A. W. (Arthur Wilson) Verity.

The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakspere's earlier style, being the Harness prize essay for the year 1885 online

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while another is more accessible to the ordinary
reader in Dodsley's Collection (I. 49). There is plenty
of shrewd humour in the latter. The dramatis per-
sonae, if drama it can be called, are a Palmer, who
begins with a long account of his various pilgrimages,
a Pardoner, obviously intended as a satire against
the Church, a Poticary and a Pedlar, the last with his
rough and ready wit giving us a far-off touch of
Autolycus, the prince of strolling vagabonds. The
metre varies ; the Palmer commences Avith stanzas of
four lines rhyming alternately, which afterwards give
place to rhymed couplets of irregular lengths. Warton
dismisses these Interludes somewhat contemptuously,
but in the Four P's there is no lack of crude, out-of-
door wit. Thus the pedlar's description of his wander-
ings is capital, the disquisition on the efficacy of relics
hardly less so, while the wager — who can tell the


greatest lie — with which they conclude, has something
of Greene's quaintncss of conception. Historically
the pieces are important as containing the first hint
of the Comedy that was initiated more definitely by
Roister Bolster , somewhere between 1534 and 1541.
Rather later than this innovation marked by the
appearance of Heywood's Interludes., the Morali-
ties underwent another modification — this time in
the direction of the Chronicle-History. Near the
middle of the sixteenth century Bale's Kynge JoJian
was written. Here the Morality Play merges into
the Chronicle History of the older type, though
semi-allegorical figures are still retained. Clergy,
Sedition, Civil Order, and other survivals move about
the scene, but fresh interest is given by the introduc-
tion of genuine historical figures, King John, Stephen
Langton, and others. Even here indeed the new
dramatis personae are devoid of lifelike reality. Car-
dinal Pandulphus, for instance, is little more than the
old Papal greed personified, which had done duty in
innumerable Moral Plays. Nevertheless the employ-
ment of ordinary historical figures was a distinct
advance, however incongruous the general effect
might be.

The mention of this play brings us almost to the be-
ginning of Elizabeth's reign, and so far, as we see from
skimming over this well-beaten ground, the develop-
ment of the English drama had been regular. From
1558 to 1587 this even course was, on the whole

V. 2


maintained ; then an altogether new start was made.
The appearance of TainbiLrlaine revolutionised the
stage. We may compare it to Gotz von Berlichingen,
or better still, as, I think, Mr Swinburne does, to
Hernani. Victor Hugo and the Romanticists had a
great literary system to crush. Classicism had all
the prestige of the past in its favour, and only the
sheer force of genius could overthrow such an adver-
sary. In the same way Marlowe had formidable foes
opposed to him, for in TambiLvlaine he broke alto-
gether with the traditions of the stage. His work
was a passionate protest, and it had its effect. The
drama that followed his Tanibtirlaine — the romantic
drama of Shakspere — had little in common with what
had gone before. It was not so much that the waters
parted, as that the old stream stopped flowing, and a
new river sprang up to take its place. For what could
the preromantic stage show.'^ Nothing but a dead
mass of plays that scarcely deserved to be called
dramas at all. The pieces were, roughly speaking, of
two descriptions. There were plays written for per-
formance at Court, at the Universities, and at the
Inns of Courts ; this was the literary drama. Given
an audience familiar with the Poetics of Aristotle
it could be appreciated. But it had no claims to
be considered national, indeed it had little or no
connection at all with the people at large. It is
true that some of the plays performed in the first
instance at Court, notably those of Lyly — were after-


wards brought out at the London theatres, but this
was the exception — indeed before 1776 no regular
theatre existed. Most of these Court pieces were
only suitable for cultured audiences ; of such is the
time-honoured Gorboduc. It is difficult to conceive
anything duller than this venerable tragedy. Lamb,
respecting its antiquity, speaks of the piece with
kindly euphemism as 'stiff and cumbersome — there
may be flesh and blood, but we cannot get at it.'
If the flesh and blood be there, it must be hidden
very far from sight ; no critic has ever reached it.
Excepting perhaps in the fourth act, there is abso-
lutely no animation in the piece from beginning to
end. The language is cold and sententious to a
degree, stuffed with political maxims conveyed in
speeches of insufferable length and dreariness. Thus
in the second act (scene 2), in the debate between
the King and his Courtiers, the characters are as
prolix as Miss Griselda Oldbuck in the Antiquary.
Philander takes 99 lines to state his case ; Eubulus
replies in 90, while the closing speech in Act v. ex-
tends to exactly 100 lines. Of course, the dramatists
were hampered by the use of a new metre which they
did not understand, and a dramatic theory which was
radically mistaken. But a popular audience does not
make allowances, and it would be in their eyes but a
poor compensation for the dreariness of the piece, for
its stilted sententiousness and want of action, that the
authors observed the proper Horatian maxim, and,

2 — 2


instead of representing the death of the younger
brother coram popitlo, took care that it should be
narrated by the famiHar messenger. That it should
end with an anticlimax, the catastrophe coming in
the fourth act and the concluding scenes being eked
out with fresh and irrelevant matter, is a minor point.
Here is, perhaps, the best speech in the play — that of
Marcella :

O hard and cruel hap that thus assigned

Unto so worthy wight so wretched end:

But most hard cruel heart that could consent

To lend the hateful destinies that hand,

By which alas ! so heinous crime was wrought.

O queen of adamant, O marble breast,

If not the favour of his comely face,

If not his princely cheer and countenance,

His valiant active arms, his manly breast,

If not his fair and seemly personage,

His noble limbs in such proportion cast,

As would have wrapt a silly woman's thought,

If this mought not have moved thy bloody heart,

And that most cruel hand the wretched weapon

Even to let fall, and kissed him in the face,

With tears of ruth to reave such one by death,

Should nature yet consent to slay her son?

In this perhaps there is a ring of pathos and
passion that rises above the monotony of the verse —
and what fearful monotony it is — but such passages
are few and far between in the play, which, whatever
it was, certainly cannot be called romantic in style.
If Gorboduc lacked vitality, Damon and PytJiias, to take
another type of the drama popular at Court, possessed
even less interest. It deserves, however, to be noticed


if only on account of the extraordinary reputation
which its author, Richard Edwards, enjoyed. The
critics of the period seem for some unknown reason to
have conspired to praise him. He is mentioned by
Meres in Palladis Taviia as 'best for comedy,' the Hst
including 'mellifluous and honey-tongued' Shakspere^;
Puttenham in his Arte of Poetry is equally complimen-
tary, while another critic saluted Edwards (but this
was in an epitaph^) as

'flower of our realm
And Phoenix of our age.'

On what this reputation rested we cannot say.
Only one of Edwards' plays is extant ; of another, his
Palavion and Arcyte — which was played before the
queen at Oxford in September, 1566, the stage, as
we are told, literally giving way on the first night of
performance, doubtless under the extreme heaviness
of the piece — the name alone has survived. But if all
the dramatist's works were like Davion and PytJiias it
is perhaps well that oblivion should have claimed
them for her own, for assuredly Damon and his friend
are 'far, far from gay.' The piece according to the
prologue is a 'tragical-comedy,' and it would be hard
to say which parts of it are worst. Perhaps the
comedy, as represented by the dialogue between the
Collier (from Croydon) and the two Servants of the
court of Syracuse, is the most notably imbecile ; in

^ Dodsley's Collection, i. 168.
2 Collier, iii. 2.


the tragic scenes one can at times trace an illusive
touch of pathos. For the rest, Damon and Pythias is
a dreary waste of rhymed crudities ; there is no cha-
racterisation, no plot; the language is utterly common-
place, and the piece abounds with incongruities, such
as the introduction of the Muses to mourn over the
intended murder of 'poor Pythias.' And yet the author
was a conspicuously popular Court poet! Gorboduc
was produced at the Inner Temple; the 'children of
the Queen's Chapel' performed i^^;//^;/ and Pythias.
On a far higher level than either of these pieces, but
belonging to the same type of literary drama, stands
The Arraignment of Paris, written soon after Peele
had left the University. As a dramatist Peele must
be put low down in the scale — he seems to me much
inferior to Greene in humour, in inventiveness, in
capacity for delineating character — but as a poet his
merits are considerable. His language is always clear
and harmonious, his verse — and he could handle a
variety of metres with remarkable ease and grace —
always pleasant. His blank verse, it is true, rarely
got beyond the limits of the couplet, and to the last
remained monotonous, but then it is the monotony of
sweetness. There is something indescribably cloying
in all he wrote. Every line of David and Bethsabe,
which Charles Lamb contemptuously dismissed as
' stuff,' breathes an atmosphere of luxurious languor.
In his later works this became a mere mannerism, but
in his Arraignment of Paris ^ and unfortunately this is


the only one of Peek's dramas written prior to the
appearance of Tanibiudaine that has survived, the poet
is less conspicuously the ' Verborum Artifex ' that
delighted Nash\ TJie Arraignnient indeed, which
reads like a college exercise, is fairly simple in style.
Dramatically, like the majority of Court plays, it is
worthless ; as a poem, unlike them, it is by no means
devoid of beauty. It is pretty safe to say that the
average piece acted by 'the Children of the Chapel'
did not contain anything like the following passage.
It is the speech of CEnone, as she sits under the tree
with Paris.

And whereon then shall be my lOundelay?

For thou hast heard my store long since, dare say,

How Saturn did divide his kingdom tho'

To Jove, to Neptune, and to Dis below ;

How mighty men made foul successless war

Against the Gods and state of Jupiter.

How fair Narcissus tooting on his shade

Reproves disdain, and tells how form doth vade.

How cunning Philomela's needle tells

What force in love, what wit in sorrow, dwells:

What pains unhappy souls abide in hell,

They say, because on earth, they lived not well —

Ixion's wheel, proud Tantal's pining woe,

Prometheus' torment, and a many moe:

How Danaus' daughters ply their endless task,

What toil, the toil of Sisyphus doth ask.

^ The phrase occurs in the oft-quoted 'Address to the Gentlemen
Students of both Universities,' prefixed to Greene's 'Arcadia, or
Menaphon' — 1587. Probably Nash is praising Peele at the expense of
Marlowe, whom he attacks in the same pamphlet, though afterwards
they worked together.


This is at least pleasing, fluent verse, with a deli-
cate flavour of pastoral conceit; indeed, all the pastoral
scenes are marked by the same freshness and lightness
of touch. But the general effect is preposterous ; as a
drama The Arraignment is beneath criticism. Yet
there were probably dozens of plays of the same
description, pastorals, pageants, and what not, pro-
duced at Court, and difl"ering only from this piece in
that they lacked the one quality of genuine poetry
which redeems^ all Peele's work from utter oblivion.
In the same way there were probably dozens of 'tragi-
comedies' like Damon and Pythias, perhaps dozens
of tragedies pure and simple like Gorbodtic, that were
performed in private. If we add to these the comedies
of Lyly, which, it must be confessed, contained some
elements of popularity, and the purely classical plays,
whether adapted or translated directly from Seneca
and Euripides, we have the main elements of what
may be called the literary drama. Compared with
the drama that followed and eclipsed it, the romantic
drama of which there was scarcely a trace, when
Marlowe came before the world with Tambnrlaine^
this literary drama was a mere mountain of dulness,
'gross, open, palpable.' To the nation at large it

■■• Occasionally Peele gives us really fine lines in Marlowe's style;
thus in The Talc of Troy he speaks of the Gi^eek fleet leaving Aulis,

As shoots a streaming star in winter's night,
A thousand ships well-rigged, a glorious sight,
Waving ten thousand flags.


could make no appeal. The uncritical audiences
who thronged the playhouses on the Bankside, who
were to be found in the Innyard of the Bell Savage,
asked for something more imposing than these
vamped-up classical puppets moralising on stilts.
The schoolmaster in the Heart of Midlothian was
contemptuous of our 'modern Babylonian jargons:'
they struck him as being really poor compared with
the 'learned languages.' But the average Elizabethan
audience had no such enthusiasm for the classics.
They were in the position of Shakspere himself, of
knowing 'little Latin and less Greek,' and to such
everyday men and women the Poetics of Aristotle
mattered not at all. A dramatist might, if he liked,
violate all the unities in a single act, might scatter to
the winds what one of Dickens' characters calls the
'universal dovetailedness,' that should harmonise the
action of every play — so long as he could amuse his
audience, could make their pulses beat quicker, could
move their tears and laughter. They came — or at
least they did later on — to laugh at, and laugh with,
the 'Epicurean rascal' Sir John Falstaff, to sigh over
the sorrows of Romeo and Juliet, to follow the fortunes
of 'warlike Harry' and others whose names had be-
come household words. The scene might be rude,
but imagination compensated for its poverty ; they
were ready to admit the poet's appeal.

But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared


On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object ; Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt ?
O pardon, since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million,
And let us ciphers to this great accompt
On your imaginary forces work.

A popular audience, then, wanted sensation, they
wanted amusement. The literary drama as it then
existed could give them neither, and so they turned
elsewhere; and naturally their demand was met.
Comedies and farces of the crudest type ; melo-
dramas of ' the high, heroic fustian ' order, in which
there was at least flesh and blood ; Moral Plays, like
Lupton's All for Mouey, which the author indefinitely
termed 'A pitiful comedy' and 'A pleasant tragedy,'
the piece having no claim to either title; Chronicle
Plays in prose ; tragedies written in every possible
variety of metre, in ballad lines of 14 syllables, in
stanzas, in the ordinary rhymed couplet — in a word,
all sorts and conditions of plays overflowed the stage.
But everything was crude ; dramas were tossed off.
The public were in the first state of enthusiasm, when
admiration is for the time stronger than criticism.
They gratefully accepted what the dramatist gave
them, however bald, however undigested, and so the
divorce between literature and the stage, which forms
nowadays the text of periodical magazine articles,
was almost complete. The popular drama was not


literary; the literary drama was not popular. Their
union was the problem, which some great dramatist
had to solve, and that dramatist was Christopher Mar-
lowe. He found the stage choked with a cumbrous
mass of rubbish, and his feeling towards it was that of
the Walrus and the Carpenter, when (in both senses of
the word) they expatiated on the sand of the sea-
shore :

"'If this were only cleared away',
They said, 'it tuould be grand'."

The speakers, it will be remembered in Mr Carroll's
little poem, gave up their ideal as unattainable ; the
sand remained. Marlowe was more successful. He
swept the stage clear of the miserable stuff that Court
poets and the rhymsters of the Bankside foisted upon
the people as plays. He did not attempt to breathe
new life into the dead bones of the classical drama.
Had he done so, critics might have pointed to the
English stage as one more proof of the truth of Mon-
taigne's pregnant aphorism, 'C'est un bel et grand ad-
gencement sans doubte que le grec et le latin — mais
on I'achepte trop cher;' on the other hand he did
not adopt the course suggested in Johnson's cynical
couplet —

The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give ;

For those who live to please, must please to live.

He determined to wean the public from ' the
jigging veins of rhyming mother wits ' that made the
popular drama debased in the extreme, and to do this


he created something that differed absokitely from
what men had hitherto seen on the stage. What that
something was it is time to inquire.

In considering Marlowe's works it is well to re-
member one thing, that he is the most personal of
poets ; it is impossible to think of him apart from his
plays, and vice versa. Usually the attempt to read
between the lines, as the phrase is, and by so doing to
evolve some idea of an author's personality, is not
very successful : yet it is a task which some critics
find extremely congenial and entertaining. Touch-
stone's irritating query, ' Hast any philosophy in
thee } ' is always on their lips when they approach a
new work, the presumption in their minds being that
the writer must have started with a definite purpose,
' a criticism of life ' in some form or other ; and this
central idea once discovered ought theoretically to
reveal in a measure the character of the author, and
thus the true seeker is, as it were, personally conducted
behind the scenes into the presence of the writer
himself. Everyone remembers Schumann's indignant
commentary on these acrostic-solvers, who of course
almost invariably lose themselves in a maze of con-
flicting theories till at last ' Metaphysic calls for aid
on Sense.' And so long as we deal with the Immortals
of literature it must always be so, for the best work is
always impersonal. The great poet is not one man,
he is, in sympathy, in humanity, a dozen. It is when
we come to writers of the second class that we find


ourselves on firmer ground. There arc some poets
whose personaHty breathes in every line, each work
being a revelation of their character, an autobio-
graphical fragment; of such, to take the time-honoured
instance, is Byron. Everything he wrote was touched
with egotism, and it is this very intrusion of the
personal element that lends his best work the
sovereign quality of ' sincerity and strength,' which,
in Mr Swinburne's words, ' covers all his offences and
outweighs all his defects.' Marlowe belonged to this
class of writers ; for once it is safe to put a poet's
work into the critical crucible. Each of his plays can
be resolved into the prime conception from which the
dramatist started, and each in turn brings us into
close contact with the author himself. It is well to
keep this in mind in looking at his dramas.

His works may be easily grouped. Ediuaj'd II.
stands by itself; it represents the highest development
of the poet's genius, it represents too what was practi-
cally a new creation of Marlowe's, the genuine histori-
cal play. The tragedy of Dido, left unfinished at his
death, is rather a love poem than a drama, and may
be classed with the writer's exquisite Hej^o and
Lemider, both expressing in a high degree the purely
sensuous Italian love of beauty for beauty's sake which
was typical of the Renaissance spirit. The Massacre
at Paris is a mere fragment ; the text is so imperfect
and corrupt that for purposes of criticism the play is
wellnigh useless. We are left with three dramas —


representing Marlowe's earlier style, the two parts of
Tainburlaine, the Jczu of Malta, and the Tragical
History of Dr Faitstus. They may be treated to-
gether, since each was written in conformity with a
dramatic theory peculiar to Marlowe. Various
writers have pointed out^ — what indeed is sufficiently
obvious — that each of these plays is a one-character
drama. In Tainburlaine we have the great conqueror,
who towers above all rivals ; in the Jezv of Malta we
have Barabas, the prototype of Shylock ; in Fanstiis,
the magician of medieval, legend. In each case the
interest centres round the one overshadowing person-
ality ; there are practically no minor characters. And
if each play resolves itself into a single character, so
each of these characters is the personification of a
single prevailing passion. Tamburlaine represents
the lust of dominion : here is the expression of his
creed, given in some of the finest lines the poet ever
wrote —

The thirst of reign and sweetness of a crown
That caused the eldest son of heavenly Ops
To thrust his doting father from his chair,
And place himself in the empyreal heavens,
Moved me to manage arms against thy state.
Nature that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend

^ No one more successfully than Professor Dowden, Fortnightly
Review, January 1870.


The wondrous architecture of the world ^,
And measure every planet's wandering course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving, as the restless spheres,
Wills us to wear ourselves, and never rest.
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity.
The "sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

(ii. 7, ir — 29, Part I.)

In these lines we have the gist of the whole play;
and it is the same in the Jew of Malta. There may
be a second plot — the love story of Abigail and her
death — but primarily the interest centres in Barabas,
and Barabas is the thirst for gold personified. Here
is the outburst of his grief, when he believes that he
has lost all :

My gold ! My gold ! and all my wealth is gone !

You partial heavens, have I deserved this plague?

What! will you thus oppose me, luckless stars?

To make me desperate in my poverty?

And knowing me impatient in distress,

Think me so mad as I will hang myself,

That I may vanish o'er the earth in air

And leave no memory that e'er I was?

No, I will live. (i. 2, 258—266.)

And so he schemes to recover his possessions, and
when, in the next act, Abigail flings down the bags

^ 'The wondrous architecture of the world' — and yet Schlegel could
not understand what Ben Jonson meant by 'Marlowe's mighty line'!
though Marlowe might have been the 'better spirit' of whom Shak-
speare himself wrote :

'Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,

That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse.'


to him, the intensity of his passionate joy is almost
fiendish and uncanny.

O my girl !
My gold, my fortune, my felicity.
Strength to my soul, death to my enemy ! ■
Welcome the first beginner of my bliss !
O Abigail, Abigail, that I had thee here too !
Then my desires were fully satisfied.
But I will practise thy enlargement hence:
O girl ! O gold ! O beauty ! O my bliss !

Faustus typifies an incomparably nobler passion,
the thirst for boundless knowledge. In the prologue
to the Jezv of Malta Machiavel is made to say,

' I count religion but a childish toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.'

That is the philosophy of Faust. He is a very
Paracelsus in ambition. Nature shall reveal her
secrets to him ; he will no longer be bound with the

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Online LibraryA. W. (Arthur Wilson) VerityThe Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakspere's earlier style, being the Harness prize essay for the year 1885 → online text (page 2 of 7)