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The Massacre at Paris, with the death of the Duke of Guise; as
it was plaide by the right honorable the Lord high Admirall his
servantes. Written by Christopher Marlow. Lond. [no date.] The troublesome raigne and lamentable death of Edward the
second King of England, with the tragical fall of proud Mortimer, and also the life and death of Piers Gaveston, the greate Earle of Cornewall, and mighty favorite of King Edward the second; as it was publickly acted by the Right Honorable the Earle of Pembroke his servantes. Written by Chri. Marlow,
Gent. Lond. 1598. The tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.
Written by Ch: Marlow. Lond. 1616. The famous tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, as it was played
before the King and Queene in his Majesty's theatre at White Hall, by her Majestie's servants at the Cock-pit. Written by
Christopher Marlo. Lond. 1633. Lust's Dominion, or the Lascivious Queen. A Tragedie, Written by Christofer Marloe, Gent. London, 1657. .
Although that “pure elemental wit, Christopher Marlowe,” , has recently become better known than the writers whom we. have considered in our preceding numbers, it is necessary, in order to complete the series of articles on the “ Early English Drama,” that we should devote a few pages to the consideration of his merits. He was born, as it is conjectured, about the year 1562, and came to a tragical and premature end before 1593. The manner of his death is differently related, and a degree of obscurity hangs over his life, as well as the termination of it. It has also been affirmed, that he was an atheist, and “not only in word blasphemed the Trinity, but also, as it was credibly reported, wrote divers discourses against it, affirming our Saviour to be a deceiver, and Moses to be a conjurer; the holy Bible to contain only idle stories, and all religion but a device of policy.” Such is the nature of the accusation brought against Marlowe—an accusation which, when considered, rests on a very slender foundation. It appears to have originated with Beard, who states it in his Theatre of God's Judgments, from which it was transcribed by Anthony Wood, and has now become an accredited verity. Nay, some have not only received this assertion without examination, but in their laudable zeal for religion have denounced the unfortunate poet in still stronger terms of reprobation. Bishop Tanner calls him
atheista et blasphemus horrendus; and Hawkins, in a note to. The Return from Parnassus, in which Marlowe's name occurs, says, that “ he was an excellent poet, but of abandoned morals, and of the most impious principles; a complete libertine, and an avowed atheist." These are hard words, and one should like to see some authority for them. Neither the originator nor the propagator of these asseverations, however, pretend, that they have seen even one of these several discourses. The story rests entirely upon the authority of Beard, who goes no further than saying, that "it was credibly reported.” If Marlowe had really written several discourses, it might reasonably be expected, that one of them would, by some chance or other, have been preserved, unless some puritanical croaker, like Beard, had adopted the same summary mode of extirpating his opinions, as Tamburlaine does with the Koran and other Mahometan books; or, at least that some extract from them would have survived. But we do not hear of a single individual who had readnot one who had ever seen them. So that the above quotation affords no proof whatever of Marlowe holding the opinions imputed to him.
Nor can any such conclusion be drawn from what Robert Greene says in his address to Marlowe, in the passage quoted in a preceding number,—“Wonder not that Greene, who hath said with thee (like the fool) in his heart, there is no God, should now give glory unto his greatnesse;"-all that can be collected from this passage is, that Marlowe, by a life of pleasure and indulgence, shewed, that his heart was not impressed with a proper sense of religion. Greene was his intimate friend, and must have known if he had promulged atheistical opinions, or written the discourses ascribed to him; and with such a knowledge it is not likely that he should have omitted to mention them, when he was sending his warning voice from a sick bed. But Greene says the same thing of himself as he does of Marlowe; and we are not aware that he was ever accused of being an atheist, although it has fallen to the lot of few to have such a rancorous enemy as he had-one who collected, with the most curious industry, every petty story that might blemish his character. Besides, he addresses Lodge and Peele in a not very dissimilar strain; and, indeed, he explains his meaning, when he conjures them all to'“ delight not as he had done in irreligious oaths, to despise drunkenness, flie lust, abhor those epicures, whose loose life hath made religion loathsome to your ears." It is true, Greene uses tolerably strong language, and it is said to have given offence to Marlowe. But that he was a free liver, given to the pleasurable enjoyments of life, perhapsinan inordinate degree, must be conceded; and thathe
came to an unhappy death cannot be denied. Both these facts appear from the old play of The Return from. Parnassus ; which contains a very free censure of the poets of that period, and which was published only a few years after Marlowe's death.
“ Marlowe was happy in his buskin'd muse;
Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell." His vicious indulgencies are sufficiently denounced, without holding him up to“ grinning infamy” for vices which it cannot be proved he ever possessed. But
“ The evil, which men do, lives after them,
After all, might not the discourses referred to, be Marlowe's plays, in which religion and its professors are occasionally treated with great freedom? as in the lines spoken by Machiavel, the prologue to The Rich Jew of Malta; in The Massacre of Paris; and Doctor Faustus. These would be quite enough, exclusive of the circumstance of their being found in profane plays, to excite the wrath of the Precisians, who seem to have been more especially offended with Marlowe. The following lines in Tamburlaine might perhaps be considered as denying the Trinity; although they, at the same time, assert the existence of a Deity, and therefore do away with the imputation of atheism. But religious bigots are not very nice casuists, and this would serve as well as another text to convict him of being an atheist. It is what Tamburlaine says to the conquered Mahometans.
“ Seek out another Godhead to adore ; .
In all his dramas, however, Marlowe does ample poetical justice on his criminal characters. He exterminates them, one and all, before the scene closes and this one would think sufficient to appease the most outrageously virtuous. Indeed the moral tendency of his plays is always exemplary, and it would not be very consistent with the principles of justice to anathematise a man whose business it is to hold the mirror up to nature—for giving vice her own language, and painting her in all her naked deformity.
But we must now proceed from the character of Marlowe to that of his works; and in commencing this review, we can
VOL. IV. PART I.
not but be struck with the high reputation which he acquired in the age in which he lived. He is the greatest name on the theatrical roll before Shakspeare. He rose above all his predecessors and contemporaries in vigor of imagination and originality of conception, and the meed of praise was bestowed upon him unsparingly. There was no other standard with which he could be compared, than the productions which had appeared before him; and the result could not, with those who had the faculty of discrimination, be otherwise than unqualified eulogium. If we put in an exception in favour of Peele, he was the first dramatic writer who sounded the depths of the human heart, and discovered the rocks and quicksands of passion beneath the surface; and in searching the great deep, he brought up a profusion of the pearls and precious gems of poetry which are found therein. He seems to have belonged to a different race, as if the giants of old were renewed upon the earth. The stars which twinkled before his rising “'hid their diminished heads” as soon as he appeared above the horizon. But he was reckless on what he spent his strength, and sometimes condescended to fight with phantoms, or buffet the air. Even in these extravagancies, he displays his superior prowess. His chief characters are all rife with the busy stirring spirit of intellect. They command our respect, notwithstanding their crimes, "magnificent though in ruins.” There is little of the romantic cast in them-little of what is gallant, and generous, and gay--few of those flowers of better feeling, which spring sometimes out of the darkest thickets of human passion, and shew the seeds of excellence sprinkled in our nature. With the exception of Maria in Lust's Dominion, we have none of the engaging pictures of the gentler sex with which the dramas of Shakspeare abound. Marlowe chose rather to pourtray the sterner passions of man; to mark out the more rugged projections of his character. Edward the Second, however, does not belong to this class. The weak and despicable character of that monarch is merged in the pity and terror excited by the scenes of his abdication and his death, which leave an impression on the mind not easily to be erased.
Edward's grief is altogether selfish. He was not, like Richard the Second, “ doubly divorc'd” by his enemies; he had himself been the cause of one divorce - from his wife. We have therefore nothing of the tender interest which is diffused over the parting scene of Richard and his queen, about to return to France;
“ From whence, set forth in pomp, She came adorned hither like sweet May, Sent back like Hallowmas."
The spirit of Edward is entirely broken-his heart is worn threadbare by his sufferings—he has not the power to resist his murderers, and, if he had, he seems as if he would want the courage to do it. Richard, on the contrary, defends himself royally, and dies bravely. In the closing scene of Edward the Second, however, there is more heart-rending pathos than in that of Richard. If we have less respect for Edward, we have more compassion. If we feel a want of the chaster writing of Shakspeare, we must allow that Marlowe in this scene bears a noble comparison with him; and that alone speaks a volume of praise.
Marlowe, at the same time that he went beyond all preceding authors in the representation of genuine passion, carried “ the full and heightened style” which distinguished the dramatists of the day to its highest pitch of extravagance. His Tamburlaine, which was probably his earliest production, is the ne plus ultra of this style of writing. We cannot conceive, that any thing could possibly go beyond it; and yet the printer tells us, that he has "
purposelie omitted and left out some fond and frivolous jestures, digressing, and in his opinion, farre' unmeete for the matter.” With great deference to the printer, we do not know how this could well be. It is proper, however, to mention, that doubts have been entertained of its having been written by Marlowe. It is attributed to him on the authority of Thomas Heywood; and Langbaine remarks, that if it were not for such authority, he should not believe it to be his, being true what an ingenious author said, that whoever was the author, he might e’en keep it to himself secure from plagiary.” Independent of the sanction of Heywood, we are of opinion, that the play affords intrinsic evidence of being written by the same hand as the Jew of Malta, the Massacre of Paris, and Lust's Dominion, whose genuineness have not been questioned. There is the same over-richness of imagery, the same amplitude and
pomp of expression, the same fullness and stateliness of versification. It is exceeded, however, (as indeed all his plays are) in numerous harmony, by Lust's Dominion.
The mighty Tamburlaine, whose conquests and butcheries form the subject of the two parts of this drama, is a mighty tragical fellow-a right royal robber and most kingly murderer, as ever elevated himself in a red buskin above mere men. He is a sort of demi-god, whose mouth enounces thunder, whose right hand wields the destructive lightning, and on whose brow, death sits in ambush to destroy. He is one
“ Who holds the fates bound fast in iron chains,
He is both heathen and Christian," the scourge of God,” and