Christopher Marlowe

October 7, 2018 English Literature

Christopher Marlowe: what did he contribute to English literature and how is his writing reflective of the style of the times?Christopher Marlowe contributed greatly to English literature. He developed a new metre which has become one of the most popular in English literary history, and he revitalised a dying form of English drama. His short life was apparently violent and the man himself was supposedly of a volatile temperament, yet he managed to write some of the most delicate and beautiful works on record. His writing is representative of the spirit of the Elizabethan literature in his attitude towards religion, his choice of writing style and in the metre that he used.Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564 the son of a Canterbury shoemaker and was an exact contemporary of Shakespeare. He was educated at the King’s School, Canterbury, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He became a BA in 1584 and a MA in 1587. He seems to have been of a violent nature and was often in trouble with the law. He made many trips to the continent during his short lifetime and it has been suggested that these visits were related to espionage. In 1589 he was involved in a street brawl which resulted in a man’s death. An injunction was brought against him three years later by the constable of Shoreditch in relation to that death. In 1592 he was deported from the Netherlands after attempting to issue forged gold coins. On the 30th of May 1593 he was killed by Ingram Frizer in a Deptford tavern after a quarrel over the bill. He was only 29 years old.During the middle ages, culture and government were influenced greatly by the Church of Rome. The Reformation of Henry VIII (1529-39), and the break of ties with that church meant that the monarch was now supreme governor. This altered the whole balance of political and religious life, and, consequently, was the balance of literature, art and thought. The literature of Elizabethan England was based on the crown. This period of literature (1558-1625) is outstanding because of its range of interests and vitality of language. Drama was the chief form of Elizabethan art because there was an influx of writers trying to emulate speech in their writing, and because of the suddenly expanded vocabulary writers were using (most of these new words came from foreign languages).Marlowe’s plays comprise The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage (possibly with some collaboration from Nashe), Tamburlaine parts one and two, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, Dr. Faustus and The Massacre at Paris. Up to the time of Tamburlaine, written in 15 87-8, there had been a few so-called tragedies. Of these, the best known is Gorboduc, first played in 1561, and apparently popular enough to justify its printing a few years later, although the play was “a lifeless performance, with no character of enough vitality to stand out from the ruck of the rest of the pasteboards.” With Tamburlaine, Marlowe swept the Elizabethan audiences off their feet.The Jew of Malta, written after Tamburlaine, begins very strongly, with the main character a commanding figure of the same calibre as Tamburlaine, and the characterisation is better rounded than Tamburlaine’s. Sadly the play comes to pieces after the second act, and it has been speculated that another less talented author revised the ending.Edward II is unexpected in that the main character is a neurotic weakling, instead of a dominant figure like Henry V. Even though the characterisation is clumsy, it is yet a dramatist’s treatment, and one can see that Marlowe has moved towards creating a more developed character. Marlowe thus breathed new life into English tragedy, and paved the way for the greatest English dramatist, Shakespeare. It is quite possible that without Marlowe’s contribution to English tragedy, Shakespeare would never have at tempted such an unpopular style and he would not be canonised as he is today.The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is surely the pinnacle of Marlowe’s achievement. The subject no doubt appealed to Marlowe. In no other play of his, nor in the majority of English literature, is there a scene to match the passionate and


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