1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Marlowe

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 42.



CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE was born in 1562, took a bachelor's degree at Cambridge, and came to London, where he was a contemporary player and dramatic writer with Shakspeare. Had he lived longer to profit by the example of Shakspeare, it is not straining conjecture to suppose, that the strong misguided energy of Marlowe would have been kindled and refined to excellence by the rivalship, but his death, at the age of thirty, is alike to be lamented for its disgracefulness and prematurity, his own sword being forced upon him, in a quarrel in a brothel. Six tragedies, however, and his numerous translations from the classics, evince that if his life was profligate, it was not idle. The bishops ordered his translation of Ovid's Love Elegies to be burnt in public for their licentiousness. If all the licentious poems of that period had been included in the martyrdom, Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis would have hardly escaped the flames.

In Marlowe's tragedy of Lust's Dominion there is a scene of singular coincidence with an event that was two hundred years after exhibited in the same country, namely Spain. A Spanish queen, instigated by an usurper, falsely proclaims her own son to be a bastard.

Prince Philip is a bastard born:
O give me leave to blush at mine own shame:
But I for love to you — love to fair Spain,
Choose rather to rip up a queen's disgrace,
Than, by concealing it, to set the crown
Upon a bastard's head.
Lust's Dom. Sc. iv. Act 3.

Compare this avowal with the confession which Bonaparte either obtained, or pretended to have obtained, from the mother of Ferdinand VII., in 1808, and one might almost imagine that he had consulted Marlowe's tragedy.