Jacob Marley

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This article is about the character. For the stageplay, see Marley's Ghost (play). For the band, see Marley's Ghost (band).
Jacob Marley
Marley's Ghost-John Leech, 1843.jpg
Jacob Marley's ghost visits Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
First appearance A Christmas Carol 1843
Created by Charles Dickens
Nickname(s) J.M.
Species Ghost
Gender Male
Occupation Business Partner/ Accountant

Jacob Marley is a fictional character who appears in Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. He is Scrooge's deceased business partner, now a chained and tormented ghost, damned to wander the earth forevermore as punishment for his greedy, selfish and uncaring attitude towards mankind. Marley roams restlessly, witnessing the hardships others suffer and lamenting that he has lost his chance to help them forever. Through unknown means, it is Marley who arranges for the three spirits to visit Scrooge and gives him his opportunity for redemption, which Marley tells him was "...a chance and hope of my procuring."

Relationship with Ebenezer Scrooge[edit]

In life, Jacob Marley was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. As teenagers, both of them had been apprenticed in business and met as clerks in another business. The firm of Scrooge and Marley was a nineteenth-century financial institution; a counting house according to Marley, and he refers to their offices as 'our money-changing hole'. They became successful yet hard-hearted bankers, with seats on the London Stock Exchange. In spite of this Scrooge showed little to no remorse of Marley's death. He was named after Marley Tunnel in Devon, just outside Totnes because of Dickens' fond holiday memories of the town.[citation needed]

In A Christmas Carol, Marley is the first character mentioned in the first line of the story. Jacob Marley is said to have died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve (as the setting is Christmas Eve 1843, this would have made the date of his passing December 24, 1836). It would be his ghost who would be Scrooge's first visitor (before the three other spirits to come). Scrooge is described as Marley's "sole friend" and "sole mourner", and praises Marley as being a good friend to him.

Jacob Marley preys upon Scrooge's mind in many different ways, notably his face manifesting on the knocker on Ebenezer Scrooge's front door and causing the bells in his house to ring. The ghost maintains the same voice, hairstyle and sense of dress that he had in life, but is translucent. He wears a handkerchief tied about his jaws, and "captive, bound and double-ironed" with chains which are described as "long, and wound about him like a tail; it was made... of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel." He often, in moments of great despair or impatience at Scrooge's scepticism, flings these upon the ground before him and almost induces his former partner "into a swoon". He explains that it is the chain he unknowingly forged himself in life, as a result of his greed and selfishness. As he spent his life on this earth obsessing over money and mistreating the poor and wretched to fill his pocket, Marley is condemned to walk the earth for eternity never to find rest or peace, experiencing an "incessant torture of remorse", lamenting that Christmas is the time he suffers most of all.

When the spectre asks, "Why do you doubt your senses?" Scrooge scoffs that "...a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more gravy than grave about you, whatever you are!" Marley's only reply is a spine-chilling howl that brings Scrooge to his knees, begging for mercy.

Marley tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits, and admonishes his former partner to listen to what they have to say, or Scrooge will suffer Marley's fate; he says that Scrooge's chain was as heavy as his seven years earlier, and remarks that "you have laboured on it since — it is a ponderous chain!". Even though it is unknown why it took seven years for Marley to haunt Scrooge, it could be implied that Scrooge could have died that very night if he was not haunted. This is evident in the fact that Marley seems to be aware that Scrooge was very close to suffering the same fate as him. Thus, Marley was given a chance to save his only friend's life before it was too late.

Marley then departs into the night sky, surrounded by a countless horde of other tormented spirits, some of whom were known to Scrooge when they were alive, all of them chained in a similar manner to Marley and suffering the same unbearable torment, as they struggle in vain to make up for their wasted lives by attempting to help a homeless mother and baby.

Appearances in various film adaptations[edit]

Frank Finlay as Marley
  • Leo G. Carroll performed this role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1938 film adaptation.
  • Michael Hordern portrayed the role of Marley twice, once in the 1951 film Scrooge and then as the voice of Marley in Richard Williams' 1971 animated film. In one of the most chilling scenes from the 1971 adaptation, the animation enables the depiction of Dickens' original idea that Marley removes the handkerchief from his head, causing his to jaw gape inhumanly wide. Hordern also played the role of Scrooge in a 1977 television adaptation for the BBC, with the role of Marley played by John Le Mesurier.
  • In the 1970 film Scrooge, Marley (Alec Guinness) is given an extra scene where he escorts Scrooge to hell, where their counting house is also present and where Scrooge shall spend eternity working as a "bureaucrat for Lucifer". This shock then awakens Scrooge back to reality.
  • in the 1979 Dutch musical, De Wonderbaarlijke Genezing Van (The Amazing Cure Of) Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley is played by Bernard Droog.
  • In the 1983 special Mickey's Christmas Carol, the character is played by Goofy (Hal Smith). This version of Marley was mentioned to have left little in the way of a fortune, bequeathing Scrooge only enough to buy his tombstone, so Scrooge had him buried at sea. He laments that he is "forced to carry these heavy chains for eternity... maybe even longer." He ends his time with Scrooge by falling down the stairs and letting out his famous holler as Scrooge warns him to watch out for the first step.
  • In the 1984 made-for-television film of A Christmas Carol, Marley's voice calls Scrooge from an apparitional hearse, and then again before Scrooge sees Marley's face on the door knocker. Frank Finlay's performance as Marley is considered one of the best portrayals of the character.[1]
  • In the Jetsons 1985 episode, "A Jetsons Christmas Carol" he is referred to as "Jacob Marsley" and is seen covered in what looks like white tape, making him resemble a mummy. He tells Mr. Spacely to change his ways "or there will be a price to pay!"
  • In the film Scrooged (1988), a modern interpretation of Dickens' novella, Lew Heyward, a version of Jacob Marley, is portrayed by John Forsythe. The mentor of Frank Cross in life, he was "the man who invented the miniseries"; a ruthless media mogul paying for women who "adored" him. Now, after dying of a heart attack at Wingfoot, he appears as a sort of rotting corpse covered in cobwebs and dust. In one instance, a mouse living inside his skull pushes a golf ball out, causing Frank much discomfort.
  • In the 1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Devil's Due", Data reenacts Jacob Marley's scene, playing the role of Scrooge. A holodeck version of Marley is portrayed by William Glover.
  • In the 1992 movie The Muppet Christmas Carol, the character is bifurcated into two brothers named Jacob and Robert so that they can be played by Statler and Waldorf (Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz). The joke is that Jacob Marley has a brother named Bob - as in reggae singer Bob Marley. They sing the number "Marley and Marley" where they lament their suffering and warn Scrooge of what he will face. Scrooge (Michael Caine) says that they "always criticized" and heckled him in life; during the Fezziwig (Fozziwig, played by Fozzie Bear) Christmas party scene, they are shown as younger men who heckle Fozziwig from an upper level.
  • In 1992, the song "Jacob Marley's Chain" is the 8th cut on Aimee Mann's Whatever album, her first solo release after the dissolution of 'til Tuesday.
  • In the 1994 special A Flintstones Christmas Carol, the character is called 'Jacob Marbley' and is played by Mr. Slate (John Stephenson). A stone tablet portrait shows of Marbley cheating Scrooge by tipping his side of the scale with his finger.
  • In the 1995 made-for-TV film Ebbie, Jeffrey DeMunn plays Marley's modern version, Jake Marley, Elizabeth "Ebbie" Scrooge's mentor and later partner who dies of a heart attack right in front of her.
  • In the 1997 made-for-television film, Ms. Scrooge, Katherine Helmond portrays a female version of the character, Maude Marley. She explains that her only chance for salvation is for Ebenita to changer her ways, or else she'll join her in Hell.
  • In the 1999 made-for-television film version, he is portrayed by Bernard Lloyd. This film version opens with his funeral in 1836, then jumps ahead to 1843.
  • In the 2000 made-for-television film, A Diva's Christmas Carol, Rozonda Thomas plays a female version of Jacob Marley, Marli Jacob. Here the character is free due to Ebony Scrooge's redemption.
  • In the 2001 film Christmas Carol: The Movie, Marley is voiced by Nicolas Cage.
  • In the 2003 made-for-television film, A Carol Christmas, the "Jacob Marley" character was a stage mother-type aunt of Carol's: Aunt Marla, played by Dinah Manoff.
  • In the 2004 film A Christmas Carol: The Musical, Marley is played by Jason Alexander.
  • In the 2010 film Christmas Cupid, Marley was combined with Clarence the Angel from It's a Wonderful Life in the recently dead actress Caitlin Quinn. Here she must help her PR Agent Sloane Spencer in order to gain her wings.
  • Marley's Ghost is a 2003 play by Jeff Goode which is a prequel to A Christmas Carol.
  • In the 2006 movie A Christmas Carol, the character is portrayed as an anthropomorphic cricket (just like Jiminy Cricket, who played the Ghost of Christmas Past in Mickey's Christmas Carol). In this adaptation, he is given an extra scene where Scrooge's redemption frees him from his punishment.
  • In Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, Sylvester is in a Jacob Marley like role where he was once the CEO of Cat's Meow superstores.
  • In the 2008 comedy film An American Carol, the role of Marley is taken by the spirit of John F. Kennedy, portrayed by Chriss Anglin.
  • In the 2008 album The '59 Sound released by The Gaslight Anthem there are references made to Marley's chains in a song which shares the album's name - "When we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms, I hope we don't hear Marley's chains we forged in life..." The reference to these chains is made throughout the song.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Exogenesis", Marcus makes reference to Marley while quoting Dickens.[2]
  • In the 2009 film adaptation, he is played by Gary Oldman.


  1. ^ "Scrooge U: Part XV - Great Scott!". Jimhillmedia.com. Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  2. ^ "Guide page: "Exogenesis"". Midwinter.com. Retrieved 2013-08-01.