« PreviousContinue »
Giving thee nectar and ambrosia,
“The Massacre of Paris,” which Mr. Collier thinks “ was produced soon after 1588," is essentially without dramatic interest. It was a subject in which Marlowe would naturally revel ; for in the progress of the action blood could be made to flow as freely as water. Charles Lamb wittily says, “ Blood is made as light of in some of these old dramas as money in a modern sentimental comedy; and as this is given away till it reminds us that it is nothing but counters, so that is spilt till it affects us no more than its representative, the paint of the property-man in the theatre." Unquestionably this was a characteristic of the transition state of the drama ; and “Titus Andronicus” is a memorable example of it. But Marlowe, especially, revels in these exhibitions ; and in the “Jew of Malta” the passion is carried to the verge of the ludicrous. The effect intended to be produced is, of course, utterly defeated by these wholesale displays of brutality. As we pity the “one solitary captive," so we weep over the one victim of another's passions ; but the revenge of Barabas, the poisoning not only of his own daughter but of the entire nunnery in which she had taken refuge, the massacres, the treacheries, the burning caldron that he had intended for a whole garrison, and into which he is himself plunged, — tragedy such as this is simply revolting. The characters of Barabas and of his servant, and the motives by which they are stimulated, are the mere coinage of extravagance ; and the effect is as essentially undramatic as the personification is unreal.
“Faustus” is of a higher cast than the “ Jew of Malta," although it was probably written before it. Mr. Collier conceives that “Faustus was intended to follow up “ Tamburlaine ;" while he assigns the “ Jew" to 1589 or 1590. Its great merit lies in the conception of the principal character. It is undramatic in the general progress of the action ; full of dark subtleties, that rather reveal the condition of Marlowe's own mind than lead to the popular appreciation of the character which he painted ; and the comedy with which it is blended is perfectly out of keeping, neither harmonising with the principal action, nor relieving it by contrast. But still there is wonderful power. It is, however, essentially the power of Marlowe, to whom it was not given, as to the “myriad-minded man,” to go out of himself to realise the truth of every form of human thought and passion, and even to make the supernatural a reality. It was for Marlowe to put his own habits of mind into his dramatic creations ; to grapple with terrors that would be revolting to a welldisciplined understanding; "to wander in fields where curiosity is forbidden to go ; to approach the dark gulf near enough to look in ; to be busied in speculations which are the rottenest part of the core of the fruit that fell from the tree of knowledge.”* It is in this spirit, Lamb holds, that he dealt with the characters of Barabas and Faustus. May we not add that when he worked upon a new model, — when he produced his “Edward II.,” in all probability his latest play,—he could not even then avoid exposing “a mind which at least delighted to dabble with interdicted subjects ?” The character of Gaveston is certainly not drawn as Shakspere would have drawn it: if there had been a necessity for so treating the subject, he would have abandoned it altogether.
* Lamb's “Specimens," vol. i., page 44.
Within a year or two of his death the genius of Marlowe was thus revelling in the exercise of its own peculiar qualities; displaying alike its strength and its weakness, its refinement and its grossness. In his latest period he produced the “Edward II.” Mr. Collier mentions this as “if not the last, certainly one of the most perfect, of Marlowe's productions. . . . Here the author's versification is exhibited in its greatest excellence.” It was entered at Stationers' Hall in July 1593, the unhappy poet having been killed in the previous month. We presume, therefore, that those who hold that Marlowe wrote the two Parts of the “Contention between the Houses of York and Lancaster"—the two old plays upon which they say Shakspere founded the Second and Third Parts of “Henry VI.”—also hold that they were written before Marlowe's “Edward II.” Chalmers was the first to broach the theory of Marlowe's authorship of these plays. Malone, as we have seen, propounded, with minute circumstantiality, in his “Dissertation," how Greene “could not conceal his mortification” that he and Peele had been robbed of their property by a “new upstart writer.” But Malone, in his “. Chronological Order," arraigns the thief under an entirely new indictment. Some circumstances, he says, which have lately struck him, confirm an opinion that Marlowe was the author. And he then goes on to produce “confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ.” A passage in his (Marlowe's) historical drama of 'King Edward II.,' which Dr. Farmer has pointed out to me since the ‘Dissertation' was printed, also inclines me to believe, with him, that Marlowe was the author of one, if not both, of the old dramas on which Shakspeare formed the two plays which in the first folio edition of his works are distinguished by the titles of "The Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI.'” The passage which produced this recantation of Malone's former opinion is that of the two celebrated lines in the Second Part of the “ Contention :"
“What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
Sink in the ground ? I thought it would have mounted." Mark the proof. Marlowe, as Dr. Farmer observes to me, has the very same phraseology in King Edward II. :
“Scorning that the lowly earth
Should drink his blood, mounts up to the air.' “ And in the same play I have lately noticed another line in which we find the very epithet here applied to the pious Lancastrian king :
"Frown'st thou thereat, aspiring Lancaster ??”
The Rev. A. Dyce has adopted the same opinion. “To the first Part of the 'Contention and to “The True Tragedy' (second part), Greene may have contributed his share ; so also may Lodge, and so may Peele have done ; but in both pieces there are scenes characterised by a vigour of conception and expression, to which, as their undisputed works demonstratively prove, neither Greene, nor Lodge, nor Peele could possibly have risen. Surely, therefore, we have full warrant for supposing that Marlowe was largely concerned in the composition of the first Part of the ‘Contention, and the “True Tragedy.'”*
The theory that Marlowe wrote one or both Parts of the “Contention ” must begin by assuming that his mind was so thoroughly disciplined at the period when he produced“ Tamburlaine,” and “Faustus,” and the “ Jew of Malta," that he was able to lay aside every element, whether of thought or expression, by which those
* “Some Account of Marlowe and his Writings."
plays are characterised ; adopt essentially different principles for the dramatic conduct of a story; copy his characters from living and breathing models of actual man ; come down from his pomp and extravagance of language, not to reject poetry, but to ally poetry with familiar and natural thoughts; and delineate crime, not with the glaring and fantastic pencil that makes demons spout forth fire and blood in the midst of thick darkness, but with a severe portraiture of men who walk in broad daylight upon the common earth, rendering the ordinary passions of their fellowspride, and envy, and ambition, and revenge most fearful, from their alliance with stupendous intellect and unconquerable energy. This was what Marlowe must have done before he could have conducted a single sustained scene of either Part of the "Contention ;"_before he could have depicted the fierce hatreds of Beaufort and Gloster, the never-subdued ambition of Margaret and York, the patient suffering amidst taunting friends and reviling enemies of Henry, and, above all, the courage, the activity, the tenacity, the self-possession, the intellectual supremacy, and the passionless ferocity, of Richard. In the “ Tamburlaine,” and “ Jew,” and “Faustus,” events move on with no natural progression. every scene there must be something to excite. We have no repose ; for, if striking situations are not presented, we have the same exaggerations of thought, and the same extravagance of language. What is intended to be familiar at once plunges into the opposite extravagance of ribaldry ; and even the messengers and servants are made out of something different from life. We have looked through Marlowe's plays—those which are unquestionably of an earlier date than his “ Edward II.”—for a plain piece of narrative, such as might contrast with the easy method with which Shakspere in general tells a story, and of which the “Contention ” furnishes abundant examples : but we have looked in vain. On the other hand, innumerable passages may be found in Marlowe's “Edward II.” in which his peculiar characteristics continue to prevail, but associated with many evidences of a really higher style of dramatic poetry. This is decisive, we think, against Marlowe being the author of the “Contention.” But it proves something more ;—it is evidence that he had become acquainted with another model, and that model we hold to be the “Contention ” itself. Here it stands, with a fixed date ; in itself a model, we believe, if no other works of Shakspere can be proved to have existed in, or close upon, the first half of the decad commencing in 1585. To show the contrary it would be necessary to maintain that Marlowe's “ Edward II.” preceded the “Contention ;” but upon this point no one has ever raised a doubt. All the English authorities have left the “Contention " amidst the dust and rubbish of that drama, which Marlowe first, and Shakspere afterwards, according to their theory, came to inform with life and poetry. They have always proclaimed these dramas as old plays-rude plays—things which Shakspere remodelled. We hold that they were the things upon which Marlowe built his later style, whether as regards the dramatic conduct of an action, the development of character, or the structure of the verse ;and we hold that they were Shakspere's.
But there is one point which those who deny Shakspere the authorship of the two Parts of the “Contention " altogether pass over. They know that the wonderful comedy of the Jack Cade scenes of the second Part of “Henry VI.” is, with scarcely any change, to be found in the play which they say Shakspere did not write. But according to the theory of Malone, and Collier, and Dyce, and Hunter, there was " some author who preceded Shakspeare ” who may justly claim the merit of having given birth in England to the very highest comedy—not the mere comedy of manners, not the comedy of imitation, but that comedy which, having its roots imbedded in the most profound philosophy, is still as fresh as at the hour when it was first written, and will endure through every change in the outward forms of social life. For what is the comedy which is here before us, written, as it would
seem, by “some author who preceded Shakspeare ?” Is it the comedy of Marlowe ? or of Greene ? or of Peele ? or of the latter two or of Lodge, who wrote in conjunction with Greene ?-or of Lyly ?-or Kyd -or Nashe -or is it to be traced to some anonymous author, such as he who produced “The Famous Victories ?.” We are utterly at a loss where to assign the authorship of such comedy upon this theory. We turn to the works of the authors who preceded Shakspere, and we find abundance indeed of low buffoonery, but scarcely a spark of that universal wit and humour which, all things considered, is the very rarest amongst the gifts of genius. Those who are familiar with the works of the earliest English dramatists will know that our assertion is not made at random. We believe that the man, to use the words of our valued friend, Mr. Craik, “who first informed our drama with true wit and humour” was the only man of whose existence we have any record who could have written the Jack Cade scenes of the “Contention."
If Shakspere had done to these remarkable dramas what it is the fashion to assert that he did,-new-versify, new-model, transpose, amplify, improve, and polish,-he would still have been essentially a dishonest plagiarist. We have no hesitation in stating our belief that the two Parts of the “ Contention are immeasurably superior, in the dramatic conduct of the story, the force and consistency of character, the energy of language, yea, and even harmony of versification, to any dramatic pro duction whatever which existed in the year 1591. We hold that whoever obtained possession, legally or otherwise, of the property of these productions (meaning by property the purchased right of exhibiting them on the stage), and applied himself to their amplification and improvement to the extent, and with the success, which is represented, was, to say the best of him, a presumptuous and self-sufficient meddler. We hold that it was utterly impossible that Shakspere should have set about such a work at all, having any consciousness of his own original power.
We further id, that the only consistent theory that can be maintained with regard to the amplifications and improvements upon the original work must be founded upon the belief that the work in its first form was Shakspere's own. “ He new-modelled,” says Malone. This is a phrase of large acceptation. We can understand how Shakspere new-modelled the old “Taming of a Shrew," and the old “King John,” by completely re-writing all the parts, adding some characters, rejecting others, rendering the action at bis pleasure more simple or more complex, expanding a short exclamation into a long and brilliant dialogue, or condensing a whole scene into some expressive speech or two. This, to our minds, is a sort of remodelling which Shakspere did not disdain to try his hand upon. But the remodelling which consists in the addition of lines here and there, -in the expansion of a sentiment already expressed, -in the substitution of a forcible line for a weak one, or a rhythmical line for one less harmonious in the change of an epithet or the inversion of two epithets,— and this without the slightest change in the dramatic conception of the original, whether as to the action as a whole, or the progress of the action,—or the characterization as a whole, or the small details of character ;-remodelling such as this, to be called the work of Shakspere, and the only work upon which he exercised his hand in these dramas, appears to us to assume that he stood in the same relation to the original author of these pieces as the mechanic who chisels a statue does to the artist who conceives and perfects its design.
In the spring of 1588, and through the summer also, we may well believe that Shakspere abided in London. The course of public events was such that he would scarcely have left the capital, even for a few weeks. For the hearts of all men in the vast city were mightily stirred ; and whilst in that shop of war” might be heard on every side the din of “anvils and hammers waking to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice,”* the poet had his own work to do, in urging forward the noble impulse through which the people, of whatever sect, or whatever party, willed that they would be free. It was the year of the Armada.
* Milton : "Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing."