Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

cannot be called a triumph. The excellence of the first two acts is ill sustained by those which follow, Marlowe, indeed, began nobly by a monologue, where the Jew meditates upon his wealth, which may rank with the finest that our literature owns. All, however, has not the accent of that wonderful passage. In the scene with the strangled friar, Marlowe shows his solitary attempt at humour of a grim sort; and a strong dramatic situation is created by the meeting of master and slave, when Barabas in disguise, with fiddle and flowers, comes to poison the truant partner of his villainy. Marlowe probably wished to make this a one-character play, and only tried to stimulate the public hatred of greedy Jews. Barabas fills the whole canvas ; the scenes seem to be strung together without art in the sole aim to render him more and more hideous. But, as in every play, mighty lines, brave and beautiful phrases are strewn broadcast about the pages; and from these we must get our pleasure and ignore defects.

“The Massacre at Paris ; or, tragedey of the guyes," has always been termed Marlowe's crudest drama. Alleyn, the actor, took the chief part in this also, and may have scored a success as the Huguenot-hating duke. The poet certainly provided him with one magnificent speech, quite flawless both as a portrait of character and as a piece of impassioned verse ; and the death scene, where disdainful Guise walks wittingly forth to meet his assassin's dagger, gives a touch of grandeur even to this poor play, whose text, we are certain, must have been cruelly mutilated.

By all these dramas Marlowe was developing his gifts, was gradually preparing for a masterpiece, for “Edward II.” In this he touched his highest point of excellence. Here the whole is subdued, the style is temperate and restrained, the characters are clearly drawn, and they stand in just relation to the central figure. Edward's ruin advances slowly, surely, inevitably; there is no escape ; yet, as we watch him falling and forsaken, pity outweighs our scorn. Marlowe here showed that he had firmly seized upon the idée capitale, the leading motive of tragic drama, when he indicates the fatal and inevitable consequences

[ocr errors]

which every evil deed draws after it. “As

ye

have sown, so shall ye reap.” That is the moral of it, that is the lesson taught by “Edward II.”

It was the first and finest among all our historical dramas of the Elizabethan era. There is no reason to place it second to Shakespeare's “Richard II.,” which it resembles at many points. I do not believe that we ought to rate “Richard II." higher. There is certainly no scene in Shakespeare's play equal to that last fearful one in the dungeon of Berkeley Castle, where a king pleads with a cut-throat for life in words that make our eyes fill as we read.

I am glad that space allows me to have the whole immortal tragedy here printed, so that readers may judge of it in its entirety. They will not fail to discover the luminous passages, to recognise the colour and poetry in Gaveston's description of sensuous schemes to please his royal friend, and to feel how the note of anguish and despair, first struck in the great abdication scene, deepens and swells, until its sheer piercing pathos wrings from us tears of pity for weak Edward's awful end. That final scene is surpassed by none to be found in English drama. Very few in all our literature can stand beside it. It rouses the same emotion, it touches our imagination in the same way as do the murder scene in “Macbeth," the last act of“Othello," or the stormscene in " Lear.” More such grief-impelling passages from Ford, Webster, and yet again from Shakespeare, might possibly be cited to compare, for their tragic intensity, with this, the finest and the first. Here, as in all great works of art, by simple means the great effect is obtained. Unlike Marlowe's other dramas, wherein the horrors are so profusely piled up that they defeat their end, and fail to produce emotion, “Edward II.” moves and thrills us by its simplicity and humanity. The last act is in the manner of Euripides—the laying bare of a king's suffering and death itself creates the emotion. This stern presentment of human misery and anguish, relying upon that to touch the spectator, is truly Greek. Shakespeare, with all those after him, must have profited largely by this grand lesson in the art of moving an audience by the simplest and most potent means.

“Edward II.” was Marlowe's ripest play, his most splendid legacy to all who came after him along the road that he first boldly pointed out. We must turn to that in order to know the real Marlowe, in order to get at the full estimate of his genius, and to feel how great was the loss to our literature when death took him. And we may safely place it, not only with our greatest dramas, but with those eternal ones that are for all time.

From Virgil's “Æneid” Marlowe took a subject that he never lived to work out. “ Dido, Queen of Carthage," at his death, was probably but a set of speeches and formless scenes that Nash afterwards developed and arranged for the stage. Critics believe this to be the play that bears fewest marks of the poet's lofty style. No attempt at lustpainting is here ; the tale of Dido's unhappy love is treated dramatically, though with little art; it is again the poetry in this which gives it beauty. A curious opening scene, laid in Olympus, has almost a note of burlesque in it, and we must remark the strong translation from Virgil of the tale of Troy's fall. Nash, if he helped to make

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »