Secret Agent for the British Privy Council and author of the Plays Tamberlaine, and the Tragical History of Dr. John Faustus, a homo universalis.

Faustus was published in 1592, and many believe that if not for the free verse style of this play, Shakespeare could not have written Hamlet. Indeed, there are some who believe that Marlowe WAS Shakespeare.

Update:It always takes an unconventional mind to break through traditions, especially traditions of mind, and its expressions. As I am but the generalist, many of the details escape me. I bow, always, to superior wisdom. Thanks wharfinger.

An example of Marlowe's writing.
See also Faustus' Seven Deadly Sins, Faustus' Contract, Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, How I am glutted with conceit of this!

Christopher Marlowe lived from 1564 to 1593, which puts him of an age with old Bill. Marlowe died of stab wounds in a bar brawl, the details of which are unfortunately not clear. Writers were men in those days! Thank God I missed it.

Marlowe wrote The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) with occasional prose intrusions, frequently in the mouths of lower-class comic relief characters. The blank verse-with-sporadic-prose thing is pretty much an invariant feature of Elizabethan drama. It's worth noting that Marlowe's verse is a bit ragged compared to Shakespeare's. Shakespeare's Hamlet was largely based (at times, apparently, to the point of plagiarism) on Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. By chance, Kyd and Marlowe were friends.

Free verse is entirely unrelated.


The first version of my writeup had Christopher Marlowe's first name, wrongly, as "Thomas". Words like "idiotic" come to mind. I was probably thinking about Thomas Kyd and got confused. Thanks to themusic for pointing this out -- and for doing it in his usual tactful and considerate way, which I'd do well to emulate.

...and thanks to mcSey for noticing some time later that I had Marlowe dying in 1693, which would make him not quite 160 years of age. Yeah! And, and, and he smoked, too!

Christopher Marlowe

    CROWNED, girdled, garbed and shod with light and fire,
       Son first-born of the morning, sovereign star!
       Soul nearest ours of all, that wert most far.
    Most far off in the abysm of time, thy lyre
    Hung highest above the dawn-enkindled quire
       Where all ye sang together, all that are,
       And all the starry songs behind thy car
    Rang sequence, all our souls acclaim thee sire.
    "If all the pens that ever poets held
       Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,"
       And as with rush of hurtling chariots
    The flight of all their spirits were impelled
       Toward one great end, thy glory -- nay, not then,
    Not yet might'st thou be praised enough of men.

    Algernon Charles Swinburne(1837-1909)


Christopher Marlowe, dramatist and free-thinker, born in 1564, the son of a shoemaker was fatally stabbed in Deptford on May 30 in 1593. This piece can be found in Sonnets of English Dramatic Poets (1590-1650) published in 1882.

May 30th is one of the most important dates in English literature. After the evening meal on that fateful night at an inn Deptford, playwright Christopher Marlowe was murdered. Time has obscured the circumstances and many theories today declare that Marlowe wasn't murdered at all. Some claim that he faked his death in order to escape enemies, to escape prosecution for atheism, (which was punishable by death during the 16th century) or to go undercover in the Queen's service. Marlowe is considered among the premiere of Elizabethan dramatists primarily for Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Edward II. His entire writing career spanned less than seven years and he is greatly praised for his proficiency with plot and diction.

What's interesting about this sonnet is Swinburne's clever application of Marlowe's own blank verse in the poem. The first two lines of the sestet come from the fourth act of the first part of Tamburlaine:

   What is beauty saith my sufferings, then?
If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes:
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of Poesy,
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem's period,
And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, poet and critic said: "Of English blank verse, one of the few highest forms of verbal harmony, or poetic expression, Marlowe was the absolute and divine creator. He is the greatest discoverer, the most daring and intrepid pioneer, in all our poetic literature. After his arrival the way was prepared ... for Shakespeare." Producing prolific studies of such writers as Lord Byron, William Blake, Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire; it was his work on Shakespeare and his contemporaries which is most memorable as a critical influence today.

Sources:

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909):
http://user.aol.com/ericblomqu/swinburn.htm#201

Swinburne, Algernon:
ebooks.whsmithonline.co.uk/encyclopedia/54/Q0008454.htm

The Marlowe Society:
www.marlowe-society.org/

The Poet's Corner:
http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:
http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/2001/swinburne0101.html


CST Approved

Explorer of Words

Weep not for Mortimer
That scorns the world, and as a traveler
Goes to discover countries yet unknown.

---from Marlowe's Edward II

From Mending Soles to Minding Souls

In a time of exotic discoveries, peace and prosperity under Elizabeth I, the growing middle class could break their children free of the ancient tradition of trade families' enslaved to handed down skills. Such was the case for Christoper Marlowe born to a shoemaker and tanner guildsmen's household in Canterbury in winter, February 1564 as he was sent to the King's School in 1579 on scholarship founded by Archbishop Matthew Parker in 1575 in his hometown. After entering Corpus Christi College in Cambridge two years later on another same scholarship, in another three he received his B.A.

Before he received his Master's in 1587 in Cambridge, his disappearances for the service in the secret government service on the Continent for the Privy Council caused much speculative gossip and threats on his graduation. That royal office came to his rescue at the learning institution when they vouched to his sanctioned duties. He had to go to London after not being found theologically sound (he was being snitched on by a Richard Baines, for one) for the orders his scholarship expected of him. Fortunately for us he began writing his work for the Lord Admiral's Company, but also, sadly for posterity he only worked for six more years bringing out his radical ideas in form and substance. This English version of the Renaissance as much it was influenced by Sir Frances Drake, was also molded by a new skepticism of the old classic monastic style derived from increasing interest in science and its intellectual challenge. Marlowe was the "Hertz" to Shakespeare's "Avis" as Marlowe's Cambridge background gave him the competitive edge, and events shortly would allow Shakespeare to eclipse Marlowe's height.

The Knife is Mightier than the Pen

Christopher Marlowe was no stranger to the adventures of his time. On September 18, 1589 he was involved in a duel with William Bradley, but a friend of Marlowe's intervened and killed the challenger. Even though he was eventually cleared of the charges, initially he spent time locked up until bail was paid. Before the date came for his summons to appear before the Privy Council in May of 1593 following more legal trouble from a petition from two constables, Marlow met with three drinking buddies, Nicholas Skeres, Robert Poley, and Ingram Frizier on May 30, 1593 at Eleanor Bull tavern in Deptford. The latter, after drinking into the evening, disputed the tab with Marlowe. When a knife was pulled by Frizer, Marlowe grabbed it out of his hand slicing the assailant's head. Now, in the ensuing scuffle, Friezer got his weapon back and jabbed it in Marlowe's right eyeball, killing him instantly. Sixteen coroner's jury presented this account, and Friezer was not convicted, with Queen Elizabeth's dismissal, on the grounds of self-defense. (He lived as a churchwarden until his death in August 1627.) There are questions to whether the whole incident was faked with problems of how the other two guys could allow it and then come back and nonchalantly report to higher ups that were Marlowe's friends. Was Marlowe now free to continue writing profitably in coalition with William Shakespeare, and even live until 1627, years after the Bard's death, in Italy?

PostScript

Not only did Richard Baines come out of the woodwork to defame the now late Christopher Marlowe, but was joined by his old friend, Thomas Kyd -- as well as others. Their berating Marlowe's relatively profane language and philosophical query as an example of atheistic heresy had some ring of veracity, but was overly exaggerated.

Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward
   wits
To practice more than heavenly power
   permits.

...(last chorus lines)-- from Dr. Faustus

Some other Works

  • The Jew of Malta (1589)
  • Edward II
  • Tamburlaine, Part II

Source: From Beowulf to Thomas Hardy; Robert Shafer: Odyssey Press, NY; 1939
Much Ado about Something, PBS
This is an essay I wrote on Marlowe's playwrighting, originally under the title: “… the central weakness in Marlowe’s plays is their imbalance. Tamburlaine is so strong a presence, both linguistically and dramatically that no-one else has a chance of being fully realised.” :Discuss

Whether Tamburlaine is a very strong character or not should not affect the ability of Marlowe to “fully realise” the other characters. It is not the character of Tamburlaine that could prevent such an occurrence within the play itself, more the mental straightjacket that he may have imposed on the author, dominating his mind and preventing a sufficient expenditure of thought over the other characters. What should be examined then, is the extent to which Tamburlaine is dominant in linguistic and dramatic terms over the other parts, and if any of these parts are believable characters that display more than superficial traits. The parts of the play in which this might become clear are the scenes in which Tamburlaine does not appear. If these seem to be as well written, and believable as the rest of the scenes it merely shows that Marlowe has created an especially strong character in Tamburlaine and that any overshadowing is probably intentional. A weakness in these scenes might lead to a conclusion of a flaw in Marlowe’s skill as a playwright.

The first major area of investigation is the linguistic dominance of Tamburlaine. Does Marlowe give Tamburlaine all the best lines? Are Tamburlaine’s lines noticeably more intelligently written than those of all the other characters? It is certainly the case that Tamburlaine speaks well in the play, and is portrayed as a man at ease with his words, who does not stumble. He has almost all of the large speeches within the play, such as on p146 (2,IV,1,145). He seems capable of glorifying himself, and speaking in a profound way, with enough authority that he is not interrupted, even in those scenes where he is given the majority of the lines (e.g. 2,III,2). Despite this dominance that Tamburlaine shows in linguistic matters whilst on stage it does seem that Marlowe was capable of giving other characters intelligent and meaningful lines, unconnected with Tamburlaine. Perhaps the best example of this is in the scene in which only Olympia and Theridamas are involved (2,IV,2). One can sense the desperation of Theridamas and the manipulative prowess of Olympia through their words alone, and the dramatic action that occurs later in the scene is merely an addition to the speaking that goes on between them, rather than a device that is pulled in to attempt to bring in any emotion at all to the scene. The action of Theridamas’ murder of Olympia is however essentially necessary to the success of the scene, but it seems that we should not view this as a flaw of the scene as it is an action that comes from the words, rather than one to inspire them or to conceal any flaws within the lines of the scene. Whilst I have no knowledge of Faustus, from memories of “The Jew of Malta” I would not have thought Barrabas to have been too strong a linguistic presence within that play, although in terms of clarity of character development he was certainly ahead of the rest of the characters.

As Tamburlaine has a strong linguistic presence so his dramatic presence is also very strong within both the plays. It is in this respect, more than in the respect of his linguistic dominance he seems to be more overwhelming of all the other characters. Perhaps his finest dramatic act, and one that also ties in very well with the concept of linguistic dominance is the killing of Calyphas (2,IV,1,119). There is a stark contrast between this event and Theridamas’ stabbing of Olympia slightly later in the play. While Tamburlaine is in control of the situation and clearly wants to commit the act Theridamas is coerced by Olympia, and does not really want to kill her, realising his mistake as soon as he has murdered her. We see that for actions that are equally dramatic one is truly the act of Tamburlaine, but the other has more to do with Olympia, and her dislike of Theridamas. This shows Tamburlaine to be a man of action, who is in control of himself, and clearly places him on a level above Theridamas, who is one of the more developed other characters. While in this respect Tamburlaine seems to be dominant it is not the case that the other character is dramatically overshadowed, this only occurs within the play. This example leads us back to our idea of linguistic dominance, as Calyphas’ last words are in fact some time before his death (he is with Tamburlaine, speechless for around 25 lines before being stabbed). Thus Tamburlaine is not allowing his son to speak, and asserting dominance over him, evidence of dramatic and linguistic inequality.

Whether or not Tamburlaine prevents the other characters from being fully realised is much more open to debate than his overpowering presence on stage. I would argue that Tamburlaine the character is not excessively restrictive over the personalities of the other characters within the two plays. While his attitudes and personality are very clear it is not the case that Marlowe ignored those of other people. Whilst Tamburlaine’s character may make it difficult for the reader of the play to sense the subtleties of the other characters this doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. The character of Zenocrate is an example of this. She is more independent and strong willed than one might expect from the Soldan’s daughter and does not fall for Tamburlaine at first sight. When having fallen for Tamburlaine she still displays affection for her father (1,IV,2), and is not totally enraptured by Tamburlaine, despite his power and influence. The example of Theridamas and Olympia that has been used throughout may again be used here. While one can see below the surface of these two characters in places it is the case that they do not seem “fully realised”. In this case is seems that Tamburlaine’s strengths may have prevented Marlowe from adequately dealing with the characters.

Dealing only with both Tamburlaine I’d suggest, in conclusion that he is too strong a presence on stage. This does not prevent outright the character development of the other characters, but restricts it to those instances in which Marlowe makes a special effort, that is, it does not happen in the usual way.

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