Christopher Marlowe Essay
Drama presents fiction or fact in a form that could be acted before an audience. It is imitation by action and speech. A play has a plot, characters, atmosphere and conflict. Unlike a novel, which in read in private, a play is intended to be performed in public. Christopher Marlowe was a greatest of pre Shakespearian dramatists, poet and translator. Marlowe’s plays are known for the use of blank verse, He was known as the Father of English Tragedy Origin and development of British Drama:
The Romans introduced drama to England, during the medieval period. A number of auditoriums were constructed for the performance of the art form, when it came to the country. Mummers’ plays, associated with the Morris dance, became a popular form of street theatre during the period. The performances were based on the old stories of Saint George, Robin Hood and Dragon. The artists moved from town to town, to perform these folk tales. They were given money and hospitality, in return for their performance. The mystery and morality plays, performed during medieval period – at religious festivals, carried the Christian theme. The English Renaissance, a cultural and artistic movement in England country that lasted from 16th to early-17th century, paved the way for the dominance of drama in the country. Queen Elizabeth I ruled during the period, when great poetry and drama were produced. The renowned playwrights of this time included William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and John Webster. The dramatists wrote plays based on themes like history, comedy and tragedy. While most of the playwrights specialized in only one of the themes, Shakespeare emerged as an artist who produced plays based on all the three themes. Pre Shakespearian Drama:
The University Wits, nearly all of whom were associated with Oxford and Cambridge, did much to found the Elizabethan school of drama. They were all more or less aquainted with each other, and most of them led irregular and stormy lives. Their plays had several features in common. There was a fondness of heroic themes, such as the lives of great figures like Mohammed and Tamburlaine.Heroic themes needed heroic treatment: great fullness and
variety; splendid descriptions, long swelling speeches, the handling of violent incidents and emotions. These qualities, excellent when held in restraint, only too often led to loudness and disorder. The style also was ‘heroic’. The chief aim was to achieve strong and sounding lines, magnificient epithets, and powerful declamation. This again led to abuse and to mere bombast, mouthing, and in the worst cases to nonsense. In the best examples, such as in Marlowe, the result is quite impressive. In this connection it is to be noted that the best medium for such expression was blank verse, which was sufficiently elastic to bear the strong pressure of these expansive methods. The themes were usually tragic in nature, for the dramatists were as a rule too much in earnest to give heed to what was considered to be the lower species of comedy. The general lack of real humour in the early drama is one of its most prominent features. Humour, when it is brought in at all, is coarse and immature. Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593):
Marlowe’s Early Life:
Christopher Marlowe, English dramatist, the father of English tragedy, and instaurator of dramatic blank verse, the eldest son of a shoemaker at Canterbury, was born in that city on the 6th of February 1564. He was christened at St George’s Church, Canterbury, on the 26th of February, 1563/4, some two months before Shakespeare’s baptism at Stratford-on-Avon. His father, John Marlowe, is said to have been the grandson of John Morley or Marlowe, a substantial tanner of Canterbury. The father, who survived by a dozen years or so his illustrious son, married on the 22nd of May 1561 Catherine, daughter of Christopher Arthur, at one time rector of St Peter’s, Canterbury, who had been ejected by Queen Mary as a married minister. The dramatist received the rudiments of his education at the King’s School, Canterbury, which he entered at Michaelmas 1578, and where he had as his fellow-pupils Richard Boyle, afterwards known as the great Earl of Cork, and Will Lyly, the brother of [John Lyly] the dramatist. Stephen Gosson entered the same school a little before, and William Harvey, the famous physician, a little after Marlowe. He went to Cambridge as one of Archbishop Parker’s scholars from the King’s School, and matriculated at Benet (Corpus Christi) College, on the 17th of March 1571, taking his B.A. degree in 1584, and that
of M.A. three or four years later. Marlowe’s Contribution to British Drama:
In a playwriting career that spanned little more than six years, Marlowe’s achievements were diverse and splendid. Perhaps before leaving Cambridge he had already written Tamburlaine the Great (in two parts, both performed by the end of 1587; published 1590). Almost certainly during his later Cambridge years, Marlowe had translated Ovid’s Amores (The Loves) and the first book of Lucan’s Pharsalia from the Latin. About this time he also wrote the play Dido, Queen of Carthage (published in 1594 as the joint work of Marlowe and Thomas Nashe). With the production of Tamburlaine he received recognition and acclaim, and playwriting became his major concern in the few years that lay ahead. Both parts of Tamburlaine were published anonymously in 1590, and the publisher omitted certain passages that he found incongruous with the play’s serious concern with history; even so, the extant Tamburlaine text can be regarded as substantially Marlowe’s.
No other of his plays or poems or translations was published during his life. His unfinished but splendid poem Hero and Leander—which is almost certainly the finest nondramatic Elizabethan poem apart from those produced by Edmund Spenser—appeared in 1598. There is argument among scholars concerning the order in which the plays subsequent to Tamburlaine were written. It is not uncommonly held that Faustus quickly followed Tamburlaine and that then Marlowe turned to a more neutral, more “social” kind of writing in Edward II and The Massacre at Paris. His last play may have been The Jew of Malta, in which he signally broke new ground. It is known that Tamburlaine, Faustus, and The Jew of Malta were performed by the Admiral’s Men, a company whose outstanding actor was Edward Alleyn, who most certainly played Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas the Jew. Plays of Christopher Marlowe:
Marlowe’s plays, all tragedies, were written within five years (1587-92). He had no bent for comedy, and the comic parts found in some of his plays are always inferior and may be by other writers. As a dramatist Marlowe had serious limitations, though it is possible to trace a growing sense of the theatre through his plays. Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586):
Dido, Queen of Carthage is a short play written by the English playwright
Christopher Marlowe, with possible contributions by Thomas Nashe. The story of the play focuses on the classical figure of Dido, the Queen of Carthage. It tells an intense dramatic tale of Dido and her fanatical love for Aeneas (induced by Cupid), Aeneas’ betrayal of her and her eventual suicide on his departure for Italy. Jupiter is fondling Ganymede, who says that Jupiter’s wife Juno has been mistreating him because of her jealousy. Venus enters, and complains that Jupiter is neglecting her son Aeneas, who has left Troy with survivors of the defeated city. He was on his way to Italy, but is now lost in a storm. Jupiter tells her not to worry; he will quiet the storm. Venus travels to Libya, where she disguises herself as a mortal and meets Aeneas, who has arrived, lost, on the coast. He and a few followers have become separated from their comrades. He recognises her, but she denies her identity. She helps him meet up with Illioneus, Sergestus and Cloanthes, other surviving Trojans who have already received generous hospitality from the local ruler Dido, Queen of Carthage. Dido meets Aeneas and promises to supply his ships. She asks him to give her the true story of the fall of Troy, which he does in detail, describing the death of Priam, the loss of his own wife and his escape with his son Ascanius and other survivors.
Dido’s suitor, Iarbas, presses her to agree to marry him. She seems to favour him, but Venus has other plans. She disguises Cupid as Aeneas’s son Ascanius, so that he can get close to Dido and touch her with his arrow. He does so; Dido immediately falls in love with Aeneas and rejects Iarbas out of hand, to his horror and confusion. Dido’s sister Anna, who is in love with Iarbas, encourages Dido to pursue Aeneas. She and Aeneas meet at a cave, where Dido declares her love. They enter the cave to make love. Iarbas swears he will get revenge. Venus and Juno appear, arguing over Aeneas. Venus believes that Juno wants to harm her son, but Juno denies it, saying she has important plans for him. Aeneas’s followers say they must leave Libya, to fulfil their destiny in Italy. Aeneas seems to agree, and prepares to depart. Dido sends Anna to find out what is happening. She brings Aeneas back, who denies he intended to leave. Dido forgives him, but as a precaution removes all the sails and tackle from his ships. She also places Ascanius in the custody of the Nurse, believing that Aeneas will not leave without him.
However, “Ascanius” is really the disguised Cupid. Dido says that Aeneas will be king of Carthage and anyone who objects will be
executed. Aeneas agrees and plans to build a new city to rival Troy and strike back at the Greeks. Mercury appears with the real Ascanius and informs Aeneas that his destiny is in Italy and that he must leave on the orders of Jupiter. Aeneas reluctantly accepts the divine command. Iarbas sees the opportunity to be rid of his rival and agrees to supply Aeneas with the missing tackle. Aeneas tells Dido he must leave. She pleads with him to ignore Jupiter’s command, but he refuses to do so. He departs, leaving Dido in despair. The Nurse says that “Ascanius” has disappeared. Dido orders her to be imprisoned. She tells Iarbas and Anna that she intends to make a funeral pyre on which she will burn everything that reminds her of Aeneas. After cursing Aeneas’ progeny, she throws herself into the fire. Iarbas, horrified, kills himself too. Anna, seeing Iarbas dead, kills herself. Tamburlaine the Great (1587–1588):
Tamburlaine the Great is a play in two parts by Christopher Marlowe. It is loosely based on the life of the Central Asian emperor, Timur “the lame”. Written in 1587 or 1588, the play is a milestone in Elizabethan public drama; it marks a turning away from the clumsy language and loose plotting of the earlier Tudor dramatists, and a new interest in fresh and vivid language, memorable action, and intellectual complexity. Along with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, it may be considered the first popular success of London’s public stage. Marlowe, generally considered the greatest of the University Wits, influenced playwrights well into the Jacobean period, and echoes of Tamburlaine’s bombast and ambition can be found in English plays all the way to the Puritan closing of the theatres in 1642. While Tamburlaineis considered inferior to the great tragedies of the late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean period, its significance in creating a stock of themes and, especially, in demonstrating the potential of blank verse in drama, are still acknowledged. Part 1
The play opens in Persepolis. The Persian emperor, Mycetes, dispatches troops to dispose of Tamburlaine, a Scythian shepherd and at that point a nomadic bandit. In the same scene, Mycetes’ brother Cosroe plots to overthrow Mycetes and assume the throne. The scene shifts to Scythia, where Tamburlaine is shown wooing, capturing, and winning Zenocrate, the daughter
of the Egyptian king. Confronted by Mycetes’ soldiers, he persuades first the soldiers and then Cosroe to join him in a fight against Mycetes. Although he promises Cosroe the Persian throne, Tamburlaine reneges on this promise and, after defeating Mycetes, takes personal control of the Persian Empire.
Suddenly a powerful figure, Tamburlaine decides to pursue further conquests. A campaign against Turkey yields him the Turkish king Bajazeth and his wife Zabina as captives; he keeps them in a cage and at one point uses Bajazeth as a footstool. After conquering Africa and naming himself emperor of that continent, Tamburlaine sets his eyes on Damascus; this target places the Egyptian Sultan, his father-in-law, directly in his path. Zenocrate pleads with her husband to spare her father. He complies, instead making the Sultan a tributary king. The play ends with the wedding of Zenocrate and Tamburlaine, and the crowning of the former as Empress of Persia. Part 2
Tamburlaine grooms his sons to be conquerors in his wake as he continues to conquer his neighbouring kingdoms. His oldest son, Calyphas, preferring to stay by his mother’s side and not risk death, incurs Tamburlaine’s wrath. Meanwhile, the son of Bajazeth, Callapine, escapes from Tamburlaine’s jail and gathers a group of tributary kings to his side, planning to avenge his father. Callapine and Tamburlaine meet in battle, where Tamburlaine is victorious. But finding Calyphas remained in his tent during the battle, Tamburlaine kills him in anger. Tamburlaine then forces the defeated kings to pull his chariot to his next battlefield, declaring, Upon reaching Babylon, which holds out against him, Tamburlaine displays further acts of extravagant savagery. When the Governor of the city attempts to save his life in return for revealing the city treasury, Tamburlaine has him hung from the city walls and orders his men to shoot him to death. He orders the inhabitants — men, women, and children — bound and thrown into a nearby lake. Lastly, Tamburlaine scornfully burns a copy of the Qur’an and claims to be greater than God. In the final act, he is struck ill but manages to defeat one more foe before he dies. He bids his remaining sons to conquer the remainder of the earth as he departs life. The play is often linked to Renaissance humanism which idealises the potential of human beings.
Tamburlaine’s aspiration to immense power raises profound religious questions as he arrogates for himself a role as the “scourge of God” (an epithet originally applied to Attila the Hun). Some readers have linked this stance with the fact that Marlowe was accused of atheism. Others have been more concerned with a supposed anti-Muslim thread of the play, highlighted in a scene in which the main character burns the Qur’an. Jeff Dailey notes in his article “Christian Underscoring in Tamburlaine the Great, Part II” that Marlowe’s work is a direct successor to the traditional medieval morality plays,and that, whether or not he is an atheist, he has inherited religious elements of content and allegorical methods of presentation. The Jew of Malta (1589):
The Jew of Malta is a play by Christopher Marlowe, probably written in 1589 or 1590. Its plot is an original story of religious conflict, intrigue, and revenge, set against a backdrop of the struggle for supremacy between Spain and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean that takes place on the island of Malta. The Jew of Malta is considered to have been a major influence on William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The play opens with a Prologue narrated by Machevill, a caricature of the author Machiavelli. This character explains that he is presenting the “tragedy of a Jew” who has become rich by following Machiavelli’s teachings. Act I opens with a Jewish merchant, called Barabas, waiting for news about the return of his ships from the east. He discovers that they have safely docked in Malta, before three Jews arrive to inform him that they must go to the senate-house to meet the governor. Once there, Barabas discovers that along with every other Jew on the island he must forfeit half of his estate to help the government pay tribute to the Turks. When the Barabas protests at this unfair treatment, the governor Ferneze confiscates all of Barabas’s wealth and decides to turn Barabas’s house into a convent. Barabas vows revenge but first attempts to recover some of the treasures he has hidden in his mansion. His daughter, Abigail, pretends to convert to Christianity in order to enter the convent. She smuggles out her father’s gold at night. Ferneze meets with Del Bosco, the Spanish Vice-Admiral, who wishes to sell Turkish slaves in the market place. Del Bosco convinces Ferneze to break his alliance with the Turks in return for Spanish protection. While viewing the
slaves, Barabas meets up with Ferneze’s, Lodowick. This man has heard of Abigail’s great beauty from his friend (and Abigail’s lover) Mathias. Barabas realizes that he can use Lodowick to exact revenge on Ferneze, and so he dupes the young man into thinking Abigail will marry him. While doing this, the merchant buys a slave called Ithamore who hates Christians as much as his new master does. Mathias sees Barabas talking to Lodowick and demands to know whether they are discussing Abigail. Barabas lies to Mathias, and so Barabas deludes both young men into thinking that Abigail has been promised to them. At home, Barabas orders his reluctant daughter to get betrothed to Lodowick. At the end of the second Act, the two young men vow revenge on each other for attempting to woo Abigail behind one another’s backs. Barabas seizes on this opportunity and gets Ithamore to deliver a forged letter to Mathias, supposedly from Lodowick, challenging him to a duel. Act III introduces the prostitute Bellamira and her pimp Pilia-Borza, who decide that they will steal some of Barabas’s gold since business has been slack. Ithamore enters and instantly falls in love with Bellamira.
Mathias and Lodowick kill each other in the duel orchestrated by Barabas and are found by Ferneze and Katherine, Mathias’s mother. The bereaved parents vow revenge on the perpetrator of their sons’ murders. Abigail finds Ithamore laughing, and Ithamore tells her of Barabas’s role in the young men’s deaths. Grief-stricken, Abigail persuades a Dominican friar Jacomo to let her enter the convent, even though she lied once before about converting. When Barabas finds out what Abigail has done, he is enraged, and he decides to poison some rice and send it to the nuns. He instructs Ithamore to deliver the food. In the next scene, Ferneze meets a Turkish emissary, and Ferneze explains that he will not pay the required tribute. The Turk leaves, stating that his leader Calymath will attack the island. Jacomo and another friar Bernardine despair at the deaths of all the nuns, who have been poisoned by Barabas. Abigail enters, close to death, and confesses her father’s role in Mathias’s and Lodowick’s deaths to Jacomo. She knows that the priest cannot make this knowledge public because it was revealed to him in confession. Act IV shows Barabas and Ithamore delighting in the nuns’ deaths. Bernardine and Jacomo enter with the intention of confronting Barabas. Barabas realizes that Abigail has confessed his crimes to Jacomo. In order to distract the two priests from their task, Barabas pretends that he wants to convert to
Christianity and give all his money to whichever monastery he joins. Jacomo and Bernardine start fighting in order to get the Jew to join their own religious houses. Barabas hatches a plan and tricks Bernardine into coming home with him. Ithamore then strangles Bernardine, and Barabas frames Jacomo for the crime. The action switches to Bellamira and her pimp, who find Ithamore and persuade him to bribe Barabas. The slave confesses his master’s crimes to Bellamira, who decides to report them to the governor after Barabas has given her his money. Barabas is maddened by the slave’s treachery and turns up at Bellamira’s home disguised as a French lute player. Barabas then poisons all three conspirators with the use of a poisoned flower. The action moves quickly in the final act. Bellamira and Pilia-Borza confess Barabas’s crimes to Ferneze, and the murderer is sent for along with Ithamore. Shortly after, Bellamira, Pilia-Borza and Ithamore die. Barabas fakes his own death and escapes to find Calymath.
Barabas tells the Turkish leader how best to storm the town. Following this event and the capture of Malta by the Turkish forces, Barabas is made governor, and Calymath prepares to leave. However, fearing for his own life and the security of his office, Barabas sends for Ferneze. Barabas tells him that he will free Malta from Turkish rule and kill Calymath in exchange for a large amount of money. Ferneze agrees and Barabas invites Calymath to a feast at his home. However, when Calymath arrives, Ferneze prevents Barabas from killing him. Ferneze and Calymath watch as Barabas dies in a cauldron that Barabas had prepared for Calymath. Ferneze tells the Turkish leader that he will be a prisoner in Malta until the Ottoman Emperor agrees to free the island. Doctor Faustus (1589-1593):
Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” stands as one of the most influential and frequently-referenced pieces of literature in history. The play is the story of Dr. Faustus, a man who considers study in the fields of logic, medicine, law, and divinity and instead chooses to forsake them all to practice black magic. He enters into a deal with Mephastophilis, a servant of the devil, in which Faustus gains the services of the demon but has to give up his soul after 24 years. The play deals with several important themes. The corrupting influence of power, sin and redemption, and the divided nature of man are interwoven throughout
the piece. Absolute power corrupts Faustus thoroughly. In the beginning we are introduced to a man at the top of his game. He’s mastered several important disciplines and is seeking a further, more rewarding, challenge so he turns to black magic. Faustus dreams of the many amazing things he’ll accomplish with his new powers. He muses on sending spirits to India to fetch him gold, ponders having them “Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,” and contemplates how he will use his spirits to gain knowledge of “the secrets of all foreign kings.” His ambitions even extend to the throne of Germany. When finally granted the power he so desires, Faustus proceeds to do very little with it. He starts out auspiciously enough with an adventure in a chariot pulled by dragons so that he may unlock the mysteries of astronomy. Faustus seeks to test the accuracy of maps of the coasts and kingdoms of the world as well and eventually ends up in Rome. Soon after, however, he basically lets his amazing power go to waste. He spends his time impressing various noblemen, playing petty tricks on people, and conjuring up specters of Alexander the Great and Helen of Troy. The underlying statement Marlowe is making is one of the basic tenets of modern psychology. People simply don’t appreciate things they didn’t have to work to gain. In the beginning, Faustus is a great man, full of ambition and at the top of his field. While he ‘earns’ his new-found power in a sense by forfeiting his soul, he has done no actual work to acquire it.
Throughout the course of the play we see the formerly-ambitious Faustus reduced to a petty conjurer and celebrity because of the corrupting influence of his power. Instead of choosing to act on his lofty ambitions or, heaven forbid, use his power for unselfish reasons; he simply wastes his days amusing himself with practical jokes and beautiful women. Marlowe also comments on the nature of sin and redemption. Faustus essentially commits the ultimate sin by signing a pact with the devil. He chooses of his own free will to give up his eternal soul in exchange for an earthly reward. According to Christian mythology, one can be forgiven of any sin, one has only to repent and ask God’s forgiveness. Despite the severity of his sin, Faustus is given several opportunities to repent his sin and be saved, and is encouraged to do so both by the good angel who appears several times and by the old man in scene 12. Each time he chooses to remain loyal to Hell. He seems to consider repenting at the very end, but Mephastophilis threatens to tear his body apart, so he chooses
instead to send Mephastophilis to torture the old man whose words he finds himself unable to heed. Even though an easy answer to the problem of losing his soul exists, and he is several times reminded of it, in the end his own weakness prevents him from making the choice to repent and damns him for all eternity. The divided nature of man is literally personified in the play by the good and evil angels that appear to Faustus periodically. These characters represent opposing sides of Faustus’ own psyche, as well as representing emissaries of heaven and hell. Faustus is continually undecided whether he should continue his bargain or repent and seek salvation. He is clearly afraid for his eternal soul but is unable to relinquish the amazing power his bargain has afforded him. Marlowe may have intended the two angels as literal beings, but it’s obvious he also intended them as an allegorical representation of Faustus’ own internal struggle. Themes are an integral part of the play, but Marlowe’s work has truly stood the test of time. What is it about Doctor Faustus’ story that has made it resonant to countless generations of readers since it was written? The good doctor is a character with whom readers can sympathize.
This is not to necessarily say that he is a ‘sympathetic’ character, but simply that he’s a man who faces temptation and a tough choice. Human beings face tough choices every day, and like Faustus we are forced to weigh the consequences of yielding to those temptations. Every human being faces temptation almost every day of their lives. These temptations range from the miniscule, such as being tempted to eat a slice of bread in spite of your pledge to adhere strictly to the Atkins diet, to the extreme, such as your best friend’s drunken girlfriend coming on to you. The story of Faustus rings true with readers even today because of this. It speaks to every reader because there are no people who have lived without temptation. We all have our “good angel” and “bad angel,” the voices inside our heads that spell out consequences of choices we’re faced with. In most cases, people who give into temptation are aware of the consequences of that choice. The fact that Faustus’ temptation is a far greater one than any of us is likely to face and has far greater consequences than any of us will ever be up against just makes it even more resonant. Everyone has given in to a strong temptation at some point in their lives and it makes us feel good to see someone doing the same despite the enormous consequences that follow for Faustus. Despite the fact that
Faustus has committed the ultimate sin by choosing of his own free will to give up his immortal soul for an earthly reward, the possibility of salvation exists for him until the very end. We as people want to believe that the possibility of salvation and forgiveness exists for us no matter how heinous the deeds we have committed are. Marlowe’s play speaks to this desire within us, telling us that, like Faustus, the possibility of repentance and forgiveness exists for us no matter how badly we screw up. It’s a very comforting thought, especially to those living with guilt over some past transgression. Another reason that the story in “Doctor Faustus” is as relevant today as it was when Marlowe wrote it is Faustus himself. Some may see him as a tragic hero, and it’s very possible to consider him in this light, but it’s also not much of a stretch to call him a villain. Men like Faustus exist even today, people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want regardless of the consequences to themselves or to others. Ken Lay in the recent Enron scandal comes to mind as an example of this. Mr. Lay was perfectly willing to practically destroy the lives of thousands of people by taking their hard-earned money and squandering it on yachts and other expensive trifles. He, in effect, sold his soul.
Faustus’ selfish deeds remind us that people like him exist in real life. When Faustus is corrupted by his power and basically squanders it we are both angry at his inability to find a way to do good with his powers and pleased that he is getting what he deserves. Society likes it when people who commit evil deeds have it blow up in their face. We want to see justice served, whether it be Faustus’ eternity in hell or Mr. Lay’s recently-handed-down prison sentence, it feels good to know that evil people are punished. “Doctor Faustus” has truly stood the test of time as a great piece of classical literature. Countless indications of its influence exist even today, ranging from the film “The Devil’s Advocate” to the good and evil angels that appear on the shoulders in Warner Brothers cartoons. Marlowe’s use of complex themes and subtle commentary on the nature of man coupled with the underlying messages that speak to the human psyche have established “Doctor Faustus” as a pinnacle of the writer’s craft and a treatise on the human condition. Edward the Second (1592):
Edward II is a Renaissance or Early Modern period play written by Christopher
Marlowe. It is one of the earliest English history plays. The full title of the first publication is The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer. Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II is typically applauded as an aesthetic achievement, a history play that brings form and meaning to the incoherent material of its chronicle source by retelling the king’s slightly dull, twenty-year reign as the fierce and deadly struggle of a few willful personalities. Within the development of Elizabethan drama,Edward II is granted a crucial role in bringing to the English “chronicle play”–including Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays and Richard III–the unity and purpose of the mature “history” play, epitomized by Shakespeare’s later, more aesthetically sophisticated tetralogy. In this narrative of literary development, the episodic chronicle play fails to show the disparate events of the past contributing to a single action — fails, like the chronicle, to comprehend the past — while the history play successfully makes sense of those events.
Considered in context of the Marlovian oeuvre, Edward II again demonstrates the triumph of art and order over inchoate historical material: it is Marlowe’s “most perfect achievement in dramatic structure” and the “most finished and satisfactory of Marlowe’s plays, evidently carefully written, with the refractory chronicle material skillfully handled.” These readings of Edward II, however, have relied upon too superficial an understanding of the chronicle tradition, and they have kept the play’s formal success separate from the Elizabethan debates about historiography within which both play and source participated. The social and political stakes of Marlowe’s historiographical practice emerge when we reread Edward II against a conception of the chronicle not as mere “material” but as a coherent and influential projection of national identity and historical process. Such a comparative reading shows us not merely that Marlowe’s play is more aesthetically satisfying, but also that it significantly redefines the nation and the forces of historical change. In particular, Marlowe delineates and focuses on a private realm, which he sets up in opposition to the public as a volatile source of decisions affecting the state. In addition, reading Marlowe’s play with a new understanding of the chronicle foregrounds the metadiscursive elements in Edward II that, referring back to the source accounts, help to illuminate Marlowe’s sense of his own artistic
refashioning. The chronicle form, as Marlowe’s principal source and one with considerable cultural authority, challenged him to set up his drama as a more “true” history and to defend his very different understanding of both political process and history writing. The assessments of Edward II that began this article define the play against the chronicle, which is in turn characterized as “material,” an apparently amorphous grouping of value-free facts for the artist to choose or reject. For the modern reader, accustomed to finding meaning in tales of causality, the disparate events recorded by the chroniclers — events only related to each other by their shared chronological structure — seem to lack meaning and purpose. But we can no longer read these important histories so carelessly.
In her recent analysis of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicle, Annabel Patterson has shown that the chronicle’s form and content actually worked to address the concerns and convey the values of the citizen and artisan Londoners who were its principal readers and producers. Maintaining that the Chronicle reveals not its authors’ “incompetence” but their “different set of historiographical principles,” Patterson argues that the Chronicle’s perplexing inclusivity — the quality that brought John Donne’s scathing dismissal of chronicle content as “triviall houshold trash”–in effect creates a national history that will encompass not just king and court but also citizens and even the artisanal and laboring classes. Patterson also traces, in passages throughout the Chronicle, the authors’ recurrent, approving attention to rights theory, to the “ancient constitution,” and to the value of Parliament in limiting the monarch’s power. She persuasively demonstrates that they make a strong case for certain liberties of the individual and the laws that protect them. The Massacre at Paris (1593):
The Massacre at Paris is an Elizabethan play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe. It concerns the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which took place in Paris in 1572, and the part played by the Duc de Guise in those events. The Lord Strange’s Men acted a play titled The Tragedy of the Guise, thought to be Marlowe’s play, on 26 January 1593. The Admiral’s Menperformed The Guise or The Massacre ten times between 21 June and 27 September 1594. The Diary of Philip Henslowe marks the play as “ne,” though scholars disagree as to whether this indicates a “new” play or a performance
at the Newington Butts theatre. The Diary also indicates that Henslowe planned a revival of the play in 1602, possibly in a revised version. A possible revision may have something to do with the surprising number of Shakespearean borrowings and paraphrases in the text.
The only surviving text is an undated quarto that is too short to represent the complete original play and in all probability it is a memorial reconstruction by the actors who performed the work. It preserves a lot of the violence and stabbing jokes but deletes most of whatever social value the play may have had, except for one long soliloquy near the beginning. One clue to the original substance of the play is a page which survives in manuscript. It is known as the “Collier leaf,” after the Shakespearean scholar John Payne Collier, who is known to have been a notorious forger, although modern scholars think that this particular leaf is probably authentic. Despite including a speech where one of the characters mutters obscene jokes to himself before shooting someone, it supplies a much longer and more interesting version of a blank verse speech than appears in the quarto. This suggests that the more thoughtful parts of the play were precisely the ones that tended to be cut. This was his unfinished work. Christopher Marlowe – Father of English Tragedy:
The first great thing done by Marlowe was to break away from the medieval conception of tragedy, as in medieval drama, tragedy was a thing of the princes only. It dealt with the rise and fall of kings or royal personalities. But it was left to Marlowe to evolve and create the real tragic hero. Almost all the heroes of Marlowe—Tamburlaine, Faustus or Jew of Malta—are of humble parentage, but they are endowed with great heroic qualities and they are really great men. His tragedy is, in fact, the tragedy of one man-the rise, fall and death of the hero. All other characters of a Marlovian drama pale into insignificance beside the towering personality and the glory and grandeur of the tragic hero. Even various incidents of the drama revolve round the hero. The spiritual or moral conflict takes place in the heart of man and this is of much greater-significance and much more poignant than the former. And a great tragedy most powerfully reveals the emotional conflict or moral agony of the mighty hero. Like the heroes of ancient tragedy, Marlowe’s heroes are not
helpless puppets in the hands of blind fate. The tragic flaw was in their character and the tragic action also issued out of their characters. This was really Marlowe’s greatest contribution to English tragedy. Marlowe’s Themes and Style:
Though Marlowe did not care for the unity of plot, his characterization was powerful and he developed the element of soul struggle in plays like Dr. Faustus. His hero Faustus, dissatisfied with the poor results of human science sells his soul to the devil so that for 24 years he may satisfy every desire. Marlowe was fascinated by king Tamburlaine who rose from a shepherd to became a master of Asia. In the Jew of Malta Marlowe shows the Jew Barabas enjoying his riches. He takes revenge on his Christian enemies. At last Barabas fell into the pit he had dug for others. In Edward II the murder of king is one of the most poignant scenes in the drama of Renaissance. Each of the plays has behind it the driving force of this vision, which gives it an artistic and poetic unity. It is, indeed, as a poet that Marlowe excels. Though not the first to use blank verse in English drama, he was the first to exploit its possibilities and make it supreme. His verse is notable for its possibilities and makes it supreme. His verse is notable for its burning energy, its splendour of diction, its sensuous richness, its variety of pace, and its responsiveness to the demands of varying emotions. Full of bold primary colours, his poetry is crammed with imagery from the classics, from astronomy and from geography, an imagery barbaric in its wealth and splendour. Its resonance and power led Ben Jonson to coin the phrase “Marlowe’s mighty line. “but its might has often obscured its technical precision and its admirable lucidity and finish. Creator of English Blank verse in Drama:
Black verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter. It was first introduced by the Earl of Surrey in the 16th century. Later it was used by Marlowe and Shakespeare in their famous plays. Christopher Marlowe was the first English author to make full use of the potential of blank verse, and also established it as the dominant verse form for English drama in the age of Elizabeth I and James I. Marlowe and then Shakespeare developed its potential greatly in the late 16th century. Marlowe was the first to exploit
the potential of blank verse for powerful and involved speech. Marlowe was the real creator of the most versatile of English measures. Sackville, Norton and Surrey experimented with this metre more than twenty years before Marlowe. They failed because they worked on wrong principles and the results which they produced were of an intolerable tedious monotony. Marlowe’s achievement in developing blank verse can be illustrated by the study of “Doctor Faustus”. In the chorus passage for example, the verse seems more consistently regular in its beat. The less questionable judgment is, that Marlowe exercised a strong influence over later drama, though not himself as great a dramatist as Kyd; that he introduced several new tones into blank verse, and commenced the dissociative process which drew it farther and farther away from the rhythms of rhymed verse. Marlowe’s Poems:
•Translation of Book One of Lucan’s Pharsalia
•Translation of Ovid’s Elegies (1580)
•The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (pre-1593)
•Hero and Leander (1593, unfinished; completed by George Chapman, 1598) Christopher Marlowe, a poet known mostly for his plays rather than his verse, translated two major works of classical Latin poetry — Amores by Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) and the first book of Lucan’s (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus) Pharsalia. These are long Latin poems written in the first centuries before and after the Common Era. Though the poems were at least 1400 years old when Marlowe translated them, he put them into the Elizabethan English of his day with considerable verve and poetic vividness (and with the occasional error in translation.) Ovid’s poem is a three-book collection of “elegies” (Latin elegia,) which in Ovid’s day were the equivalent of personal lyric poetry. It concerns a stylized and sometimes humorous and cynical romance between a rich Roman man and his married, foolish lover Corinna. Much of Ovid’s poetry is formulaic, based on earlier poetic forms. These forms (such as stylized addresses to the mistress, a funeral elegy, apostrophes and the like) make up a large portion of Amores, and the narrative is secondary. Ovid, however, was able to imbue his characters with convincing realism, which Marlowe translated admirably. Hero and Leander, the only long original work of poetry of Marlowe’s to have survived (and possibly the only one he ever wrote, apart from his plays,)
was written during a plague year when theatres in London were closed. Marlowe was thus unable to write for the stage, and set his pen again to classical subjects. Hero and Leander concerns the Greek mythical lovers of those names, separated by the Hellespont. It is thought that Marlowe took the story from the mythical Byzantine poet Musaeus, though the myth was known long before that time. “The Passionate Shepherd To His Love”, is a pastoral love poem, written in tetrameter. It is a justly famous piece, often quoted, and Ralegh (a contemporary poet) made a famous “Answer” to it. It is about a shepherd who longs to make a woman (or a nymph) his wife, and tries to lure her into the countryside with promises of rich gifts. This 24-line sweet-toned plea paints an idealized picture of rural life, with images of the finery the lover will make for his beloved from the fruits of the land. It is an homage to an old Greek form of poetry, and one of Marlowe’s masterworks. The translation of Lucan’s First Book is a virtuoso piece by Marlowe, recounting the beginning of a long epic by the Roman poet Lucan. In it, Julius Caesar has returned from conquering Gaul, and debates on crossing the Rubicon and conquering his own city of Rome. It is a piece full of classical allusions, but is also a meditation on the folly of civil war. Marlowe may well have intended to translate all of Lucan’s ten extant books, but it is assumed that this effort was stopped by his early death. Marlowe wrote a Latin epitaph, which he translated into English, for Roger Manwood, an official and judge. It is a poem in the finest old Latin style, but with Elizabethan sensibilities. It, along with Hero and Leander and Lucan’s First Book are among Marlowe’s last works. Major Themes of his Poems:
The whole of Amores is concerned with an adulterous love affair. The lovers attempt to conceal their trysts and deceive Corinna’s husband at every turn; nor are the lovers faithful or truthful to one another. The embarkation of this affair seems to have caused the two lovers no moral misgivings. Never do Corinna and her lover wrestle with their consciences, or voice concern about Corinna’s deceived husband. The complete absence of sexual and social conventional morality is a bit surprising in a poem more than two thousand years old. These elegia were part of a Roman poetic convention; the love poetry of illicit relationships was a poetic trope that was much explored by
Ovid and other writers of his day. That Marlowe chose to translate it, however, speaks somewhat of his taste in iconoclastic themes. Hero and Leander, too, a poem devised by Marlowe from the framework of an early myth, is concerned with a doomed love affair. The separation and desperation of the lovers (on a different scale of personal integrity, but still with the same sort of angst) in Hero and Leander is dwelt on the same way as Ovid expresses his striving and frustration for Corinna in Amores. Love denied is a powerful dramatic subject, and Marlowe liked to address it in his longer poems. Classical poetry translations
Marlowe chose a short but nevertheless difficult poem to translate in Ovid’s Amores. Classical translations were in vogue at the time (the appearance of Henry Howard, Lord Surrey’s partial translation of Virgil’s Aeneid some years before this had made a mark in literary circles) and a task that a young poet would likely set himself to. The translation is not an easy one; classical Latin was a very mature language and many times more compact than Elizabethan English. The meanings of words in Latin were sometimes multi-layered and used in ways that Elizabethan scholars of Latin, such as Marlowe, were not always able to grasp. In addition, the putting of one style of verse (Ovid’s alternating hexameter/pentameter unrhymed lines) into another (blank verse English rhyming couplets) is a difficult task at best, and one that would have honed Marlowe’s skills in English verse as well as Latin translation. Apprenticeship of Marlowe
The translations of Ovid and Lucan were made when Marlowe was very young. He was still an undergraduate student at Cambridge when he began them. The Latin translations, though at times extremely witty and apt, do contain significant errors. Marlowe, though doubtless a classical scholar, was not a complete master of Ovid’s extremely refined Latin, and Marlowe’s treatment of Lucan’s sometimes more awkward language is compounded by errors. The Amores were particularly admired in the medieval and Renaissance Europe, and the people who read them sometimes missed the cynical and playful side of Ovid’s poetry. Marlowe seems to have fewer of these illusions (for example, he often translates Ovid’s puella, “girl”, as “wench”, which had similar connotations in Marlowe’s day as it does now,) but Marlowe nevertheless was
unaware of some of the Roman poetic conventions and the more polished double- and triple-meanings that the poet of the Augustan age employed in his verses. The translations of Ovid and Lucan, though ambitious and certainly telling of potential talent, were still, to some extent, schoolboy exercises. There is no doubt, however, that the studying of these ancient writers and the conversion of their Latin into English verse helped greatly to develop the ability of the future writer of Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta. Cynical view of romantic love
The entire relationship between the lover and Corinna in Amores is a sophisticated, realistic, somewhat jaded, and definitely cynical one. Corinna is married, and there is no talk of her divorcing her husband (though divorce was legal and practiced in the Rome of Ovid’s day.) It is plain that at least part of Corinna’s attraction to the lover is his wealth, and Corinna, though praised for her physical charms, is continuously scolded and made to look foolish. Neither lover is shown to be in the least bit heroic or even admirable — though the feeling of passion is there, with attendant sentiments. It is clear that Ovid is chronicling a sordid adulterous affair. The lovers deceive each other and those around them. There is nothing redeeming about the relationship, and love certainly does not “conquer all.” Physical gratification, and perhaps the thrill obtained from conquest and deception, seem to be the only ends and purpose of the relationship. Hero and Leander pursue, though not nearly as cynical, a similarly doomed and pointless love affair. They are so innocent as to not be able to consummate their love immediately, and, though the poem is unfinished, their deaths are predicted in the opening lines of the poem. Much of Renaissance romance tended toward the tragic, so it is not surprising that Marlowe chose subjects with unhappy rather than conventionally happy endings. Fate
Especially in Hero and Leander, but in much of Marlowe’s oeuvre, the notion of fate is a common theme. References to the mythical Fates (or Destinies — the three Greco-Roman goddesses who decided the character and length of each human being’s life) occur often, and it is used as rhetorical device to convince that something is “meant to be”. This may or may not have been
Marlowe’s own particular view of life. Since his religious views tended toward the heretical, if not outright atheism, it may be that he believed more fully in free will than the old classical idea of a fated existence. The Catholic church, too, while acknowledging free will, insisted that God’s will be the dominant one. Since much of Marlowe’s poetry is wry and tongue-in-cheek, the mentions of Fate may well be largely ironic. Folly of humanity
Especially in Lucan’s First Book, but also in Amores and Hero and Leander Marlowe takes pains to point out the folly of humanity. He chooses translations and tells stories in which the faults in the main characters are obvious and usually avoidable. The poet usually tells us at the outset what the problems of the main actors are, and the tragic ending is often foretold. This kind of lack of narrative suspense was common in Classical literature, and also in the drama of the Elizabethan stage. High classical culture
Marlowe translated and composed in Latin, and his reverence for the ancient world was obvious both in his choice of literature to translate, and his original work. Marlowe didn’t choose mediocre or obscure Latin poetry, but the works of Ovid and Lucan. These writers were the pinnacle of their culture, and their Latin was dense, erudite, and difficult to translate. In addition, some of the situations and stories of these authors were very far removed from types of stories told in Renaissance England. Marlowe kept the essential truths in these classical works, but he adapted them just enough to make them more accessible to his readers.
Marlowe and Shakespeare:
Two great names: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe Educationally they were a great contrast. Shakespeare had had little schooling, quitting school when he was fifteen years old. Marlowe, by comparison, had two degrees including a master’s from Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University. Shakespeare had had no opportunity to learn foreign languages though Marlowe was fluent in many. Marlowe had translated Ovid’s “Amores” while in college and later had done the first translation of Cervantes’s
massive classic Don Quixote from Spanish to English. Many of the plays attributed to Shakespeare have reference to foreign cities and foreign languages. In a similar manner, Shakespeare had had no opportunity to learn protocol of military life, legal matters or court manners, things in which Marlowe was proficient — things that were frequently a part of many of the Shakespearean plays. Marlowe had traveled to many countries. According to records, Shakespeare had never left England. Marlowe’s influence on Shakespeare:
According to the Greek composition of tragedy, the hero should be a Man of Moment – one whose destiny is closely tied with that of our own. Marlowe makes a glaring deviation from the path trodden by the Greeks. His heroes are men with whom we have a close kinship. Tamburlaine is a Scythian Shepherd, Barabas a Mediterranean money-lender, and Faustus an ordinary German Doctor. While Shakespeare follows the Greek convention in most of his major tragedies, we notice the conspicuous exception in Othello who though he speaks of himself as “hailing etc.” is after all a moor of Venice. The Greeks insisted on the observance of the unities as an essential concomitance of tragedy. Marlowe boldly violates the rule with impunity. Tamburlaine’s conquest takes well-nigh 24 years. The action of Faustus dating from his signing of the bond to Lucifer. The duration of the exploits of the Jew, too, exceeds the limit set by the ancient. The scene, too, shifts from one country to another in Tamburlaine. Faustus travels around the globe. Shakespeare, taking the clue from Marlowe, proved conclusively that dramatic verisimilitude can never be disturbed by the violations of the unities of time and place. Quite contrary to the established Greek convention Marlowe mingled the comic and tragic elements in Faustus, even though in Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta we do not see it freely employed.
Though many of the Wagner scenes are supposed to be interpolations by other hands, particularly Chapman, Marlowe cannot disown the authorship of these scenes completely. He had before him the primary aim of providing comic relief to the overtaxed minds of the auditors. But as we know, from our reaction to the Porter scene, the grave diggers scene, the appearance of the clown – and the rustic – these scenes by emphasizing the scene of contrast, only accentuate our tension. Further, with true dramatists’ insight into
human life, Marlowe wants to point out that life consists in laughter and tears. To think of man’s life being burdened by unrelieved tragedy is starkly unimaginable and unreal. It was Marlowe who first presented on the English State The Titanic Struggle which rages in a man’s soul. The tempest in a soul is the very essence of Shakespearean tragedy. The struggle between the forces of good and evil in Tamburlaine, Faustus, and The Jew of Maltastands boldly in comparison with similar effects in Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Macbeth. Marlowe, however, did not regard heroism as synonymous with virtue. His heroes are by no means patterns of human excellence overtaken by tragic frailty as in the case of Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. They can be relegated to the category of “hero-villains” – a type popularized in Elizabethan England. But these figures move before us as grand specimens of humanity overtaken by passion for reason. Tamburlaine takes to a career of conquests; Faustus turns to necromancy and so defies Mammon. In Shakespeare we have the classic instance of Macbeth who is the direct descendent of Dr. Faustus and Tamburlaine, while Shylock is the dramatic foster-child of Barabas. Marlowe is an astute craftsman in the effective use of suspense – a consciousness that the fate of the hero is sealed right at the outset.
When Faustus signs the bond with the devil, he is actually flirting with fate even as Macbeth does when he interviews the witches. Until the play moves to its ultimate catastrophe suspense grips us – a feature common to Shakespeare and Marlowe. Again, Marlowe’s ability to compose death scenes is almost unparalleled in modern drama. In the deaths of Faustus and Edward II Marlowe’s dramatic power reaches its highest point. Death synonymous with tragic catastrophe was revealed to the future dramatists as something more than physical horror at the end of existence. Death became the loss of active and glorious living, the negation of individual power, the expiring struggle of the drama of life, its last defiance and its most irresistible appeal to pity and horror. The death scenes in hamlet and Othello derive directly from Marlowe’s inspiration. Marlowe, however, refrained from exhibiting physical horror upon the stage. The deaths of Faustus, Barabas and Tamburlaine are either implied or narrated, but not enacted. The gruesome murder of Desdemona and of Antony are related to us; but the greater genius of Shakespeare for tragic poignancy did introduce scenes of physical horror at times, as in the
slapping of Desdemona by Othello, the blinding of Gloucester in Lear and the stabbing of Macduff’s children in Macbeth. Edward II is an exception: In the words of Havelock Ellis “In nothing has Marlowe shown himself so much a child of the true Renaissance as in this to touch the images of physical horror. Marlowe’s treatment of the supernatural is unique and considerably influenced Shakespeare. He gives human touches to his supernatural beings which catch our eyes. Mephistopheles is capable of human feelings. His appeal to Faustus literally to adjure the devil has a tinge of pathos about them. Marlowe, at this moment, reminds us of Ariel attempting to stir the steely heart of Prospero. Even in his portrayal of the witches in Macbeth and the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare is highly indebted to Marlowe. The device employed by Marlowe to represent the tempest of the emotions in the hero’s heart is unique and dramatically very effective. The good and the evil angels appearing as two characters to reflect the inner conflict was a bold invention on the part of the dramatist.
Shakespeare frequently resorts to soliloquy in his tragedies. We hear also the incorporeal voice bidding Macbeth “sleep no more.” The dagger with its handle drawn towards Macbeth, the ghost of Banquo, and the ghost of Ceasar appearing to Brutus with the words: “I’m thy evil spirit” – all these are actually an objective mirror of the heart, but are incapable of giving a kaleidoscopic picture. By far the greatest contribution by Marlowe to the development of tragedy is the way he employs the medium of Blank verse. Blank verse is the only instrument capable of representing subtle shades of thought and feeling. Much of Shakespeare’s greatness is dependent on the poetry in his plays. Marlowe was the pioneer of blank verse in drama, Shakespeare was its complete master especially in the use of its various ramifications. We notice certain deficiencies in Marlowe’s tragic design, fortunately absent in Shakespeare. Marlowe concentrated his entire attention on the development of a single character and so was almost indifferent to the rest. In Shakespeare every character has a positive individuality. We remember the passive Horatio as well as the turncoat Enobarbus. Marlowe was also ignorant of the feminine heart. Zenocrate is merely a shadow. Helen appears as a vision. On the contrary, Shakespeare’s acquaintance with the working’s of a woman’s mind is so profound that Ruskin, Arnold and Mrs. Jameson even contend that Shakespeare was primarily concerned with his
heroines. Out of the physical activity and intellectual inquisitiveness of the Renaissance, there grew up a body of literature which was remarkable for its power and force. Marlowe was, perhaps, the truest representative of this literary and dramatic efflorescence. He embodied in his four plays, man’s inordinate love of physical power, his greed for intellectual wealth and his passion for material wealth and also his love of human passion. He devised a suitable medium to project his fiery soul and that was his well-known Blank verse. If Shakespeare had not Marlowe’s shoulders to stand upon he would not have been recognized as one of the greatest dramatist in the world. Shakespeare honoured his master both by imitation and direct quotation. Reputation among Contemporary Writers:
Swinburne, a critic of the Elizabethan theatre had said that “Marlowe is a Father of English Tragedy and the creator of English blank verse and therefore also the teacher and guide of Shakespeare” Whatever the particular focus of modern critics, biographers and novelists, for his contemporaries in the literary world, Marlowe was above all an admired and influential artist. Within weeks of his death, George Peele remembered him as “Marley, the Muses’ darling”; Michael Drayton noted that he “Had in him those brave translunary things / That the first poets had”, and Ben Jonson wrote of “Marlowe’s mighty line”. Thomas Nashe wrote warmly of his friend, “poor deceased Kit Marlowe”. So too did the publisher Edward Blount, in the dedication of Hero and Leander to Sir Thomas Walsingham.
Among the few contemporary dramatists to say anything negative about Marlowe was the anonymous author of the Cambridge University play The Return From Parnassus (1598) who wrote, “Pity it is that wit so ill should dwell, / Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell.” The most famous tribute to Marlowe was paid by Shakespeare in As You Like It, where he not only quotes a line from Hero and Leander (“Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?'”) but also gives to the clown Touchstone the words “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” This appears to be a reference to Marlowe’s murder which involved a fight over the “reckoning”, the bill, as well as to a line in Marlowe’s Jew of Malta – “Infinite riches
in a little room”.
Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Marlowe in his work, as can be seen in the re-using of Marlovian themes in Antony and Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, and Macbeth (Dido, Jew of Malta, Edward II and Dr Faustus respectively). In Hamlet, after meeting with the travelling actors, Hamlet requests the Player perform a speech about the Trojan War, which at 2.2.429–32 has an echo of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. In Love’s Labour’s Lost Shakespeare brings on a character “Marcade” (three syllables) in conscious acknowledgement of Marlowe’s character “Mercury”, also attending the King of Navarre, in Massacre at Paris. The significance, to those of Shakespeare’s audience who had read Hero and Leander, was Marlowe’s identification of himself with the god Mercury. Conclusion:
The interest of Marlowe’s tragedies lies not in the death of Heroes but in their soul struggle against forces which in the end proves too great for them. He raised the subject matter of Drama to a higher level and changed the concept of tragedies by introducing heroes from the common people. His heroes are meant of exceptional qualities and passion. They transcend ordinary human aspiration until they meet their tragic end. Usually in his plays there will be no antagonist, the protagonists themselves, their inner evil thoughts will be the antagonist. There is also number of morals to teach in his plays. Marlowe may died in the age of 29, but his plays are living forever.