Sunday, September 26, 2010


Marlowe who was the son of a shoemaker, was born in Canterbury less than three months before the birth of Shakespeare. He was educated at Kings’ School, Canterbury, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he acquired heterodox views on religion. After going down from Cambridge, he became a secret-service agent of some kind, and travelled abroad in this capacity.
He settled in London in 1586, and soon joined the Lord Admiral’s Company of Players. His career as a dramatist must have begun soon after his career as an actor. On the 30th May, 1593, he was stabbed in an inn at Deptford by a shady secret-service agent by the name of Frizer and died at the age of twenty-nine years and three months.
Dramatic Activity of Six Brief Years
The period of Marlowe’s dramatic activity comprises six brief years, from 1587 to 1593. Yet during those six years he wrote six splendid plays—all reflecting his essential spirit and nature, all full of passion, poetry. Each drama centres round some overmastering passion—wild, intemperate passion that grows and develops till it destroys itself. The lust for empire, the lust for lucre, the lust or knowledge and the lust for beauty—these form the background as well as the mainspring of each play. In all these, Marlowe reveals himself as ‘the greatest discoverer, the most daring and inspired pioneer, in all our poetic literature’, as the writer of genuine tragedy and genuine blank verse, as one who prepared the path and made the way for the advent of Shakespeare. In all these are evident qualities of terror and splendour, intensity of purpose and sublimity of note, imaginative daring and lyrical magnificence. In all these is illustrated his individualistic conception of tragedy, the classical Greek conception modified by the Renaissance spirit, the conception which portrays “the struggle between the overweening soul, typically Renaissance in its insatiable ambition, and the limitations which it seeks to overcome.” The following are the important works of Marlowe:
1.     “Tamburlaine”
It was Marlowe’s first powerful trumpet-blast. The general chorus of warm welcome which greeted the play on its first presentation on the stage in 1587 encouraged Marlowe to ‘pen his Second Part.’ The very subject-matter and style of Tamburlaine sounded a new and striking note compelling public attention and admiration. The very opening lines of the play contain what may be described as Marlowe’s dramatic manifesto:
From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine, Threatening the world with high astounding terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.
Tamburlaine is the story of a Scythian shepherd who dreams of world conquest and achieves his aspiration magnificently. As a drama it has many drawbacks—the plot is weak and loosely knit; the scheme seems to be inartistic, nay, absurd; the effects are grim and bloody. Yet who can refrain from appraising the play as a first-rate one, taking into account its attractive exaggeration of thought and expression, its burning passages of eloquent poetry, its glare and horror, its vehemence and intoxication, its titanic truculence and luminous colouring? In the forefront of all these, and towering high above them all stands the high-tempered hero, full of indomitable strength and passionate speech. Tamburlaine is the symbol of invincible human will, the embodiment of a fearless vision, filled with fretting and fuming aspirations and with the rapturous glory of which ‘youthful poets dream on summer eves by haunted stream.’ In Tamburlaine is enshrined and illustrated—
Man’s desire and valiance that range,
All circumstance and come to port unspent.
‘Still climbing after knowledge’ infinite—Tamburlaine bestrides the world like a medieval Napoleon. In tune with the Titanic strides and triumphs of this superman are the Indian hunter who thunders—‘I throw my mind across the chasm and my house follows’, and also the Scythian horses which sweep wide spaces of uncivilized splendour with their swift and sparkling movement. On the whole, Tamburlaine is ‘the most resplendent’ of Marlowe’s plays in which the morning stars of his poetry sing together.
2.     “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus which followed in the wake of Tamburlaine is acclaimed by all as Marlowe’s best play in which the leaven of fertile poetry and fearless imagination works wonders. The story is that of Faustus, a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in his eagerness for the acquisition of universal knowledge. Faustus is as insatiable and mighty as Tamburlaine. If Tamburlaine thunders—
I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains,
And with my hand turn Fortune’s wheel about,
And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere
That Tamburlaine be slain or overcome;
Faustus declares with vibrant passion—
All things that move between the quiet poles,
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings,
Are but obeyed in their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds:
A sound magician is a mighty God.
Out of the dry bones of the old German legend Marlowe has fashioned a work of art, a noble drama of a scholar’s soul in the grip of intense agony. It is a play of vast conflict, fearful failure, intense feeling, stirring emotion; it is a play whose central idea is that of loss; a play in which sin is presented with its inescapable reward; a matchless spiritual tragedy in which the mighty protagonist is man and the mysterious powers that surround him; a play whose symbolism has an irresistible appeal.
3.     “The Jew of Malta
This proved to be, in its own day, the most popular of Marlowe’s plays. Barabas, the Mediterranean money-lender, with his avaricious dreams of wealth, fore-shadows Shakespeare’s Shylock. Dedicated to the spirit of Machiavelli, the play opens a new phase in Marlowe’s work. It is a picture of “the Elizabethan world of ‘policy’ in which men were unscrupulous, bold, implacable, cruel in power and sometimes heroic in defeat.” Less passionate and less lyrical than Tamburlaine and Faustus, The Jew of Malta is, however, stronger and more bitter than its two illustrious predecessors.
4.     “The Massacre of Paris
It is generally regarded as Marlowe’s crudest work. As in other plays so in this, there are brave and beautiful phrases, emotional and impassioned lines, memorable and magnificent speeches, and grand and glorious tragic touches. But the material is weakly managed and the characters are poorly drawn. Indeed, the impression left by this play is that there is not much of Marlowe’s hand in it.
5.     “Edward II”
It is an undisputed masterpiece of Marlowe—in which he touches “his highest point of excellence.” It is a great historical and political play anticipating Shakespeare’s Richard II. There is here none of the beauty and pathos of the earlier plays, none of their splendour and poetry. The whole is subdued, the style is restrained and temperate, and the characters are boldly and clearly drawn. The plot is controlled and well adapted, and the treatment of the characters and the details of description exhibit a growing maturity in the art of Marlowe. Splendid instances of deepening gloom and swelling pathos are there as in the dungeon scene at Berkeley Castle and in the abdication scene. And the play touches our imagination and thrills our emotion in the same way as do the great tragedies of Shakespeare. With something Greek about it as far as the stern presentment of human misery and anguish is concerned, Edward II is an artistic play that moves us by its very simplicity and humanity. It is Marlowe’s ripest play and lasting legacy.
6.     “Dido Queen of Carthage
Dido Queen of Carthage—for which Marlowe borrowed material from Virgil’s “Aeneid”—was left unfinished. It was Nashe who completed and arranged it for the stage. What part was done by Marlowe and how much of the play belongs to Nashe is a point not satisfactorily explained. But it is evident that Marlovian touches are there surely. The play differs from all its predecessors in that it does not paint or portray any lust. The hapless love-tale of the great Carthagenian Queen is treated poetically and dramatically. This is the only play of Marlowe which has love as its theme and woman as its central figure. Marlowe’s fondness for rich imagery and colourful description is present in plenty. His ships have golden cordage, crystal anchors and ivory oars. Dido has silver arms and tears of pearl. Even the common soldiers wear rich embroidered coats and have silver whistles to control the winds. It is thus that Marlowe reveals his passion for describing the beautiful, his delight in luxurian outward and visible loveliness. Who can miss the ravishing beauty of the lines where Dido expresses her thirsty love for Aeneas—
I’ll make me bracelets of his golden hair,
His glistering eyes shall be my looking-glass;
His lips an altar, where I’ll offer up
As many kisses as the sea hath sand;
Instead of music I will hear him speak;
His looks shall be my only library.

People who read this post also read :


Post a Comment

Please leave your comments!