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dramatic poet. His career was melancholy and brief, but he has left sufficient testimonies of power to convince us that if he had lived longer he would have contested the palm with the most celebrated poets of the age of Elizabeth, who, in the dramatic art, must be considered rather as his successors than contemporaries. Marlowe had the honour of being the first to adopt a more natural and chaste model, and that is no slight praise at a time when taste wavered between extravagance and pedantry. Notwithstanding the backward state of tragedy in England before Marlowe's time, it is remarkable that comedy had made considerable progress. The dramatic writings of John Heywood are of a most facetious and comic kind, and Gammer Gurton's Needle is exquisitely droll and humorous.
The time of Marlowe's birth is matter of conjecture, but is placed by Mr. Ellis in 1562, and by Malone, with greater appearance of probability, about 1565.* Oldys on the contrary carries it as far back as the former part of the reign of Edward VI. He was entered of Bennet's College, Cambridge, and took his Bachelor's degree in 1583, and that of Master of Arts in 1587. Marlowe, on leaving the University, came to London, and, like many of the
MS. Notes to the collection of Marlowe's Plays in the Bodleian Library.
scholars of his age, became, according to Phillips and Warton, at once an actor and a writer for the stage. Malone, however, is of opinion, that there is no sufficient authority for the assertion, that Marlowe was ever on the stage, as he is not mentioned as an actor by any of his contemporaries. He has been equally the subject of high panegyric, and the sport of scurrilous abuse, esteemed for his verse and hated for his life-the favorite of the learned and witty, and the horror of the precise and religious. The praise applies to his intellectual and the censure to his moral character; what the latter really was may be difficult at this time to determine with accuracy, although the accusations are not of a nature to be entitled to any great weight. Marlowe's familiar appellative was Kit, which may be considered as evidence of a kind disposition, or a companionable nature. "That elemental wit Kit Marlowe" is the expression of one writer, and Thomas Heywood, in his Hierarchy,' informs us that
"Marlowe renowned for his rare art and wit,
The testimonies of his contemporary poets in his favour are numerous and highly laudatory. Nash, speaking of Hero and Leander, expresses himself thus:-" Of whom divine Musæus sung, and a
diviner Muse than he Kit Marlowe ;" and Heywood calls him "the best of poets." Peele, in his Honour of the Garter, thus speaks of him :—
Unhappy in thine end,
If any wretched souls in passions speak."
In The Return from Parnassus he is characterised in these words:
"Marlowe was happy in his buskined muse,
Alas! unhappy in his life and end:
Pity it is that wit so ill should dwell,
Wit lent from heaven but vices sent from hell."
Drayton describes him in a still higher and finer strain:
"Next Marlowe bathed in the Thespian springs,
That your first poets had his raptures were
We will now exhibit the reverse of the picture, from which, if the representation be correct, we must conclude Marlowe to be a blasphemer and an atheist, a scoffer of God, and a standing monument of his justice. Thomas Beard, in The Theatre of God's
Judgments", a zealous puritan, and an arch-dialectician, holds him up as a notable example of the danger of speaking lightly of religious mysteries. "Not inferior," says he, "to any of the former in atheism and impiety, and equal to all in manner of punishment, was one of our own nation of fresh and late memory, called Marlowe, by profession a scholar, brought up from his youth in the University of Cambridge, but by practice a play-maker, and a poet of scurrility, who by giving too large a swing to his own wit, and suffering his lust to have the full reins, fell (not without just desert) to that great outrage and extremity that he denied God and his son Christ, and not only in word blasphemed the Trinity (but also as it is credibly reported) wrote books against it, affirming our Saviour to be a deceiver, and Moses but to be a seducer of the people, and the Holy Bible to be but vain and idle stories, and all religion but a device of policy. But see what a hook the Lord put in the nostrils of this barking dog: so it fell out that as he purposed to stab one whom he ought a grudge unto with his dagger; the other party perceiving, so avoided the stroke that withal catching hold of his wrist, he stabbed his own dagger into his own head, in such sort that not
We quote from the 4to. edition, by Thomas Beard and Thomas Taylor, p. 92, 1668, fol.
withstanding all the means of surgery that could be wrought he shortly after died thereof, the manner of his death being so terrible (for he even cursed and blasphemed to his last gasp, and together with his breath an oath flew out of his mouth) that it was not only a manifest sign of God's judgment, but also an horrible and fearful terror to all that beheld him. But herein did the justice of God most notably appear in that he compelled his own hand which had written those blasphemies to be the instrument to punish him, and that in his brain which had devised the same."
William Vaughan, another of the same class, in a book called the Golden Grove, published in 1600, gives a somewhat different version of this story. "Christopher Marlowe," says he, "by profession a play-maker, who, as it is reported, about fourteen years ago wrote a book against the Trinity, but see the effects of God's justice; it so happened that at Deptford, a little village about three miles distant from London, as he meant to stab with his poinard one named Ingram, that had invited him thither to a feast, and was then playing at tables, he quickly perceiving it so avoided the thrust, that withall drawing out his dagger for his defence, he stabbed this Marlowe into the eye in such sort that his brains coming out at the dagger's point he