1781 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Marlowe

Thomas Warton, in History of English Poetry (1774-81; 1840) 3:353-54.



Marlowe's wit and sprightliness of conversation had often the unhappy effect of tempting him to sport with sacred subjects; more perhaps from the preposterous ambition of courting the casual applause of profligate and unprincipled companions, than from any systematic disbelief or religion. His scepticism, whatever it might be, was construed by the prejudiced and peevish puritans into absolute atheism; and they took pains to represent the unfortunate catastrophe of his untimely death, as an immediate judgment from heaven upon his execrable impiety. He was in love, and had for his rival, to use the significant words of Wood, "a bawdy serving-man, one rather fitter to be a pimp, than in ingenious amoretto, as Marlowe conceived himself to be." The consequence was, that an affray ensued; in which the antagonist having by superior agility gained an opportunity of strongly grasping Marlowe's wrist, plunged his dagger with his own hand into his own head. Of this wound he died rather before the year 1593. One of Marlowe's tragadies is, The tragical history of the life and death of doctor John Faustus. A proof of the credulous ignorance which still prevailed, and a specimen of the subjects which then were thought not improper for tragedy. A tale which at the close of the sixteenth century had the possession of the public theatres of our metropolis, now only frightens children at a puppet-show in a country-town. But that the learned John Faust continued to maintain the character of a conjurer in the sixteenth century even by authority, appears from a "Ballad of the life and death of doctor Faustus the great congerer," which in 1588 was licensed to be printed by the learned Aylmer bishop of London.