Sunday, May 3, 2015


Lying in the very heart of the Mediterranean has made Malta extremely interesting to every nation in history with a boat, a desire to trade, and an aspiration towards empire, from the Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and the Crusaders, and more recently to both France and Britain. Britain was the last, giving up its claims in 1964, a reward to the Maltese people for their part in the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. Malta joined the Eurozone in 2008 but is currently under siege by a new type of invader, literally hundreds of thousands of refugees, fleeing out of Africa on boats owned by pirates and in conditions little better than those their ancestors were hauled away in to slavery centuries before. Over 150,000 of these people are drowning every year as their boats capsize, sometimes in storm, sometimes because the pirates sink them for the insurance claim, having already taken payment from the corpses swimming in its wake. Refugees arriving in Malta are placed in detention camps, another reminder of its less glorious past – the displaced persons (as refugees were called back then) of post-Hitler Europe also found temporary homes in camps of the same type. The main source of income for the islands (there are also Gozo, Comino, Comminotto and Filfla) is tourism, and though Valetta is worth the visit, a holiday in Malta is not exactly Ravenna or the French Riviera.

Christopher's Marlowe's play, fully entitled "The Rich Jew of Malta", was written in 1589 or 1590, and is probably the most wilfully and deliberately anti-Semitic play ever to have been set to paper, in English or any other language. Its central character, Barabas, was a demonised re-modelling, like Faust in Marlowe's better-known work, of the royal physician Roderigo Lopes, a Jew of Portuguese origin who underwent forced conversion to Catholicism in his native land, and then accepted the requirement of conversion to Protestantism in order to practice medicine in exile in England. Marlowe's plays stirred anti-Semitic riots in London at the time of their first performance, and then again when the play was revived in 1593, immediately after the execution of Lopes on trumped-up charges of spying for Spain - all of which riots rather make nonsense of the claim by British historians that there were no Jews in England at the time.

Marlowe's plot, and those riots, appear to have angered a young playwright named William Shakespeare, still in his early twenties and just beginning to make his name in London. Lopes was Shakespeare's doctor, and later he rented the house where Lopes had lived; Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" is modeled on Lopes, while the play's title is a pastiche of the "The Jew of Malta", its plot and relationships likewise, and only its purpose is very different - one of the great diatribes against anti-Semitism in English or any other language; but you have to know the full historical context to understand that, and English historians have spent four hundred years denying that context. Read my novel, "The Plausible Tragedie of Roderigo Lopes", due for publication in 2017, and you can see the full picture at last.

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