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without reverence for authority divine or human. There is no consecutive story of his life; but his literary influence is clear, the power of his personality is easily inferred, and a few suggestive facts bring out sharply the lights and shadows of his character. lived a life of riot and excess; and his brief and brilliant career came to a tragic close in May, 1593, when he was killed in a brawl, while carousing in a tavern at Deptford. It is said that he quarreled with one Francis Archer about a woman of ill-repute, and that in his fury he drew his dagger and struck at his opponent. Archer, in warding off the blow, so turned the weapon that it struck the poet's own head, inflicting a wound from which he died in great agony. Something of the strangeness of the tale may be due to the pious embellishments of writers eager to picture in the strongest colours the death of a noted atheist.
Except his plays Marlowe left nothing of literary value but a pretty lyric poem and the translation of “Hero and Leander,” in which the dainty verse has something of the quaintness, elaborateness, sensuousness, and tediousness of detail that mark the poems of Shakespeare, with greater freedom and grace of movement. It is supposed that he contributed some of the material in some of Shakespeare's earlier plays; and the speech of Gloucester, for instance, at the close of Scene 2, Act III, of the third part of “King Henry Sixth," is either Marlowe, or it is Shakespeare aiming to “bombast out a blank verse in Marlowe's loftiest style. Of the six dramas attributed to Marlowe, one, “Dido, Queen of Carthage,” was finished by another hand after the poet's death ; another, “The Massacre at Paris," was an attempt to make available for the stage a startling contemporary event; and neither is of any great value. On the four remaining tragedies “Tamburlaine the Great,” “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus," "The Jew of Malta," and “Edward the Second” the poet's fame rests as upon four great pillars, somewhat rough-hewn and grotesque, but colossal in their proportions and noble in their effect. Three of them, “Tamburlaine,” “Faustus," and “The Jew of Malta” bear a strong family resemblance. Each serves as the embodiment of a single character, which is in itself but the incarnation of a fierce passion. “Tamburlaine" represents the thirst for power, satisfied through martial conquest; “Faustus” represents the thirst for power satisfied through knowledge ; and the “Jew of Malta" represents the thirst for power satisfied through
wealth. Each hero is respectively ambition, curiosity or avarice personified. When a great poet conceives of a character in this way, we may look for grandeur of outline, intensity of passion, brightness of language, and glory of imagery in his work; but we must also look for lack of proportion, undue straining after effect that in time involves the sacrifice of naturalness and the loss of sympathy on the part of the reader. In “Tamburlaine" the career of the Scythian shepherd who deemed himself destined to universal conquest is traced. The rush of incident is wonderful, and the splendour of language keeps pace with it, until the actions of the hero grow grotesque and his declamation degenerates into fustian. But through it all the terror deepens and darkens about “ Tamburlaine," and the magnificence and music of the verse with the recurrence of what Ben Jonson called “Marlowe's mighty line," startle us into admiration. “Faustus" is the old story of the scholar that sold his soul to the devil, and the drama follows the popular prose tale on the same theme, mingling its petty buffooneries with visions of power and love and the anguish of the condemned soul. The closing scene of the tragedy is intensely imaginative; and it suggests an agony beyond the power of human expression to representthat repentance, dread, and self-abasement appropriate to a sinner like Faustus who sees his certain doom approaching. The reader under the spell of the poet almost wishes for the granting of the doomed scholar's prayer :
“O soul, be changed to little water-drops
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found !
“The Jew of Malta” opens impressively with a picture of an Israelitish merchant prince who has about him the promise of finer things than Shylock; but, as the play advances Barabbas degenerates rapidly into a mere monster of avarice and malice; the horrors accumulate so fast as to become commonplace; and lives are squandered with such careless ferocity that one is disposed to regard human beings as little better than rats, so far as the capacity of their misfortunes to excite dramatic emotion is concerned.
“Edward the Second” is the poet's most faultless play, and it has been praised by some as superior in points to Shakspeare's “ Richard II.” It deals with the story of the king who was done to death by his wife, Isabella the Fair, the “she-wolf of France," to use
Gray's phrase, and its climax is tne scene to which the later poet alludes :
“Mark the year and mark the night
The first part of the drama, representing Edward's love for his favourite, Gaveston, has Marlowe's peculiar fault, the exaggeration of a single passion ; but the later scenes, where the dethroned monarch languishes in the sewage filth in the dungeon at Berkeley Castle, are free from his usual mannerisms. They tingle with power and pathos; and yet the effects are attained with a conciseness and quietness of action and language that are like Shakespeare. The very murderers go about their inhuman business in a natural way that makes one shudder. The characters are more distinctly drawn and various than those in the earlier plays; and the monotonous majesty of the versification is broken up by effective pauses and by double endings.
In estimating Marlowe it is common to compare, or rather to contrast him with Shakespeare. His admirers, while not daring to place him beside the greatest of poets, lay stress on the fact that he was only twenty-nine when he died; that he had actually done better work than Shakespeare at that time, and that, though only about two months Shakespeare's senior, he was probably Shakespeare's master. All this may be conceded without conceding that Marlowe would have developed as Shakespeare did, if he also had lived to the age of fifty-two. His genius was intense, but it was limited in range. He painted passions in action rather than characters, and could not, therefore have painted in great variety. He began with the general sentiment and followed it into its various expressions, instead of imagining men of different natures developed in relation to each other and to circumstances. He had neither Shakespeare's wit nor his humour. Moreover, like many other poets who have died young, he had grave defects of character which render it doubtful whether he might not have deteriorated with the progress of years. Granting him a career as long as Shakespeare's, is it likely that it would have been so full of quiet and easy accomplishment? It is known that he plunged into the Bohemian life of the early dramatists with a fierce enjoyment and became noted among the most notorious of them. The evidence on this point is
as clear as that on any other fact connected with the literary history of his age. It is found in the canting death-bed repentance of his friend Robert Greene, a poet, dramatist and fellow-graduate of Cambridge; and, whether written by him or written for him, it is alike conclusive against the comrades he accuses of sin. Some of the early dramatists were Catholics, some Protestants, some of both creeds, and some of neither. Probably the prevailing tone was indifference to religion. But Greene charged Marlowe with atheism; and a curious corroboration of the charge survives in the declaration of a fellow named Richard Bame who was hanged at Tyburn, December 6, 1694. A few days before Marlowe's death Bame lodged information against him for certain “damnable opinions and judgment of religion and scorn of God's word.” Some of these opinions are too gross for even a summary; but many of them seem characteristic of the poet. He is represented as holding that the ancients have written of the world sixteen thousand years agone, whereas Adam lived within six thousand; that religion is a mere matter of policy devised to keep the common people in awe; that Moses was a juggler, not a whit cleverer than a mountebank of the day called Heriot; that Christ was merely a carpenter's son, and the Jews who knew him best were the best judges as to whether he deserved to be put to death or not; that if he were to undertake a new religion he would adopt a more excellent and admirable method ; that all the apostles were fishermen and base fellows except Paul, who had wit, but was a timorous fellow in bidding men to be subject to magistrates against conscience; that if there be any good religion it is in the Papists; that all Protestants are hypocritical asses; and that he had as good a right to coin money as the Queen of England.
In expressing doubt as to whether Marlowe would have accomplished greater things if he had been spared, it is not necessary to deny that he was one of the most nobly gifted of English poets. He lived in an age of intellectual giants, and among them his supremacy was apparently taken for granted. In the tributes of his contemporaries there is a touch of sincerity not always found in their mutual praises. Not to quote lesser authorities, Shakespeare's phrase already cited is a eulogy; Jonson's allusion to his "mighty line" in the fine poem on Shakespeare has become proverbial; Chapman spoke of him as standing "up to the chin in the Pierian spring"; and Drayton said that “his raptures were all air and fire.”
he was akin to Faust in bartering faith for pleasure, it may be said that his best epitaph is in the closing chorus of one of his great tragedies :
“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
Faustus is gone." Ben Jonson was born ten years later than Shakespeare and Marlowe ; and he may be described as one of the most positive figures in our literary history. He was poet laureate; he was the hero of many quarrels; he was imprisoned twice; he was on intimate terms with many eminent persons and left records of that intimacy in poetry; he was the comrade of one generation of poets and the mentor of another; he was not given to reticence even in his dramas; and, lest self-revelation should be incomplete, he visited the poet Drummond at Hawthornden, and talked freely of many things, venturing even into “scandal about Queen Elizabeth," unaware that his host was taking notes for posterity. He was, next to Milton, probably the most learned of English poets, aided Bacon to translate his works into Latin, helped Raleigh with his history, and wrote the poems introducing the first edition of Shakespeare's works, thronged with such enduring phrases as “gentle Shakespeare," "sweet swan of Avon,"
,” “not of an age but for all time.” He was big, coarse, dictatorial, but clearly a man of generous heart and powerful intellect. He was great as a writer of tragedy, though he overloaded his dialogue with ancient learning; great as a writer of contemporary comedy, though there was nearly always a suggestion of bitterness in his humour; great as a lyric poet, striking some sweet, strong strain of melody, and weaving into it simple word, delicate sentiment, and subtle thought that seemed betrothed for harmonious union from immemorial time ; — but greatest in a tavern with a group of literary comrades round him, his slow faculties quickened to activity and alertness with wine, and striking fire in the clashing rivalry of wits as gay and nimble as his own. It was to him in memory of such occasions that Beaumont wrote from the country :
“Methinks the little wit I had is lost