Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

this, surely never wrote those two lines about the Grecians,

“In whose stern faces shined the quenchless fire

That after burnt the pride of Asia.”

They have the real Marlowe accent. Again, when
Venus offers to lay Ascanius

Amongst green brakes, And strew him with sweet-smelling violets, With blushing roses, purple hyacinths;"

when Dido, thirsty for Æneas' love, cries

“ I'll make me bracelets of his golden hair ;

His glistering eyes shall be my looking-glass;
His lips an altar, where I'll offer up
As many kisses as the sea hath sands;
Instead of music I will hear him speak;
His looks shall be my only library;"

or when, in those few rich lines, the nurse describes her orchard, we seem to hear the true Marlowe charming us, and we feel less willing to believe that Nash did more than just preserve these scattered jewels in his rude setting.

[ocr errors]

It is worthy of remark that "Dido" is Marlowe's only play which depends for its interest upon love. In all his other dramas he has never cared to give love any prominence. Nor did he try to create any interesting female figure. He has no heroines. Xenocrate, Zabina, Bellamira, Isabel, are all shadowy, intangible beings, without individuality, without charm. If "Dido" interests us, it is because Virgil has drawn her ; Marlowe merely reproduces the picture, with no perceptible sympathy for his subject. He seems to take most delight when he may indulge his passion for rich and coloured description ; when he may paint ships with golden cordage, crystal anchors, and ivory oars; when he may speak of Dido's "silver arms" and "tears of pearl,” or imagine common soldiers” in “rich embroidered coats," with

“ Silver whistles to control the winds."

And this exuberant passion for describing and contemplating the beautiful, this delight in all outward and visible love ss, strong as it is in all his dramas, seems strongest in that magnificent fragment of narrative verse, “Hero and Leander." For its splendour of imagery, lustre of epithet, and melody of phrase, this takes the first place among all similar work of the golden Elizabethan age. Shakespeare's “Venus and Adonis" comes far below it ; indeed, that poem is both an imitation and a failure. Marlowe handled the long rhyming coupletas no one else could handle it, giving to it the three supreme qualities of simplicity, sensuousness, and passion. As we read his “goulden lynes," his “sweet-according rimes," I think they touch our imagination, they satisfy our sense of form and melody in a far deeper degree than any dexterous, polished passage that we can choose from Pope, professedly a master in the making of that difficult kind of verse.

To produce a match for “Hero and Leander,” to find an English poem really similar to it in feeling and in form, we must pass down the centuries until we come to that other “Elizabethan, born out of due time," until we come to Keats and to his “Endymion.” That breathes the same frank, sensuous love for the beautiful—that has the same

richness of ornament, the same pure, unstudied melody of phrase. If we read the two poems in succession, we shall best perceive how very closely Keats and Marlowe resemble each other in spirit and in gifts ; Greeks both of them by virtue of this their passionate worship of Beauty, of "the principle of Beauty in all things."

It would be interesting if, by comparison, we could stay to show Marlowe's singular facility for using the couplet, and to note how his blank verse seems to be the result of a gradual and triumphant effort to escape from the rhymed couplet, where sense and melody are rarely carried on beyond a pair of lines. Much of his early blank verse reads like unrhymed couplets ; the sense stops after two lines, and the music too. By this imperfect work he was training himself to write the magnificent passages, strong, rounded, and unbroken, where thought and metre sweep grandly to their climax, which we find in his “Edward II.," and even in “The Massacre of Paris.” But space will not let me do more than just hint at the pleasure to be drawn from such an examination of the poet's advance in the technical difficulties of his art. For I must make an end.

The question, the final question to be asked and answered is, then, this—Why is Marlowe valuable to us; why should we read and study him? I think we must answer, for the height and splendour of his poetry, for his “fine madness.” It has been my aim here to insist upon this as his great characteristic—that he possessed a wealth of poetic åre such as no one in that age, save Shakespeare, possessed. The height and splendour of his poetry may, perhaps, be most fitly shown by selectionsby choosing and collecting passages full of fire and light, rich in colour, and beautiful in sound. So this little book has been made. Those who would contemplate Marlowe as a painter of the passions should read him as a whole. We have lost our interest now in whatever philosophy he may have sought to expound ; his pictures of passion fail to touch us from their want of truth, from their wild exaggeration. Shakespeare has for ever effaced him in that field. What, then, can Marlowe give ussomething his own, something individual and rare?

« ZurückWeiter »