to this book, much theatrical anti-Puritanism was predicated on a condemnation of hypocrisy that suppresses the theatre’s own reliance on dissimulation. Similarly, Huston Diehl observes that by ‘[e]xposing both the hypocrisy of puritanism and the deception of the stage, they seek to legitimate the stage, paradoxically by inculcating in their own spectators certain habits – deep distrust of theatricality, a heightened vigilance toward human failings – ordinarily associated with puritan discipline’.Footnote 9 Such a conception of theatricality, which is dedicated to revealing, rather than concealing, stigmatised beliefs and behaviour, can be contextualised in a larger awareness that certain forms of dissimulation could paradoxically serve to discover hidden truth. Francis Bacon identifies as one of three advantages of simulation and dissimulation that it allows ‘the better to discover the Minde of another … And therefore, it is a good shrewd Proverbe of the Spaniard; Tell a lye, and finde a Troth. As if there were no way of Discovery, but by Simulation’.Footnote 10 Significantly, espionage against religious dissenters and supposed traitors, one of the most momentous and controversial instances of such investigative dissimulation, was practised by a number of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, who repeatedly thematised such dissimulation in their plays as well.

Spying on religious dissenters was controversial since late antiquity, as is attested by Augustine’s writings on lying. His treatise Contra mendacium (Against Lying) had been occasioned by the question of whether it was legitimate to lie and dissemble in order to ferret out the heretical Priscillianists, who allegedly felt no obligation to reveal their unorthodox beliefs to outsiders. Augustine strongly condemned those who pretended Priscillianist sympathies for the purpose of infiltrating the sect: ‘[B]y what right shall we blame and dare to condemn in another his thinking that the truth ought to be concealed by lying, when this is what we teach ourselves?’.Footnote 11 Even though eminent Protestant theological authorities such as Pietro Martire Vermigli approved of Augustine’s judgement,Footnote 12 it was largely ignored in practice. A writer like Anthony Munday, who was never slow to condemn dissimulation, spied on dissenters throughout the 1580s and 1590s and glorified this practice, curiously enough, in the proto-Puritan but supposedly loyalist protagonist of The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle.Footnote 13 Marlowe too may have been involved in espionage, and Jonson’s own service to the Crown in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot has a rather unflattering equivalent in the player Histrio in Jonson’s earlier Poetaster,Footnote 14 who provides the opportunistic Lupus with intelligence. Even though these playwrights express very different views on espionage in their plays, the practice of feigning sympathy with political or religious dissenters in order to expose them figures large in their meta-theatrical reflections on dissimulation. Far from promoting tolerance for hypocrisy, the theatre was thus also conceptualised along the lines of an ethos of exposure, which never fully resolves the dialectic tension between its simultaneous condemnation of and reliance on dissimulation.

Espionage may be the paradigmatic instance of this ethos of exposure. However, the theatre’s ability to reveal what is hidden was frequently touted in more abstract ways as well. In Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Divell (1592), for instance, Thomas Nashe defends the theatre with reference to its ability to pierce false appearances and show things as they are: ‘In Playes, all coosonages, all cunning drifts ouer-guylded with outward holinesse, all stratagems of warre, all the cankerwormes that breede on the rust of peace, are most liuely anatomiz’d’.Footnote 15 The theatre is thus dedicated to exposing, and not teaching, hypocrisy, as its opponents claimed. Nashe may echo earlier dramatic criticism, such as Philip Sidney’s claim that tragedy ‘openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants manifest their tyrannical humours’.Footnote 16 However, by promoting the theatre’s ability to expose ‘outward holinesse’ as mere hypocrisy, Nashe arguably also aligns the theatre to a regime that resorted to increasingly aggressive methods of accessing the secrets of religious dissenters.

The explicit alignment of the theatre with ideologies of persecution took shape on an unprecedented scale when playwrights such as Nashe turned their attention to the Puritan movement in the late 1580s and became embroiled in the Marprelate controversy.Footnote 17 Patrick Collinson and Kristen Poole have suggested that the stage Puritan, the most common instance of religious hypocrisy on the early modern stage, was in fact a product of the Marprelate controversy.Footnote 18 As I suggest in the following, however, a different character type embodied the fear of dissembling dissenters in the early 1590s. Before the rise of the stereotypical stage Puritan, it was arguably the stage Machiavel that expressed the theatre’s allegiance to the project of sounding the depths of religious dissent in its most spectacular form.

Machiavelli and Puritan Subversion

The Florentine statesman and writer Niccolò Machiavelli caused offence in Elizabethan England not least because he analysed religion in purely instrumental terms. Not only in The PrinceFootnote 19 but also in the Discourses,Footnote 20 Machiavelli propagates religion as a vital instrument of government, regardless of whether it has any truth value or not. Such disingenuous instrumentalisation of religion for ulterior purposes became a central aspect of the Elizabethan stage Machiavel.Footnote 21 To be sure, religious hypocrisy is not equally pronounced in all cases and may be lacking especially in more Senecan specimens, such as Lorenzo in the Spanish Tragedy or Aaron in Titus Andronicus. Nonetheless, religious dissimulation is a prominent feature of the stage Machiavel in general, as exemplified by the protagonist of Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany (c. 1594?), one of its most explicitly Machiavellian instances. At the beginning of the play, Alphonsus is lectured by his secretary on a number of the Florentine’s political maxims, including the following from chapter 18 of The Prince: ‘A prince above all things must seem devout, but there is nothing so dangerous to his state, as to regard his promise or his oath’.Footnote 22 Even earlier, he claims ‘[t]o be an outward Saint’ and ‘an inward Devill’, noting that ‘[t]hese are the lectures that my Master reads’.Footnote 23 Similarly, Shakespeare’s Richard III is able to ‘seem a saint when most I play the devil’ (1.3.337). Intriguingly, Alphonsus and Richard do not sound very different from more sinister representations of Puritanism on the early modern stage, such as Angelo in Measure for Measure, the ‘outward-sainted deputy’ (3.1.90), who ‘is yet a devil’ (3.1.93). As Katharine Eisaman Maus has suggested, contemporary religious controversies may have contributed to the rise of the stage Machiavel as arch-hypocrite on the public stage,Footnote 24 and there are indeed concrete connections between the emergence of the stage Machiavel and contemporary anti-Puritan polemics.

Poole claims that Shakespeare’s Falstaff ‘both catalysed and epitomized the early modern representation of the stage Puritan’ and that ‘[t]he years immediately preceding the creation of the Henriad witnessed the extended and rambunctious pamphlet warfare known as the Marprelate controversy’.Footnote 25 However, there was actually a gap of some seven years between Martin’s death and the birth of Falstaff. Poole does not explain why Martin was revived only after such a considerable period of silence, and neither does she discuss the evolution of anti-Puritan stereotypes on the stage in the meantime. Comic stage Puritans, such as Falstaff, Florilla in Chapman’s Humorous Day’s Mirth, or Stupido in The Pilgrimage to Parnassus, do not become common before the late 1590s. Only one specimen has been traced further back, ‘John the Precise’ in A Knack to Know a Knave (1592).Footnote 26 While there is a considerable time gap between the Marprelate controversy and the establishment of the stage Puritan, the stage Machiavel of the early 1590s might help to fill in some gaps in scholarship on the dramatic representation of Puritanism.Footnote 27

Machiavelli’s name regularly surfaces in anti-Puritan polemics from the late 1580s and early 1590s, serving as a salutary reminder that Puritanism was perceived as a serious threat to the established social and political order.Footnote 28 A prominent role in this association of Puritanism with Machiavelli was arguably played by the aforementioned Thomas Nashe, who was equally at home in the worlds of religious polemics and the theatre. There has been disagreement on Nashe’s personal commitment to the episcopal cause when he took up his pen in order to write against Martin Marprelate. While G. R. Hibbard takes Nashe’s anti-Puritanism at face value and credits it to his deep-seated political, moral, and theological convictions,Footnote 29 Lorna Hutson has read Nashe’s religious polemics primarily in terms of a bid for patronage rather than sincere conviction.Footnote 30 That being said, Nashe’s fluency in the idiom of state-sponsored anti-Puritan propaganda, whether sincere or not, is now acknowledged not only in the anti-Martinist tracts but also in his later prose writings.Footnote 31 Already in An Almond for a Parrat (1590), Nashe called Martin Marprelate a ‘Good munkcie face Machiauell’,Footnote 32 and this association of Puritanism with Machiavellianism occurs again, for instance, in Nashe’s Pierce Pennilesse (1592), when the Knight of the Post comprehends

vnder hypocrisie, al Machiauilisme, puritanisme, & outward gloasing with a mans enemie, and protesting friendship to him I hate and meane to harme, all vnder-hand cloaking of bad actions with Common-wealth pretences: and, finally, all Italionate conueyances, as to kill a man, and then mourne for him, quasi vero it was not by my consent, to be a slaue to him that hath iniur’d me, and kisse his feete for opportunitie of reuenge, to be seuere in punishing offenders, that none might haue the benefite of such meanes but myselfe, to vse men for my purpose and then cast them off, to seeke his destruction that knowes my secrets; and such as I haue imployed in any murther or stratagem, to set them priuilie together by the eares, to stab each other mutually, for feare of bewraying me; or if that faile, to hire them to humour one another in such courses as may bring them both to the gallowes.Footnote 33

Nashe here links Puritanism with a catalogue of Machiavellian villainies that are rather more severe than the moral failings of later stage Puritans and for which it would be easy to find numerous examples in the stage Machiavels of contemporary drama.

A number of Nashe’s contemporaries (and perhaps dramatic collaborators) strongly intimate a connection between Puritan hypocrisy and Machiavellian villainy in the early 1590s. Puritan connotations might be perceived, for instance, in the ‘zealous contemplation’ (3.7.93) and ‘devotion and right Christian zeal’ (3.7.103) of Shakespeare’s Richard III, as well as his ability to clothe his ‘naked villainy / With odd old ends, stol’n forth of Holy Writ’ (1.3.335–6). Such religious hypocrisy recalls anti-Puritan satire in plays such as A Knack to Know a Knave (1592), in which the quasi-Puritan John the Precise similarly ‘can turne and wind the Scripture to his owne vse’ (ll. 1636–7). As James R. Siemon notes in his edition of Richard III,Footnote 34 Richard’s histrionic religious zeal, but also his habit of seducing widows, and not least the threat to the established political and social order which he embodies might have evoked the relatively recent Marprelate controversy. One might further wonder whether Richard’s boast that he ‘can add colors to the chameleon’ (3H6 3.2.191) reflects a more general complaint voiced by Pasquil (probably one of Nashe’s pseudonyms in the Marprelate controversy), namely, that ‘these newe pampred factions [i.e. the Puritans] at this day, haue shaken the harts of many of her Maiesties louing people, and made them Chamaelion like, capable of any fayth saue the right’.Footnote 35 Finally, Richard’s ploy of spreading ‘drunken prophecies’ (1.1.33) as a form of political subversion could further have reminded contemporary audiences of the Puritan prophet ‘Frantick Hacket’, who had challenged Queen Elizabeth’s title to the crown.Footnote 36

Traces of anti-Puritan polemics can also be registered, more explicitly, in the Marlovian stage Machiavel. The ruthless and ambitious usurper Mortimer in Edward II, for instance, follows a number of Machiavelli’s political principles, such as his preference for building his state on fear rather than on love (5.4.52–3)Footnote 37 and his scheme to outsource his worst atrocities and to silence his partners in crime after the deed is done (5.4.1–20).Footnote 38 Intriguingly, Mortimer not only dissembles his political ambitions in a manner that is reminiscent of Richard III’s pious humility before his coronation; he also codes them anachronistically in terms of Puritan hypocrisy:

They thrust upon me the protectorship
And sue to me for that that I desire,
While at the council table, grave enough,
And not unlike a bashful Puritan,
First I complain of imbecility,
Saying it is onus quam gravissimum,
Till being interrupted by my friends,
Suscepi that provinciam, as they term it,
And, to conclude, I am protector now.Footnote 39

Similarly, the social climber Baldock, who seeks preferment at Edward’s court, reveals that his Puritan habitus is ‘mere hypocrisy’ (2.1.44), which he adopted in order to please his ‘precise’ (2.1.46) patron, although he is ‘inwardly licentious enough / And apt for any kind of villainy’ (2.1.50–1). Puritans, Edward II intimates in line with contemporary religious polemics, are not only socially and politically ambitious but also morally rotten to the core.

In The Jew of Malta, presumably written during or shortly after the Marprelate controversy, Marlowe’s Machiavellian protagonist likewise has a distinctly Puritan flavour.Footnote 40 Barabas tells his daughter to pretend a conversion to Christianity in order to be admitted to the nunnery, remarking that ‘religion / Hides many mischiefs from suspicion’ (1.2.282–3). This dissembled piety is again recognisable as stereotypically Puritan:

… be thou so precise
As they may think it done of holiness.
Entreat ’em fair, and give them friendly speech,
And seem to them as if thy sins were great,
Till thou hast gotten to be entertained.

The elaborate façade of Abigail’s deception, her ‘precision’, her ‘holiness’, and her protestation of ‘great sins’, would eventually indeed become typical attributes of the stage Puritan.Footnote 41 A contemporary parallel is already offered by John the Precise in A Knack to Know a Knave, a play that, like The Jew of Malta, was staged by Lord Strange’s Men in 1592. John the Precise invokes the same semantic field (‘holiness’, ‘precision’, ‘great sins’) in his exposition of religious dissimulation as Abigail:

Brethren (say we) take heed by Adams fal,
For by his sinnes we are condemned all.
Thus preach we still vnto our brethren,
Though in our heart we neuer meane the thing:
Thus doe we blind the world with holinesse,
And so by that are tearmed pure Precisians.
(ll. 339–44)

Like Mortimer’s faux-humility in Edward II, however, fake conversions in The Jew of Malta have potentially deadly consequences and are a far cry from the generally more harmless anti-Puritan satire on the Jacobean stage. In the early 1590s, when the true dimensions and ambitions of the Elizabethan reform movement had come to light for the first time and self-proclaimed prophets announced that Elizabeth had forfeited her right to the throne, the Puritan pretence of piety was not just the stuff of comedy as in Jonson’s later treatment of the godly in The Alchemist or Bartholomew Fair. Puritan hypocrisy was also perceived as a cover for much more sinister and momentous political scheming. It only makes sense that The Jew of Malta shows greater resemblance to the aggressive and grotesque satire of Nashe’s polemical writings than Jonson’s and especially Shakespeare’s comparatively benevolent send-up of Puritanism, as exemplified by Falstaff only a few years later.Footnote 42

The fact that such concerns with Puritan hypocrisy and subversion find an expression in Marlowe’s portrayal of a Jew need not surprise us. It is debatable to what extent Barabas, who frequently cites the New Testament and swears by the body of Christ (1.2.91), is actually meant to be an accurate portrayal of a Jew in the first place. As James Shapiro has noted, ‘the Jew as irredeemable alien and the Jew as bogeyman in whom the Englishmen could be mysteriously “turned” coexisted at deep linguistic and psychological levels’.Footnote 43 Lieke Stelling has further pointed out that uncertainties concerning religious identity in post-Reformation England, ‘the possibility of dissimulation and deceit’,Footnote 44 were frequently projected onto alien figures such as Jews. A link between Judaism and Puritanism may also have been recongisable for early modern audiences in the critique of the Puritans’ ‘Judaizing tendencies’, such as their preoccupation with Hebraism, Sabbatarianism, and their insistence on the continuing validity of Mosaic Law more generally.Footnote 45 In Oldcastle, for instance, the Bishop of Rochester denounces the play’s quasi-Puritan protagonist as ‘this heretic, / This Jew, this traitor’ (6.49–50), and Jonson’s Puritan Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Bartholomew Fair is likewise associated with Judaism, as will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 7. Of course, this is not to say that Barabas, too, should really be considered a Puritan. However, a non-essentialist understanding of Jewishness, as was common in the period, allows us to understand Barabas in The Jew of Malta as a projection of intra-Christian conflicts. That is to say, the play addresses a number of social, political, and religious concerns with dissimulation that were most urgent not in English attitudes towards Jews but in the intra-Christian tensions that threatened the Elizabethan settlement and reached fever pitch in the late sixteenth century.

The Stage Machiavel as Meta-theatre

As Hanson observes, ‘what is new and catastrophic in the Renaissance is not … a sense of interiority, but the usually fearful, even paranoid recognition that interiority can give the subject leverage against his world’.Footnote 46 This recognition that hidden inwardness poses a danger is registered in exemplary fashion in the stage Machiavel. Dissimulation is an indispensable aspect of Machiavellian power politics, and the efficiency of a Machiavellian politics depends, like Nicodemism, on not being recognised as such. Machiavel, who speaks the prologue to The Jew of Malta, accordingly observes that ‘such as love me guard me from their tongues’ (prol. 6). The stage Machiavel, however, is the exact opposite of such a concealment of interiority, namely, the embodiment of a powerful fantasy of disclosure and transparency. Presumably from the Vice of the morality play, the stage Machiavel has inherited an urge to reveal his stratagems in soliloquies and asides that usually make his endeavours perfectly transparent to the audience while other characters on stage are unwittingly ensnared by them.

In this regard, the distinction between generally Machiavellian characters and the stage Machiavel as a character type, which comes with a specific form of audience address, is crucial. Ferneze in The Jew of Malta or Shakespeare’s Henry V, for instance, may be said to follow Machiavellian precepts, but do not reveal themselves to the audience in the same manner as Barabas or Richard III. Victoria Kahn has characterised the stage Machiavel as ‘a metatheatrical embodiment of the fear of theater’.Footnote 47 However, as a meta-theatrical gesture of disclosure, the stage Machiavel does not just express unease with the theatre’s powers of deception but simultaneously showcases its capability to anatomise what Nashe calls ‘cunning drifts ouer-guylded with outward holinesse’.Footnote 48 Eisaman Maus accordingly states that the attractiveness of the stage Machiavel is a product of his self-disclosure to the audience and that ‘[t]he epistemological self-assurance of Richard III is its ultimate fiction, its most effective seduction scene’.Footnote 49 In the stage Machiavel, the theatre effortlessly grants access, or rather a fantasy of access, to the inwardness not only of tyrants but also of persecuted religious groups, which Elizabethan authorities strove so laboriously to achieve by means of espionage, the imposition of oaths, and even torture.

The tendency of stage Machiavels such as Richard III, Selimus, Alphonsus, Iago,Footnote 50 or the protagonist of Jonson’s fragmentary Mortimer His Fall to declare their intentions early on in the play may be influenced by earlier theatrical conventions, such as the homiletic exposition or moral pedigree of the Vice. More concrete traces of such conventions of self-revelation survive, for instance, in Richard’s programmatic soliloquy in 3 Henry VI (3.2.124–95), in Machiavel’s prologue in The Jew of Malta, or in Barabas’ ‘I walk abroad a-nights and kill sick people’ (2.3.175–202) speech.Footnote 51 Another source for this habit of self-disclosure may be the tragedies of Seneca, who likewise added to his Greek models a conventionalised form of disclosure in the exchange between the tyrant and his servant, as for instance in act 2 of Thyestes, which Jonson adapts in act 2 of Sejanus His Fall.Footnote 52

The suppression of religious dissent and the desire to access the inwardness of religious desires in the late sixteenth century not only put venerable theatrical traditions to new ideological uses but also coincided with actual formal innovations. Ruth Lunney has made a case that ‘[i]n the context of the late 1580s and the persistence of traditional ways of speaking to the audience, The Jew of Malta was revolutionary’ and ‘open[ed] up new possibilities for the relationship between player and spectator’.Footnote 53 Marlowe transformed, Lunney argues, especially the role of asides, both quantitatively and qualitatively. In Marlowe’s play, ‘[a] greater proportion than before are disruptive’ and fulfil a function of ‘reversing meanings, shifting perspectives, highlighting the disparity between word and action’.Footnote 54 The same tendency can also be discerned in other stage Machiavels such as Richard, Aaron, or Iago.Footnote 55

As Chloe Preedy has further pointed out, Barabas’ usage of asides bears a striking similarity to linguistic strategies of evasion and deception used by religious dissenters, such as equivocation and mental reservation, that is, the mental completion of an utterance that fundamentally changes the meaning of the spoken words.Footnote 56 Just to cite one of many examples, when Lodowick censures Barabas for glancing ‘at our holy nuns’ (2.3.86), Barabas replies with Puritan piety, ‘No, but I do it through a burning zeal’ (2.3.87), equivocating on the stereotype of the lecherously misguided religious zeal of the Puritans.Footnote 57 As is typical for Marlowe’s brand of anti-Puritan satire, however, not just harmless human failure but genuine Machiavellian villainy lurks beneath the fair appearance of piety. Just as Mortimer’s ‘burning zeal / to mend the king and do our country good’ (1.4.256–7) in Edward II turns out to be a mere cover for his own political ambitions, Barabas’ ‘burning zeal’ serves as a cover for murderous intentions. In a theatrical form of mental reservation, as it were, Barabas accordingly literalises his pretensions in the following aside: ‘Hoping ere long to set the house afire’ (2.3.88).

To be clear, there is no need to assume that the stage Machiavel is exclusively concerned with Puritan hypocrisy.Footnote 58 In The Massacre at Paris, Marlowe casts the Duke of Guise, the bête noire of the French Wars of Religion from a Protestant perspective, in the role of the Machiavel. Moreover, at least from the mid-1590s onwards, equivocation and mental reservation were primarily associated with Jesuits and seminary priests.Footnote 59 Such linguistic deception was justified by making a distinction between inward truth and its outward expression. As Perez Zagorin notes with respect to mental reservation, ‘the communicative relationship existed only between the speaker and himself and the speaker and God, who of course knew the reserved mental part and therefore understood the true meaning of his utterance’.Footnote 60 When Robert Southwell defended the practice during his trial in 1595, the chief justice protested that ‘yf this Doctrine should be allowed, it would supplant all Justice, for we are men, and no Gods, and cane iudge but accordinge to theire [men’s] outward actiones and speeches, and not accordinge to there secrette and inward intentiones’.Footnote 61 In the theatre, however, spectators, who are able to hear soliloquies and asides, are granted an insight into the secret thoughts of the characters on stage that mirrors God’s position in the communicative structure of mental reservation. Marlowe’s play thus flatters his spectators by granting them an epistemological perspective on Barabas’ stratagems that amounts, in the context of the fictional play world, to divine omniscience, which apologists of the Elizabethan policy of outward conformity usually disavowed.

Machiavelli and Anti-Puritan Satire in The Jew of Malta

In her important study on Marlowe and ‘politic religion’, Preedy has amply demonstrated that Marlowe’s oeuvre betrays a deep fascination with religious dissimulation in all its forms, be it as a cynical tool of power politics or as a strategy of survival for persecuted dissenters.Footnote 62 In The Jew of Malta, dissimulation is omnipresent, and the play continuously evokes contemporary fears over religious identities and the difficulty of authenticating them. Such concerns were pressing not least because the Turkish Threat in the play would have resonated with fears of a Catholic invasion in England and raised the question of how many native collaborators would have risen up in the event to support the invaders. The Jew of Malta arguably invokes such fears when Barabas enters into a secret alliance with the Ottomans and enables their conquest of the Christian island.

Despite the profound amorality that Barabas displays throughout the whole play, the plot is set in motion by an act of religious intolerance, the expropriation of Malta’s Jewish population under the threat of forced conversion in order to pay the tribute that Malta owes to the Ottomans. Notably, Barabas first insists that he will ‘be no convertite’ (1.2.83). At least in the beginning of the play, then, Barabas is unwilling to dissemble his religious convictions like other stage Machiavels such as Alphonsus, who will ‘[o]n my behaviour set so fair a gloss, / That men shall take me for a Convertite’.Footnote 63 Since Barabas also refuses to part, as stipulated, with one half of his goods, the knights of St John eventually carry away all of his possessions. As if this were not yet bad enough, they do so with a speed which suggests that they have already gone about plundering Barabas’ coffers while he is being asked to convert.Footnote 64

Clearly, Ferneze has more interest in Jewish money than Jewish souls. Even though Ferneze blames the misfortunes that have befallen Malta on the presence of the Jews (1.2.63–5), he has no intention of getting rid of such a profitable source of income: ‘Yet Barabas we will not banish thee, / But here in Malta, where thou got’st thy wealth, / Live still; and if thou canst, get more’ (1.2.101–3). However, Barabas is in no mood for such half-hearted toleration: ‘I am not of the tribe of Levi, I, / That can so soon forget an injury’ (2.3.19–20). Barabas’ humiliation at the hands of Ferneze is followed by a savage orgy of excessive violence spiced up with black humour and tasteless jokes, and, in the process, Barabas’ Jewish identity merges with Machiavellian stereotypes:

We Jews can fawn like spaniels when we please,
And when we grin, we bite; yet are our looks
As innocent and harmless as a lamb’s.
I learnt in Florence how to kiss my hand,
Heave up my shoulders when they call me dog,
And duck as low as any barefoot friar,
Hoping to see them starve upon a stall ….

From dissembling innocence over treacherous courtesy and the hypocritical humility of a ‘barefoot friar’ to the Florence connection, the speech is replete with the connotations of an Elizabethan stage Machiavel. In the following, the play takes up a number of controversial ideas from Machiavelli’s works and applies them to the situation of religious minorities, as exemplified by Barabas.

One of the most controversial claims that Machiavelli had made in The Prince was that ‘a prudent ruler cannot keep his word, nor should he, when such fidelity would damage him, and when the reasons that made him promise are no longer relevant’. Importantly, Machiavelli adds a crucial qualification that his early modern detractors usually omitted: ‘This advice would not be sound if all men were upright; but because they are treacherous and would not keep their promises to you, you should not consider yourself bound to keep your promises to them’.Footnote 65 Barabas tries to defuse Abigail’s scruples about being betrothed to Lodowick, Ferneze’s son, as part of a revenge scheme, in a similar manner:

It is no sin to deceive a Christian,
For they themselves hold it a principle
Faith is not to be held with heretics.
But all are heretics that are not Jews;
This follows well, and therefore, daughter, fear not.

Like Machiavelli, Barabas justifies oath-breaking with reference to reciprocity. If Christians do not keep their word with Jews, why should the latter keep their word with Christians? There were a number of dissenters, both Catholic and Protestant, who would have supported such a stance.Footnote 66

Marlowe hardly paints over the intolerance and discrimination that inspire Barabas’ revenge spree and his resorting to subterfuge and deception. When reflecting on his habits of treachery and dissimulation, Barabas observes that ‘Christians do the like’ (5.2.116). However, such universality of deception does not render it morally acceptable, as Barabas’ opportunistic and disingenuous use of Nicodemite arguments suggests. In The Jew of Malta, the assumption of false religious identities is thus motivated not only by the desire for self-preservation, in terms of which Nicodemites circumscribed the legitimate sphere of dissimulation, but also by the desire for money and revenge. Abigail’s fake conversion, for instance, serves the purpose of retrieving Barabas’ hidden money from the secret stash in his former house, which had been turned into a nunnery. Nonetheless, Barabas offers a moral justification of dissimulation, and he does so with reference to contemporary Nicodemite discourses. When he persuades Abigail to feign her conversion, he disperses her scruples as follows:

As good dissemble that thou never mean’st
As first mean truth and then dissemble it.
A counterfeit profession is better
Than unseen hypocrisy.

What these lines presumably mean is that to remain inwardly constant but dissemble outwardly is better than to sway from one’s convictions while keeping up a hypocritical pretence of constancy on the outside, that is, ‘at first mean truth and then dissemble it’. Barabas’ argumentation echoes controversial justifications of Nicodemism, which likewise hinged on a sharp and hierarchical distinction between inward- and outwardness. This distinction also served as the justification for equivocation and mental reservation, to which Barabas’ linguistic strategies of deception bear such a remarkable similarity.

Moreover, Barabas also refers to Biblical verses that played an important role in early modern justifications of Nicodemism, for instance before he begins to practise on Ferneze’s son Lodowick: ‘Now will I show myself to have more of the serpent than the dove – that is, more knave than fool’ (2.3.36–7). Barabas is alluding to Matt. 10:16: ‘Beholde, I send you as shepe in the middes of wolues: be ye therefore wise as serpentes, and innocent as doues’. However, Protestant anti-Nicodemite writers denied that the injunction to be wise as serpents justified dissembling one’s faith. In Wolfgang Musculus’ dialogue The Temporysour, the eponymous Nicodemite vindicates his dissimulation with reference to Christ: ‘I do obey the counsayl of Christ, who sayeth: beware of men, for they shall delyuer you vp, &c. As also, be wyse as serpentes … Thou knowest that these thinges were spoken of christ, to his faythful flocke, to thende they should more diligentlye take hede to them selfes. Wherfore I se not why I shoulde be reprehended’.Footnote 67 Temporysour’s incomplete citation of the verse (he omits the dove part) already makes clear that we are not meant to approve his argument. Similarly, Calvin repeatedly accused Nicodemites of failing to be as innocent as doves.Footnote 68 Barabas, who reduces the conjunction of prudence and innocence to a choice between knavery and folly, may subvert any claim to moral purity, but he also implicitly concedes a point to anti-Nicodemite writers who insisted that serpentine prudence without dove-like innocence is indeed nothing but knavery.

In fact, Christ’s injunction to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove is part of his missionary call to spread the gospel, which leaves little room for Nicodemism, as becomes clear a few verses later: ‘But whosoeuer shal denie me before men, him wil I also denie before my Father’ (Matt. 10:33). At this point in the play, however, Barabas’ initial nonconformist credentials are severely compromised. He even pretends to arrange a marriage between his daughter Abigail and Lodovick, and encourages Mathias to court his daughter as well. When Mathias’ mother is suspicious of their talk, Barabas pretends that their exchange was merely about Biblical scholarship: ‘As for the comment on the Maccabees, / I have it, sir, and ’tis at your command’ (2.3.155). Marlowe thus evokes a complex web of intertextual ironies that is worth unravelling.

The reference to Maccabees is poignant since books one and two of the deuterocanonical four books of Maccabees recount the Jewish revolution against the Seleucid Dynasty in the second century BCE. This revolution had been preceded by the gruesome fate of the Maccabean martyrs (2 Macc 7), Eleazar and a mother and her seven sons, who refused to eat pork. Encouraged by their mother, they are, one after another, tortured, have their tongue and extremities cut off, are scalped, and eventually roasted to death. There is a case to be made that the reference to the Maccabees is not arbitrary but of some structural importance in the play. Thus, Barabas’ death in a boiling cauldron bears some resemblance to the seven child martyrs, not least since the king ‘commanded’, according to the Geneva Bible, not only ‘to heat pannes’, but also to heat ‘cauldrons, which were incontinently made hote’ (2 Macc 7:3). Furthermore, Barabas’ scheme to hold a treacherous banquet in order to rid Malta of the Ottoman invaders has not only a potential Machiavellian modelFootnote 69 but also a precedent in the rebel leader Simon Maccabee, who was assassinated in the same manner at the behest of his son-in-law (1 Macc. 16). Finally, the Maccabees are significant for the play’s treatment of religious dissimulation because the martyrs became models in Protestant and Catholic anti-Nicodemite discourses alike. Calvin, for instance, recounts their story in order to confirm his readers in the constancy of their faith,Footnote 70 and Pietro Martire Vermigli too holds them up as an example for those who are tempted to partake in idolatry: ‘Machabaea the mother, with hir children, would rather be martyred, than eat of swines flesh against the lawe of GOD’.Footnote 71 English Catholics too invoked the Maccabees. William Allen describes the twelve priests whom Munday had helped to bring to the gallows as ‘these noble Machabees’,Footnote 72 and Henry Garnet discusses their case at length in his Treatise of Christian renunciation (1593).

It is rather ironic, therefore, that Barabas’ reference to a ‘comment on the Maccabees’ is a pretext for interfaith marriage negotiations. Of course, anti-Nicodemite writers opposed interfaith marriage. Vermigli,Footnote 73 for instance, cites Paul’s prohibition: ‘Be not vnequally yoked with the infideles: for what felowship hathe righteousnes with vnrighteousnes? and what communion hathe light with darkenes?’ (2 Cor. 6:14). In the Catholic Gregory Martin’s Treatise of schisme (1578), a reference to the Maccabees as a precedent for Catholic recusantsFootnote 74 is even immediately followed by an admonition against marriage with heretics.Footnote 75 For Garnet, the martyrdom of the Maccabean martyrs likewise raises the question of how Catholic wives and children should behave in times of persecution. As the Jesuit insists, they are not to connive with their husbands’ or parents’ compromises, since ‘your husband ouer your soules haue no autority’.Footnote 76 The same applies to parents: ‘And God hauing at the length shewed you their folly … Let their riches go with them into perdition: you haue not a father vpon earth, but in heauen’.Footnote 77 Garnet cites a number of Biblical examples in order to confirm his case, including the Biblical Abigail, who supplied David, when he was persecuted by Saul, with provisions against the will of her husband Nabal.Footnote 78

In The Jew of Malta, religious division runs through the family as well. Following her Biblical namesake, who was held up as a model for recusants, Barabas’ daughter eventually abandons her father as she definitively converts to Christianity. The irony of Barabas’ allusion to the anti-Nicodemite proof-text of the Maccabees in his elaborate revenge scheme thus comes back with a vengeance. However, Abigail’s spiritual independence from patriarchal authority lasts only for a brief spell – perhaps precisely for what it is – until Barabas poisons his daughter and with her the whole convent that she had entered.Footnote 79 Barabas’ reference to the Maccabees thus symbolises the strange contradiction between Barabas’ supposed concerns for religious purity and his simultaneous willingness to resort to dissimulation. In other words, his nonconformity is nothing but a hypocritical pose, a charge that was to become typical for the stage Puritan, as I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 7.

Paradoxically, even as Barabas pretends to arrange a marriage between his daughter and a Christian, he tells Lodovick that ‘when we speak with gentiles like to you / We turn into the air to purge ourselves’ (3.2.46–7). The same contempt for unbelievers is palpable in Barabas’ anti-Christian invective at the beginning of the scene:

In spite of these swine-eating christians –
Unchosen nation, never circumcised,
such as, poor villains, were ne’er thought upon
till Titus and Vespasian conquered us –
Am I become as wealthy as I was.

Concerns with religious purity, such as the stipulations of dietary laws for which the Maccabees suffered their martyrdom and which Barabas invokes in his contempt for ‘swine-eating christians’, also informed Christian anti-Nicodemite discourses.Footnote 80 Notions of pollution and infection, as implied in Barabas’ purging himself in the presence of Christians, likewise played an important role in Protestant concerns about the Mass as an idolatrous sacrifice. As Vermigli notes, when Protestants ‘defile themselves with Masses & vnpure superstitions … the light of the truth, which before was kindled in their minds, is by little and little extinguished’ (2.4.22). Fatally, however, Barabas ignores this danger of pollution when he sends his daughter into a convent and urges her to seduce her Christian suitors. From a Christian perspective, Abigail may embody the nonconformity of her Biblical namesake, but from Barabas’ standpoint she embodies the widely perceived danger of pollution and apostasy that may follow from dissimulation. As Garnet puts it in An apology against the defence of Schisme (1593), written against the erstwhile church papist and later Protestant polemicist Thomas Bell, ‘[d]issimulation is the way to infection’.Footnote 81

Barabas clearly fails to live up to the standards of contemporary anti-Nicodemite writers, and his separatist pretensions are, for most of the play, compromised by ulterior motives. Barabas thus echoes the charge against Puritan nonconformists, namely, that they pursued a hidden, subversive agenda under their pretence of piety. Especially Barabas’ reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in the context of his separatist invective against impure Christians, ‘till Titus and Vespasian conquered us’ (2.3.10), would have had unfavourable Puritan connotations in the early 1590s. For the play’s early spectators, Barabas’ historical allusion likely carried great weight. When The Jew of Malta was played in 1592, Lord Strange’s Men also performed a now lost play entitled ‘tittus & vespacia’, the company’s fifth most successful play at the Rose, which premiered, according to Henslowe’s diary, on 11 April. The subject of the play was presumably the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and its portrayal would not necessarily have been positive.Footnote 82 As Lawrence Manley notes, ‘in contemporary treatments of the destruction of Jerusalem, the suicidal infighting of the Jewish Zealot factions is coded to suggest analogies with the separatism of extreme Protestants’.Footnote 83 Beatrice Groves has further shown that the siege of Jerusalem was frequently invoked in defence of the Elizabethan settlement as a warning against the disastrous consequences of religious dissent and factionalism at a time when the threat of an invasion called for national unity.Footnote 84

In the Marprelate controversy, Pasquil accordingly claims that ‘it can neither stand with policie nor with Religion, to nourish any faction in ciuill matters, much lesse in matters belonging to the Church’,Footnote 85 and cites the example of Jerusalem in order to buttress his claim: ‘Tough the Iewes at the siege of Ierusalem, were pressed by theyr enemies without the walles, and punished wyth such a mortalitie within, that the carkases of the deade did dunge the grounde, yet they neuer went to the wall, till they grew to be factious & fell to taking one another by the throate’.Footnote 86 The same point is brought home in The Jew of Malta, when Barabas’ hatred for Ferneze eventually leads him to betray Malta to the Ottomans. Throughout the play, Barabas’ Machiavellian schemes, usually performed under the cover of dissimulation, spell disaster for all involved parties and exemplify Pasquil’s warning in the Marprelate controversy that ‘[o]ne secret faction in a Realme dooth more hurth, then any generall plague or open warre’.Footnote 87 Clearly, there was no universal agreement with Richard Hooker’s claim that God does not ‘binde us to dive into mens consciences’ and that ‘their fraude and deceipt hurte any man but them selves’.Footnote 88 On the contrary, The Jew of Malta highlights the dangers of accepting the stranger, heretic, or infidel in one’s midst and the deadly stratagems which they may be able to launch if one does not care to pierce through outward appearances. By exploiting the late Elizabethan upsurge in intolerance for religious dissimulation to great dramatic effect, Marlowe arguably further amplifies the fear and distrust that informed the Elizabethan persecution of religious dissent.

Puritans and Strangers

While Marlowe’s Barabas reflects the charges of subversive hypocrisy that were frequently levelled against the godly in late Elizabethan England, he is simultaneously coded as a stranger and treated as such in the play, not only by virtue of his status as a Jew but also by virtue of his Puritan connotations. The supposed foreignness of English Catholics in conceptions of English nationhood both past and present has received a good deal of attention, for instance in critical reflections on the Protestant bias in the formation of the English literary canon.Footnote 89 However, it bears pointing out that Puritans in pre–Civil War England were likewise routinely suspected of un-English activities. Richard Bancroft portrayed the Puritan movement as part of an international Presbyterian conspiracy, and the fall of Jerusalem offered a powerful analogy for condemning the unpatriotic divisiveness of the godly at a time when the threat of a foreign invasion called for national unity. The perceived threat of Scottish Presbyterianism and the presence of a sizable number of Protestant immigrants especially from war-torn France and the Netherlands, who were often subject to xenophobic animosity, additionally troubled a simple equation of Protestantism with English nationhood.Footnote 90 Protestant refugees from the continent were often accused of merely pretending to have fled from persecution in their homeland, whereas their real purpose in coming to England supposedly was to exploit the economic opportunities offered beyond the Channel. In the remainder of this chapter, I contextualise The Jew of Malta in this widespread association of Puritanism with a distinctly foreign and suspicious brand of Protestantism, which complicated the ideological front of English Protestantism against the threat of continental Catholicism.

Zachary Lesser has suggested that the 1633 publication of The Jew of Malta served to promote the religious policies of Archbishop Laud, especially Laud’s efforts to terminate the relatively independent status of the Protestant stranger churches in England and incorporate them into the Established Church.Footnote 91 However, The Jew of Malta was already legible in a similar way in the context of anti-stranger sentiment in the early 1590s. The extent to which Marlowe catered to popular resentment against foreign Protestants may be gauged in the Dutch Church libel, a viciously xenophobic poem posted on the wall of the churchyard of the Dutch stranger church in London in early May 1593.Footnote 92 The poem is signed by one ‘Tamberlaine’ and recalls other Marlowe plays as well, including The Jew of Malta. The main grievance of the libel is that the Protestant immigrants are waging a trade war against the native economy: ‘And Cutthrote like in selling you vndoe / vs all’ (ll. 23–4). Presumably with The Jew of Malta in mind, the poem also mentions a ‘Machiavellian Marchant’ who ‘spoyles the state’ (l. 5), and explicitly characterises the economic practices of the Protestant immigrants as Jewish: ‘And like the Jewes, you eate us vp as bread’ (l. 8). The pamphlet thus responds to a controversial bill that was read in Parliament on 28 February 1593, some two months before the libel was posted, which aimed ‘to prohibit strangers borne to sell forren wares by waye of retaile, except he hath served seven yeares with an Englishman in the same trade’.Footnote 93

In addition, the poem is critical of England’s interventionist foreign policy, especially in the Dutch and French wars of religion, as the ‘pore soules’ of England ‘to the warres are sent abroade to rome, / To fight it out for Fraunce & Belgia, / And dy like dogges as sacrifice for you’ (ll. 31–4). The poem thus expresses scepticism about an international Protestant alliance, for which the godly in particular lobbied throughout Elizabeth’s reign. Finally, even though the strangers may offer valuable services to the English government in the form of intelligence, they are accused of double-dealing and subversive intentions: ‘You are intelligencers to the state & crowne / And in your hartes doe wish an alteracion’ (l. 16). The libel’s accusation that they are ‘infected’ with ‘Spanish gold’ (l. 45) suggests that they are not good Protestants at heart, but treacherous double agents in the service of the Spanish Crown – or at least willing to profit from Spain as much as from England. Like Barabas, the strangers thus conspire with the enemy. In fact, they are fake-refugees, and the libel accuses them of ‘counterfeitinge religion for your flight’ (l. 42), a term that ominously echoes Barabas’ justification of a ‘counterfeit profession’ (1.2.293) in The Jew of Malta. The libel accordingly threatens the Protestant immigrants with a bloodbath on a major scale, as it was staged in Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris, first performed in January of the same year: ‘Weele cutte your throtes, in your temples praying / Not paris massacre so much blood did spill / As we will doe iust vengeance on you all’ (ll. 39–41).

This libel was not a unique phenomenon. Another libel, posted in Southwark, similarly accused the strangers of using religious persecution as a pretext for capitalising on English hospitality: ‘by your cowardly Flight from your own natural Countries, [you] have abandoned the same into the hands of your proud, cowardly enemies, and have, by a feigned hypocrisy and counterfeit shew of religion placed yourselves here in a most fertile soil’.Footnote 94 The doubtful loyalty of the strangers to their hosts in England is also highlighted in several plays from the period. In The Pedlar’s Prophecy, entered into the Stationers’ Register in 1594 and published in the following year, the strangers are described as ‘Fortie thousand enemies to the Crowne, / The deadly poyson of hell’ (ll. 817–18), who ‘When we thinke least … shall cut our throates’ (l. 899).Footnote 95 Moreover, their orthodox credentials are cast into doubt since they are not ‘Gospellers, / And such as we know to be very good Christians’ (ll. 906–7), but ‘Anabaptists, Lybertines, Epicurians and Arians’ (l. 826). As the pedlar further elaborates, ‘vnder the pretence of the Gospell, / There is no heresie, no impietie, no sacriledge onsought, / And all painted out, with the cullour of the Gospell’ (ll. 913–15).Footnote 96 Like Barabas, who has no qualms to dissemble or urge his daughter to dissemble a conversion to Christianity for ulterior purposes, the strangers abuse the Gospel as ‘a cloake to all abhomination’ (l. 909).

The pleasant and Stately Morall, of the three Lordes and three Ladies of London (1590), ascribed to Robert Wilson, has more to say about the crooked ways of the strangers. When Dissimulation, Fraud, and Simony plan to ‘meet and ioine with the enemie’, that is, to join the Spanish Armada, Usury urges them to ‘be not traitors to your natiue countrie’. Simony, however, refutes the charge by pointing out that Dissimulation is, in fact, not English but ‘a Mongrel, half an Italian, halfe a Dutchman Fraud so too, halfe French, and halfe Scottish’.Footnote 97 Barabas’ overdetermination as a dissembling foreigner, who not only belongs to the dispersed Jewish diaspora but also speaks Italian (1.2.91) and Spanish (2.1.39; 2.1.64) and dresses up as a ‘French musician’ (4.4.29) in order to undo his enemies, invokes the same suspicious cosmopolitanism. The scenario of The Jew of Malta in which a ‘stranger’ (1.2.59) betrays a besieged island to its enemies is thus one of a piece with contemporary xenophobia that was prepared to think the worst of foreigners, even if they were fellow-Protestants.

The scurrilous libels and plays that voiced such crude anti-stranger sentiment were not merely the product of grassroots resentment. They closely resemble the position that Walter Raleigh had promoted some weeks earlier in the parliamentary debate on retailing. Raleigh’s speech against the strangers likewise combined the charges of religious dissimulation and treacherous intentions, which we have already encountered so copiously: ‘Religion is no pretence for them, for we have no Dutch men here but such as came from those provinces where the ghospell is preached, and here they live dislyking of our Church’.Footnote 98 Moreover, Raleigh also casts doubt on the political probity of the Dutch: ‘The nature of this Dutchman is to fly to no man but for his profitt, and to none they will obey longe; now under Spayne, now they will have Mounser [i.e. the Duke of Alençon], now the prince of Oringe, but no governor longe’.Footnote 99 Similar to the Dutch Church libel, Raleigh even accuses them of enabling the aggressive foreign policy of Spain: ‘They are the people that maynteine the Kinge of Spayne in his greatnes. Were it not for them, he were never able to make out such navies by sea nor such armyes as he sends abroad’.Footnote 100 Evidently, the loyalty of strangers was under suspicion during the threat of a foreign invasion – even though they had actually made generous financial contributions to the English resistance to the Armada.Footnote 101 By the 1590s, the memory of the Protestant exodus from England to the continent during the Marian persecution had grown cold, and international solidarity with Protestant victims of persecution could not be taken for granted.Footnote 102

However, it needs to be stressed that the xenophobia of the 1590s not only was the product of economic tensions and political paranoia but also revealed a confessional rift between English and continental Protestantism. There were close associations between the stranger churches and the Elizabethan Puritan movement, which add a further layer of meaning to the relationship between Marlowe’s dramatic oeuvre, with its anti-Puritan satire, and the xenophobia of the Dutch Church libel. Raleigh’s complaint that ‘here they live dislyking of our Church’ points to an uneasy relationship between the stranger churches and the Church of England. When the stranger churches were formally established during the reign of Edward VI, they were not actually part of the Established Church but were allowed to institute their own form of liturgy and church government, which was considerably closer to continental Reformed churches than the Church of England. Elizabeth placed the stranger churches under the superintendence of the Bishop of London, but continued to grant them independence in church discipline and government, if only for economic reasons.Footnote 103

With their unmistakably continental flavour, the stranger churches inadvertently served as models for the Puritan movement.Footnote 104 For instance, the French exile churches, not only in London but also in Canterbury and Norwich, had been allowed to govern themselves as a Presbyterian polity from 1581 onwards.Footnote 105 In the 1572 parliament, a bill concerning rites and ceremonies accordingly pleaded for the legalisation of ‘such forme of prayer and mynistracion of the woorde and sacraments, and other godlie exercises as the righte godlie reformed Churches now do use in the ffrenche and Douche congregation, within the City of London or elswheare in the Quenes maiesties dominions’.Footnote 106 As Collinson argues, Puritans may well have taken inspiration from the ‘godlie exercises’ practised in the stranger churches, especially the prophesyings that were to be repressed so vigorously in the 1570s.Footnote 107 Additionally, a number of Puritans began to attend services there as the pressure on nonconformity grew more intense in the 1570s. As Andrew Pettegree writes, ‘there were obviously many whose sympathy for poor refugees from foreign persecution was strained to breaking-point by the encouragement which the stranger churches offered, even by their very existence, to dissidents inside the English Church’.Footnote 108 In parliament, Henry Finch accordingly felt the need to point out that the strangers deserved of English charity even ‘though they be of a Church to themselves’.Footnote 109 The affinities between Puritans and the stranger churches thus were a contributing factor to their unpopularity by the 1590s.

Brian Walsh has drawn attention to a similar conflation of Huguenots with Puritans in The Massacre at Paris, which further confirms the association of Protestant refugees with native radicals.Footnote 110 In The Massacre at Paris, the Protestants, whom the Machiavellian Guise so piously puts to death, are repeatedly called ‘Puritans’ (14.56; 19.45). Despite the persecution which the Huguenots experience in Marlowe’s play, their faith is thus coded as potentially problematic, as is the case in the Dutch Church libel. Arguably an additional factor for Marlowe’s unsympathetic treatment of the Huguenots is that Calvinist resistance theory stood in conflict with the English model of royal supremacy and is repeatedly subject to criticism in Marlowe’s dramatic oeuvre.Footnote 111 Protestant justifications of political resistance were problematic from an English perspective not least because they were perceived to lend legitimacy to Puritan insubordination. Bancroft, for instance, detected one and the same conspiracy in the Puritan movement and ‘the Consistorians of chiefe name beyonde the Seas’, such as Calvin, de Bèze, or Hotman, ‘who (being of the Geneua humor) doo endeuour by most vniust & disloyall meanes, to subiect to their forged presbyteries, the scepters and swordes of Kings and Princes’.Footnote 112 The fact that Puritan writers found a press to publish their works in a Huguenot stronghold like La Rochelle could only have strengthened the perception of an inherent connection between the Huguenots and the seditious Puritans at home.Footnote 113 It was therefore by no means far-fetched to apply Marlowe’s mordant anti-Puritan satire in The Jew of Malta to the stranger churches. Marlowe’s projection of anti-Puritan stereotypes onto an alien figure who dissembles religion in order to subvert the commonwealth marries two virulent conspiracy theories of the late 1580s and early 1590s, which were often seen to be related: the fear of a Puritan coup d’état and the fear of foreign subversion.

As I have argued in this chapter, the theatre could be fully complicit in the desire to make windows into men’s hearts, which became increasingly dominant in late Elizabethan religious politics. Marlowe’s incendiary play reinforces the propagandistic fictions that justified the crackdown on Puritans and Catholics alike and suggests that there must be no tolerance for dissimulation when the nation is under threat of a foreign invasion. I have further suggested that the rise of the stage Machiavel, to which Marlowe contributed so significantly, is a response to this distrust in the dissenter’s inwardness and a hitherto neglected strand in the genesis of the stage Puritan. The theatrical conventions of the stage Machiavel showcase the theatre’s ability to grant access, at least in the realm of fiction, to hidden inwardness and to allay the very fears on which its sensationalist representations of religious dissent thrive. As a theatrical gesture of transparency, the stage Machiavel thus offers a deceptive fantasy of total disclosure. However, granting access to the hidden inwardness of religious dissenters was not the only way in which the theatre could be put to the service of an intolerant state. In Chapter 7, the final chapter of this book, I turn again to the reign of King James I and discuss more stereotypical representations of Puritanism on stage. As Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair (1614) makes clear, intolerance does not always take the form of exclusion but can also manifest itself in the guise of moderation and irenicism.


1 For the stage Machiavel as little more than a transitional character type between the Vice and a more naturalistic form of evil, see Spivack, especially 373–8; for an extended discussion of the Senecan influence, see Praz; for the stage Machiavel as a symptom of ‘an awareness of the imminence of the secular state and of the emergence of the “new men”’ (173), see Scott.

2 Hanson.

4 Stubbes 1:145.

7 For Stubbes’ sympathy with aspects of the Puritan ecclesiastical reform programme, such as the election of ministers as opposed to unilateral episcopal appointment, see 2:90–100; however, for Stubbes’ defence of the episcopacy and the position of the Established Church in the vestments controversy, see also 2:101–16.

8 Norton A2v.

9 Diehl, ‘Disciplining Puritans and Players’ 90.

10 OFB 15:22.

11 Augustine, Treatises 132.

12 Vermigli 2.13.24.

13 See Chapter 3. For Munday’s possible espionage in the Netherlands in the 1590s, see further Schrickx, ‘Munday in the Netherlands’.

14 4.4, CEWBJ 2:109–11.

15 Nashe 1:213.

16 Sidney 98.

17 For an authoritative account of the Marprelate controversy, including the authorship question, see Black’s comprehensive introduction to Marprelate, The Martin Marprelate Tracts: A Modernized and Annotated Edition. Earlier criticism speculated that Munday, too, may have lent his pen to the dramatic productions directed against Martin or been the author of An Almond for a Parrat (Wilson, ‘Anthony Munday’ 489–90; Turner 86–7), but there is no concrete evidence for such assumptions. For a more sceptical position, also with regard to supposed Martinist topicality in Munday’s John a Kent and John a Cumber, see Black, ‘“Handling Religion”’ 165–6.

18 See Collinson, ‘Theatre Constructs Puritanism’ 164–7; Poole 16–44.

19 Machiavelli, Prince ch. 18.

20 Machiavelli, Discourses 1.11–15.

21 For the association of Machiavelli with ‘politick religion’, see Raab 77–101.

22 Alphonsus 4.

23 Footnote Ibid. 2. Alphonsus was first printed in 1654 and attributed to George Chapman on the title page. The attribution has been generally rejected (sometimes in favour of George Peele), and the precise date of composition is uncertain. Earlier criticism postulated a date in the late Elizabethan period (c. 1594). While Martin Wiggins has speculated that the play may have been written as late as 1630 (8:405), the traditional dating to the 1590s has recently been reasserted by Blamires. Generally, Machiavelli may have been more familiar to early modern playgoers than the surviving corpus of plays from the period would suggest. Henslowe’s diary records performances of a lost play, entitled Machiavel, on 2 March, 3 April, and 1 June (?) 1592 by Lord Strange’s Men (see Wiggins 3:116). That is to say, the play was in the company’s repertoire at the same time as The Jew of Malta. Another lost play, Machiavel and the Devil (1613) by Robert Daborne, may likewise have been more or less closely concerned with the Florentine’s afterlife (see Wiggins 7:331–2).

24 Eisaman Maus 47.

25 Poole 21.

26 Adkins, ‘Genesis of Dramatic Satire’. For a more recent account of the development of the stage Puritan, see further Walsh 39–85.

27 Monogenetic accounts of the stage Puritan are, of course, unduly reductive. Besides traditional anti-clerical satire, Robert Hornback has also drawn attention to another potential embodiment of anti-Puritan stereotypes in the early 1590s, namely, carnivalesque and rebellious clowns such as Jack Cade in 2 Henry VI.

28 For occasional, although frequently casual, references to Machiavelli in anti-Marprelate writings, see, for example, Martins Months minde (1589), G2r, F2v, H1v, H2v, H4v; or The First Parte of Pasquils Apologie (1590), in Nashe 1:113.

29 Hibbard 39.

30 Hutson, Nashe in Context 67–8.

31 See, for example, Anderson; McGinnis and Williamson 113–20; Loewenstein 164–72.

32 Nashe 3:348.

33 Nashe 1:220.

34 Shakespeare, King Richard III, ed. Siemon 31–6.

35 Nashe 1:75.

36 On Hacket, see also Chapter 3.

37 See also Machiavelli, Prince, ch. 17.

38 See also Footnote ibid. ch. 7.

39 All references to Marlowe’s plays are to Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, eds. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, with the exception of The Massacre at Paris, which I quote from The Complete Plays, eds. Frank Romany and Robert Lindsey, London: Penguin, 2003, 507–62.

40 The Jew of Malta cannot be dated precisely with any certainty. Its first attested performance took place, according to Henslowe’s diary, on 26 February 1592, but Henslowe does not mark it as new. The play, or at least the prologue, must have been written after the death of the Duke of Guise on 23 December 1588, mentioned in the prologue: ‘Now the Guise is dead’ (3). However, Marlowe’s use of ‘now’ does not necessarily imply that the play was written shortly after Guise’s death. As George Coffin Taylor has shown, Marlowe’s inflationary use of ‘now’ is often without semantic significance and rather serves ‘for emphasis, helping perhaps to call the reader’s attention more intently to what is to follow’ (‘Marlowe’s “Now”’ 97). The play was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 17 May 1594, but the earliest (surviving) edition dates from 1633. This long delay from composition to publication has raised questions concerning textual corruption and possible revisions, perhaps by Thomas Heywood, who was responsible for the revival of the play on the Caroline stage. Earlier critics interpreted the perceived dissonance between the predominantly tragic tone of the first two acts and the farcical tone of the remainder of the play as evidence for major revisions of the second half of the play, but critical opinion in the second half of the twentieth century has been more willing to accept the textual integrity of the 1633 quarto (Brandt 2–5). At any rate, when Heywood published revised versions of his own plays from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean period in the 1630s, his revisions were usually minimal (Dutton, ‘Thomas Heywood’ 191–2), which might suggest that he would not have tinkered excessively with The Jew of Malta either.

41 The friars in the play likewise ventriloquise Puritan cant when they say of Abigail’s conversion, perhaps not without innuendo, that ‘this proceedeth of the spirit’ (1.2.327–8) ‘and of a moving spirit too’ (1.2.329). Such vocabulary was to be reproduced by Jonsonian stage Puritans such as Ananias, who justifies the consultation of an alchemist by noting that ‘[t]he motion’s good, / And of the Spirit’ (Alchemist 3.1.49–50, CEWBJ 3:629), or Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, who is ‘moved in spirit’ (Bartholomew Fair 3.6.68, CEWBJ 4:356) to demolish an idolatrous gingerbread stand. As in the case of A Knack to Know a Knave, the projection of anti-Puritan stereotypes on Catholic friars may recall the roots of anti-Puritan satire in older, anti-clerical satire. Compare with John the Precise, who refuses to give alms because ‘the Spirit doth not mooue me thereunto’ (ll. 1632–3).

42 For a stylistic comparison between Nashe’s Almond for a Parrat and The Jew of Malta, see Hibbard 48.

43 Shapiro 24.

44 Stelling, Religious Conversion 6.

45 See Glaser 30–63; Shapiro 20–6. For the remarkable fluidity and non-essentialist nature of the early modern category of Jewishness and its implications for the representation of Judaism on stage, see also Smith, ‘Was Shylock Jewish?’.

46 Hanson 16.

47 Kahn 89.

48 Nashe 1:213.

49 Eisaman Maus 54.

50 See Shakespeare’s Richard III; Tragical Reign of Selimus; Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany; and Shakespeare’s Othello.

51 For the convention of the homiletic exposition of the Vice in general, see Spivack 178–84. For Shakespeare and Marlowe in particular, see Spivack 349–50, 377–8.

52 See Praz 126; Bushnell 32–3.

53 Lunney 115.

56 Preedy, Marlowe’s Literary Scepticism 49–54.

57 The stereotype of Puritan lechery implied in Barabas’ zeal presumably figured prominently in the contemporary anti-Martinist interludes, as can be gathered from surviving titles such as The Holie Oath of the Martinistes, That, Thinking to Sweare by His Conscience, Swore by His Concupiscence or The Zealous Love-Letter, or Corinthian Epistles to the Widow (see Collinson, Richard Bancroft 79).

58 The stage Machiavel has also been read as an embodiment of Jesuit dissimulation and shape-shifting. See Ide, ‘The Jew of Malta and the Diabolic Power of Theatrics in the 1580s’. However, a caveat seems in order in this regard. In contrast with the Puritans, the explicit association of the Jesuits with Machiavelli, most prominent in John Donne’s vicious anti-Jesuit satire in Ignatius His Conclave (1611), did not get fully underway before the early seventeenth century. See Anglo 374–414; Praz 131–42. Ide’s only explicit example of the connection between Machiavelli and the Jesuits dates from 1602.

59 For a good account of equivocation and mental reservation in the context of early modern English Catholicism, see Zagorin 153–220.

61 Quoted in Janelle 82.

62 Preedy, Marlowe’s Literary Scepticism.

63 Alphonsus 6.

64 It is only some forty lines later that officers enter the stage and report: ‘we have seized upon the goods / And wares of Barabas, which, being valued, / Amount to more than all the wealth in Malta’ (1.2.133–5). Such compression of dramatic time occurs elsewhere in the play too (e.g. act 4, scene 1), but, in the light of the knights’ dubious money-raising scheme, it seems significant in this instance.

65 Machiavelli, Prince 62 (ch. 18).

66 Whether faith is to be kept with heretics was a burning question in the sixteenth century, not least in the French Wars of Religion (Anglo 267–8, 350; Bawcutt 31). Marlowe had already dramatised a notorious example of oath-breaking with heretics in 2 Tamburlaine, when Sigismond, King of Hungary, breaks his treaty with Orcanes, the Muslim King of Natolia. The question of oath-breaking was also of immediate relevance in the case of religious persecution. See, for example, Vermigli’s discussion of the same Sigismond, who broke his promise of safe conduct to the reformer Jan Hus on the occasion of the Council of Constance. Vermigli comes to the conclusion that Sigismond’s behaviour was indefensible (2.13.21). As already noted, however, the Catholic doctrine of equivocation and mental reservation under certain conditions allowed for deception, even under oath.

67 Musculus D6r.

68 See CO 7:173; 9:625.

69 Compare with Machiavelli, Prince ch. 8.

70 CO 6:569–70.

71 Vermigli 2.4.19.

72 Allen, Briefe historie c7r.

73 Vermigli 2.4.17.

74 Martin, Treatise of schisme D3r.

76 Garnet, Treatise of Christian renunciation 145.

78 Footnote Ibid. 145–6.

79 Lieke Stelling has shown that conversions on the early modern stage are usually sealed either by death or by marriage. As Stelling further notes, ‘these theatrical marriage-cum-Christianizations stressed the analogy between a woman’s submission to her husband and his God’ (‘“Thy Very Essence Is Mutability”’ 77). Apparently, there is not much room on the early modern stage for the sort of female spiritual independence that Garnet envisions and that Abigail, at least for a short time, embodies as well.

80 See Yoder. Concerns about pollution through idolatry are voiced frequently in Calvin’s anti-Nicodemite writings. See, for example, CO 6:593; 6:603. For the danger of apostasy that such pollution entails, see in particular 6:543.

81 Garnet, Apology against the defence of Schisme 117. Bell was a Catholic priest trained in Douai and Rome. Despite his initial missionary activities, he would eventually advocate for church conformity in the early 1590s. In 1592, he converted and became a paid polemicist for the Church of England. See Walsham, Church Papists 56–60; Holmes, Resistance and Compromise 95–8.

82 For an attempt to reconstruct the play’s subject matter, see Manley.

84 Groves, Destruction of Jerusalem 149.

85 Nashe 1:75.

86 Footnote Ibid. 1:75–6.

88 Hooker 2:354.

89 For attempts to redress the balance, see, for example, Shell, Catholicism; Sweeney.

90 On the role of Scotland in anti-Puritan polemics in the late 1580s and early 1590s, see McGinnis and Williamson.

91 Lesser 81–114.

92 For a full transcript of the Dutch Church libel, see Freeman, ‘Marlowe, Kyd’.

93 Proceedings 3:85. For the parliamentary debate on the bill, see further Footnote ibid. 3:132–9, 142–4. For the illegal retailing practices of which the strangers were accused, see also Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities 276–8. As one opponent of the bill in parliament, Edward Dimock, pointed out, however, ‘[t]he beggery of our homes retaylers groweth not by the strangers retaylinge but by our home engrossers’, that is, by the manipulation of the market by means of buying up large quantities of a given good (Proceedings 3:138). In addition, Dimock challenged the claim that ‘[t]he retayling stranger buyes nothinge of our contrye commodities, but all the money he takes he ventes over beyond sea’ (Footnote ibid. 3:137). According to Dimock, mostly English merchants were responsible for the imports that undermined the native economy: ‘The strangers are not they that transporte / our coyne but it is our own marchant … So it is the merchant English and not the stranger that ventes our coyne’ (Footnote ibid. 3:138). As Dimock therefore protested, ‘this bill is thrust into the House by the home ingrossers of policie that their beggering of our retaylers might be imputed to strangers retayling’ (Footnote ibid. 3:138). According to Dimock, the strangers were thus merely scapegoats, and the bill was a xenophobic distraction from the rapacious trading practices of ‘home ingrossers’.

94 Quoted in Strype 4:234.

95 Pedlar’s estimation that ‘[t]hree parts in London are alreadie Alians, / Other mongrels, Alians children, mischieuously mixed’ (ll. 889–90) is of course a wild exaggeration. That said, 40,000 was a common number traded in anti-stranger polemics, which the government repeatedly tried to refute by conducting a census of the stranger population. The census from 1593 revealed that some 7,000 strangers were living in London, that is, strangers made up approximately 3.5 per cent of the city’s population. A much greater problem was posed by London’s general population growth, which was all but unrelated to its stranger communities. See Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities 293.

96 The two Anabaptists burned in Smithfield in 1575 were part of a Dutch Anabaptist group, and all four anti-Trinitarians (or ‘Arians’) burned during the reign of Elizabeth were from Norwich, another city with a large Dutch community. In fact, the first of them to be burned, one Matthew Hamont, was of Dutch origin (Coffey 99–102). In conclusion, three of the six heretics burned during the reign of Elizabeth were strangers, which might help to explain the suspicions of heterodoxy levelled against foreign Protestants.

97 Wilson, Three Lords and Three Ladies of London F4r.

98 Proceedings 3:142–3.

99 Footnote Ibid. 3:143.

101 Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities 294.

102 For instance, Henry Finch, whom we have already encountered as a Puritan champion of free speech in Chapter 3, had to remind parliament of ‘Queen Marye’s tyme when our case was as theirs now’ and ‘those contryes did allow us all those liberties which now we seeke to deny them. They are strangers now. We may be strangers hereafter, therefore let us doe as we would be done to’ (Proceedings 3:138–9). For a reading of Thomas More’s soliloquy on the strangers’ case in Sir Thomas More in the context of Finch’s argumentation, see Tudeau-Clayton.

103 Grell 11.

104 For the affinities between the stranger churches and English Puritans, see Collinson, Godly People, ch. 9 ‘The Elizabethan Puritans and the Foreign Reformed Churches in London’, 245–72.

106 Puritan Manifestoes 151.

107 Collinson, Godly People 261.

108 Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities 276.

109 Proceedings 3:138.

110 Walsh 27–38.

111 For Marlowe’s critical treatment of Huguenot resistance as a political instrumentalisation of religion, see Preedy, Marlowe’s Literary Scepticism 141–9; for the generally ambivalent English reception of Huguenot resistance theory, see further Ferraro Parmelee 76–90.

112 Bancroft 18.

113 Salmon, French Religious Wars 30.

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