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 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. 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 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 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 translation is at times very powerful, and it is thought this work dates from Marlowe’s university days.