Sunday, October 3, 2010


Critics and admirers of Marlowe through ages have recognised Marlowe as one of the greatest poets of English literature. According to some, Marlowe’s name would stand high among the great English poets even if he had never written a single poem and many others opine that Marlowe was first a poet and afterwards a dramatist. Marlowe’s poetic excellence was highly appreciated even by his contemporaries. The following lines of eulogy expresses Drayton’s highest admiration for Marlowe’s poetry:

“Neat Marlowe, bathed in the Thispian Springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things
That your first poets had; his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear:
For that fine madness still he did retain.
Which rightly should possess a poet’s brain.
This is how Swinburne pays his tribute: “The first great English poet was the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse.” And, Saintsbury of our age says of him in his Elizabethan literature: “Marlowe one of the greatest poets of the world whose work was cast by accident and caprice into an imperfect mould of drama.”
The romantic quality and the lyrical simplicity of his great pastoral, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and the wealth of imagination revealed in his unfinished narrative poem, Hero and Leader, go a long way to establish Marlowe’s claim as one of the purest and greatest poets of England for all time. The former got a place in English Helican in the year 1600 and the latter has been held by many critics—one of them of Boas—as superior to Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis for its freshness ‘and winding beauty of melody.’
So Bradley, in his considered opinion has nicely remarked: “Marlowe had many of the makings of a great poet—a capacity for titanic conceptions which might with time have become Olympian; an imaginative vision which was already intense and must have deepened and widened; the gift of style and making words sin.... a time to live in such as no other generation of English poets known.” Alas! Marlowe’s genius could not blossom to its full glory as his life was cut short by the sharp dagger of a cruel assassin.
Introduction of Poetry into Drama
Marlowe might essentially have been a poet and a great poet too, but it was he who was the first great English poet to make use of drama as a medium of poetic expression. Harold Osborne is just in his estimate when he says: “Marlowe’s greatest achievement was the introduction of poetry into the English drama. He is first and foremost the lyricist of the English stage.” We may rightly say that Marlowe poetised the English Drama or fused together the lyric and the dramatic elements of his contemporaries. Hence we find all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are as much poets as Marlowe himself. And if imagination and passion are the essential ingredients of poetry then all his heroes are undoubtedly inspired poets who express their passion and imagination in superb poetical language. In spite of all hard-hearted cruelty of a Tartar, Tamburlaine is also endowed with a poet’s sentiments. This is wonderfully revealed in his lyrical outburst while praising the loveliness of Zenocrate:
“Zenocrate lovelier than the lover of Jove,
Brighter than is the silver Rhodope,
Fairer than whitest snow on Scythian hills,
Thy person is more worth to Tamburlaine
Than the possession of the Persian crown,
Which gracious stars have promised at my birth.”
And of all Marlowe’s heroes, Faustus is the most poetic, as he is a prototype of Marlowe himself with his passionate love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasures. According to Nicoll, “Marlowe is the poet of passion par excellence, and nowhere does he show his genius for high astounding phrases so much as he does when he is speaking of the rapture of beauty.” And the ecstatic quality, the vitalising energy of Marlowe’s poetical genius is magnificently revealed in Faustus’s oft quoted apostrophe on Helen:
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of
Sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of thousand stars:
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appeared to hapless Semele:
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In Wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms:
And none but thou shall be my paramour.”
Wynne’s comment on this passage is worth noting:
“This passage has probably never been surpassed in its magical idealisation, of that which is essentially base and carnal.”
Here is another passage in which Faustus expresses in glowing terms the great delights that his magic has offered him:
“Have not I made blind Homer sing to me
Of Alexander’s love and Oenon’s death?
And hath not he, that built the walls of Thebe
With ravishing sound of his melodious harp,
Made music with my Mephistophilis?”
Then the poignant soliloquy of Faustus in the final scene is probably the most poetic in fancy and stirring in expression. It is also extremely dramatic in its effect. Such memorable passages in Marlowe’s tragedies, specially in Doctor Faustus with its rich phrasing and the sonorous music of words, with its judicious use of myth and legend that contributes to the music and melody of his verse, with its bright and lucid simplicity free from the rhetorical declamation and a vain display of learning, establishes Marlowe’s claim to be the first and foremost ‘lyricist of the English stage.’ And Nicoll has rightly remarked: “Marlowe seeks to conquer the impossible in drama, to find the complete expression for all his hopes and desires, and he can put that same passion into the ambition for earthly dominion, for power over the intangible, for limitless revenge.” It must be remembered that in Marlowe’s dramas poetry is an essential ingredient that impregnates the play and gives it its substance, quality and character.
Marlowe and Blank Verse
Marlowe may not be credited as the pioneer for introducing blank verse to drama for the first time. That credit rightly goes to Sackville and Norton, the co-authors of Gorboduc, the first tragedy in the domain of British drama. But if we compare the blank verse of Gorboduc with that of Marlowe’s dramas we find how artificial, unformed and monotonous it was. From the very beginning of his literary career Marlowe was quite conscious of his great role as a poet as well as a dramatist. That is why we find his bold assertion in the Prologue to Tamburlaine:
“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.”
And Marlowe’s genius worked wonders; at one stroke he freed it from formalism, regularity and conventional restrains. The blank verse of Gorboduc with its end-stopped lines and regular beats was extremely monotonous, wooden and mechanical. In its place, Marlowe introduced run-on lines, varied the accents here and there and shifted the caesura—that is pause about the middle of line—to suit the sense and the subject. He also introduced feet other than iambic ones and created a wonderful rhythm of extreme flexibility and power. Credit must go to Marlowe for perfecting the blank verse to a great extent and giving it amazing force, variety and rhythm; and the magnificent poetic flights in his dramas, specially in Doctor Faustus, were possible for Marlowe because he could evolve this suitable medium, the blank verse, and develop it on right lines to serve the purpose of his poetical as well as dramatic genius. What Marlowe achieved for blank verse can be best illustrated by quoting below two passages—one from Gorboduc and the other from Doctor Faustus. Below is one from Gorboduc:
“O hard and cruel hap, that thus assigned
Unto so worthy a wight so wretched end:
But most cruel heart that could content
To lend the hateful destinies that hand
By which, alas, so heinous crime was wrought.”
Now the following lines from the most poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus in the closing scene reveal to us to what great heights did Marlowe carry the blank verse as a medium for dramatic expression with its poetic and passionate, yet genuinely spontaneous language and the sonorous music of words:
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned,
O’ I’ll leap to my God: who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ!
So Wynne is correct in his observation when he says:
“He was the first to demonstrate that imagination could not madly in a wealth of imagery, or soar far above the realms of logic or cold philosophy to summon beautiful and terrible pictures out of the cloud and of fancy, without losing hold upon earth and language of mortals. He knew that the unspoken language of the impassioned heart is charged with poetry.”
Conclusion: The Dramatist and the Poet
It is beyond dispute that Marlowe’s contribution to the Elizabethan drama was great and manifold and that he was Shakespeare’s greatest predecessor and also showed the way to Shakespeare. It was he who wrote the first great tragedy or tragedy of the soul displaying the most acute spiritual and emotional conflict paving the way for Shakespeare. But Marlowe as a pioneer had to make his path for himself. His career was cut short by the dagger of a cruel assassin. So as, a dramatist he could not perfect or fully develop his dramatic technique. Critic after critics has pointed out some serious drawbacks in his plays. And the most serious of them is that he neglected both plot and character which are the most important elements that make a play. All his dramas except Edward II, is very much deficient in the art of plot construction. Even his greatest tragedy, Doctor Faustus, seems to be a series of loose connected heterogenous scenes. Then his heroes ‘are lonely figures in a world of Lilliputians.’ His minor characters pale into insignificance before the towering heroes without having much scope in the development of the drama. Besides these, his dramas reveal some minor defects also such as absence of real women characters, lack of proper comic relief and some others.
As regards Marlowe’s poetic genius almost all the critics are one in their opinion. None would dispute that Marlowe was superb and masterly in the use of blank verse and by perfecting which Shakespeare became so famous. Wynne’s view of Marlowe as a poet and a dramatist is quite comprehensive when he remarks: “Marlowe masters us by his poetry, and is lifted by it above his fellows reaching the pedestal on which Shakespeare stands alone. Marlowe is no doubt the rapturous lyricist of limitless desire whereas Shakespeare is the majestic spokesman of inexorable moral law. It has been said indeed, that Marlowe is too poetical for a dramatist, but a very little consideration of the plays of Shakespeare will tell us how much the great dramatic productions owe to poetry......Into indifferent material, poetry can breathe that quickening, flame without which the most dramatic situations fail to satisfy. Marlowe had a supreme gift of creating moments, sometimes extended to whole scenes; he had to learn, from repeated failures the art of creating plays.”

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rimskhan said...

helpful for me.excellent

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