Abbildungen der Seite

with the text of the printed copy shows how cruelly the play suffered in passing through the press. But when all allowances have been made on the score of curtailments and corruptions, it is certain that the Massacre at Paris was the feeblest of Marlowe's works. Only in one passage does the poet rise to the height of his theme. I refer of course to the fine soliloquy of the Duke of Guise in the second scene. There, and there only, we find the old splendour of diction and magnificence of imagination, the old yearning after limitless power. The other characters are writ in water.

The Tragedy of Dido was published in 1594. On the title-page it is stated to have been written by " Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nash, Gent." Probably Marlowe left it incomplete at his death, and Nashe finished it . The tragic power shown in Dido is very slight. For once Marlowe seems to have descended from his fiery flight above the clouds, and to have sought repose in a trim garden-plot; instead of daring imagination, we have quaint conceits and dainty play of fancy. My own opinion is, that the play is in the main by Marlowe, and that Nashe's work lay chiefly in completing certain scenes which Marlowe had sketched in the rough. To Marlowe must surely be given such lines as these in the opening scene :—

"Vulcan shall dance to make thee laughing-sport,
And my nine daughters sing when thou art sad;
From Juno's bird I'll pluck her spotted pride,
To make thee wings wherewith to cool thy face;
And Venus' swans shall shed their silver down
To sweeten out the slumbers of thy bed," &c.

The rhythm of these passages is precisely the same as in the passage (iii. i) where Dido offers to Aeneas a fleet with "tackling made of rivell'd gold." As Mr. Symonds observes, "The blank verse, falling in couplets, seems to cry aloud for rhymes." These passages, and the pretty scene where the old nurse tempts away Cupid (who is disguised as Ascanius) by a playfully exaggerated description of the delights of her orchard and flowergarden, must have come from the same hand,—the hand that wrote the song of the "Passionate Shepherd to his Love." In the second act, where Aeneas relates to Dido the story of the fall of Troy, occurs the passage, which Shakespeare burlesqued in Hamlet^ describing the slaughter of Priam. It is hard to believe that in its present shape the narrative of Aeneas was written wholly by Marlowe. In parts it is so absurdly grandiose that a very slight heightening is required in order to get the effect of burlesque. Let us take the description of the slaughter of Priam :—

"At which the frantic queen leaped on his face,
And in his eyelids hanging by the nails,
A little while prolonged her husband's life.
At last the soldiers pulled her by the heels,
And swHing her howling in the empty air,
Which sent an echo to the wounded king:
Whereat he lifted up his bed-rid limbs,
And would have grappled with Achilles' son,
Forgetting both his want of strength and hands;

1A few years ago a theory was gravely propounded that the player's speech in Hamlet was "written originally by Shakespeare to complete Marlowe's play." This titanic absurdity—"gross as a mountain, open, palpable "—was received with much applause in certain quarters.

Which he disdaining, whisk'd his sword about,

And with the wound [wind] thereof the King fell down;

Then from the navel to the throat at once

He ripp'd old Priam."

If these lines are Marlowe's they must have been written at the very beginning of his career. Compared with this extraordinary passage the rant of Tamburlaine is tame. It seems probable that Marlowe left the scene unfinished, and that Nashe worked it up into its present ridiculous shape. If the lines I have quoted are Nashe's he must surely have been laughing in his sleeve when he wrote them. It was a good opportunity of showing that he had learnt the trick of " bragging blank verse," and could swagger in "drumming decasyllabons." Earlier in the same scene we find passages quite worthy of Marlowe, as in the description how, when Sinon unlocked the wooden horse,

From out his entrails, Neoptolemus,
Setting his spear upon the ground, leapt forth,
And, after him, a thousand Grecians more
In whose stem faces shined the quenchless fire
That after burnt the pride of Asia."

About the authorship of such lines as those there can be no possible doubt; but there are very few passages in Dido where the "mighty line" rings so unmistakeably.

The exquisite fragment of Hero and Leander, which was entered in the Stationers' Books on 28th September 1593, was first published in 1598, and a second edition,1

1 Two copies of this edition were discovered a few years ago by Mr. with Chapman's continuation, appeared in the same year. From a passage of the Third Sestiad it appears that Marlowe, perhaps with a foreboding of his untimely death, had enjoined upon Chapman the task of completing the poem. The lines are these :—

"Then, ho, most strangely-intellectual fire
That, proper to my soul, hast power t' inspire
Her burning faculties, and with the wings
Of thy unsphered flame visits't the springs
Of spirits immortal. Now, as swift as Time
Doth follow Motion, find th' eternal clime
Of his free soul whose living subject stood
Up to the chin in the Pierian flood,
And drunk to me half this Musaean story,
Inscribing it to deathless memory;
Confer with it, and make my pledge as deep
That neither s draught be consecrate to sleep:
Tell it how much his late desires I tender
(.Ifyet it know not), and to light surrender
My souFs dark offspring."

When Chapman is inspired he is not always articulate. In this apostrophe to the "free soul" of Marlowe we cannot fail to be moved by the impassioned fervour of the language; but when we come to reread the passage, and ask ourselves what is the meaning of the italicised lines, we are beset with some difficulties. It is certain that the words "late desires" cannot refer to any deathbed utterance of Marlowe; for we know that his end was fearfully sudden. But if it has any meaning at all,

Charles Edmonds in a lumber-room at Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire, the seat of Sir Charles Isham, Bart. No edition of the complete poem earlier than that of 1600 had been previously known.

the line, "And drunk to me half this Musaean story," implies that Marlowe had shown his unfinished poem to Chapman. It would not be rash to assert that Chapman had encouraged Marlowe to proceed with the poem, or that it had been originally undertaken at Chapman's request . The words "his late desires" refer to some conversation that had passed between the two poets. Marlowe must have expressed a desire that in the event of his death Chapman should edit and complete the poem, a duty which Chapman solemnly pledged himself to perform. In my judgment the passage shows that Chapman not only had a profound admiration for Marlowe, but had been on terms of intimate friendship with him. Dyce remarks that "as to the conclusion of the passage, 'and to light surrender,' &c, I must confess that I am far from understanding it clearly." But the meaning seems intelligible: his "soul's dark offspring" is the continuation of the poem, the four last sestiads as yet undisclosed to public view; and "to light surrender" merely means to set forth in print to the gaze of the world.

Among all the Elizabethan poets there was none whose genius fitted him to complete the poem of Hero and Leander. The music of Marlowe's rhymed heroics was all his own; he was a master without pupils. In Michael Drayton's Heroical Epistles, which need fear no comparison with Ovid's Heroides, we find fluency and freedom and sweetness; but the clear, rich, fervent notes of Hero and Leander were heard but once. No less truly than finely does Mr. Swinburne say that the

« ZurückWeiter »