Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Christopher Marlowe's death and afterlife


First there is this from The History Channel:

Playwright Christopher Marlowe, 29, is killed in a brawl over a bar tab on this day.

Marlowe, born two months before William Shakespeare, was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker. A bright student, he won scholarships to prestigious schools and earned his B.A. from Cambridge in 1584. He was nearly denied his master’s degree in 1587, until advisers to Queen Elizabeth intervened, recommending he receive the degree, referring obliquely to his services for the state. Marlowe’s activities as a spy for Queen Elizabeth were later documented by historians.

While still in school, Marlowe wrote his play Tamburlaine the Great, about a 14th century shepherd who became an emperor. The blank verse drama caught on with the public, and Marlowe wrote five more plays before his death in 1593, including The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. He also published a translation of Ovid’s Elegies.

In May of 1593, Marlowe’s former roommate, playwright Thomas Kyd, was arrested and tortured for treason. He told authorities that “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. While out on bail, Marlowe became involved in a fight over a tavern bill and was stabbed to death.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

I remember reading about Christopher Marlowe's death, but I don't remember the sources, and my memory suggests the "fight over a tavern bill" story fall's a bit short on facts, and the truth might be better served by the one of several other theories: one theory involves hostility over Marlowe's sexual escapades; and another theory involves a murderous double-cross because of Marlowe's espionage activities. I guess I need to dig into my bookshelves and see if I can find more about those theories.

Now, though, I leave you with a couple of thoughts in the form of two questions (the first gives you a speculative opportunity, and the second (in two parts) is based upon my experiences trying to teach literature and drama students to read, understand, and speak blank verse, the poetic form that was one of Marlowe's great contributions to drama):

(1) If Marlowe had lived a longer life -- more like the 40+ year expectancy for a man in London in that era -- would he have equaled or eclipsed William Shakespeare in fame and success? Why or why not?

(2) Why do so many people have such a hard time stumbling upon the easy-as-pie solution to effectively reading blank verse, and which poet now (or in the last hundred years) has been writing the best blank verse poetry?




10 comments:

  1. I doubt if Marlowe would have equaled or eclipsed Shakespeare. He tends to mannerism. As for the modern master of blank verse, my choice would be Wallace Stevens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm. Frank, thanks for your thoughts, but I wonder if Marlowe would have grown as Shakespeare grew in form and style going beyond mannered and technical, and I wonder if he would have developed also a fine comedic and lyrical voice as did WS. As for Wallace Stevens, I confess that he intimidates me with his complexities, but that is no good excuse for me to avoid him as much as I have done over the years.

      Delete
  2. I'm not a sophisticated Marlowe scholar, Tim. But I agree with Frank that he wouldn't have eclipsed Shakespeare.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I still think Marlowe might have been a serious challenger for Shakespeare.

      Delete
  3. I don't think so, either. Wes's work was on more levels than M's... Dunno about the second query- I don't reads inough Poetry to make an informed comment...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mudpuddle, poetry reading ain't as common as it used to be.

      Delete
  4. I really need to read more Marlowe. With that, I am not sure if anyone could ever equal Shakespeare.However, I do wonder how many great works were never created due to his untimely demise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brian, some writers' wells run dry, and Shakespeare might be one of those cases, but Marlowe is one of those writers whose early death is a tragic end of a remarkable potential for greatness. Perhaps my speculation and musing is considered pointless by many, but such is the idiosyncrasy of my mind.

      Delete
  5. I only have read Marlowe's Faust and I don't remember liking it as much as Goethe's so would he have surpassed Shakespeare? I don't think so but I'm not qualified to say, either.

    I find it is best not to engage in hypothetical situations. Not that you shouldn't, I only speak for myself. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Sharon, I am a huge fan of Marlowe's _Doctor Faustus_; it is such a fascinating blend of medieval and Elizabethan forms and ideas, and I would love to see it on stage.

      Delete