Marlowe and Shakespeare Cross Borders: Malta and Venice in the Early Modern World


  • Shormishtha Panja Delhi University



This essay deals with the worlds of early modern Malta and Venice, two distinctly non-English locations, as depicted by Marlowe and Shakespeare. In particular, it considers the roles Jews played in The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice. I argue that while Shakespeare is completely accurate in his depiction of the spirit of financial and mercantile adventurism and huge risk-taking that characterized early modern Venice, he does not fully reflect the tolerance that marked this early modern trading capital. Shakespeare bases his play on binaries and antagonistic opposition between the Jews and the Christians in Venice while Marlowe consciously resists painting his world in black and white. Marlowe’s Malta is a melting pot, a location where boundaries and distinctions between Jew, Christian, and Muslim, and between master and slave, blur, and easy definitions and categorizations become impossible. In spite of borrowing many historical details of the Great Siege of Malta (1565), Marlowe refuses to end his play with the siege and its attendant grand narrative of heroic Christian troops defeating barbaric Turks and bringing about a decisive victory for the Christian world.

Author Biography

Shormishtha Panja, Delhi University

Shormishtha Panja ( is a professor in the department of English, University of Delhi. She is the author of Sidney, Spenser and the Royal Reader (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2017) and has co-edited numerous books on Shakespeare, on visual culture, and on gender studies in India including Performing Shakespeare in India: Exploring Indianness, Literatures and Cultures (Sage 2016), Word Image Text: Studies in Literary and Visual Culture (Orient BlackSwan 2009, rpt. 2017), and Signifying the Self: Women and Literature (Macmillan 2004, rev. ed. 2017). She has edited several books including Shakespeare and the Art of Lying (Orient BlackSwan 2013). Her current research project is the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery.