Abbildungen der Seite

devoted love for his daughter is so fully emphasized in the first two acts that we cannot but suppose Marlowe to have been acquainted with at least one leading trait in Jewish character, the intense family-affection which has distinguished the Jews of all ages. Round the person of Barabas, in the two first acts, is thrown such a halo of poetry as circles Shylock from first to last. His figure seems to assume gigantic proportions; his lust of gold is conceived on so grand a scale that the grovelling passion is transmuted, by the alchemy of the poet's imagination, into a magnificent ambition. Our senses are dazzled, sober reason is staggered by the vastness of Barabas' greed :

“Give me the merchants of the Indian mines,

That trade in metal of the purest mould ;
The wealthy Moor that in the Eastern rocks
Without control can pick his riches up,
And in his house heap pearl like pebble-stones,
Receive them free and sell them by the weight;
Bags of fiery opals, sapphires, amethysts,
Jacinths, hard topaz, grass-green emeralds,
And seld-seen costly stones of so great price,
As one of them, indifferently rated,
And of a carat of this quantity,
May serve, in peril of calamity,
To ransom great kings from captivity."

Very impressive is the scene where Barabas is shown pacing beneath the casement, "in the shadow of the

is understood to be engaged on a searching inquiry as to the residence of Jews in England between 1290 and 1655. the dates of their expul. sion and return.

silent night,” like an unquiet spirit round a spot where treasure has been buried. And what a burst of lyric ecstacy when he clasps once more his money-bags !-

Now, Phoebus, ope the eye-lids? of the day,

And, for the raven, wake the morning lark,
That I may hover with her in the air,

Singing o'er these, as she does o'er her young.” Again and again must we regret that the last three acts were not composed on the same scale as the earlier part of the play.

Edward the Second was entered in the Stationers' Books on 6th July 1593. In the Dyce Library at South Kensington there is a quarto with a MS. titlepage (in a hand of the late 17th century), dated 1593. The first page is in MS., and contains several mistakes, but the text of the printed matter agrees throughout with the quarto of 1598; it may therefore be assumed that the date 1593 is a mistake of the copyist for 1598.2 Warton states that the play was written in the year 1590," but he adduces no evidence in support of his assertion. It is certainly the most elaborate of Marlowe's works, and it has fortunately descended to us with a text free from any serious corruptions. We can hardly assign an earlier date than 1590 for its composition.

A comparison between Edward II. and Richard II.

1 The expression "eye-lids of the day,” recalls the language of Job

By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eye-lids of the morning.

% There are two copies of ed. 1598 in the British Museum. In one or two passages the texts differ, a circumstance not uncommon in copies of the same edition of an old play.

naturally suggests itself to every reader. Charles Lamb remarked that “the reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in Edward furnished hints which Shakespeare scarce improved in his Richard the Second ; and the deathscene of Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted.” Mr. Swinburne thinks that there is more discrimination of character in Marlowe's play than Shakespeare's; that the figures are more life-like, stand out more clearly as individual personalities. It may also be urged that there is more “business ” in Marlowe's play; that the action is never allowed to flag. The character of the gay, frank, fearless, shameless favourite, Piers Gaveston, is admirably drawn. Even in the presence of death, with the wolfish eyes of the grim nobles bent on him from every side, he loses nothing of his old jauntiness. Marlowe has thoroughly realised this character, and portrayed it in every detail with consummate ability. Hardly less successful is the character of Young Spenser, the insolent compound of recklessness and craft, posing as the saviour of society, while he stealthily pursues his own selfish projects. In his drawing of female characters, Marlowe showed no great skill or variety. The features in some of his portraits are either so dim as to present no likeness at all, or they are excessively unlovely. Isabella is a vain, selfish woman, without any strength of character. She is hurt at finding herself neglected by the king, but the wound is only surface-deep. She acquiesces passively in her husband's death, and with equal indifference

would have sacrificed her paramour. Edward, with all his weakness, is not wholly ignoble. In all literature there are few finer touches than when, after recounting his fearful suffering and privations in the dungeon, he gathers his breath for one last kingly utterance :

Tell Isabel, the queen, I looked not thus

When for her sake I ran at tilt in France,
And there unhorsed the Duke of Cleremont."

For a

What heart-breaking pathos in those lines ! moment, as his thoughts travel back across the years, he forgets the squalor of his dungeon and rides blithely beneath the beaming eyes of his lady. It has been objected that the representation of the king's physical suffering oversteps the limit of dramatic art. Euripides was censured by ancient critics for demeaning tragedy; but to-day the judgment of readers is on the side of Euripides, not of his critics. Besides, if Euripides erred, Sophocles erred also. The physical suffering of Philocletes excites far more disgust than anything that we find in Euripides. There are those who think that the blinding of Gloster, in Lear, surpasses in horror any scene of physical agony enacted on the English stage. But criticism, which fears to raise its voice against Shakespeare, shows no mercy to Shakespeare's contemporaries.

It has been usually stated that Fabyan's Chronicle was Marlowe's authority for the plot of Edward II., but Mr. Fleay has made it abundantly clear that the poet's indebtedness to Fabyan was very slight, and that the

narratives of Stow and Holinshed, who tread closely in the steps of Sir Thomas de la More, were largely used.

The two remaining plays, the Massacre at Paris and the Tragedy of Dido, are preserved in a very unsatisfactory state : the former had been cruelly mutilated, and the latter-left unfinished at the author's deathwas completed by Thomas Nashe, an unequalled master of invective, but a tragic poet of no high order. In Henslowe's Diary (ed. J. P. Collier, p. 30), under date 30th January 1593-4, there is an entry—“Rd. at the tragedy of the guyes [Guise] . . . iij . . . iiij.” In this part of the Diary the dates are in some confusion; and it is clear from the preceding and following entries that the year should be 1592–3, not 1593-4. In the margin opposite the entry Henslowe has written "ne" to show that it was a new play. External evidence, therefore, seems to insist that the Massacre at Paris was one of Marlowe's latest works. Even if we suppose that the performance of the play did not immediately follow its composition, yet we cannot regard the Massacre at Paris as a very early work of Marlowe's; for Henry III. with whose assassination the play ends, died on 2nd August 1589. But we have clear proof that the play has come down in a corrupt and mutilated state. There is preserved in an early MS.1 a portion of scene xix., probably a fragment of an original play-house copy. A comparison of the text of the MS. (vid. Vol. II. 277-8)

1 First printed in Collier's History of Engi. Dram. Lit. iii. 134 (ed, 1).

« ZurückWeiter »