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MARLOWE'S VERSIFICATION AND STYLE
By TUCKER BROOKE
Since Greene sneered enviously at 'that Atheist Tamburlan' and the 'mad and scoffing poets ... bred of Merlin's race that set the end of scholarism in an English blank verse,' and Jonson paid his tribute to 'Marlowe's mighty line,' the poet's fame has rested chiefly upon his exquisite mastery of blank verse. During the fifty years which preceded the composition of Tamburlaine, this metre had been employed by a considerable variety of English writers. A complete list of the extant efforts would include the following:
The Earl of Surrey's translation of books ii and iv of the Æneid.
Two short narrative poems by Nicholas Grimald, The Death of Zoroas (115 lines) and Marcus Tullius Ciceroes Death (88 lines), published in Tottle's Miscellany, 1557.
Sackville and Norton's play of Ferres and Porrex, or Gorboduc, modelled on Senera, 1561.
The tragedy of Jocasta, translated from the Italian by Gascoigne and Kinwelmarshe, 1566.
Turberville's Heroical Epistles of Ovid, a translation of six of the Heroides, 1567.
Spenser's fifteen 'sonnets' in Van der Noodt's Theatre 1569." Gascoigne's Steel Glass, a satire upon contemporary London life, 1576. A poem of 170 lines in Barnabe Riche's novel, Don Simonides (2nd.
1584. Certain parts of Peele's Arraignment of Paris, 1584, of which the greater portion is in riming couplets.
Also Peele's Lines to Th. Watson (11 lines), prefixed to the latter's Hekatompathia, 1582, and the opening speech of Peele's Device of the Pageant before Wolstan Dixi, 1585 (53 lines).
Possibly, The Misfortunes of Arthur, by Thomas Hughes and others, 1587. (There is no positive evidence that this work antedated Tamburlaine.)
The rather modest merits of these precursors of Marlowe have been copiously investigated and analyzed. Professor Creizenach
* Collier (Poetical Decameron, 1820, i. 95 ff.) calls attention to the specimen of peculiar blank verse in the August eclogue of the Shepherds' Calendar (11. 151-189).
*Cf. Arnold Schroeer, Ueber die Anfänge des Blankverses in England, Anglia iv. 1-72 (1881); Joseph B. Mayor, Chapters on English Metre, 2nd.
has set forth the dubious claims of Lyly; : Professor Gummere those of Peele. It is of course certain that the lines of the latter poet show an enormous advance over Surrey's in accuracy and melodiousness; yet the general feeling that the real significance of blank verse began with Tamburlaine remains critically unassailable. That play signalized the adolescence of English blank verse by endowing it with two qualities previously lacking: it first made it native to the genius of the English language, and made it the characteristic vehicle of expression of an individual poet.
Hallam pointed out the probability that Surrey's experiment was suggested by the fact that Cardinal Ippolito de Medicis (or Francesco-Maria Molza) had previously rendered the second book of the Aeneid into Italian blank verse (sciolti versi). The unEnglish character of the versification is noted on the title-page of the second edition of Surrey's work (book iv), which calls it a 'straunge meter'; and it was consciously as a strange or foreign metre that blank verse was employed in England throughout the period before Marlowe. It seems to have been valued chiefly
ed., 1901, ch, ix, The Blank Verse of Surrey and Marlowe; Van Dam and Stoffel, History of the Structure of the Blank-Verse Line (ch. xii of William Shakespeare: Prosody and Text); Rudolph Imelmann, Zu den Anfängen des Blankverses ...Sh.-Jb., 1905.
* These depend upon giving an early date (ca. 1584) to Lyly's one comedy in blank verse, The Woman in the Moon. For the improbability of such a date, cf. Feuillerat, John Lyly, 579 f.
• Representative English Comedies, I, 339 f.
B'If Marlowe did not re-establish blank-verse, which is difficult to prove, he gave it at least a variety of cadence, and an easy adaptation of the rhythm to the sense, by which it instantly became in his hands the finest instrument that the tragic poet has ever employed for his purpose, less restricted than that of the Italians, and falling occasionally almost into numerous prose, lines of fourteen syllables being very common in all our old dramatists, but regular and harmonfous at other times as the most accurate ear could require.” Hallam, II, 375.
• What makes his career almost a literary miracle is the fact that he created a style and manner of writing which in its essentials has remained unchanged to the present day. Behind Marlowe, English poetry may be beautiful, interesting, truthful to Nature, inspired, what you will, but it is confessedly archaic, mediaeval, unmodern.' Anonymous reviewer in Spectator, Sept. 19, 1891.
as a proper means of translating or simulating the exotic grace as of Latin quantitative verse. Grimald's Death of Zoroas is trans
lated, with some amplification, from the Latin of Gautier de Chatillon's Alexandreis; and his other poem from his contemporary Beza's De Morte Ciceronis." The authors of Ferrex and Porrex and Jocasta are apparently seeking to give the impression of the Senecan senarius. In The Steel Glass Gascoigne appears to be aiming at the ostentatiously pedestrian elegance of Horace's Sermones. In The Arraignment of Paris, it should be noted, Peele uses blank verse only in a few passages where he is studiously emulating the cool dignity of Latin declamation; i. e., in Ate's Prologue, Paris's Oration to the Council of the Gods (iv. i), and the stately praise of the Nymph Eliza by Diana and Pallas (v. i.)
So far blank verse had been a metre employed with increasing skill, but employed only when Englishmen were affecting to write like Romans. The first lines of Tamburlaine' gave it at once the freedom of English life and feeling:
From jigging veins of riming mother wits
Threatening the world with high astounding terms. For seven years one of the most vigorous and original British poets made it the characteristic, almost the sole, mouthpiece of his personality, and it became in its implications and appeal an utterly different thing.
No sympathetic reader can be untouched by these new qualities in the verse of Tamburlaine. First of all, the absence of anything tentative or experimental in the choice of metre challenges attention. The young poet confidently stakes his career upon the adequacy of his medium to every poetic occasion. And back of this in all the ringing lines is the unmistakable sound of a personal voice, as clear as that of his great successors, Shakespeare and Milton.
These points are axiomatic. No critic, I think, has failed to recognize them, and no discussion can do much more than stress
• Migne's Patrologia Latina (vol. 209) book iii, 11. 1250-1319.
their obviousness. But there are in the metrical art of Tamburlaine and the succeeding plays many features which repay technical analysis.
Marlowe was enamoured of the regular iambic decasyllable: to him it seems to have appeared neither monotonous nor restricted in its effects. In his early work particularly he was, as Jonson noted, an artist of the single line, and Tamburlaine makes its strongest appeal to readers through these mighty lines, marked usually by no metrical irregularities or equivalences, yet brilliant in the accuracy with which each gives voice to a perfectly distinct emotion :
' And ride in triumph through Persepolis !
'Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia !' In Tamburlaine the heady music of the five marching iambs normally drowns the tendency to variation. Unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe here uses the feminine ending--the line of eleven-syllables—in only about two percent of the cases. Unlike Milton, he is reluctant to break up the independence of his verses by strong caesural pauses. Habitually the lines are end-stopped. The ornament of rime is added in only five per cent of them, and in many of these instances is probably involuntary.
Stylistic devices are not numerous or conspicuous. Professor Hubbard notes the rather frequent employment of a type of line in which a kind of strophic and antistrophic effect is bound up with three-fold balance of parts, as in
The fainting army of that foolish king (660)' Ellis illustrates the use of a blank verse couplet.'' Sometimes, again, we have a quatrain effect, as in lines 553-556:
• Frank G. Hubbard, “A Type of Blank Verse Line found in the Earlier Elizabethan Drama," Publ. M. L. A., 1917, XXXII, 68-80.
• The strong melody of his early verse is simple and little varied; the chief variation being a kind of blank verse couplet, generally introduced near the end of a speech, in which a tumultuous crescendo is followed by a grave and severely iambic line:
And sooner shall the Sun fall from his Spheare,
Than Tamburlaine be slaine or ouercome.' (371 f.) (Mermaid ed., p. xxxii f.)
He that can take or slaughter Tamburlaine,
Shal haue a gouernment in Medea." Marlowe's most striking achievement in style, however, apart from the single line, is in Tamburlaine the verse paragraph, which is often of a lyric rather than dramatic nature. Here, as in true lyrical poetry, the perfect single line is not absorbed in the sense of the speech as a whole, but forms the theme of a burst of sustained emotion, which plays about it and often repeats it as a refrain. Tamburlaine is full of such inwrought lyrics, of which the most famous is the great speech on Beauty (1941-1971), and the most musically remarkable Zenocrate's lament over Bajazeth and Zabina (2129-2153) and Tamburlaine's lament over Zenocrate (2983-3005).11
With such simple metrical tools Marlowe works. Few English poets, if any, surpass him in the sheer wonder of the different effects he makes them accomplish. Lowell's remains the best description of the surprise which readers of Tamburlaine feel continually:
In the midst of the hurly-burly there will fall a sudden hush, and we come upon passages calm and pellucid as mountain tarns filled to the brim with the purest distillations of heaven. And, again, there are single verses that open silently as roses, and surprise us with that seemingly accidental perfection, which there is no use in talking about because itself says all that is to be said and more."
The special metrical triumph of Tamburlaine consisted, then, in its demonstration of the unsuspected power and range possible to the simple iambic decasyllabic line. The failure of the poet to make more than very slight use of the devices upon which his successors mainly depend for variety—rime, the feminine ending, the run-on line, and variation of caesural pause—has, however, apparently led readers to overlook the presence of certain other differentiating agencies by which monotony is avoided or special effects gained. These are particularly the alexandrine, the ninesyllable line, and the tetrameter.
Cf. also lines 405-408, 438-441; Edward II, 1063-1066. Compare Peele, David and Bethsabe, II, v. 27-43. 13 The Old English Dramatists, 1892, p. 36.