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The achievements of Shakespeare's greatest predecessor in the English drama have at length been recognised as a fact in English literature; nor is it possible to look forward to a time when the study of his works will be restricted, as of old, to antiquarians and bibliographers. All who have any serious care for English poetry have felt the magic of Marlowe's "mighty line.” They know that in moving terror and pity the creator of Faustus and Edward II. was excelled only by Shakespeare; and they know, too, that the rich music of Hero and Leander was heard no more in England until the coming of Keats. One of the lessons which Mr. Browning never tires of teaching is that a lofty aim, even where failure follows, "surpasses little works achieved." Surely no man ever aimed higher than Marlowe; and within so short a space of life few have carried out so worthily their vast designs. He was the first in England to
toll compose tragedies that should have a lasting interest for
The plays of Greene and Peele are important only as showing how poor was the state of amatic art at the young poet's advent. It was Marlowe who created, in, the true sense of the word, English blank verse, and VOL. 1.
constituted it the sole vehicle of dramatic expression for all time. The rest of Shakespeare's predecessors are shadows; Marlowe alone lives.
Christopher Marlowe, son of John Marlowe, was baptized at the church of St. George the Martyr, Canterbury, on 26th February 1563–4.1 The poet's father, who died on 26th January 1604-5, was “clarke of St. Maries.” On the margin of a copy of Beard's Theatre of God's Judgments, 1598, is a MS. note “Marlowe a shooe makers sonne of Cant." Marginal scribblings "in a very old hand” have been so frequently fabricated that I was inclined to attach no importance to this MS. note, but the Keeper of the Records of Canterbury Cathedral, Mr. J. B. Sheppard, kindly extracted from the “Chamberlain's Accounts” some entries which prove that John Marlowe was a shoemaker. The entries relate to the admission of freemen. There is an entry dated 26th April 1593, “ Joh. Marlowe's apprentice (shoemaker), Will. Hewes admitted ;” another dated 29th January 1594, "Joh. Crauforde Shoem'. admitted ; mar. Anne d. of Joh. Marlowe Shoem". ;" and a third, dated 28th September 1594, " Thom. Graddell, Vintner, mar. Dorothy d. of John Marlowe Shoem". (admitted).” Apprenticeship or marriage with a freeman's daughter conferred freedom.
Marlowe was educated at the King's School, Canterbury. His name does not occur in the Treasurer's Accounts for 1575-6 and 1576-7; and the register for 1577-8 is lost. In the accounts for the first quarter of the financial year 1578-9 (namely, from Michaelmas to Christmas 1578) we find no mention of him, but in the accounts for the three following quarters (January to Michaelmas 1579) he is reported to have received his exhibition of £i per quarter. For 1579-80 the record is missing?
i This fact was established by Dyce from an examination of the Parish Register.
On 17th March 1580-1, Marlowe matriculated at Cambridge as Pensioner of Benet College (now Corpus Christi). The only mention of him in the Books of the College is an entry of his admission, and he is there called simply “Marlin”—without the Christian name. It appears to have been a rule at Benet College to record the Christian name along with the surname only in the case of scholars; hence the absence of the Christian name is held to show that Marlowe was not elected to one of the two scholarships which had recently been founded by Archbishop Parker at Benet College for the benefit of boys educated at the King's School, Canterbury. Cunningham urges that it is "less unlikely that a hurried and quasi informal entry has been made in the books than that a boy of Marlowe's industry and precocity of intellect should have gone from that particular school to that particular college on any footing than that of a foundation scholar.” The absence of Marlowe's Christian name from the College Books is a tangible piece of evidence, but there is nothing whatever
1 As Dyce's account is somewhat loosely worded, I applied to Mr. J. B. Sheppard, who supplied me with the particulars I have given.
to show that Marlowe was distinguished for industry at school. His classical attainments at the beginning of his literary career appear not to have been considerable. In his translation of Ovid's Amores, which is by no means a difficult book, he misses the sense in passages which could be construed to-day with ease by any fourth-form boy. After making all allowance for the inaccuracy of ordinary scholarship in Marlowe's day, it may be safely said that the poet could not have earned much distinction at Cambridge for sound classical knowledge. The probability is that, both at school and college, he read eagerly but not accurately. His fiery spirit, “still climbing after knowledge infinite,” would ill brook to be fettered by the gyves and shackles of an academical training. But whether he held a scholarship or not, he was content to submit so far to the ordinary routine (less irksome then than now) as to secure his Bachelor's Degree in 1583 and proceed Master of Arts in 1587.
Dyce puts the question, Who defrayed the expenses of his Academical course if he had no scholarship? It is not improbable that he may have gone to Cambridge at the expense of some patron; and Dyce ventures to suggest that the patron was Sir Roger Manwood, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who had a mansion at St. Stephen's, near Canterbury. On the back of the titlepage of a copy of Hero and Leander, ed. 1629, Collier found a manuscript Latin epitaph on this gentleman (who died in December 1592), subscribed with Marlowe's name. The epitaph has every appearance of being genuine ; and as Sir Roger Manwood was distinguished for his munificence, it is not at all unlikely that at some time or other he had made Marlowe the recipient of his bounty. But I must leave the reader to accept or reject Dyce's theory as he pleases.
We have now to consider how Marlowe was engaged after taking his bachelor's degree in 1583. The most plausible view is that of Cunningham, who suggests that the poet trailed a pike in the Low Countries. He points out with some force that Marlowe's “familiarity with military terms, and his fondness for using them are most remarkable.” But we must beware of laying too much
argument; for all the Elizabethan dramatists possessed in large measure the faculty, for which Shakespeare was supremely distinguished, of assimilating technical knowledge of every kind. Phillips, who was followed by Antony-à-Wood and Tanner, states in his Theatrum Poetarum that Marlowe “rose from an actor
1 It runs as follows:
Reginalis Capitalis Baronis,