1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Marlowe

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 1:420.



1594, June 1. Died, Christopher Marlow, the best of English poets before Shakspeare, whom Philips calls "a kind of second Shakspeare." Thomas Heywood styles him "the best of poets;" and Drayton has bestowed a high panegyric on him, in the Censure of the Poets, in these lines:

Next Marlow, bath'd in Thespian springs,
Had in him these translunary things,
That your flrst 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.

Ben Jonson also speaks of "Marlow's mighty line;" and Warton says that his tragedies manifest traces of a just dramatic conception, over which it was left to Shakspeare's genius alone to triumph and predominate. He was born about 1562, though little is known of his family. He was educated at Bene't college, Cambridge, where he took the degree of B.A. 1583, and M.A. 1587; he then quitted the academic bower, and went on the stage, where he fell into a dissolute life, and practised the most epicurean indulgence, and at last, it is reported, came to an untimely end, in the following manner.

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. Marlow fired with jealousy, and having some reason to believe that his mistress granted the fellow favours, rushed upon him to stab him with his dagger; but the footman being quick, avoided the stroke, and catching hold of Marlow's wrist, stabbed him with his own weapon; and notwithstanding all the assistance of the surgery, he soon died of the wound. During his short life, he produced eight plays, besides miscellaneous poems, and wrought a great change in theatrical literature. He delighted in delineating the strong and turbulent passions. In the Tragical History of the Life end Death of Dr. Faustus, he writes with a force and freedom unknown previously to our infant drama; and calling in the aid of magic and supernatural agency, produces a work full of power, novelty, and variety: and was designed to depict ambition in its most outrageous form. In the Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta, he exhibits every good and humane feeling under subjection to the love of money.

The plays of Marlow are remarkably scarce, amounting to seven, six of which were in the Garrick collection. The play of Marlow's, which is not in the above collection, is called Dido, Queen of Carthage, a copy of which was in the Malone collection.