« VorigeDoorgaan »
out what then in conscience I thought he had in some displeasure writ; or hyar it been true, yet to publish it was intolerable: him I would wish to use now red.. worse than I deserve.*
The lines in italics plainly refer to Marlowe, whose character comes out in painful contrast to that of Shakspere. The explanation is creditable to the manliness of Chettle. Compelled to rélieve himself from the aspersion of having fabricated a pamphlet in Greene's name, he expresses regret that he had not exercised his editorial discretion over the passage that reflected on Shakspere, having subsequently learned how upright he was in his conduct;. but he expresses no regret at what he had published concerning Marlowe. He knew neither of them, and had no desire to know Marlowe. From this single sentence we may collect the opinion that was entertained of Marlowe, even among people who were not repelled from associating with him by religious scruples, who were, like himself, playrights and poets, and who held no communion with him, although they mixed constantly in the society with which he was intimately connected. Chettle was one of the inferior writers for the stage; a drudge in all sorts of literature; and no doubt passed his life in a perpetual struggle against poverty. Yet this comparatively obscure man, always distinguished by the modesty with which he speaks of himself, did not hesitate to publish to the world that he had no desire to be acquainted with Marlowe, who, whatever were the vices of his private life, enjoyed considerable reputation as a successful dramatist, and was the associate of Nash, one of Chettle's earliest friends. From this explanation we also gather that Greene had written worse of Marlowe than that he had spoken irreverently; but that Chettle had suppressed it, thinking it was written in displeasure, possibly because Marlowe had deserted him in his hour of need. How much worse it was may be inferred from Chettle's statement that, even if it had been true, and not written in displeasure, he would still have suppressed it, because it was "intolerable” to publish.
Marlowe's anxiety to vindicate his character satisfied itself in an explosion of anger.
He made no public protest against the
* Kind-Hart's Dream 1592.
aspersion of impiety, nor did he take any pains otherwise to show that it was unfounded. Neither Greene's solemn warning, nor the contempt of Chettle, produced any effect upon his life. He continued from this time to pursue the same course which had hitherto drawn so much censure upon him, and which was destined within a few months to bring his career to a sudden and tragical close.
In the following June he was killed by a man to whom "he owed a grudge,” and who was said to have been his rival under circumstances discreditable to both. The man, whose name was Francis Archer, * appears to have acted in self-defense. According to the relations which are given of the story, Archer had asked Marlowe to a feast at Deptford, and while they were playing at backgammon, Marlowe suddenly drew out his dagger and attempted to stab his host; when Archer, perceiving his intention, avoided the blow, and quickly seizing his own dagger, struck Marlowe in the eye, bringing away the brains as he withdrew the weapon. Medical aid was immediately procured, but it was unavailing. Marlowe died in a few hours.f Of the issue, with reference to Archer, nothing is known.
Thus perished, at the untimely age of thirty years, in a mean brawl, the greatest dramatic poet in the English language anterior to Shakspere.
Amongst the papers Marlowe left behind him were the unfinished tragedy of Dido, afterwards completed for the stage by Nash, and the commencement of a paraphrase of the Greek poem of Hero and Leander, which Chapman brought to a conclusion. Independently of the plays Marlowe is known to have written, he is supposed to have been concerned in others, to some of which Shakspere was largely indebted in the structure of three of his dramas. *
* The burial register of the church of St. Nicholas, Deptford, contains the following entry :-"Christopher Marlowe, slair by Francis Archer, the 16th June, 1593." This record disposes of Vaughan's statement (The Golden Grove : 1600.) that the name of Marlowe's antagonist was Ingram; and of Aubrey's story that it was Ben Jonson who " killed Mr. Marlowe, the poet, on Bunhill, coming from the Green Curtain playhouse." In Jonson's case, the circumstances were altogether different, the person he killed, Gabriel Spencer, an actor, having challenged bim. The duel took place in Hoxton Fields, in September, 1598, five years after the death of Marlowe. See Life of Jonson, Ann. Ed., p. 10.
+ There are two or three' versions of the catastrophe, differing in light particulars, but agreeing upon the main.
Marlowe laid the foundation of English dramatic poetry in blank verse, which he brought to its highest perfection. Ben Jonson's panegyric is familiar to all readers; but the “mighty line" does not include the whole of Marlowe's merits.
His versification is full of variety, and equally susceptible of the most luscious sweetness and the utmost force. The rhythm always obeys the emotion, and its melody is not to be tested by a mechanical standard. The sense is not adapted to the numbers, but the numbers to the sense; and, the meaning being clearly understood, the verse becomes a strain of music. His diction is rich and nervous; his imagery profuse, and frequently drawn from recondite sources. As lie is often extravagant, so he is
* 1. The First Part of the Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster. 2. The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York. 3. The Taming of the Shrew. Upon the former two Shakspere founded the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI., and upon the last his play of the same name.
There are so many extraordinary coincidences of expression between the old Taming of the Shrew and Marlowe's acknowledged writings, that Mr. Dyce thinks it could not have been written by Marlowe himself, but must have been the work of an imitator. A writer in Notes and Queries opposes to this opinion the argument that the corresponding passages are so extensivo and literal as to constitute, not imitations, but thefts, and that, if they are thefts, the thief would assuredly have availed himself of other writers, and not confined his depredations to Marlowe. 4. The Troublesome Reign of King John, in Two Parts. 5. Lust's Dominion. Mr. Dyce rejects this play from his edition of Marlowe's works, because there are certain allusions in the first scene which could not have been written till after Marlowe's death. By parity of reasoning he should bave rejected Faustus, which he adopts. In the case of Lust's Dominion, as in that of Faustus, we have a right to assume that interpolations were introduced, from time to time, according to the custom of the theaters. The most direct evidence in favor of Marlowe's authorship of this play is, that the earliest edition bears his name on the titlepage,-a species of evidence we are not justified in ignoring on speculative grounds. 6. The Maiden's Holiday. A comedy bearing this name was entered in the Stationers' books on the 8th April, 1654, as the joint production of Marlowe and Day; but it was never printed, and the MS. was destroyed by Warburton's cook. It has been conjectured also that Marlowe was the author of Locrine and Titus Andronicus, and of some play, apparently alluded to by Greeue (see ante, p. 123,) in which there was a priest of the sun. But there is no evidence in support of these conjectures.
sometimes flat and prosaic; and, considering the hight to which he occasionally soars above his immediate contemporaries, he may be pronounced the most unequal of them all. But it should be recollected that the dramatist of that day addressed only one tribunal. His object was to produce a play that would act well, not one that would read well. The fear of print was not before his eyes, and he was careless in proportion of those conditions of finish and completeness which are demanded by the criticism of the closet.
The comic scenes which interleave Marlowe's plays are coarse, heavy, and generally gross. But he had a quality of humor of a singular kind, which appears when it is least expected in situations of grief or terror. We have a remarkable example of this in The Jew of Malta, where Friar Jacomo, seeing the dead body of Friar Barnardine standing against a wall with a staff in its hands, addresses it, and, not receiving any answer, knocks it down, upon which he is accused of the murder,-a tragical issue produced by farcical means, and showing how closely tragedy and farce lie together.
Marlowe's strength was not that of intensity in the sense of concentration. It consisted in the power of accumulation which conquers by repeated blows. His details are often hyperbolical, and his characters, divorced from the action and the surrounding figures, are little better than superb exaggerations of humanity. His plays will not bear this kind of dissection: they must be grasped as a whole in the entirety of their burning passion and Titanic energies. The design is always vast, and commands attention by its breadth and boldness. There is a barbaric grandeur in Tamburlaine, which seizes forcibly on the imagination, in spite of the means by which it is brought about. It is preposterous enough to see Tamburlaine drawn in his chariot by captive kings with bits in their mouths, and to hear him reproaching them for not going faster than twenty miles a day; yet there is something almost sublime in the conception of vanquishing entire regions, carrying victory into remote countries almost with the certainty of fate, and then exhibiting to the world the emblems of this mighty power in the persons of the harnessed kings. It may awaken ludicrous, associations to hear Tamburlaine's expression of surprise when he feels the approach of sick
ness, as if he who had overawed mortality in others must himself be immortal; and his proposal to go forth and fight Death, as he had fought other enemies, is simply absurd; but it is a stroke of genius, in immediate relation with all this, to represent Death as being afraid to come too near him, and making his approaches as it were by stealth, every time Tamburlaine turns aside his head. The manner in which Faustus sells himself to the devil will make the modern reader smile; but assuredly the heaping up of the horrors, hour after hour, as the moment when the forfeit is to be paid draws near, is profoundly tragical.
The poems that are not dramatic possess all of Marlowe's excellences liberated from his excesses. The most important of them is Hero and Leander. How admirably it is executed will be felt upon reaching the continuation by “cloud-grappling Chapman," who, though possessing great original powers, falls infinitely short of the luxury of description and exquisite versification of his predecessor. The Song of the Passionate Shepherd, which has retained its popularity for nearly three hundred years, is the best known, as it is one of the most beautiful, of Marlowe's compositions. To these is added, in the present volume, a translation of The First Book of Lucan, which presents especial claims to preservation as the secord example of the kind in English, and as affording, by its closeness, being rendered line for line, a curious means of comparison with the more elaborate version of Rowe. Marlowe also produced a translation of Ovid's Elegies, which the Bishops ordered to be burnt for its licentiousness.