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742
MARLOWE, CHRISTOPHER


circumstances of Marlowe's death. The probability is he was killed in a brawl, and his atheism must be interpreted not according to'the ex parte accusation of one Richard Baines, a professional informer (among-the Privy Council records), butias a species of rationalistic antinomianism, dialectic in character, and closely related to the deflection from conventional orthodoxy for which Kett was burnt at Norwich in 1589. A few months before the end of his life there is reason to believe that he transferred his services from the Lord Admiral's to Lord Strange's Company, and may have thus been brought into communication with Shakespeare, who in such plays as Richard II. and Richard III. owed not a little to the influence of his romantic predecessor. Marlowe's career as a dramatist lies between the years 1587 and 1593, and the four great plays to which reference has been made were Tambnrlaine the Great, an heroic epic in dramatic form divided into two parts of five acts each (1587, printed in 1590); Dr Faustus (1588, entered at Stationers' Hall 1601); The Famous Tragedy of the Rich J ew of Malta (dating perhaps from 1589, acted in 1592, printed in 1633); and Edward the Second (printed 1594). The very first words of Tarnbnrlaine sound the trumpet note of attack in the older order of things dramatic:-

“ From jigging veins of riming 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.”

It leapt with a bound to a place beside Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, and few plays have been more imitated by rivals (Greene's Alphonsns of Aragon, Peele's Battle of Alcazar, Selimus, Scanderbeg) or more keenly satirized by the jealousy and prejudice of out-distanced competitors.

(T. Se.)

The majestic and exquisite excellence of various lines and passages in Marlowe's first play must be admitted to relieve, if it cannot be allowed to redeem, the stormy monotony of Titanic truculence which blusters like a simoom through the noisy course of its ten fierce acts. With many and heavy faults, there is something of genuine greatness in Tamburlainethe Great; and for two grave reasons it must always be remembered with distinction and mentioned with honour. It is the first poem ever written in English blank verse, as distinguished from mere rhyme less decasyllabics; and it contains one of the noblest passages, perhaps indeed the noblest, in the literature of the world, ever written by one of the greatest masters of, poetry' in loving praise of the glorious delights and sublime submission to the everlasting limits of his art. In its highest and most distinctive qualities, in unfaltering and infallible command of the right note of music and the proper tone of colour for the finest touches of poetic execution, no poet of the most elaborate modern school, working at ease upon every consummate resource of luxurious learning and leisurely refinement, has ever excelled the best and most representative work of a manwho had literally no models before him and probably or evidently was often if not always compelled to write against time for his living.

The just and generous judgment passed by Goethe on the Faustus of his English predecessor in tragic treatment of the same subject is somewhat more than sufficient to counterbalance the slighting or the sneering references to that magnificent poem which might have been expected from the ignorance of Byron or the incompetence of Hallam. And the particular note of merit observed, the special point of the praise conferred, by the great German poet should be no less sufficient to dispose of the vulgar misconception yet lingering among sciolists and pretenders to criticism, which regards a writer than whom no man was ever born with a finer or a stronger instinct for perfection of excellence in execution as a mere noble savage of letters, a rough self-taught sketcher or scribbler of crude and rude genius, whose unhewn blocks of verse had in them some veins of rare enough metal to be quarried and polished by Shakespeare. What most impressed the author of Faust in the work of Marlowe was a quality the want of which in the author of Manfred is proof enough to consign his best work to the second or third class at most. “ How greatly it is all plannedl” the Erst requisite of all great work, and one of which the highest genius possible to a greatly gifted barbarian could by no possibility understand the nature or conceive the existence. That Goethe “ had thought of translating it ” is perhaps hardly less precious a tribute to its greatness than the fact that it has been actually and admirably translated by the matchless translator of Shakespeare-the son of Victor Hugo; whose labour of love may thus be said to have made another point in common, and forged as it were another link of union, between Shakespeare and the young master of Shakespeare's youth. Of all great poems in dramatic form it is perhaps the most remarkable for absolute singleness of aim and simplicity of construction; yet is it wholly free from all possible imputation of monotony or aridity. Tambnrlaine is monotonous in the general roll and flow of its stately and sonorous verse through a noisy wilderness of perpetual bluster and slaughter; but the unity of tone and purpose in Doctor Faustus is not unrelieved by change of manner and variety of incident. The comic scenes, written evidently with as little of labour as of relish, are for the most part scarcely more than transcripts, thrown into the form of dialogue, from a popular prose History of Dr F austns, and therefore should be set down as little to the discredit as to the credit of the poet. Few masterpieces of any age in any language can stand beside this tragic poem-it has hardly the structure of a play-for the qualities of terror and splendour, for intensity of purpose and sublimity of note. In the vision of Helen, for example, the intense perception of loveliness gives actual sublimity to the sweetness and radiance of mere beauty in the passionate and spontaneous selection of words the most choice and perfect; and in like manner the sublimity of simplicity in Marlowe's conception and expression of the agonies endured by Faustus under the immediate imminence of his doom gives the highest note of beauty, the quality of absolute fitness and propriety, to the sheer straightforwardness of speech in which his agonizing horror finds Vent ever more and more terrible from the first to the last equally beautiful and fearful verse of that tremendous monologue which has no parallel in all the range of tragedy.

It is now a commonplace of criticism to observe and regret the decline of power and interest after the opening acts of The Jew of Malta. This decline is undeniable, though even the latter part of the play (the text of which is very corrupt) is not wanting in rough energy; but the first two acts would be sufficient foundation for the durable fame of a dramatic poet. In the blank verse of ~Milton alontwwho perhaps was hardly less indebted than Shakespeare was before him to Marlowe as the first English master of word-music in its grand er forms-has the glory or the melody of passages in the opening soliloquy of Barabbas been possibly surpassed. The figure of the hero before it degenerates into caricature is as nnely touched as the poetic execution is excellent; and the rude and rapid sketches of the minor characters show at least some vigour and vivacity of touch.-In Edward the Second the interest rises and the execution improves as visibly and as greatly with the course of the advancing story as they decline in The Jew of M alta. The scene of the king's deposition at Kenilworth is almost as much finer in tragic effect and poetic quality as it is shorter and less elaborate than the corresponding scene in Shakespeare's King Richard II. The terror of the death-scene undoubtedly rises into horror; but this horror is with skilful simplicity of treatment preserved from passing into disgust. In pure poetry, in sublime and splendid imagination, this tragedy is excelled by Doctor Faustus; in dramatic power and positive impression of natural effect it is certainly the masterpiece of Marlowe. It was almost inevitable, in the hands of any poet but Shakespeare, that none of the characters represented should be capable of securing or even exciting any finer sympathy or more serious interest than attends on the mere evolution of, successive events or the mere display of emotions (except always in the great scene of the deposition) rather animal than spiritual in their expression of rage or tenderness or suffering. The exact balance of mutual effect, the final note of scenic harmony, between ideal