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See where my Grissell and her father is,
Methinks her beauty, shining through those weeds,
She would cast off rich robes, forswear rich state,
Our remarks upon the early part of English dramatic literature, have now brought us down to Marlow, who was by far the mightiest of Shakspeare's precursors.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOW was the son of a shoemaker, and was born at Canterbury, Kent, in 1562. He was educated at Bennet College, Cambridge, and took his master's degree in 1587. He had, however, previous to this, commenced his career as a dramatist, and written his tragedy of Tamberlaine the Great, which was successfully brought upon the stage, and long continued a favorite. Though there is in the play much rant and fustian, still it has passages of great beauty and wild grandeur, and the versification justifies the compliment afterward paid by Ben Jonson, in the words, Marlow's mighty line.' His finely modulated and varied blank verse, observable even in this early play, is one of his most characteristic features. The success of 'Tamberlaine' induced Marlow to commence the profession of an actor; but he was soon incapacitated for the stage by accidentally breaking his leg.
Marlow's second play, the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, exhibits a far wider range of dramatic power than his first. The hero studies necromancy, and makes a solemn disposal of his soul to Lucifer, on condition of having a familiar spirit at his command, and unlimited enjoyment for twenty-four years; during which period Faustus visits different countries, calls up spirits from the vasty deep,' and revels in luxury and splendor. At length the time expires, the bond becomes due, and a party of evil spirits enter, amid thunder and lightning, to claim his forfeited life and person. Such a plot afforded scope for deep passion and variety of adventure, and Marlow has constructed from it a powerful though irregular play. Scenes and passages
of terrific grandeur, and the most thrilling agony, are intermixed with low humor and preternatural machinery, often ludicrous and grotesque. The ambition of Faustus is a sensual, not a lofty ambition. A feeling of curiosity and wonder is excited by his necromancy and his strange compact with Lucifer; but we do not fairly sympathize till all his disguises are stripped off, and his meretricious splendor is succeeded by horror and despair. Then, when he stands on the brink of everlasting ruin, waiting for the fatal moment, imploring, yet distrusting repentance, a scene of enchaining interest, fervid passion, and overwhelming pathos, carries captive the sternest heart, and proclaims the full triumph of the tragic poet. To illustrate these remarks, we shall here introduce the closing scene of the play. The last fatal midnight approaches, and Faustus is left alone:
[The Clock strikes Eleven.]
Faust. Oh, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
O lente, lente, currite, noctis equi.
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
And see a threat'ning arm, and angry brow.
My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,
[The Watch strikes.]
Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
All beasts are happy, for when they die,
[The Clock strikes Twelve.]
It strikes, it strikes; now, body, turn to air,
First Sch. Come, gentlemen, let us go visit Faustus,
For such a dreadful night was never seen
Since first the world's creation did begin;
Such fearful shrieks and cries were never heard.
Pray heaven the Doctor have escaped the danger.
Sec. Sch. O help us heavens! see, here are Faustus' limbs
All torn asunder by the hand of death.
Third Sch. The devil whom Faustus serv'd hath torn him thus:
For 'twixt the hours of twelve and one, methought
I heard him shriek and call aloud for help;
At which same time the house seem'd all on fire
With dreadful horror of these damned fiends.
Sec. Sch. Well, gentlemen, though Faustus' end be such
As every Christian heart laments to think on;
Yet, for he was a scholar once admired
For wondrous knowledge in our German schools,
We'll give his mangled limbs due burial:
And all the scholars, cloth'd in mourning black,
Shall wait upon his heavy funeral.
Chorus. Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough
That sometime grew within this learned man:
Faustus is gone! Regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things:
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits.
The classical taste of Marlow is shown in the fine apostrophe to Helen of Greece, whom the spirit of Mephostophilis conjures up between two Cupids' to gratify the sensual gaze of Faustus :—
Was this the face that lanched a thousand ships,
And burn'd the topless towers of Ilium ?
Before 1593, Marlow produced three other dramas, the Jew of Malta, the Massacre of Paris, and a historical play, Edward the Second. The last of these is a noble drama, and contains a number of ably drawn characters and splendid scenes. We subjoin part of the death-scene at the close of the play-a scene which Charles Lamb says, 'moves pity and terror beyond any other scene, ancient or modern.' It may challenge comparison with Shakspeare's death of Richard the Second; but with all his power, Marlow could not interest us in his hero as the great dramatist does in the gentle Richard:-
SCENE, BERKLEY CASTLE. THE KING IS LEFT ALONE WITH
LIGHTBORN, A MURDERER.
Edw. Who's there? what light is that? wherefore com'st thou?
Edw. Small comfort finds poor Edward in thy looks.
Villain, I know thou com'st to murder me.
Light. To murder you, my most gracious lord!
Far is it from my heart to do you harm.
The queen sent me to see how you were us'd,
For she relents at this your misery:
And what eyes can refrain from shedding tears,
Edw. Weep'st thou already? list awhile to me,
This dungeon where they keep me is a sink,
Light. O villains!
Edw. And there, in mire and puddle have I stood
One plays continually upon a drum.
They give me bread and water, being a king;
Light. 0 speak no more, my lord! this breaks my heart.
Lie on this bed and rest yourself awhile.
Edw. These looks of thine can harbour nought but death:
I see my tragedy written in thy brows.
Yet stay awhile, forbear thy bloody hand,
And let me see the stroke before it comes,
My mind may be more steadfast on my God.
Light. What means your highness to mistrust me thus?
1 His keepers.
Light. These hands were never stain'd with innocent blood,
Edw. Forgive my thought, for having such a thought.
One jewel have I left, receive thou this.
Still fear I, and I know not what's the cause,
But every joint shakes as I give it thee.
Oh, if thou harbour'st murder in thy heart,
Let the gift change thy mind, and save thy soul.
I feel a hell of grief. Where is my crown?
Gone, gone; and do I still remain alive?
Light. You're overwatch'd, my lord; lie down and rest.
Now as I speak they fall, and yet with fear
Open again. O wherefore sitt'st thou here?
Light. If you mistrust me, I'll be gone, my lord.
Light. He sleeps.
Edw. O let me not die; yet stay, O stay awhile.
Edw. Something still buzzeth in mine ears,
This fear is that which makes me tremble thus.
Assist me, sweet God, and receive my soul.
In addition to the dramatic productions already mentioned, Marlow assisted Nash in the tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and translated part of Hero and Leander, and the Elegies of Ovid.
Marlow's life was as wild and irregular as his writings. He was even accused of atheistical opinions; but there is no trace of this in his plays. He came to an early and singularly unhappy end. He was attached to a lady, who favored another lover; and having found them in company together, in a frenzy of rage he attempted to stab the man with his dagger. His antagonist seized him by the wrist, and turned the dagger so that it entered Marlow's own head in such a manner, that, notwithstanding all the means of surgery that could be resorted to, he shortly after died of his wounds. The last words of Greene's address to him, a year or two before, are somewhat ominous :-'Refuse not, with me, till this last point of extremity; for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.' Marlow's fatal conflict is supposed to have taken place at Deptford, as he was buried there on the first of June, 1593.
Of the various compliments paid to the genius of this unfortunate poet, the following, by his celebrated contemporary, Michael Drayton, is the finest :
Next Marlow, bathed in the Thesperian springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things