1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Marlowe

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:85-86.



CHRISTOPHER MARLOE was bred a student in Cambridge, but there is no account extant of his family. He soon quitted the University, and became a player on the same stage with the incomparable Shakespear. He was accounted, says Langbaine, a very fine poet in his time, even by Ben Johnson himself, and Heywood his fellow-actor stiles him the best of poets. In a copy of verses called the Censure of the Poets, he was thus characterized,

Next Marloe bathed in Thespian springs,
Had in him those brave sublunary things,
That your 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.

His genius inclined him wholly to tragedy, and he obliged the world with six plays, besides one he joined for with Nash, called Dido Queen of Carthage; but before I give an account of them, I shall present his character to the reader upon the authority of Anthony Wood, which is too singular to be passed over. This Marloe, we are told, presuming upon his own little wit, thought proper to practise the most epicurean indulgence, and openly profess'd atheism; he denied God, Our Saviour; he blasphemed the adorable Trinity, and, as it was reported, wrote several discourses against it, affirming Our Saviour to be a deceiver, the sacred scriptures to contain nothing but idle stories, and all religion to be a device of policy and priestcraft; but Marloe came to a very untimely end, as some remarked, in consequence of his execrable blasphemies. It happened that he fell deeply in love with a low girl, and had for his rival a fellow in livery, who looked more like a pimp than a lover. Marloe, fired with jealousy, and having some reason to believe that his mistress granted the fellow favours, he rushed upon him to stab him with his dagger but the footman being quick, avoided the stroke, and catching hold of Marloe's wrist stabbed him with his own weapon, and notwithstanding all the assistance of surgery, he soon after died of the wound, in the year 1593. Some time before his death, he had begun and made a considerable progress in an excellent poem called Hero and Leander, which was afterwards finished by George Chapman, who fell short, as it is said, of the spirit and invention of Marloe in the execution of it.

What credit may be due to Mr. Wood's severe representation of this poet's character, the reader must judge for himself. For my part, I am willing to suspend my judgment till I meet with some other testimony of his having thus heinously offended against his God, and against the best and most amiable system of Religion that ever was, or ever can be. Marloe might possibly be inclined to free-thinking, without running the unhappy lengths that Mr. Wood tells us, it was reported he had done. We have many instances of characters being too lightly taken up on report, and mistakenly represented thro' a too easy credulity; especially against a man who may happen to differ from us in some speculative points, wherein each party however, may think himself Orthodox. The good Dr. Clarke himself, has been as ill spoken of as Wood speaks of Marloe [List of works omitted].