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Marlowe's tragedy speedily became popular not only in England but abroad. From a recently published work of great interest by Herr Johannes Meissner, Die Englischencomcedianten zur zeit Shakespeares in Oesterreich, we learn that Faustus and the Jew of Malta, with nine other English plays, were acted (in German versions) by an English company in 1608, during the Carnival at Graetz.1 Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Faustus remained a favourite at Vienna. A Hanswurst or Clown was introduced; the Jesuits, disliking Faustus' scepticism, converted him into a sort of Don Juan; and the two aspects of his character were afterwards combined by Goethe. Among the plays performed by an English company at the Dresden court in 1626 was a Tragadia von Dr. Faust,2 which was certainly Marlowe's; on the same list is found a Barrabas, which was no less certainly a version of the Jew of Malta.
Although the popularity of Faustus in England is attested by the number of editions through which it passed, few early allusions to the play are discoverable. When Shakespeare wrote of Helen in Troilus and Cressida,
"Why, she is a pearl Whose price hath launched above a thousand ships"
1 Herr Meissner quotes from a MS. volume of travels by a Wurtemberg merchant a statement to the effect that at Frankfort-on-the-Main, in 1592, during the autumn fair, were acted plays '' by the master very famous in the island, Christopher Marlowe." But Herr Meissner has not seen the MS. from which the statement is taken, and his informant is unable to lay his hand upon it in the public library ; so better proof is wanted.
2 See Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany, cxv. cxvii.
he must surely have had in his mind the line of Marlowe—
"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships t"
It was pointed out by Wagner that the scene in Barnabe Barnes' Devil's Charter, 1607, where Pope Alexander VI. signs a contract with a devil disguised as a pronotary, is modelled on scene v. of Faustus. In Time's Whistle, by "R. C. Gent.," a collection of satires written between 1614 and 1616, there is a passage which Mr. J. M. Cowper (who edited the satires for the Early English Text Society) takes to refer "to the story of the play of Faustus, although it may be said the story was common enough for 'R. C to have got it elsewhere." From Samuel Rowlands' Knave of Clubs we learn that the part of Faustus was originally sustained by Edward Alleyn:—
'' The gull gets on a surplis,
With a crosse upon his brest,
In this Theatrum Poeiarum (1675) Phillips observes quaintly " Of all that Marlowe hath written to the stage, his Dr. Faustus hath made the greatest noise, with its devils and such like tragical sport."
Dr. Faustus is a work which once read can never be forgotten. It must be allowed that Marlowe did not perceive the full capabilities afforded by the legend he adopted; that crudeness of treatment is shown in making Faustus abandon the pursuit of supernatural knowledge,
and turn to trivial uses the power that he had purchased (
"Ugly Hell, gape not ! come not, Lucifer!
Goethe's English biographer speaks slightingly of Marlowe's play; but Goethe1 himself, when questioned about Dr. Faustus, "burst out with an exclamation of praise: How greatly was it all planned! He had thought of translating it."
We have no evidence to enable us to fix precisely the date of the Jew of Malta. The reference in the prologue to the death of the Duke of Guise shows that it was composed not earlier than December 1588. Henslowe's Diary contains numerous entries concerning the play, ranging from 26th February 1591-2 to 21st June
1 H. Crabb Robinson's Diary (ii. 434), quoted in the preface to Cunningham's Marlowe, p. xiv.
1596; and there is a notice in the Diary of its revival on 19th May 1601. On 17th May 1594 it was entered in the Stationers' Books, but it was not published until 1633, when it was edited by Thomas Hey wood after its revival at Court and at the Cockpit . In 1608, as Herr Meissner has shown, it was one of the plays performed at Graetz during the Carnival; in the previous year it had been performed at Passau.
The Jew of Malta is a very unequal work. Hallam, the most cautious of critics, gives it as his opinion that the first two acts "are more vigorously conceived, both as to character and to circumstance, than any other Elizabethan play, except those of Shakespeare." This judgment, bold as it appears at first sight, probably represents the truth. The masterful grasp that marks the opening scene was a new thing in English tragedy. Language so strong, so terse, so dramatic, had never been heard before on the English stage. In the two first acts there is not a trace of juvenility; all is conceived largely and worked out in firm, bold strokes. Hardly Shakespeare's touch is more absolutely true and unfaltering; nor is it too much to say that, had the character been developed throughout on the same scale as in the first two acts, Barrabas would have been worthy to stand alongside of Shylock. But in the last three acts vigorous drawing is exchanged for caricature; for a sinister life-like figure we have a grotesque stage-villain, another Aaron. How this extraordinary transformation was effected, why the poet, who started with such cleareyed vision and stern resolution, swerved so blindly and
helplessly from the path, is a question that may well perplex critics. Was the artist's hand paralysed by the consciousness of an inability to work out in detail the great conception? I think not. It is more reasonable to assume that the play was required by the actors at a very short notice, and that Marlowe merely sketched roughly the last three acts, leaving it to another hand to fill in the details; or it may be that he put the play aside, under stress of more pressing work, with the intention of resuming the half-told story at a later date, an intention which was frustrated by his sudden death. In any case it is a sheer impossibility to believe that the play in its present form represents the poet's finished work. Marlowe is not less guiltless of the extravagance and buffoonery in the last three acts of the Jew of Malta than of the grotesque and farcical additions made to Dr. Faustus. Yet it was doubtless to this very extravagance that the play owed much of its popularity.1
It has not yet been discovered where Marlowe procured the materials for his play. Probably he used some forgotten novel; nor is it unlikely that he had been afforded opportunities of personally studying Jewish character. The old notion that there were no Jews in England during the Elizabethan time has been shown by modern research to be wholly untenable.2 Barabas'
1 The extraordinary size of Barabas' nose was long remembered. William Rowley, in his Search for Money, 1609, speaks of the "artificial Jew of Malta's nose."
4 I refer the reader to Mr. S. L. Lee's article on The Original of Shylock (in the Gentleman's Magazine for February, 1880). Mr. Lee
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