Abbildungen der Seite

by Ben Jonson, in his poem prefixed to the first folio of Shakspere—this is, indeed, “ Marlowe's mighty line.' Marlowe discarded jigging rhymes' almost entirely (in the first part of Tamburlaine he rhymes in 19, in the second in 16 passages, in the Few of Malta in 13, and in Edward II. in 17), though assonance and a certain jingle and a looseness resembling rhyme may be detected in not a small number of passages. On the whole, it may be affirmed that Marlowe's verse was progressing and developing as he went on writing ; and we fully agree with Mommsen when he says that in Marlowe's last work, Edward II., he had attained a facility in blank verse quite equal to that of Shakspere

in his earlier works. There was, however, another merit in Marlowe's first dramatic performance. Marlowe was the first to design tragedy on a grand scale, displaying unity of action, unity of character, and unity of interest. Before Marlowe, plays had been pageants and shows. He first produced dramas. Before Marlowe, it seemed seriously doubtful whether the rules and precedents of classic authors might not determine the style of dramatic composition in England as in France : after him it was impossible for a dramatist to please the people by any play which had not in it some portion of the spirit and the pith of the characters created by Marlowe.'

There are in the first part of Tamburlaine sonie

i These statements are derived from T. Mommsen's treatise On Marlowe and Shakespeare, Eisenach, 1854, p. vi.

? J. A. Symonds, in the Academy, 1870, p. 399.

passages of extreme beauty, as well as many astounding samples of rant and bombast. Shakspere, who himself profited by Marlowe's works, and who moreover lived to mature his judgment and prune down all the extravagances of youthful exuberance and passion, has sneered at Marlowe's rant in several passages. We can easily pardon such attacks, coming, as they do, from a rival author ; they are. too much in the style of that age to require further comment. 1

Two dramatic authors of the day-Greene and Nash-attacked Marlowe immediately after his first

Greene would seem to have then held the position of leading dramatist to the London theatres, a position considerably endangered after the appearance of Tamburlaine. Greene was a graceful and elegant poet, but a man of weak and envious character -it was he who, even on his death-bed, attacked the rising genius of Shakspere in his famous “ Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance.' Being too cowardly himself to attack Marlowe, he caused Thomas Nash to prefix a satirical Epistle to his own


[ocr errors]

Comp. also Professor Ward's History of Engl. Dram. Lit. i. p. 178 sq., who justly urges that Marlowe's 'high astounding terms' were intended as a compensation for the rhyming and jingling lines of his predecessors. Mr. Ward says :“The fact will not be overlooked that the poet had intentionally strained the force of diction to the utmost, and sought to show that blank verse can be as effective as rhymed verse. The perceptibility of effort is at once explained, and in a sense excused, by this consideration.'

Menaphon, a pamphlet published in 1587. In this Epistle Nash speaks of the idiot art-masters,' that intrude themselves to our ears as the alchymists of eloquence, who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse,' He then talks of the spacious volubility of a drumming decasyllabon.' It suffices to add that Greene himself adopted the new metre brought into fashion by Marlowe, and that Nash even assisted his former adversary in the composition of a play on Dido, Queen of Carthage.

It may be observed that the first edition of Tamburlaine was published in the poet's own life-time, in the year 1590. The title-page states that the edition was made according to the performance by the right honorable the Lord Admyrall his seruauntes.' Thus we find Marlowe from the very first in connection with the company of players under the protection of the Lord Admiral, Earl of Nottingham, a company directed and managed by Edward Alleyn, and almost entirely in the hands of the famous usurer Philip Henslowe, whose Diary (in the library of Dulwich College, which was founded by Alleyn) is one of the most important documents for the history of the Elizabethan stage.

It is therefore in Henslowe's Diary that we find most detailed notices of the repeated performances of Marlowe's plays; from them alone we

1 It should be remembered that Marlowe had taken his degree of M.A. that very year. Nash, however, had been unable to do so, on account of his leaving Cambridge in disgrace in that year. See Collier, Hist.'of Dram. Poetry, iii. pp. 110, 112.

might infer the immense popularity which they enjoyed even long after the poet's death. The printer' of the first edition of Tamburlaine, Richard Jones at the signe of the Rose and Crowne nere Holborne Bridge'), in his preface to the Gentlemen Readers and others that take pleasure in reading Histories,' likewise bears witness to the success of the play among Marlowe's contemporaries. My hope is,' he says, that they (the two tragical discourses of the Scythian shepherd Tamburlaine] will be now no less acceptable unto you . . . than they have been lately delightful for many of you to see when the same were shewed in London upon stages.” And he subjoins :- I have purposely omitted and left out some fond and frivolous gestures, digressing, and, in my poor opinion, far unmeet for the matter, which I thought might seem more tedious unto the wise than any way else to be regarded, though haply they have been of some vain, conceited fondlings greatly gaped at, what time they were shewed upon the stage. From these words it would seem to follow that Marlowe's tragedy was even then performed with the additions of some 'foolish humours,' or 'conceits,' the very admixtures deprecated by our poet

· Henslowe was what we might call 'a shareholder' and joint-proprietor of various theatres ; the Curtain in Shoreditch, then the Fortune in Golding Lane (built by Alleyn), the Rose and the Newington. Henslowe died in 1616; his step-daughter Joane had become, in October 1592, the wife of Edward Alleyn, the famous actor. Alleyn endowed Dulwich College in 1619, and died in November 1626. According to Th. Heywood, Alleyn's impersonation of Tamburlaine and Barabas (in the Jew of Malta) was 'peerless.'

when he spoke in his prologue of such conceits as clownage keeps in pay.' Marlowe himself, we may presume, was not endowed with talent for comedy, and it is easy to suspect that the printer omitted the comic 'interpolations in Tamburlaine conformably to the desire of the author, who was grieved to see his “honourable and stately history' mixed with such base matter. Marlowe's view of comedy' such as he knew it--and let us remember that his age called comedy what we might call' farce’nowadays—may be summed up in the words of a kindred spirit, Thomas Kyd, in his Spanish Tragedy'—

A Comedie ? fie, comedies are fit for common wits.
But to present a kingly troupe withal,
Give me a stately written tragedy :
Tragedia cothurnata, fitting kings,

Containing matter and not common things. But fate was cruel to Marlowe in this point as well as many others. Comic interpolations have more or less clung to his tragedies, and even now-a-days it is difficult to remove all this rubbish with absolute certainty and get at the genuine condition of the text of these plays.

The second tragedy which Marlowe wrote, and with which we have now to deal more particularly, his Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, is a glaring proof of the truth of this assertion. Faustus, such as we possess it now, is little better than disiecti membra poeta, a torso mutilated by the impudent attempts at improvement made by subsequent playwrights, but a torso still grand after all these disfiguring additions' have been renioved.

« ZurückWeiter »