Abbildungen der Seite

existence of the 1592 edition, where the article stands, “That Mephistophilis should bring him anything and do for him whatsoever.”” This verbal coincidence is too striking to be merely accidental. It has been suggested by Dr. Von der Velde that the English actors who performed at the courts of Dresden and Berlin between 1585 and 1587 (as shown by Mr Albert Cohn in his work on Shakespeare in Germany) brought with them on their return to England at the end of 1587 the recently published Faustbuch. Professor Ward adds a further suggestion, which deserves consideration. In the

German original we have a Duke of Anhalt (in the

English tract, Anholt) who becomes in the play the Duke of Vanholt. Professor Ward thinks that the “oddity is best to be reconciled with the other circumstances of the case by the supposition that the German Faustbuch was brought over to England in one of its early editions (before that of 1590) by some person or persons who had travelled both in Germany and in the Netherlands; that through them it came into Marlowe's hands in the shape of a MS. English translation; and that the MS. translation was very probably used by ‘P. R.’ or whoever was the ‘gentleman' who wrote the English History.” He proceeds to state that the English actors who had been performing in Germany would naturally pass through the Netherlands on their return to England. The theory is ingenious, but it is hardly safe to build on such slender foundations.

* The original has “Zum dritten, daszer im gefiessen, unterthänig und gehorsam seyn wollte, als ein Diener."

Marlowe's tragedy speedily became popular not only in England but abroad. From a recently published work of great interest by Herr Johannes Meissner, Pie Englischen comadianten zurzeit Shakespeares in Oesterreich, we learn that Faustus and the Jew of Malta, with nine other English plays, were acted (in German versions) by an English company in 1608, during the Carnival, at Graetz. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Faustus remained a favourite at Vienna. A Hanswurst or Clown was introduced; the Jesuits, disliking Faustus' scepticism, converted him into a sort of Don Juan; and the two aspects of his character were afterwards combined by Goethe. Among the plays performed

by an English company at the Dresden court in 1626 was a ,

Tragadia von Dr. Faust,” which was certainly Marlowe's; on the same list is found a Barrabas, which was no less certainly a version of the Jew of Malta. Although the popularity of Faustus in England is attested by the number of editions through which it passed, few early allusions to the play are discoverable. When Shakespeare wrote of Helen in Troilus and Cressida,

“Why, she is a pearl
Whose price hath launched above a thousand ships,”

* Herr Meissner quotes from a MS. volume of travels by a Wurtemberg merchant a statement to the effect that at Frankfort-on-the-Main, in 1592, during the autumn fair, were acted plays “by the master very famous in the island, Christopher Marlowe.” But Herr Meissner has not seen the MS. from which the statement is taken, and his informant is unable to lay his hand upon it in the public library; so better proof is wanted.

* See Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany, czv. cxvii.

[ocr errors]

he must surely have had in his mind the line of Marlowe—

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships ?”

It was pointed out by Wagner that the scene in Barnabe Barnes' Devil's Charter, 1607, where Pope Alexander VI. signs a contract with a devil disguised as a pronotary, is modelled on scene v. of Faustus. In Time's Whistle, by “R. C. Gent,” a collection of satires written between 1614 and 1616, there is a passage which Mr. J. M. Cowper (who edited the satires for the Early English Text Society) takes to refer “to the story of the play of Faustus, although it may be said the story was common enough for ‘R. C.’ to have got it elsewhere.” From Samuel Rowlands' Knave of Clubs we learn that the part of Faustus was originally sustained by Edward Alleyn:—

“The gull gets on a surplis,
With a crosse upon his brest,

Like Allen playing Faustus,
In that manner was he drest.”

In this Theatrum Poetarum (1675) Phillips observes quaintly “Of all that Marlowe hath written to the stage, his Dr. Faustus hath made the greatest noise, with its devils and such like tragical sport.” Dr. Faustus is a work which once read can never be forgotten. It must be allowed that Marlowe did not perceive the full capabilities afforded by the legend he adopted; that crudeness of treatment is shown in making Faustus abandon the pursuit of supernatural knowledge,

and turn to trivial uses the power that he had purchased at the price of his soul. This and more may be granted; but criticism is silenced when we reflect on the agony of Faustus' final soliloquy and the fervid splendour of his raptures over Helen's beauty. Dr. Faustus is rather a series of dramatic scenes than a complete drama. Many of these scenes were the work of another hand and may be expunged with advantage. But what remains is singularly precious. The subtler treatment of a later age can never efface from our minds the appalling realism of the catastrophe in Marlowe's play:

still our sense is pierced by that last despairing cry of

[merged small][ocr errors]

Goethe's English biographer, speaks slightingly of Mar-
lowe's play; but Goethe' himself, when questioned about
Dr. Faustus, “burst out with an exclamation of praise:
How greatly was it all planned He had thought of
translating it.”
We have no evidence to enable us to fix precisely the
date of the Jew of Malta. The reference in the pro-
logue to the death of the Duke of Guise shows that it
was composed not earlier than December 1588. Hens-
lowe's Diary contains numerous entries concerning the
play, ranging from 26th February 1591–2 to 21st June

* H. Crabb Robinson's Diary (ii. 434), quoted in the preface to Cunningham's Marlowe, p. xiv.

[ocr errors]

1596; and there is a notice in the Diary of its revival on 19th May 1601. On 17th May 1594 it was entered in the Stationers' Books, but it was not published until 1633, when it was edited by Thomas Heywood after its revival at Court and at the Cockpit. In 1608, as Herr Meissner has shown, it was one of the plays performed at Graetz during the Carnival; in the previous year it had been performed at Passau. The Jew of Malta is a very unequal work. Hallam, the most cautious of critics, gives it as his opinion that the first two acts “are more vigorously conceived, both as to character and to circumstance, than any other Flizabethan play, except those of Shakespeare.” This judgment, bold as it appears at first sight, probably represents the truth. The masterful grasp that marks the opening scene was a new thing in English tragedy. Language so strong, so terse, so dramatic, had never been heard before on the English stage. In the two first acts there is not a trace of juvenility; all is conceived largely and worked out in firm, bold strokes. Hardly Shakespeare's touch is more absolutely true and unfaltering; nor is it too much to say that, had the character been developed throughout on the same scale as in the first two acts, Barabas would have been worthy to stand alongside of Shylock. But in the last three acts vigorous drawing is exchanged for caricature; for a sinister life-like figure we have a grotesque stage-villain, another Aaron. How this extraordinary transformation was effected, why the poet, who started with such cleareyed vision and stern resolution, swerved so blindly and

« ZurückWeiter »