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His Frequent Bombast
Elements in Common with the Popular Drama
soliloquies of the Scythian monarch are pure fustian. It was against this inartistic work which often blemishes Marlowe's plays that Shakespeare speaks in Hamlet :
O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious, periwigpated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.
Marlowe's three earliest dramas, Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, and The few of Malta have much in common. They belong in plot and spirit to the sensational, popular drama which then held the stage. Tamburlaine is full of the old spirit,-few plays in all literature so reek with blood ; Doctor Faustus is a kind of Morality play, good and evil angels struggle for the soul of Faustus, the Devil in various forms assists him to play all manner of impish tricks, and finally he carries the doomed man on his back to the flames in the old Morality fashion; the Jew of Malta becomes after the second act of the play a mere ogre whose deeds of crime are bounded only by his creator's imagination.
Nor are these the only resemblances to the primitive English drama. To Marlowe the theater was primarily a source of income; he must please the people if he was to receive his pay, and he dare not depart too radically from the old methods. His plays are therefore destitute of that fine humor that preserves the work of Shakespeare. The audience laughs often at Doctor Faustus, but it is for the same reason that they laugh at Vice in the Moralities. There are,” says Lowell,“ properly speaking, no characters in the plays of Marlowe,-but personages and interlocutors. We do not get to know
His Inability to Portray Character
Edward II. His Strongest Creation
them, but only to know what they do or say. The nearest approach to a character is Barabbas, in The Jew of Malta, and he is but the incarnation of the popular hatred of the Jew. There is really nothing human in him. He seems a bugaboo rather than a man.” The action of the plays is without an organic center. The acts and scenes of Doctor Faustus, for instance, are detached stories; they are the several adventures and escapades of a man who has the Devil as his servant. Nothing happens,” continues
continues Lowell, “because it must, but because the author wills it so. tion of life is purely arbitrary and as far from nature as that of an imaginative child.”
In Edward the Second there is more careful work. The plot moves toward a culmination and the scenes are but the accessories. The bombast of Tamburlaine and the earlier plays is almost wholly wanting, perhaps because the theme was narrower and did not kindle the author's imagination. His conception of the weak and vacillating king, of his mental anguish and fearful death, is full of power and truth.
“ The reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in Edward,” says Charles Lamb, furnished hints which Shakespeare scarce improved in Richard II."
But Marlowe, despite the restraint and the artistic superiority of Edward the Second, displayed, after all, his greatest power in his first tragedies. It is in them that we find his real contributions to the drama. It must constantly be borne in mind that Tamburlaine, and indeed all of Marlowe's plays, was the work of a mere youth,-of a sensitive and imaginative soul in its most extravagant period. Hero and Leander in its passion and imaginative richness can be compared only with the work
Marlowe's Gorgeous Pictures
His Unlimited Creative Power
of Keats. The young dramatist dreamed of Oriental magnificence:
A thousand galleys, manned with Christian slaves
There is no limit to the gorgeous dream save the bounds of the dreamer's imagination. His fancy ran riot: he must deal only with kings who have absolute power and world dominion; with men who at the price of their souls have all pleasure and all power at command; of monsters who exhaust all the energies of crime in every form. But this very passion and extravagance of youth, which a few years would have subdued and tempered, only proves the enormous power
of the man. The sonorous passages of Tamburlaine, the bombast, the passion, the magnificent settings, the imaginative power that could scarce be satisfied with the most gorgeous pages of human experience, were not lost upon the later drama.
It was he and no other [says Ward) who first inspired with true poetic passion the form of literature to which his chief efforts were consecrated.
His Influence on the Later Drama
His Early Death
After Marlowe had written it was impossible for our dramatists to return to the cold horrors or tame declamation of the earlier tragic drama: The Spanish Tragedy and Gorboduc had alike been left behind.
"His raptures were all air and fire,” and it is his gift of passion which, together with his services to the outward form of the English drama, makes Marlowe worthy to be called not a predecessor but the earliest in the immortal company of our great dramatists.
The early death of Marlowe—he was stabbed in a tavern brawl before he was thirty-can never be too much regretted. He is the only man in the whole range of English history of whom we can say,“ Had he lived he might perhaps have equaled Shakespeare." like his own Faustus, a victim to the baser part of his nature, and the final words of the chorus in his play were his own epitaph:
Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight
REQUIRED READING. The student should read at least two of Marlowe's plays, Doctor Faustus, or The Few of Malta, and Edward the Second.
Authorities. The best life of Shakespeare is that by Sidney Lee; the most helpful introduction to Shakespeare is Dowden's Primer; the standard single-volume edition of Shakespeare's works is the Globe. A veritable library of commentary and criticism has grown up about the great poet, all of which is of more or less value; the following books comprise the minimum list that the general student should have at hand: a standard edition of Shakespeare's complete works,-Hudson, White, Rolfe, Morley, Clark and Wright, the Arden, or any other carefully edited, well printed edition; Furness, Variorum ; Coleridge, Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare; Dowden, Shakspere; his Mind and Art; Moulton, Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist; Wendell, William Shakespeare; Wyndham, Poems of Shakespeare; Gervinus, Shakespeare Commentaries; Ten Brink, Five Lectures on Shakespeare ; Bartlett, Concordance to Shakespeare; Welsh, English Masterpiece Course, for practical bibliography.
At last all was ready for the supreme master who should end the long era of preparation and of gradual development and fix the final form of the English language and the English drama. It was the earliest mo. ment when such a master could appear. The language before the days of Wyatt had been a barbarous mixture, but the refining influence of the Courtly Writers and the civilizing force of contact with continental culture had humanized and enriched it until now it was an instru. ment of marvelous compass and flexibility. The English