On a summer’s morning, a small group of people gathers to witness the disposal of the body of their friend. Dead at the age of twenty-nine, a devastating loss to literature. A fiery spirit. Sceptical, freethinking, atheistic, radical, cynical of those in power, but also possessed of an unusual idealism, a rarified quality which infused his best verse with the radiance of the high sunlit or moonlit sky. A rebel. A true Individual. University educated, he carried his love of Greek and Latin lightly, utilising the myths to serve his poetic purposes. His imagination was complex, difficult, fuelled by conflicting energies, shadowed. The beauty of the poetry, the delight in words, also seemed to lead to the edge of what words can describe. Reality was a phantasmagoria, a theatre of life, where the mind must continually labour to rise above doubt and uncertainty, in intensity and rapture, to outsoar, in a struggle against the odds. His use of language was powerful, assertive, majestic. Choosing protagonists for his poetry he frequently chose outsiders, rebels, those who did not accept the established order, who sought greater powers or new knowledge, who were self-made, who lacked the hereditary authority of king or priest, who looked into themselves, in self-awareness to find their destiny. Change rather than order had been his keynote.
It is a tragedy that he has died so young, at the height of his poetic gifts. The death is a shock, but perhaps not completely unexpected. He has shown an occasional recklessness, a spiritual wildness, a sense of frustration with rules and with the limitations of existence itself. He has been prepared to cross the authorities. He has poured out his thoughts and ideas, and genius with disregard to his own best interests. He has put the spirit before the letter, and believed in redemption rather than original sin. His atheism was an attack on superstition rather than a disbelief in futurity but it had brought him disapprobation. He has lacked the instinct for self-preservation. The shadow that has gone along with him has had an element of the death wish in it.
The scene is in 1593, in a churchyard in Deptford. The scene is in 1822 on a beach at Via Reggio. The dead man is Christopher Marlowe. The dead man is Percy Bysshe Shelley. The body is buried. The body is burnt. Between the two deaths the English Revolution has run its course. The Goddess has been defeated. Parliament has subdued the Monarchy and taken most of its powers. The institutions of society, after the upsurge of the Civil War, have been strengthened. The radical extremist elements have been suppressed or have transformed themselves into components of the Protestant ethos. The scientific enterprise is beginning in earnest. Commerce means more to the future than religion. The wheel has turned so that a different tyranny is on top. Shelley faces the modern future in sympathy with the intellect, opposed to institutional Christianity and the weight of laws that oppress, a champion of liberty, but forced to turn within to search for an alternative emotional and personal vision.
Marlowe at the beginning of the Revolution tests the idea of liberty. Shelley, at the end of it, struggles to understand why liberty has not been achieved. Marlowe exhibits the self-created human being, the arch-questioner. Faustus and Tamburlaine, Machiavelli, and the subversive Ovid challenge the status quo and critique it. Marlowe presages modern man. Shelley is already modern man, anticipating the failure of all apocalyptic visions, courting despair, knowing true liberty not yet achieved, but pessimistic of its complete achievement. Marlowe inherits the Renaissance and its optimism, its voyage of discovery and rediscovery. Shelley inherits the failure of myth, and the disillusion of English radical thought after two centuries of trade and power supported by a Christian Church serving the interests of the State. Jehovah and Mammon in triumph. The Goddess and the Myth vanquished.
Those interests of head and heart which Shakespeare tried so hard to reconcile, resorting at the end to Prospero’s authoritarian magic, had been resolved in favour of the head. What is difficult for us was already intensely difficult for Shelley. One life seems, fancifully, a consequence of the other, as though Shelley was a Marlowe reincarnated to view the results of what his age had commenced. Shelley is Marlowe. Marlowe is Shelley. They reflect each other in the same darkened mirror. It is a conceit. Marlowe has his own light and darknesses.
Edward Blunt, the publisher, was one of the friends gathered by Marlowe’s graveside. His dedication of the first part of Hero and Leander in 1598, a poem later finished by Chapman and first printed after Marlowe’s death, pays tribute to the dead friend. The dedication is to Thomas Walsingham cousin of Francis Walsingham the spymaster, for whom Marlowe had carried out assignments. ‘Sir, we think not ourselves discharged of the duty we owe our friend, when we have brought the breathless body to earth: for albeit the eye there taketh his ever farewell of that beloved object, yet the impression of the man, that hath been dear to us, living an afterlife in our memory, there putteth us in mind of further obsequies due to the deceased....by these meditations (as by an intellectual will) I suppose my self executor to the unhappily deceased author of this poem.’ ‘The breathless body...that beloved object...the impression of the man....that hath been dear to us....as by an intellectual will .....’ it is a heartfelt tribute. Even this work, Hero and Leander, has impact on Elizabethan poetry, on Shakespeare particularly. As with Marlowe’s Dido and Aeneas, lines prompted the music of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. Marlowe and Shakespeare traded words and ideas, under the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, a member of Essex’s set.
Shakespeare remembered Marlowe in As You Like It. Marlowe’s death must have been startling to Shakespeare, must have saddened him, and yet also inspired him since it left the field clear. Their political temperaments were totally unlike. Marlowe was drawn to disorder, Shakespeare to order. Shakespeare searches for reconciliation, for resolution, for renewal, for rebirth. Marlowe’s protagonists fail through adverse fate, through sickness, hostile powers, a strength greater than their own. Tamburlaine is felled by nature, Mortimer by superior forces, Dido by desertion, Leander by Neptune. Ambition fails, Pride falls, but Marlowe does not suggest that human ambition is fundamentally wrong, only that in the game of consequences it may be doomed. The effect is of the forces of Death opposed to Life, as in Shelley, a natural order of things. True, Faustus repents, in fear, and recognises his sin like Adam’s of reaching for forbidden knowledge. The final Chorus of the play reminds us of Apollo, God of Moderation, and suggests that the wise should only ‘wonder at unlawful things’ whose depths are an enticement to practise what heavenly power does not permit. It would be a boldness though to suggest that these were Marlowe’s private opinions. There are enough ironic hints otherwise in his life and writings, even in Doctor Faustus itself.
Born between January and the end of February 1564 the son of a shoemaker, in Canterbury, Christopher Marlowe went to study at Cambridge University in 1580. At some stage he came under the patronage of Thomas Walsingham, the Secretary of State’s cousin, and in 1587 was abroad on Government service. Likely he was investigating activity at the Catholic seminary at Rheims as supported by an entry in the Privy Council Register signed by Burleigh. ‘Did he not draw a sort of English priests from Douay to the seminary at Rheims, to hatch forth treason ‘gainst their natural queen?’ says Henry of Navarre of the Duc de Guise in Marlowe’s play The Massacre at Paris. Douai and Rheims were centres of the English Catholics in opposition abroad.
Despite his absences from the University, Cambridge granted his M.A. By 1587 at twenty-three he had written Dido and Aeneas, his translations of Ovid’s Amores and Lucan’s Pharsalia, and both parts of Tamburlaine the Great, produced by the Lord Admiral’s Company with Alleyn as the lead actor. From the first Marlowe is subversive. His natural state is restlessness of mind, a fast-moving, quick thinking, hard, bright surface. It is an internal spiritual dynamism whose energy altered English poetry and drama, creating pace and intellectual challenge. In the early verse, in the Lucan, the disturbance, expressed as the movement of the elements, is already present ‘confused stars shall meet, celestial fire fleet on the floods, the earth shoulder the sea ...’, ‘with bright restless fire compass the earth’. In Tamburlaine, Nature ‘framed us of four elements warring within our breasts for regiment’, and the poets of inspired thought leave at least one thought unexpressed to ‘hover in their restless heads’.
He is involved in the Underworld, in violence, in paid intelligence work, in crime. He is homosexual or bisexual in a world where that is still officially unacceptable. He belongs to that homosexual group that includes the bisexual Shakespeare, Francis and Anthony Bacon, the Earl of Southampton, and other members of the Essex set. He also belongs to the intellectual group centred on Raleigh and including Thomas Hariot the mathematician, astrologer, and cosmographer.
Marlowe’s interests are with the new, with change, with power, with ambition, with the intellectual will. He is a man who seems always at risk, physically, morally, and intellectually. He reminds one of Danton’s saying ‘ Audace, audace, toujours l’audace’. Daring to the point of recklessness. He represents the intellectual stirring of that rebelliousness, grounded in the individual mind, that fuels the English Revolution, and he is aggressively blatant about it.
Perhaps it is only his great poetic gifts and his government service that allowed him to survive for so long. Marlowe is one of the first of the great free spirits in English, of whom Shelley is another. Finding a moral centre in him is difficult since he lacks, for example, Shakespeare’s great desire to save the Goddess, the inner heart of Man. Shakespeare almost seems to anticipate the spiritual consequences of that crushing of the soul that the Protestant ethic, commerce and duty, asceticism and censorship lead towards. Marlowe is on the other side, an agent of that change which will shake English society and create the freethinking, radical, and volatile world of the Revolution. Marlowe is already releasing the genie that Shakespeare valiantly tries to control.
Marlowe is the coolness of Reason, at play under a glittering surface, the intellect of Liaisons Dangereuses, not of The Winter’s Tale. Machiavelli, the political thinker, the cynic and realist of power, speaks the prologue to the Jew of Malta. Marlowe is crystalline, of the stars and the mantle of night, with the gleam and glow of jewellery, lights, shining flowers. His poetry is sybaritic, hyperbolic, as well as tense and swift. The pentameters are mighty, but they are also fast moving as a river. He has a precision of description, and a control, which saves the writing from slackness or that vagueness with which Shelley achieves grandeur. Marlowe is tauter, fiercer, sharper in his attack. His poetry is the poetry of the persuader: Leander’s sophistry to seduce Hero, Dido’s attempts to delay Aeneas, Tamburlaine’s to overcome anyone’s doubts of his greatness, Faustus to convince himself, Barabas to justify his actions, Mortimer to stiffen resolve. Marlowe looks for action, for change, as Shelley cannot. Marlowe can find a social context, Shelley only a personal landscape.
When Marlowe is killed Shakespeare pays tribute. In As You Like It, as well as the character Oliver Martext, Touchstone refers to Ovid. That is followed by a comment intended as a further reference to Marlowe ‘When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room’. Marlowe died in a hired room at Eleanor Bull’s house at Deptford Strand near the river, in a quarrel over the bill, ‘le recknynge’, as the coroner’s inquisition puts it. The reference is also to Marlowe’s line in The Jew of Malta ‘ so inclose, infinite riches in a little room.’ Later in As You Like It Shakespeare again points to Marlowe directly with a reference to Tamburlaine the Scythian Shepherd, to Marlowe’s poem The Passionate Shepherd to his Love, and with a quotation from Hero and Leander. ‘Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, ‘Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight.’’ There is also later another direct reference to Hero and Leander.
Shakespeare would not have agreed with the Duke of Guise in the Massacre at Paris, ‘peril is the chiefest way to happiness.... what glory is there in a common good ?....... that like I best that flies beyond my reach’. It was Marlowe who had ‘the aspiring wings’ and the ‘quenchless thirst’. He dies too young to articulate a thought-through attitude. There are certain attitudes he does display. That regarding low birth for instance. Tamburlaine is the Scythian shepherd’s son who nevertheless claims ‘I am a lord, for so my deeds shall prove, and yet a shepherd by my parentage.’ He is the man destined for a crown ‘which gracious stars have promis’d at my birth’.
George Whetstone’s comments in 1586 on Tamberlaine in the English Mirror also fit Marlowe himself ‘he had a reaching and an imaginative mind ...haughtiness of his heart though of low birth.’ In the play Tamburlaine sets out the validity of ambition based on personal merit ‘give the world to note, for all my birth, that virtue solely is the sum of glory and fashions men with true nobility’, ‘You that have march’d with happy Tamburlaine..deserve these titles I endow you with, by valour and by magnanimity. Your births shall be no blemish to your fame, for virtue is the fount whence honour springs, and they are worthy she investeth kings.’ Ambition and ability make the man, a revolutionary sentiment.
Ambitious to the point of storming the heavens. ‘Jove sometimes masked in a shepherd’s weed; and by those steps that he hath scal’d the heavens may we become immortal like the gods.’, ‘and both our souls aspire celestial thrones’; ‘and by profession be ambitious’. The ambition is combined with an aggression that would see the universe unravel, almost an apocalyptic death wish. ‘Come, let us march against the powers of heaven, and set black streamers in the firmament, to signify the slaughter of the gods....that if I perish, heaven and earth may fade’. ‘For so I live,’ says Barabas, ‘perish may all the world!’
In a mythological sense it is precisely the slaughter of the gods that the English will be about as they turn their society upside down in the Civil War. So ‘break the frame of heaven; batter the shining palace of the sun, and shiver all the starry firmament’; ‘I charge thee....to do whatever Faustus shall command, be it to make the moon drop from her sphere, or the ocean to overwhelm the world.’ Man is greater than the heavens, Mephistopheles tells Faustus. ‘Think’st thou heaven is such a glorious thing... it was made for man, therefore is man more excellent.’ Marlowe tempers his revolutionary stance in describing the fate of Faustus who repents. He maintains the plays artistic shape, and he keeps his play clear of the censors, by revealing a final orthodoxy.
Power is all, and men fight ‘for sceptres and for slippery crowns’ but if they fail ‘the worst is death’. ‘Base fortune,’ says Mortimer, in Edward The Second, ‘now I see, that in thy wheel there is a point to which when men aspire, they tumble headlong down: that point I touch’d, and, seeing there was no place to mount up higher, why should I grieve at my declining fall?’ He is that Mortimer in Edward The Second ‘that scorns the world, and, as a traveller, goes to discover countries yet unknown’. If men cannot ‘control proud Fate, and cut the thread of Time’ well ‘to die.. therefore live we all; ...all live to die, and rise to fall.’ This is the natural order, this ambition that comes by nature, and virtuous men keep climbing till they can climb no further in their attempt to mount to the skies. Marlowe puts these speeches into the mouths of his Machiavellian heroes, but stops short of condemning them. His heroes fail like Prometheus because the gods, fate, earthly powers, or the stars are too strong for them, not because they have sinned. Faustus has bargained away his soul, but it is not the feminine soul that Shakespeare is so fearful for, and works so hard to recover. Faustus is still Faustus, only he has to pay. How did Marlowe get past the censors with so much dangerous matter? By bringing Faustus within the framework of a conventional religious ending.
Our destiny in our stars? Or in our own control? Tamberlaine thinks both. ‘Smile stars that reigned at my nativity’. A self-made man takes advantage of his fortune. ‘Endure as we the malice of our stars’, and with fortitude outrides the shadow. The universe is, like Tamburlaine, ‘peremptory, as wrathful planets, death, or destiny.’ Stars ‘govern his nativity’. Marlowe’s own stars? Baleful, cold and constraining Saturn is conjunct the expansive Jupiter at his birth, both planets retrograde and Saturn in detriment in Cancer. The tension between irresponsibility and hard work, between wide vision and external constraint is visible in his life. There is tenacity, potential, single-mindedness, and an urge for activity. Uranus and Neptune are in opposition, square to Pluto, setting up a tee-square of tensions. The three themes of sexuality, poetry and the underworld are therefore present from the outset. Uranus in Sagittarius significantly aspected points to his ambiguous sexuality, his attraction to change, his freedom-loving extremism that loathes restriction, his restless originality. Neptune in Gemini points to artistic and religious inspiration, to a flair for language, intellectualism and wit, to a restless, cunning, nervous energy, to a certain careless, reckless, self-deceiving quality of mind. Pluto in Pisces indicates a fascination with the secret and concealed, with the forces behind the façade and a weak-willed attraction to the twilit world of espionage and to revolutionary and rebellious thoughts.
‘Who knows not the double motion of the planets’ asks Faustus ‘... as Saturn in thirty years?’ As with Shelley, and with Donne, at the time of their deaths, Saturn had made its approximately twenty-nine and a half year journey through the zodiac, and returned to its natal position. The Saturn return was known in astrology for its dark influence. Shelley and Marlowe die at their first Saturn return, Donne at his second. Marlowe’s Saturn returning to Cancer eclipses the happy Venus, and opposes Jupiter the planet of good fortune while squaring Pluto and his natal Sun. The sun, conjunct the moon at the dark, is also conjunct the natal Neptune, triggering the natal tee-square. Fate and change are in play, self-deception and constrained fortune, the underworld and Uranian sexuality. Hero and Leander, broken off, will not now be completed by Marlowe.
Marlowe was often in trouble with the authorities. In the summer of 1589 he and a friend Thomas Watson, a fellow dramatist, poet and translator are engaged in a quarrel with William Bradley. Bradley has said he is in fear of his life. Marlowe is caught up one afternoon, like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, in a sword-fight on behalf of Watson, after being attacked. Watson killed Bradley. Marlowe went to Newgate prison for a fortnight. In May 1592 he uses threatening language towards a constable. In the autumn he fights a duel in Canterbury. He is not a stranger to aggressive and dangerous behaviour. It is not playing the courtier which gets you favour with great men, says Spencer in Edward the Second, ‘You must be proud, bold, pleasant, resolute, and now and then stab, as occasion serves’
Marlowe has worked for Walsingham’s secret service. He has been shipped back to England after being involved in false coining, on his own behalf or as an undercover agent. He had been drawn into the group of men working for Essex via Anthony Bacon. At the meeting in Deptford on the day he died, he is with three men who are all associated with the Elizabethan underworld. Ingram Frizer, who accidentally stabs Marlowe to death, is a man of property, Thomas Walsingham’s business agent, a loan shark. Robert Poley is a government agent, a spy, who appears in the story of the Babington Plot that indirectly cost Mary Queen of Scots her life. Nicholas Skeres, once a man of substance, worked confidence tricks with Frizer, and was a servant of Essex in 1591, as was Christopher Blount whose mother was a Poley. Marlowe was deep in something. ‘I’ll have them read me strange philosophy, and tell the secrets of all foreign kings’ says Faust. And later ‘Be silent, then, for danger is in words.’
There is another Marlowe. Searching for his mask, his persona, he begins with Rome, with the classical world of Virgil, with Lucan, and with Ovid. The Tragedy of Dido, that work of his youth, is of a rare beauty. It is a seminal piece from which Shakespeare derives elements of Anthony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale and the Tempest. At its heart is the betrayal and denial of the Goddess. Dido is that Astarte, Goddess of the morning star and the evening star, Goddess of the sea,carried from Sidon to Carthage by the Phoenicians. She brings with her the myth of Adonis, the Lord, the sacrificed one. She herself is also Aphrodite of the Greeks, Venus Anadyomene of the Romans. She is the rejected one. Virgil transmutes Dido and Aeneas, in the Aeneid, into Theseus and Ariadne. Marlowe retells that rejection and abandonment. Shakespeare goes back to Aphrodite and Adonis (thinking also perhaps of Phaedra and Hippolytus) for his own Venus and Adonis poem, where he alters the original myth by inserting this rejection of the Goddess. It anticipates one aspect of the Protestant drama where Woman is cast as Eve the potential seducer even when she is innocent.
Marlowe’s action-driven verse is there in The Tragedy of Dido, but tempered by a sweetness that the love content brings. Perhaps Nashe who was associated with it has also exerted some influence here. ‘With this my hand I give to you my heart’, ‘heaven, envious of our joys is waxen pale, and when we whisper then the stars fall down, to be partakers of our honey talk.’ There are echoes of that gentle poem of Marlowe’s ‘Come live with thee and be my love’ which Raleigh answers, and Shakespeare adapts in the Merry Wives of Windsor. Dido’s speeches touch tragedy. ‘If he forsake me not, I never die, for in his looks I see eternity.’ She is Cleopatra. ‘Is he gone? Ay, but he’ll come again; he cannot go’, ‘That I may swim to him....that I may ‘tice a dolphin to the shore, and ride upon his back unto my love!’ Shakespeare wrote with Marlowe at his elbow. It is worth searching for the echoes in the later plays, there are many.
Ovid is a truer and closer mask. It fits Marlowe precisely, so that one can almost see his eyes and mouth glistening through the holes. Ovid’s seriousness is at the other side of Romance. It is a clear-eyed surface glitter, a Roman seriousness, which enables irreverent laughter, cynical commentary, to co-exist with true feeling. Ovid and Propertius worked under the patronage of Messalla, as Shakespeare and Marlowe perhaps did under that of Southampton and others, a constructive rivalry, a mutual inspiration to greater depth and height. Marlowe, translating Ovid’s Amores, the Elegies, is at home.
Ovid too is a city man, for whom pastoral image allows natural sunlight to shine in a seductive eroticism. Ovid is perfect for, and shapes, Marlowe’s view of sexual politics, the interplay of power in relationship, which echoes Machiavelli. Ovid is not a pure cynic. He is a realist, who often tries to redeem affection and feeling from the depths. Even in the Amores, even in the Art of Love and the Cures for Love, Ovid never denies the possibility of feeling and emotion, of tenderness and solicitude, of the idyll.
Ovid was banished, exiled to die on the Black Sea shore, because he told too much truth, of the reality of affection abused and denied, as well as the manipulation of affection for the wrong ends. The ironic Ovid is Marlowe, parodying the clichés of Roman government and marriage, of Augustan society, mocking in a way that the Elizabethans also found challenging, in its irreverence, its subversiveness, its hard-hitting truthfulness. Ovid rejects all the ideals, moral, social, and political of Augustus’s Empire. Poetry and sexuality are as with Marlowe the anti-social arenas of the independent man, the masterless man. He is part of that rebellion against the totalitarian regime, the Imperial ideal of order and duty. That rebellion also included Lucan, and Seneca, Juvenal and Petronius.
Marlowe puts Machiavelli on the stage for his society but first he translates Ovid, delighting in the language, transmitting Ovid’s eroticism, his astringent laughter, and his sweetness. Ovid the rebel, the outsider, the ironist, the wearer of the defensive mask of cynicism which betrays the sadness and hurt of disillusionment. This is the poetry of experience, requiring no supernatural or divine enlightenment. It is urbane, modern, secular, clinical, incisive, rapid, personal. It is the music of individual life, the private life, which the State cannot touch. Marlowe speaks as Ovid in Elegy 4 of the Second Book; he is possessed of that same ‘ambitious, ranging mind’. Ovid predicted immortality for himself. Marlowe also. In Elegy 15 of the first Book ‘Then though Death rakes my bones in funerall fire, I’ll live and as he pulls me down mount higher.’
There is another Marlowe, whose vision moves outwards and inwards to find a place where there is sufficient space to breath. Where Shakespeare with his complex and unstable Catholic and family background searches for an order that will rescue the soul, Marlowe looks for a movement of the spirit that can liberate the spirit. For Shakespeare order can be formulaic, a ritual or incantation that can resolve the chaos through the sacred marriage of the Goddess to the God, though it is not presented through any established system. Neither through the mystical order of the Neoplatonists, nor through the Cabal, nor through the liturgies of the Church. Marlowe is even less orthodox. Faustus rejects or explodes all the ways of knowledge which lead to individual power.
Only Tamburlaine’s way of war is left. In that Marlowe presages the intellectual and then the physical struggle of the Civil War, that frustration of mind that leads to revolution, to insurrection, to rebellion. He was possessed of the ‘admirable, aery and fiery spirits of freedom’ said Nashe. ‘His life he contemned in comparison of the liberty of speech’. He had the desire and energy to ‘storm and cross all barriers’. ‘His raptures’ said Drayton, ‘were all air and fire’.
Marlowe studies Ortelius’s world map for Tamburlaine. The dimensions of a map are the degrees of freedom of the journey in space. Through the incantations of the names in a map, as in the incantations of a spiritual diagram, the mind widens its world. Marlowe in Tamburlaine begins that tradition of poetic repetition of foreign place-names, which he found in the Latin authors, who chanted the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and beyond. It is a litany of Geography which feeds from the new discoveries, a kind of ritual murmur which will appear again in Milton’s Paradise Lost and in Lycidas, and supports the journey of Alastor and the haunts of the Witch of Atlas in Shelley’s verse. The map orders the unknown, reduces the chaos, but its borders, its margins open out into the as yet undiscovered world. Science, thought, voyage, probe the universe, and we bring back maps. Science is sometimes Marlowe’s blind spot. It is Machiavelli, not Copernicus whom he brings onto the stage to scare and challenge his audience. But the maps are by his side. ‘Nigra silva where the devils dance’. ‘Zanzibar, the western part of Afric, where I view’d the Ethiopian sea’, ‘Betwixt Cutheia and Orminius’ mount.’ ‘It is summer with them, as in India, Saba, and farther countries in the East’. ‘Look here, my boys; see what a world of ground lies westward from the midst of Cancer’s line unto the rising of this earthly globe’ ‘Sailing along the oriental sea, have fetch’d about the Indian continent, even from Persepolis to Mexico.’
From here it is not far to Milton’s ‘ Mount Amara, ... by som supposed True Paradise under the Ethiop line by Nilus head, enclos’d with shining rock, a whole dayes journey high’. Fallen man cast out from Paradise, like Satan searches ‘from Eden over Pontus and the Poole Maeotis up beyond the rover Ob downward as farr Antartic; and in length West from Orontes to the Ocean barr’d at Darien.’ Lycidas is washed far away ‘whether beyond the stormy Hebrides.. or by the fable of Bellerus old where the great vision of the guarded Mount looks towards Namancos and Bayona’s hold.’ The names are a call to the mind to look outwards.
Through Thomas Hariot, rationalist, chronologer of the Bible, early algebraist, Marlowe entered the Raleigh set, which included the mathematicians Robert Hughes and Walter Warner. Hariot wrote the ‘Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia’ in 1588 and his study of cosmography linked him to André Thevet, cosmographer to Charles IX, and authority on the Americas. Marlowe may have seen John White’s 1585 map of Florida and the Carolinas for instance, and Theodore de Bry’s maps in his America dating to 1590.
There is a Marlowe who also looks inward, who anticipates the long-term failure of the external marriage of the God and the Goddess, who is not yet the agent provocateur of the God’s attack on the Goddess, of democracy on monarchy, of Protestantism on Catholicism. The maps are not enough. He anticipates Donne in the personal, the internalised journey of love, the final and only home and hope of hierogamy, of the sacred marriage of Reason and Passion. Hero and Leander also reveals a subtler Marlowe, still possessed of the surface brilliance, but conscious that ‘true love is mute’ and ‘full of simplicitie and naked truth’. In verse whose turns of phrase and cadences influenced Donne, Marlowe reminds us that ‘In gentle breasts, relenting thoughts, remorse, and pittie rests. And who have hard hearts, and obdurat minds, but vicious, harebraind, and illit’rate hinds? Here is ‘Loves holy fire.’ The maps, the countries, the worlds must be within.
So Dido proposes to Aeneas, the Goddess to the agent of incipient empire, ‘in mine arms make thy Italy’. ‘O sacred love! If there be any heaven in earth, ‘tis love.’ says the Nurse. ‘Now bring him back ... and I will live a private life with him.’ says Dido. It is Ovid’s solution to the spiritual disaster of Imperial Rome, but a solution that could not survive exile. It is Donne’s solution in the first half of his life. ‘Be thine own palace’ he writes to Henry Wotton ‘or the world’s thy gaol.’ ‘Seek we then ourselves in ourselves’ in the lines to Rowland Woodward. In Donne’s Elegies, modelled on Ovid’s, the message is the same. ‘Here let me war, in these arms let me lie ... thine arms imprison me and mine arms thee’. ‘O my America, my new found land, my kingdom safeliest when with one man manned, my mine of precious stones, my empery’. Donne has already discovered his ‘mystic books’ and that ‘to enter in these bonds is to be free’.
It is the personal and private solution, the rejection of the world, in a sacred sense, but outside religion. It is a translation of the marriage of the god and goddess into wholly human terms. So for Donne the maps become unnecessary. ‘Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown, let us possess one world, each hath one and is one.’ He anticipates the future of Science and of the Protestant Ethic and is already turning away. ‘For love all love of other sights controls, and makes one little room an everywhere.’ The little room is indeed full, in Marlowe’s words, of ‘infinite riches.’ For Donne it contains ‘both th’ Indias of spice and mine’ It is the room where ‘She is all states, and all princes, I, nothing else is’. The world is contracted. ‘All here in one bed lay.’ The sun can ‘shine here to us, and thou art everywhere: this bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.’ It is the atmosphere of Ovid’s Elegy 5 of Book I of the Amores, Corinna in an afternoon, which Marlowe translates so beautifully, but deepened from eroticism to a sacral communion.
Not only is space conquered, and contracted, but time also, to become the eternal moment of sacred love. ‘Love all alike, no season knows nor clime, nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.’ Donne is exploring Lover’s Infiniteness, ‘and lover’s hours be full eternity’. Everywhere is also everywhen, ‘only ..love hath no decay,.... but truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.’ And woman is ‘more than moon’ she is the place where ‘all... souls be emparadised’. She is ‘thou, the world’s soul’.
This whole language, religious terms transposed into secular, eroticism heightened to profound hierogamy, is wrongly understood if it is thought to be only a conceit. It is simply the modern position for many, the physical acceptance, but spiritual rejection, of the state and the Protestant ethic, writ large. It is the position that the West has tolerated in Saints and Mystics, but removed from the social centre. It is the position that if adopted in a society holds back science, commerce, materialism, progress. Its eastern analogue is Taoism including the Taoist erotic practices, the emphasis to a high degree being on the Individual’s asocial solution outside community. It is not Marlowe’s view of the future, nor the later Donne’s, nor the vision of the agitators of the Civil War. The near view, the power struggle, is what occupies men’s minds in Elizabethan and Stuart times and afterwards. This opposite emphasis, on the individual, fuels the revolution that did not happen, the revolution of Winstanley and others, that might have achieved wider democracy, a disestablished church, and a rejection of the Protestant work ethic. It hardly fuels that which did happen, the revolution which established the sacred rights of property, and removed all the impediments to the triumph of the ideology of men of property, the Protestant ethic itself.
Marlowe looks forward to that period when men felt newly free: free from monarchy, from worldly authorities, from priests. But Marlowe is still within the world of nature, magic, death, superior forces. Marlowe is not possessed by the myth outside, or the myth within. He is the independent, self-made man, the masterless man, freethinking, rebellious, subversive, reckless. We search the Greek myths for any analogues of real rebellion. Prometheus, Sisyphus, Antigone. It is a limited and qualified trawl. Rebellion is not truly possible in a mythical world, because the myth is always there to enfold the participants. For the rebel the stress must be on continuous change, the perpetual revolution, the search for truth and revelation, that originality and love of novelty that must shock until it becomes desirable. Winstanley of the Diggers ‘never read it in any book, nor received it from any mouth’. He ‘saw the light of it rise up within myself’. ‘Every man is by nature a rebel against heaven’ said Richard Baxter in The Holy Commonwealth. It is the flux of intellectual excitement, the honeyed whirlpool, that Marlowe delights in. For him, to shock is natural, to provoke and incite is a game. It is a game played on the dark side. Order, correspondence, the chain of being, the links in the chain that Shakespeare and others reiterate, those commonplaces of Elizabethan thought, commonplace because they are so vital to them, mean little to Marlowe. He is for conflict, the warring elements.
In a world of myth there is a precedent for everything. Everything is a ritual, a repetition, a consecration, a sacrifice, or a marriage. Shakespeare can tell the stories again, transformed, to convince his audience, as Sophocles and Aeschylus did, of eternal verities, of the right relationship of gods to men. Marlowe in the world not of myth, but of rebellion, has only Adam’s and Satan’s fall as comparators. Neither is an analogy, since Adam falls through weakness and ignorance, Satan through false pride and flawed spiritual intelligence. Or there is Mercury stealing a cup of nectar from Hebe, Jupiter’s cupbearer, at which Jove ‘storm’d and waxt more furious than for the fire filcht by Prometheus, and thrusts him down from heaven’. Prometheus is a thief.
But it is not theft to recover the Rights of Man. Marlowe’s rebellion is purer. He is nearer the revolutionaries of later times, Danton and Robespierre, Lenin and Trotsky, the audacious ones for whom nothing is sacred, those for whom there are no precedents except the single precedent of insurrection, and ultimately no fixed goal. It is that restlessness in Marlowe that sets him apart, shuts him off from traditional answers or easy solutions. Shakespeare drives himself to re-creation of the sacred marriage. Donne opts for personal and private meaning, and then falls back towards the established church. Essex and Raleigh never leave the orthodox framework. Raleigh’s History of the World freezes it in time. Essex reinvokes, through his fate, the world of myth, while unknowingly creating the context within which the myths will be destroyed. But Marlowe is always ready for the new age, for the time when all myths are superceded.
Marlowe paints a portrait of Essex in Tamburlaine, but not as Shakespeare shows him, in the guise of Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, frustrated and sulking in his tent. Marlowe dying in 1593 can have only the young Essex in mind but finds the same reference point, of Achilles. ‘Of stature tall, and straightly fashioned...so large of limbs... such breadth of shoulders... pale of complexion... lofty brows.... about them hangs a knot of amber hair, wrapped in curls, as fierce Achilles’ was..... the face and personage of a wondrous man.’ Here is the tall, broad, fiery-haired figure of Essex, already dreaming of ‘steps and actions to the throne’? ‘A god is not so glorious as a king’ says Theridamas, ‘I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven cannot compare with kingly joys in earth,.... to ask and have, command and be obey’d.’ In Tamburlaine’s response is all of Essex. Shall we ‘rest, attemptless, fair and destitute? Methinks we should not.’ Marlowe’s verse rings and echoes with the call to aspire, to attempt. ‘As if another Phaethon had got the guidance of the sunnes rich chariot’
Lines to make a Tudor monarch shudder are put into the mouth of Machiavel. ‘Many will talk of title to a crown: What right had Caesar to the Empire? Might first made kings.’ Lancaster is as direct, in Edward the Second. ‘The worst is death, and better die to live, than live in infamy under such a king’ and again ‘Look for rebellion, look to be depos’d.’ Where in Shakespeare we wait expectantly for the balancing call to order, all revolt punished, in Marlowe ‘will is over-rul’d by fate’.
‘You stars that reign’d at my nativity.’ Tamburlaine talks to them, to his ruling influences. Men are not wrong to aspire, and only defeated by greater forces. Even Faustus. Even the words that Bacon picked up perhaps from Marlowe’s play, in striking an analogy for Essex, are a fatal realism, rather than a condemnation. ‘Of a self-conceit, his waxen wings did mount above his reach, and, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow.’ ‘One like Actaeon... shall by the angry goddess be transform’d... by yelping hounds pull’d down.’ That image, out of context, is from Edward The Second. Icarus, Phaethon, Actaeon, Achilles, Marlowe’s mind fixes on those who aspire, those who challenge, those who rebel.
Was there ever a mind where the light and the darkness blend to such curious and glowing effect, other than Shelley? There is the Marlowe of the Elegies, of Dido and Aeneas, of Hero and Leander, of ‘Come live with me, and be my love’ the clear-minded, tough but subtle Marlowe, for whom love is a reality, even beyond eroticism, even as far as delicacy, tenderness and affection. There is the dark Marlowe, the citizen of the night, the masterless man, the Marlowe of the politics of cynicism, of sedition, espionage, violence, and cruelty. Like two views through one mirror. Like the double aspects of the moonlit sky. Like the compound vision of heaven and hell.
Marlowe was wound in to the circle of agents employed indirectly by Essex. His patron was Thomas Walsingham in whose house at Scadbury in Kent, Marlowe was staying towards the end of his life. Hero and Leander was subsequently dedicated to Walsingham. Frizer was his personal servant. Walsingham was younger cousin to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, whose daughter Frances, widow of Philip Sydney, Essex married. At a time of intense rivalry between Essex and Raleigh, Marlowe appears to have a place in both camps. Genuinely? Or is he a fomenter of trouble? Raleigh was accused of atheism, Marlowe was implicated. Kyd the playwright with whom Marlowe shared a room was arrested. A heretical document was found. Kyd says, perhaps under pressure, that it belonged to Marlowe. Marlowe was apprehended by the Privy Council, brought back from Scadbury ten days before his death. He was told to report daily to the Council. Then an agent called Baines submits a note, damaging to Marlowe, around the very day of his death.
Things are complex. Richard Baines was an intelligence agent, at one time working for Walsingham. He quotes another man, Richard Cholmley, who says that Marlowe ‘has read the atheist lecture to Sir Walter Raleigh and others’, that he questions the orthodoxies of the Bible, that he ‘persuades men to atheism’. Is Marlowe helping to work up charges against Raleigh, or himself an atheist, or is he being set up in a complex game of double-dealing? Marlowe is not central to either the Essex or Raleigh set. He is at best a go-between, a servant of two masters, or none. Is money at the root of it?
Hero and Leander that last unfinished but glorious poem has a difficult passage where Marlowe tells the tale of Mercury (Hermes) and the country maid. She (‘all women are ambitious naturallie..’) asks Mercury her lover to steal a cup of nectar from Jupiter (Jove). Jupiter discovers the theft and pushes him out of heaven. So in return Mercury has Cupid charm the Fates so that they give Mercury the power to banish Jupiter the usurper and reinstate his father Saturn, in a new golden age. Mercury however despises the love of the Fates, who then turn things upside-down again, restore Jupiter, and punish Mercury-Hermes. ‘And but that Learning, in despite of fate, will mount aloft and enter heaven gate, and to the seat of Jove it selfe advaunce... Hermes had slept in hell with ignorance’. Mercury has knowledge in other words to save him and enable him to climb back to the skies. But to offset it, the Fates make sure that ‘he and Poverty should always kiss. And to this day is every scholar poor... and fruitfull wits that in aspiring are, shall discontent run into regions farre.’ Is Marlowe poor and discontent? Was it merely a quarrel ‘about ....le reckonynge’ after all?
Marlowe was probably an atheist. ‘I count religion but a childish toy’ says Machiavel ‘and hold there is no sin but ignorance’. The voice sounds like that of Voltaire speaking against superstition. Marlowe was implicated in charges of atheism that touched Raleigh. A heretical document that agents for the Privy Council found, when Kyd was arrested in May of 1593 and his rooms searched, Kyd claimed was Marlowe’s. He said it had got confused with his own papers. It is a Socinian treatise by Proctor taking up the heretical Arian argument denying Christ’s divinity, asserting that he was a man like any other. Marlowe is asked to appear before the Privy Council and returns from Scadbury to do so. Cholmley has informed Baines, according to Baines, that Marlowe told him that ‘he hath read the atheist lecture to Sir Walter Raleigh and others’ and that ‘Marlowe is able to show more sound reasons for atheism than any divine in England is able to give to prove divinity’.
Baines indictment of Marlowe was not acted on due to Marlowe’s death. Baines highlights Marlowe’s alleged heresies, which he and Hariot and others in Raleigh’s circle may indeed have ascribed to. That Christ was a man and not divine; of the non-existence of the Trinity; that there is no physical hell; that Moses was an illusionist, a trickster; that the world was older than six thousand years, and that men were alive before Adam. Some of this was Biblical criticism picked up later in the seventeenth century freethinkers. Winstanley for example used the existence of men before Adam as an argument for taking the Bible metaphorically and not literally. The old myths were dying, or being transubstantiated. The Virgin Birth for Winstanley was an allegory, as was the resurrection, the rebirth of the ancient god. ‘Christ lying in the grave, like a corn of wheat buried under the clods of earth for a time, and Christ rising up ... is to be seen within’. Winstanley rejects the authority of the institutionalised church, and argues for the spirit of god in every man. The Family of Love, a religious sect at the time of the Civil War, believed that heaven and hell are in the world. For Marlowe’s Mephistopheles ‘Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d in one self place; for where we are is hell, and where hell is, must we ever be.’ Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost expresses the sentiment that hell is separation from God as does Marlowe’s Mephistopheles. ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God, am not tormented with ten thousand hells, in being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?’
Elizabeth in 1585 denounced those who thought hell was only torment of conscience. The later freethinkers questioned this and everything else. They speculated about divine justice in the concept of original sin, were sceptical of hell and heaven, considered whether god was not within, that there might be no Creator only Nature. ‘This is an age’ said Henry Power, ‘wherein all men’s souls are in a kind of fermentation, and the spirit of wisdom and learning begins to mount and free itself’. ‘Religion hides many mischiefs from suspicion’ says Barabas in The Jew of Malta. Tamburlaine is scathing of all the religions. ‘Can there be such deceit in Christians’ who ‘if there be a Christ,..... in their deeds deny him?’ Yet Tamburlaine acknowledges a God, ‘he that sits on high and never sleeps, nor in one place is circumscribable... in his endless power and purity’ and Faustus at the end cries out for his soul to be saved. ‘Oh, I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?’
Baines claimed that Marlowe had once said ‘Moses was a juggler and that one Heriots being Sir Walter Raleigh’s man can do more than he.’ Thomas Hariot was a Renaissance intellect, interested in plants, agriculture, the anthropology of newly discovered countries, navigation, mathematics, optics, weather, astronomy, astrology, religion. He gave great offence with his views on Genesis and his saying that ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’. ‘Nothing will come of nothing’, is repeated in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Chapman who completed Marlowe’s unfinished Hero and Leander, wrote verses in praise of Hariot, and is a further link to Raleigh.
In 1594 Raleigh was investigated by an ecclesiastical enquiry held at Cerne Abbas in Dorset. Mostly what emerged was hearsay and innuendo. Carew Raleigh, Sir Walter’s brother, was said to have made the pantheistic comment that ‘there was a god in nature’. Raleigh had encouraged free-ranging conversation on the nature of the soul. The investigation had no material outcome for Raleigh, and he effectively killed all criticism later in his life by the passages on religion in his History of the World. But Marlowe...?
Marlowe is the essence of wide-ranging, freethinking, dangerous scepticism. He is with Shelley in being on ‘the verge where words abandon us, and what wonder if we grow dizzy to look down the dark abyss of how little we know’. Marlowe is neither a part of myth like Essex, nor a defender of it like Raleigh and Donne. There is no orthodoxy in him, except the orthodoxy of fate. He is not obsessed with order, but with aspiration. The creation, the fall, the incarnation, the atonement are not his paradigm. His is a reverse direction, from the mounting of ambition, to the fall of power. The stars dictate, superior force compels, but man resists and challenges. Passion and will, reason and appetite are not at war but are harnessed to ambition and aspiration. Realism, intellectual effort, intensity, materialism coupled to a strange idealism, and cynicism regarding power, institutions, established authorities. Marlowe has Ithamore say in the Jew of Malta. ‘Faith sire, my birth is but mean; my name’s Ithamore; my profession what you please.’ In the next century the true masterless men, victims of enclosures, criminals, vagabonds, sectarians, looked within themselves for the new man, they their own masters. Individualism fuelled the dissent of the Civil War. Marlowe will ‘by profession be ambitious’.
In taking up the story of Dr Faustus, Marlowe articulates the new inner aspirations of the time. The classical spirit in Marlowe is aligned with Greece and Rome, with an irreligious society or a society of many religions, with a godless world, or a world of the concealed God. In Faustus he offers up a Christian allegory, but there is a classical irony and detachment playing behind the verse. Faustus is ‘base of stock’, but his lowly origins like Tamburlaine’s do not inhibit him from excelling. Frustrated with the inadequacy of the powers that conventional knowledge gives he is tempted by magic, by necromancy. Faustus rejects logic and philosophy, rejects medicine and law, rejects the predestination of original sin (‘why then..we must sin, and so consequently die..an everlasting death’) and searches for ‘a world of profit and delight, of power, of honour, of omnipotence’ where ‘all things that move between the quiet poles shall be at my command’. It is a dream that Raleigh, Hariot and Bacon shared, it is the coming aspiration of science and technology, of exploration and imperialism, of trade and commerce. Precisely this will Protestant England and Puritan America aspire to. Faustus gives the scientific endeavour, the desire for knowledge and its application, its charter. ‘His dominion that exceeds in this, stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man; A sound magician is a mighty god: Here, Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity.’ The ironic tone behind the play is that of Marlowe deceiving the censor.
Cast as a secular play without divine retribution not only would the drama have been less, but the message would have been unacceptable, as an overt statement of the hidden irreligious aspirations of the age. Cast as a secular play there could be no retribution in the plot, since Faustus’s agenda is the secret secular agenda of Raleigh, Hariot, Bacon and I suspect Marlowe himself. As a play about the new science it would have cast a further shadow of suspicion over Raleigh and others. Marlowe anticipates an atheistic, scientific, imperialist age. It is already around him in the freethinking Raleigh, in the efforts of Raleigh’s friend Hariot, in Dee, Hakluyt, Gilbert. Hariot corresponded with Kepler and knew Galileo’s findings. Descartes later read Hariot’s work. Raleigh sponsors, and Bacon consolidates, the message. It is experimental science as its own authority, leading to ‘new inventions and powers’. Mathematics is a key, and technological innovation is a driving force. Dr Faustus does not reach this far, though Marlowe, in the circle of Raleigh, Hariot and Bacon clearly did. But Faustus is on the track of ‘all Nature’s treasure’. He wishes to ‘resolve...all ambiguities’, to ‘ransack the ocean’ to have read to him ‘strange philosophy’. He trades with the Devil, his soul for power and knowledge. The medieval morality play then follows its course, poetic in its passages on the theme of hell and illicit aspiration. Its message is about divine authority, though the ironic subtext is both heretical and subversive.
Dr Faustus is another Marlowe text that Shakespeare used as source. Prospero is just such a magician whose book teaches him like Faustus ‘the framing of this circle on the ground’ that ‘brings whirlwinds, tempests, thunder and lightning.’ Prospero gives up his art, understanding the religious message of Marlowe’s play, to end in Protestant, almost Puritan orthodoxy. ‘Oh, something soundeth in mine ears, ‘Abjure this magic, turn to God again!’’ says Faustus; ‘this rough magic I here abjure’ says Prospero. Faustus is warned that his sins ‘no comiseration may expel, but mercy, Faustus.....Then call for mercy, and avoid despair.’ And Prospero does just that in his final speech. ‘And my ending is despair unless I be reliev’d by prayer, which pierces so that it assaults mercy itself and frees all faults.’ Prospero takes Faustus’s fate seriously, and in doing so tries to redeem the spirit of the new learning, hallow the hidden agenda of Marlowe’s play, the illicit magic of the scientific project.
I cannot read the ending Chorus of Dr Faustus without hearing the bell-note of Marlowe’s ironic laughter. ‘Regard his hellish fall, whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise, only to wonder at unlawful things, whose deepness doth entice such forward wits to practise more than heavenly power permits.’ In his audience and among his readers no doubt were Raleigh, Bacon, Hariot, Dee, the same ‘forward wits’ who were already going beyond wonder, to analysis and experiment, and were already practising more than their religion formally permitted. No doubt they enjoyed the frisson. There is indeed an underlying question of the boundaries of human knowledge, the sacredness of Nature and life, the advisability and controllability of science and technology, which makes Faustus a potent and symbolic figure, and gives us and no doubt gave them reason to pause. If divine powers are not there to control us, if everything is permitted, then control can only be exercised by ourselves, humanity must regulate humanity.
Moderation was the Greek message. Sacrifice Iphigenia to get what you want, by all means, Agamemnon, betray her and destroy her, but do not expect to return home to a contented old age. Every impiety, every excess is punished. Marlowe is sensitive to that message, as is Shakespeare, the preacher of order. Elizabeth kept the lid on the cauldron of religious extremism. But in the Civil War the Puritans indulged in excess. They gave themselves the right to do so avoiding impiety, they believed, through executing the will of their God. They then reigned themselves in and invoked the secular law, to curb the Levellers, Diggers, and other extreme freedom movements, and re-order and re-establish society. It took courage, religious conviction and the driving force of the desire for freedom, and political control to ignore and overcome the instinct for moderation. It was an army of young men who fought and remade. It was a nation, of scientists, imperialists, technologists, industrialists, merchants and politicians who eventually inherited.
Perhaps Marlowe’s times made him a poet of rebellion and realpolitik rather than making him that other poet who lurked beneath the surface, the poet of pity tenderness and high ideals, who almost emerges fully in Dido and Aeneas, and in the last sestiad of his Hero and Leander. He made a revolution in the London theatre. He invented a new original verse style of great beauty. He was too early for the great Revolution in England, but he was an agent of that Revolution in thought which eroded the monarchy, sealed the fate of the Catholic church in England, and ushered in the age of science, free trade, and democracy. He is a poet of the city, of the shifting levels of new social structure, of mind. Unlike Essex, Donne and Raleigh, he is a conscious, rather than an unconscious harbinger of change. But he hastens on to the same death of the Goddess with that recklessness with which he seems to hasten to his own death.
It is evening in Deptford. The Sun is setting and Scorpio, the sign of fate, has risen over the horizon. Mars and Pluto rule the sign. Mars, the planet of aggression, killing, anger, accident. They had met at ten in the morning and dined. After walking and talking all afternoon in the garden, they returned to the room at six and supped together. After supper Marlowe is lying on a bed, the other three are seated at the table. Frizer and Marlowe ‘were in speech and uttered one to the other divers malicious words for the reason that they could not agree about...the recknynge’. Marlowe drew a knife, and gave Ingram Frizer two wounds to his head. Frizer was sitting between Skeres and Poley, could not get away, struggled with Marlowe, and ‘in defence of his life gave the said Christopher ... a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches and of the width of one inch: of which....he then and there instantly died’. ‘No, ’Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ‘tis enough’ says Mercutio of his ‘scratch’ in Romeo and Juliet ‘ ‘twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow and you shall find me a grave man.’ ‘They offred him’ writes Marlowe in Hero and Leander, ‘the deadly fatall knife, that shears the slender threads of human life.’
They were gathered at Frizer’s invitation. The Sun sets in Pisces. Scorpio rises. Something is said. About money and debts? About payment for something other than the room, a different kind of reckoning up of the account? About Marlowe’s sexual proclivities? About what Marlowe has been asked to do, betray Hariot, or Raleigh himself perhaps? Infiltrate further into Raleigh’s set? Betray a friend? Has his courage been called in doubt? He is in trouble with the Privy Council over atheism, heresy; the full charges have not yet been brought. Is that being used as leverage against him? Money, sex, religion, politics, espionage, mutual dislike among a company of dangerous men? Any of these, or all of them, are possible.
Marlowe has embraced every form of subversion in his writings, perhaps also in his life. He shows an admirable Saturnian consistency. He has called in question through the masks of his characters and in his own life most of the given beliefs of his Age. The authority of the Church, the Divine Right of hereditary Kingship, conventional sexual mores, the circumscribed role of the individual, the importance of high birth, the historical basis of Christian teachings. He has created a new drama and a new English poetry. Only the new science seems to have passed him by, he dismisses it in Faustus’s name along with law, medicine, divinity, analytics, leaving astrology unquestioned. Perhaps ‘nothing so sweet as magic is to him’,’ ‘Tis magic, magic that hath ravish’d me.’ He has brought Machiavelli to the stage, showed the nakedness of power, the desirability of aspiration and ambition limited only by superior force, the ability of the self-made man. He has dared to think unacceptable thoughts, and portray unacceptable men whom he makes interesting and attractive. He has played with the warring elements. He has stormed, in thought and in verse, the Heavens. There has been a drama, a theatre. Verse has tried to ‘mount aloft and enter heaven gate’. Now there is only the body of the young man, dead at twenty-nine, not so much older than Keats, the same age as Shelley. So much achieved, so much that might have been achievable. ‘Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight, and burned is Apollo’s laurel bough’ say the Chorus from Faustus, say the friends around the grave. ‘For there sits death; there sits imperious Death, keeping his circuit by the slicing edge’ cries Tamburlaine.
Copyright © 2000 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
This work MAY be FREELY reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any NON-COMMERCIAL purpose.
Last Modified 08/02/2000