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”1George Peele, The Honour of the Garter (26 June 1593). in a tribute printed less than a month after the events at Deptford. Thomas Nashe moved 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”2From the dedicatory letter by Thomas Thorpe to Publisher Edward Blount prefacing Lucans First Book Translated Line for Line (1600). 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”3Henry Petowe, Continuation to Hero and Leander (1598) II.59-62.. Francis Meres thought Marlowe, along with Shakespeare, was “one of our best for Tragedie”4Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598)., 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 referencenumber=5]Michael Drayton, Elegy to Henry Reynolds (1627).

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”6Alfred, Lord Tennyson, tbc.. 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 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.