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Greene, and three or four years before Peele. He had been a writer for the stage at least since 1586, in which year, or before, was brought out the play of Tamburlaine the Great, his claim to the authorship of which has been conclusively established by Mr. Collier, who has further shown that this was the first play written in blank verse that was exhibited on the public stage.* " Marlow's mighty line” has been celebrated by Ben Jonson in his famous verses on Shakspeare; but Drayton, the author of the Polyolbion, has extolled him in the most glowing description,-in words the most worthy of the theme :
Next Marlow, bathed in the Thespian springs.
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.t Marlow is, by nearly universal admission, our greatest dramatic writer before Shakspeare. He is frequently, indeed, turgid and bombastic, especially in his earliest play, Tamburlaine the Great, which has just been mentioned, where his fire, it must be confessed, sometimes blazes out of all bounds and becomes a mere wasting conflagration-sometimes only raves in a furious storm of sound, filling the ear without any other effect. But in his fits of truer inspiration, all the magic of terror, pathos, and beauty flashes from him in streams. The gradual accumulation of the agonies of Faustus, in the concluding scene of that play, as the moment of his awful fate comes
nearer and nearer, powerfully drawn as
* Hist. Dram. Poet. iii. pp. 107–126. † Elegy, “To my dearly beloved friend Henry Reynolds, of Poets and Poesy."
it is, is far from being one of those coarse pictures of wretchedness that merely oppress us with horror: the most admirable skill is applied throughout in balancing that emotion by sympathy and even respect for the sufferer,
for he was a scholar once admired For wondrous knowledge in our German schools,and yet without disturbing our acquiescence in the justice of his doom; till we close the book, saddened, indeed, but not dissatisfied, with the pitying but still tributary and almost consoling words of the Chorus on our hearts,
Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight, And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough
That sometimes grew within this learned man. Still finer, perhaps, is the conclusion of another of Marlow's dramas -- his tragedy of Edward II. " The reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in Edward,” says Charles Lamb, “ furnished hints which Shakspeare scarce improved in his Richard II. ; and the death-scene of Marlow's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted. Much splendour of poetry, also, is expended upon the delineation of Barabas, in the Rich Jew of Malta; but “Marlow's Jew," as Lamb has observed, “ does not approach so near to Shakspeare's [in the Merchant of Venice] as his Edward II.” We are more reminded of some of Barabas's speeches by the magnificent declamation of Mammon in Jonson's Alchymist.f
* Spec. of Eng. Dram. Poets, i. 31.
† The best edition of Marlow's Works is that in 3 vols. 8vo. Lond. 1826.
Marlow, Greene, and Peele are the inost noted names among those of our dramatists who belong exclusively to the age of Elizabeth ; but some others that have less modern celebrity may perhaps be placed at least on the same line with the two latter. John Lyly, the Euphuist, as he is called, from one of his prose works, which will be noticed presently, is, as a poet, in his happiest efforts, elegant and fanciful ; but his genius was better suited for the lighter kinds of lyric poetry than for the drama. He is the author of nine dramatic pieces, but of these seven are in prose,
and only one in rhyme and one in blank
All of them, according to Mr. Collier, to have been written for court entertainments, although they were also performed at theatres, most usually by the children of St. Paul's and the Revels.” They were fitter, it might be added, for beguiling the listlessness of courts than for the entertainment of a popular audience, athirst for action and passion, and very indifferent to mere ingenuities of style. All poetical readers, however, remember some songs and other short pieces of verse with which some of them are interspersed, particularly a delicate little anacreontic in that entitled Alexander and Campaspe, beginning
Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses, &c. Mr. Collier observes that Malone must have spoken from a very superficial acquaintance with Lyly's works when he contends that his plays are comparatively free from those affected conceits and remote allusions that characterise most of his other productions. Thomas Kyd, the
author of the two plays of Jeronimo and the Spanish Tragedy (which is a continuation of the former), besides a translation of another piece from the French, appears to be called “Sporting Kyd” by Jonson, in his verses on Shakspeare, in allusion merely to his name. There is, at least, nothing particularly sportive in the little that has come down to us from his pen. Kyd was a considerable master of language; but his rank as a dramatist is not very easily settled, seeing that there is much doubt as to his claims to the authorship of by far the most striking passages in the Spanish Tragedy, the best of his two plays. Lamb, quoting the scenes in question, describes them as “the very salt of the old play,” which, without them, he adds, “is but a caput mortuum.” It has been generally assumed that they were added by Ben Jonson, who certainly was employed to make some additions to this play ; and Mr. Collier attributes them to him as if the point did not admit of a doubt--acknowledging, however, that they represent Jonson in a new light, and that “certainly there is nothing in his own entire plays equalling in pathetic beauty some of his contributions to the Spanish Tragedy.” Nevertheless, it does not seem to be perfectly clear that the supposed contributions by another hand might not have been the work of Kyd himself. Lamb says, “ There is nothing in the undoubted plays of Jonson which would authorise us to suppose that he could have supplied the scenes in question. I should suspect the agency of some more potent spirit.' Webster might have furnished them. They are full of that wild, solemn, preternatural cast of grief which bewilders us in the Duchess of Malfy.” The last of these early dramatists we shall notice, Thomas Lodge, who was born about 1556, and began to write for the stage about 1580, is placed by Mr. Collier “ in a rank superior to Greene, but in some respects inferior to Kyd.” His principal dramatic work is entitled “ The Wounds of Civil War, lively set forth in the true Tragedies of Marius and Sylla ;” and is written in blank verse with a mixture of rhyme. It shows him, Mr. Collier thinks, to have unquestionably the advantage over Kyd as a drawer of character, though not equalling that writer in general vigour and boldness of poetic conception. His blank verse is also much more monotonous than that of Kyd. Another strange drama in rhyme, written by Lodge in conjunction with Greene, is entitled “ A Looking-glass for London and England," and has for its object to put down the puritanical outcry against the immorality of the stage, which it attempts to accomplish by a grotesque application to the city of London of the Scriptural story of Nineveh. The whole performance, in Mr. Collier's opinion, “is wearisomely dull, although the authors have endeavoured to lighten the weight by the introduction of scenes of drunken buffoonery between 'a clown and his crew of ruffians,' and between the same clown and a person disguised as the devil, in order to frighten him, but who is detected and well beaten.” Mr. Hallam, however, pronounces that there is great talent shown in this play, " though upon a very strange canvass. Lodge, who was an eminent physician, has left a considerable quantity of other poetry besides his plays, partly in the form of novels or tales, partly in shorter pieces, many of which may be found in the miscellany called England's Helicon, from which a