London Marlowe Day, 24th February 2018

London Marlowe Day took place on the 24th February, 2018 at the King & Queen Pub in London. After the AGM of the Marlowe Society, there were several interesting talks, sharing of information and news items, and a delicious fish and chips lunch.

AGM

We commenced with reports from members of the committee and then moved on to the election of officers. The details of the elections can be found in the Chairman’s Spring Letter. Ken Pickering filled us in on exciting plans to move our library at Faversham to the new Marlowe Kit in Canterbury. We also heard from Julian Ng about his ideas for the future of the website, including how he will be using his marketing expertise to help promote and raise funds for the Society.

Malcolm Elliott’s Christopher Shakespeare: the man behind the plays

Following the AGM, Malcolm Elliott, historian, lecturer, Quaker and Marlowe Society member gave a talk about his book Christopher Shakespeare: the man behind the plays. Elliott explained that Marlowe did not die in Deptford in 1593, but lived the rest of his life undercover, and wrote the sonnets and plays normally attributed to Shakespeare when he was in exile abroad. Some sonnets appear to describe Marlowe’s feelings on his travels across Europe, as he laments the loss of his friends and Walsingham in particular. Elliott also asserts in the book that only someone with intimate knowledge of the French court of Navarre and cities in northern Italy could have written Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice. One particularly intriguing claim is that no one in England knew of Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano’s presence in England until two weeks before Twelfth Night was performed for him and the Queen on 6 January 1601, so it is inconceivable that Shakespeare could have written it at such short notice. It seems more likely that Marlowe, who was probably in the service of Bracciano and knew of the visit in advance, wrote the play. If Marlowe accompanied the trip to England, he would have been in disguise for his own safety, and disguise is a familiar theme in plays thought to be written by Shakespeare.

After the talk, there was a question and answer session. However, the end of the talk felt like a beginning for me, as I’m sure the book could stimulate more research, particularly on who was working at the famous French and Italian courts when these plays were written.

Fish and Chip lunch

The lunch was enjoyed by all and was a great opportunity to discuss ideas about the forward-thinking plans for the Society outlined in the AGM and also the implications of Malcolm’s book.

Dr Ildiko Solti’s talk: ‘The Politics of the Bear-Pit: Marlowe and Shakespeare in shared light’

Dr Solti, a long-standing member of the Marlowe Society and Fellow of Kingston University, explored how Marlowe and Shakespeare used theatrical space and how they worked the audience.

Ildiko started her talk by explaining how animal baiting pits full of blood and adrenaline in the morning were transformed into theatres in the afternoon. The level of excitement remained in the theatre because it was (and still is) a marked space with daily life outside and different rules inside. During the talk we were encouraged to really think about how we might explore a space when we enter into it, like a curious but apprehensive animal would when it comes out of its hole and looks around a new area. In a theatre we can experience that primitive ‘fight or flight’ instinct because as an audience member you could feel uncomfortable – perhaps as a confidante, implicated in the action, or you may feel provoked by the action. Marlowe seems to enjoy stretching and challenging his audience by a preference for the outrageous, and involving them in impossible-to-solve moral dilemmas.

Dr Solti suggested that a great way of fully understanding what it was like to walk into an Elizabethan theatre and enjoy the feeling of being immersed it, is to watch the film Shakespeare in Love. The theatrical space is so important because it shapes the meaning of the play and, of course, the most important moment can be inarticulate. Similarly, movement can construct meaning, rather than just be illustrative of it. The talk was a real eye-opener and it helped us to understand that Marlowe was a true master of space, not just the mighty line.

International developments

During the day we heard about performances of Doctor Faustus at the University of Malta and in Brazil. Marlowe’s fame is clearly growing around the world! It was also interesting to hear about the new Shakespeare Theatre in Gdańsk, Poland, which is built on the site of a 17th century theatre, known as the Fencing School, where English travelling players performed.

Event Photos

Professor Ken Pickering (centre) with Malcolm Elliot (holding his book ‘Christopher Shakespeare’) and Dr Ildiko Solti.

Dr Ildiko Solti presenting an interesting insight into how theatres worked in Elizabethan times.

A representative sharing all the exciting changes for The Rose Theatre Bankside.

 


Works

Marlowe has left us from his short, but brilliant, career seven plays, and in several of them he was a pioneer in that particular genre. Of these Tamburlaine Parts 1 and 2 caused the greatest excitement among his contemporaries. The heroic nature of its theme, coupled with the splendour of the blank verse and the colour and scale of its pageantry led to its constant revival, with the great actor Edward Alleyn taking the part of Tamburlaine.Alleyn was to take the lead in other Marlowe plays, and to share in their triumph, notably The Jew of Malta and Dr. Faustus. The Jew of Malta may be termed the first successful black comedy or tragi-comedy, and provided Shakespeare with his inspiration for Shylock. Dr. Faustus, though a moral drama brought about by the overreaching of the human spirit and of free thinking in a superstitious age, is a delightful blend of tragic verse and comedy.

Edward II is probably the earliest successful history play, and paved the way for Shakespeare’s more mature histories such as Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. It too is a moving tragedy, and contains fine verse, and an impelling characterisation of a weak and flawed monarch. Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage is an early work derived in part from Virgil’s Aeneid, which, though rarely performed, contains much fine and moving verse. The Massacre at Paris was much admired by the Elizabethans, with its near-contemporary depiction of the murders and scandals instigated by the French Court. Sadly only a severely mutilated version has survived.

Hero and Leander is the greatest poem of Marlowe’s that has come down to us, though much of his love poetry apart from the well-known Come Live With Me, and Be My Love has been lost. George Chapman completed the unfinished Hero and Leander, and it was published finally in 1598.

Shortly afterwards the memorable verse translations of Ovid’s Elegies, the Amores, and of Lucan’s First Book of the Civil War, called Pharsalia appeared in quick succession. The translation of Amores was a massive task, and all forty-eight of Ovid’s poems were turned into elegiac couplets. Much of the verse is exceedingly beautiful, though the quality is sometimes uneven. No one has ever attempted the task since. The blank verse of the Lucan translation is at times very powerful, and it is thought this work dates from Marlowe’s university days.

Published Works

Marlowe’s published plays and poems

Play/Poem Date Written First Printed
The First Book of Lucan c.1582
Ovid’s Amores c.1582 1600?1
Dido, Queen of Carthage2 c.1585/6 1594
The First Part of Tamburlaine the Great c.1586/7 15903
The Second part of Tamburlaine the Great4 c.1587 15905
The Jew of Malta6 c.1589 1633
Doctor Faustus7 c.15898 16049
Edward the Second10 c.1592 1594
The Massacre at Paris11 c.1592 ?12
Hero and Leander c.159313 1598

Possible Works

Anonymous works possibly attributable to Marlowe (compiled by A.D.Wraight)

Play/Poem Date Written First Printed
The True History of George Scanderbeg14 c.1582 160115
Edward the Third16 c.1588 159617
Arden of Faversham18 c.1589 159219
The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster20 c.1590 159421
The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York22 c.1590/1 159523
Henry VI24 c.1592 162325

Footnotes

Christopher Marlowe

The Muses’ Darling

Christopher Marlowe’s friends and contemporaries were quick to honour him, with the dramatist George Peele referring to him as “the Muses’ Darling”1 in a tribute printed less than a month after the events at Deptford. Thomas Nashe moved quickly to organise a Quarto edition of Dido, Queen of Carthage which was published in 1594, perhaps a little cheekily attributing himself as co-author, but writing an elegy to Marlowe inserted in some copies which is sadly no longer extant. The colourful dramatist, pamphleteer and prose writer Robert Greene who died in 1592 had seemingly been critical of Marlowe’s atheism, but had recognised “Thou famous gracer of Tragedians”.

The printer Thomas Thorpe, best known for his dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to Mr. W.H., also praised Marlowe as “that pure Elemental wit … whose ghost or Genius is to be seen walk[ing] the [St Paul’s] Churchyard in (at the least) three or four sheets”2. Henry Petowe was inspired to pen a continuation of Hero and Leander (as was George Chapman) by “Marlo admir ‘d, whose honey-flowing vaine No English writer can as yet attaine”3. Francis Meres thought Marlowe, along with Shakespeare, was “one of our best for Tragedie”4, Thomas Heywood noted him “renown’d for his rare art and wit,” whilst Michael Drayton was perhaps most eloquent concerning

Marlow, bathed in Thespian springs
Had in him those brave translunary things,,
That the first Poets had, his raptures were
All air, and fire, which made his verses clear
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet’s brain.5

The Morning Star

Critics and scholars through the centuries have lavished praise on the dramatic brilliance and poetic genius of one, who like Shakespeare, began life in humble circumstances, but who achieved undying fame in a very few years. Perhaps most memorably, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote of Marlowe in the nineteenth century: “If Shakespeare is the dazzling sun of this mighty period, Marlowe is certainly the morning star”6. Critic and scholar Edward Dowden similarly opined that “if Marlowe had lived longer and accomplished the work that lay clearly before him, he would have stood beside Shakespeare.”

Marlowe has been honoured among poets and playwrights as the real founder of English drama, and the perfecter of dramatic blank verse. Poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne thought Marlowe without compare here. “Of English blank verse, one of the few highest forms of verbal harmony, or poetic expression, Marlowe was the absolute and divine creator.”.

Marlowe was loved and honoured by his contemporaries for his love poetry, and his translations of Lucan and Ovid. Without Marlowe as guide and leader, Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan poets and dramatists would certainly not have achieved the reputation they enjoy today.

Read more about the life and times of Christopher Marlowe, and his work. Also find out about the contemporary portrait found at Cambridge and believed to be of Marlowe, and the eventful history of his Memorial in Canterbury.


Footnotes


Dr Faustus at the Arcola

Dr Faustus at the Arcola

An unquenchable desire for fame drives Faustus to learn the magic of the dark arts. Tangle, South West England’s African Caribbean theatre company, interweave southern African-inspired music with electric performances from a trinity of actors, including Joshua Liburd (Dreamgirls), in this unique version of Christopher Marlowe’s classic.

Click here to read more and buy tickets