Through performance, Mak found his role as comic hero and discovered a quirky

form of grace that complicated his relationship to vice and worldliness. Equally

quirky, through utter worldliness and devious malevolence, Marlowe’s Barabas defies

any form of grace other than performance itself, making of his villainy a constant

paradox that complicates the ostensibly tragic nature of his play. In fact, Barabas’s

character so dominates the play and directs the other characters that he overwhelms

the plot and tilts the drama wildly in the direction of improvised comedy. Of course

most of the other characters are individualized villains too, and their malevolent

imperatives-lacking any psychological dimension that might elicit sympathy, or

even Jonson’s rigorous humoral schemes-ensure both satirical variety and surprise

through constantly overstated performance. This chapter will argue that Marlowe’s

characters in The Jew of Malta are wonderfully, wackily, obnoxiously theatrical.