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This is a question which I cannot here discuss. It may be true, as Mr. Swinburne says, that there is not in the later plays “a single passage of tragic or poetic interest,” beyond Marlowe's power; but there can be no doubt that Shakespeare corrected, curtailed, and amplified Marlowe's work to a very large extent. Marlowe appears to have worked early and late at the Contention ; in one scene we find passages that recall the diction and rhythm of Tamburlaine, in another we are reminded of Bdward II." Here are some lines that belong to the early period:— - “Dark Night, dread Night, the silence of the Night, Wherein the Furies mask in hellish troops, Send up I charge you from Cocytus' lake The spirit Askalon to come to me,
And pierce the bowels of the centric earth,
The verb “mask” occurs several times in Zamburlaine, not in the later plays. In I Tamburlaine, iv. 4, we find :— “Ye Furies, that can mask invisible, Dive to the bottom of Avernus' pool,” &c.
Another passage of the Contention in Marlowe's earliest
style is to be found in the scene where the king is
presented by Iden with Cade's head:— “O let me see that head that in this life
Did work me and my land such cruel spite
* Dyce and Mr. Fleay have collected several instances of verbal resemblance between the Contention and Edward II.
Deep-trenched surrows in his frowning brow
Compare II. Zamburlaine, i. 3:
“And in the surrows of his frowning brows
In the Contention we find Marlowe's earliest and latest work; but in the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. we find for the most part merely his latest work. For example, the two passages I have just quoted are not in the revised plays. But I cannot now pursue this subject.
The Troublesome Reign of King John, 1591, is an intolerably wooden piece of work. From the first line to the last we find scarcely a single touch of poetry or power. Earless and unabashed must be the critic who would charge Marlowe with any complicity in the authorship of a play that would rank low among the worst productions of Greene or Peele. The only piece of evidence to connect the play with Marlowe is a passage
in the Prologue:–
“You that with friendly grace of smoothèd brow
But so far from indicating that the author of Tambur. laine had written the piece that was about to be presented, these lines rather show that the “warlike Christian” was intended to oust the “infidel” from popular favour, that the new play was the production of some obscure rival of Marlowe's. The fact that expressions found in Tamburlaine occur in the Troublesome Reign, is, in the absence of other evidence, of no importance; for Marlowe's play was in all men's mouths at the time, and every hack-writer could filch a phrase or two from the man whom they were so anxious to supplant. It is impossible to select from this poor spiritless chronicle-play a dozen consecutive lines that to a good ear would pass as Marlowe's. So much, then, for Marlowe's relation to plays of doubtful authorship. Among the MS. plays destroyed by Warburton's cook was a comedy entitled the Maiden's Aoliday. The piece had been entered in the Stationers’ Books on April 8th, 1654, as a joint production of Marlowe and Day. Our knowledge of Day does not begin before 1599, and it is hardly probable that he was writing before that date. If the comedy was written by Marlowe and Day, then we must suppose that Day completed a sketch that had been left by Marlowe, or that he revised the play on the occasion of a revival; but I very much doubt whether Marlowe ever wrote a comedy. In 1657 Kirkman, the well-known bookseller, published Lust's Dominion ; or the Lascivious Queen. A Tragedie written by Christofer Marloe, Gent. This is a play of some power, but it was certainly not written by Marlowe. Collier showed conclusively that there are references to historical events that happened after Marlowe's death. I hasten to bring these remarks to a close. So much
has been admirably written about Marlowe by excellent critics, that I feel I have trespassed on the patience of the reader by detaining him so long. Far be it from me to attempt to weigh Marlowe's genius. So long as high tragedy continues to have interest for men, Time shall . lay no hands on the works of Christopher Marlowe. Though
“He who showed such great presumption,
his pages still pulse with ardent life. In all literature there are few figures more attractive, and few more exalted, than this of the young poet who swept from the
. English stage the tatters of barbarism, and habited Tragedy in stately robes; who was the first to conceive largely, and exhibit souls struggling in the bonds of circumstance.