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Marlowe a lyric genius


What were the uses to which Dr. Faustus puts his power in the play, apart from certain foolish incidents which I have signalized? Faustus travels to the stars to study astronomy and in the world to study geography. He demands books wherein to read astrology and philosophy. He evokes the past, the romance of Greece and Troy, calls up blind Homer to sing to him of Alexander's love and Oenon's death, Memnon with ravishing sound of his melodious harp, and Helen, the heavenly Grecian queen. All arises from the longing to satisfy that unbounded desire for knowledge, that limitless admiration of the classic lands of Greece and Italy, that uncontrolled imagination, which were so deeply characteristic of the men of the Renaissance.

You cannot have failed to perceive, for the rest, the great if fitful dramatic power of the play, and the beauty of Marlowe's impassioned poetry, the burning fire of his short-lived genius.

The same spirit which animates the soul of Dr. Faustus inspires another play of Marlowe, his first, and his hero Tamburlaine who, early in the play, thus expresses his aims:

"Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend

The wondrous architecture of the world,

Ard measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,

And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves and never rest

Until us reach the ripest fruit of all,

That perfect bliss and sole felicity,

The sweet fruition of an earthly crown."

Marlowe has shown himself to be as much a lyric genius as a dramatic. Apart from the exquisite little lyric of the Passionate Shepherd to his Love, there is a far deeper proof to be drawn from these two plays. Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus are both of them lyric dramas. The phrase is perhaps a little absolute, but it will not be denied that the lyrical element is strong in them. If there. is a strong resemblance between the two heroes, if they express

the same aspirations after power, the same divine discontent, the
same longing for "knowledge infinite," it is because the poet
Marlowe himself has expressed in them his own personality; they
are made the mouth-piece of his own feelings and sentiments.
Now the expression of a man's personality by himself is, roughly
speaking, the essence of lyrism. A true dramatic poet looks about
him in the world, making observations of life, taking notes of
character, imagining and combining, creating living types. The
lyric poet has his eyes turned away from the outside world, looks
upon his inward self, his own soul, and strives to express what he
finds there. So Shelley wrote, and Wordsworth, and Victor Hugo.
And if he sees the world of nature and of men, he sees it reflected
in his soul, as in a pool of water on which he looks.
This ever-
present reflection of his own soul Marlowe projected in dramatic
form under the cloak of Faustus and under the armour of Tambur-

Such a personage, put into a play, cannot be complete and living. Faustus and Tamburlaine are not real, convincing characters of men; they are but vast, shadowy sketches. They are not men whose personal fate inspires us with pity or whom we can love, as we love Falstaff and pity Othello. Especially is this true of


Tamburlaine the Great is the play which made Marlowe famous as a dramatist. Its popularity is legendary, and not altogether enviable. All authors who followed Marlowe made reference to it, satirizing its weak points, those very weak points which assured its success with the simple, naive groundlings of the earlier stage. Even Shakespeare, kindest of men, has his fling at Tamburlaine. In the Prologue, Marlowe tells us what we are to expect:

"We'll lead you to the stately tent of war

Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
Threatening the world with high astounding terms
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword."

Tamburlaine the Great

Subject and



Here we have the two elements working together for the success of the play, the subject and the style. The "high astounding terms" of Marlowe's heroes plentifully filled the mouths of his actors and dinned stormily upon the ears of his audience in the "swelling bombast of his bragging blank verse," as Nashe calls it unkindly. The subject was of a no less popular effectiveness than the style. Tamburlaine is a shepherd living in Scythia, who gathers round him a few hundred of his fellows, rises from brigandage to ordered invasion, fights against the mighty Persian Empire, and becomes Emperor of Persia. He then attacks the Turkish power, capturing and marrying on his way Zenocrate, daughter of the Sultan of Egypt. He conquers Egypt, Algiers, Fez and Morocco, and captures Bajazeth, Emperor of the Turks and his tributary kings. So far the first part. The second part is a replica of the first, Tamburlaine pursues his victorious career, devastating all Asia, defeating and capturing more kings, conquering more kingdoms, till his beloved wife dies and, at last, the. greatest warrior of all, Death, conquers the conqueror.


From the beginning to the end, the stage is covered with soldiers in battle, kings warring one with another, in a mad bustle of swords and bucklers, very dear to the honest English folk in the pit. The whole play is incredibly wild and extravagant, full of gory pictures and shuddering scenes of truculence. We see Tamburlaine, in one notorious passage, in a chariot drawn across the stage by conquered kings with bits in their mouths, reined by the mighty hand of great Tamburlaine, while he whips them on; bawling vociferously

"Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia!

What, can ye draw but twenty miles a day,
And have so proud a chariot at your heels

And such a coachman as great Tamburlaine. !"

Or again, the gaping spectators were regaled with a huge cage, and in it, crouching, the captured Bajazeth, Emperor of the Turks. Tamburlaine leaves him there to go to war, and bids him, mockingly,

pray for him to his Prophet. Bajazeth remains, helpless in the cage, raging and desperate; in the end, he batters his head against the iron bars, and so dies. Zabina, his wife, arrives and the dreadful sight greets her eyes. She raves to some purpose in the following strain:

"What do mine eyes behold? My husband dead,

His skull all riven in twain! his brains dashed out
The brains of Bajazeth, my lord and sovereign.
O Bajazeth, my husband and my lord!

O Bajazeth! O Turk! O Emperor!


Here her passion becomes too exalted for rhythm; she forsakes blank verse; and after further, and less intelligible prose mouthings, culminating in "Hell! Death, Tamburlaine, Hell! Make ready my coach, my chair, my jewels. I come! I come! I come!" with a last horrid shriek she "runs against the cage and brains herself."

Such extravagant scenes of murder, battle, bloodshed and suicide, together with the bombastic rant of Marlowe's language, gave the play its great success with the groundlings.

We appreciate rather in Marlowe, and with equal enthusiasm, his lofty vein of passionate poetry, instinct with fiery imagination, the fine lyric bursts breaking out resplendently from the mouths of Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus, in whose figures the ideal of a whole age comes to strange, shadowy life.

When the imaginative genius of Marlowe is in full flight, no poet can ever out - soar him, not even the universal Master, Shakespeare.

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Romantic criticism

Over the body of Shakespeare many battles have been fought. Not the least is the struggle of various countries, like those Grecian cities which claimed Homer as their citizen, to maintain themselves the cradle of Shakespeare's literary reputation. Accustomed as I was to German claims in this matter, I confess to but small surprise when I saw the responsible critic of "Le Temps" in an article dated March 14th 1910, making the following statement:

"They first (the French) - let us not forget it - discovered and admired the beauties (of Shakespeare.) The researches of M. M. Jusserand, Faguet and Doumic have elucidated this point of literary history." The more insistent claims of the German critics of the 19th century furnish a convenient starting point for the purpose of discussing the rise of Shakespeare's literary reputation in England. It might appear clear to all that Shakespeare is an English poet, nay, the national poet of "ngland. Yet this is very far from being clear to the more arrogant among German critics. Towards the beginning of the 19th Century, the French Revolution was the sign of a general upheaval in the moral and political world of Europe, reflected in the writings of Rousseau. A literary revolution was accomplished at the same time, immediately in Germany, more slowly, for political reasons, in France. Of this new Romantic School of literature, the undisputed prophet was Shakespeare, and his plays were accepted as the perfect gospel, the divine Koran of the new literary religion. Especially in Germany was Shakespeare adored, with a veritable cult, by numerous devotees. Lessing wrote his powerful, clear-sighted criticisms; the great poet Goethe in his youth paid rhapsodical

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