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Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture.

Darryll Grantley and Peter Roberts, eds. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1996. xi + 281 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 1-8592-8260-1.

Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture initially promises to disappoint rather than enliven. The dust-jacket claims that the essays understand Marlowe in relation to "social change, aspiration, exploration, conflict and discordance," but this sounds similar to that older "Marlowe the overreacher" critical chestnut. Turning to the contents, one finds that contributors from the University of Kent at Canterbury tend to dominate, although this is perhaps understandable as a Marlowe quatercentenary conference at the university in 1993 provided the volume's groundwork. More unsettling is the absence of women contributors, and the apparent lack of feminist or gender-oriented critiques.

While these oversights occasionally intrude upon the experience of the collection itself, the compensating felicities of the individual essays make a far greater impression. If the essays as a whole vary in significance, even the slighter and more specialized pieces push scholarship in innovative directions. Among these can be mentioned Charles Nicholl's reflections upon Marlowe's trip to the Low Countries and the "Middleburg" printing of his Elegies; Thomas Cartelli's discussion of the dramatist's association of gold with Spanish possession; and Roger Sales's appreciation of the Marlovian subversion of the executionary spectacle. With a greater attention to performative dimensions come Michael Hattaway's essay on theatricality and absolutism, Darryll Grantley's critique of Marlowe's "autodeconstructive" dramatizations of power, and Alexander Shurbanov's consideration of Marlovian ironic discrepancies.

However, it is with the longer contextual pieces that the volume has its greatest impact. The decision to feature the work of social historians is to be applauded, as it lends the collection an enriching interdisciplinary character. Andrew Butcher uses his intimate knowledge of the Canterbury archives to fine effect in a study of a 1573 deposition mentioning a mysterious "Christopher Mowle," while Peter Roberts deploys an impressive range of sources to uncover the literary and theatrical contexts in which the younger Marlowe moved. Equally precise in his historical elaborations is David Potter, who, in a nuanced exposition of the political climate of contemporary France, illuminates the dark corners of Marlowe's The Massacre at Paris. He is joined by Gareth Roberts and Nicholas Davidson, whose essays respectively investigate the intriguing links between Marlowe and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, and the multiple significances of the term "atheist" that circulated in the English Renaissance.

Perhaps the volume is at its most impressive in the essays that combine traditional historical scholarship with recent developments in theoretical practice. In a convincingly detailed account, Lawrence Normand teases out intersections between Esme Stewart, James VI, Marlowe's Gaveston and Edward II. No less polished is Nick de Somogyi's excellent meditation upon developments in Elizabethan cartography and the telescoping of space in Marlowe's plays. Abundantly provocative is Richard Wilson's exploration of Tamburlaine, Ivan the Terrible and the policies of the English Muscovy Company. Although Wilson sometimes blurs the distinctions between "Scythian," "Tartarian," and "Russian," and neglects to mention that his essay has already appeared in English Literary History, his reading of Tamburlaine's peregrinations shines in its exhilarating inventiveness.

Each of the essays in Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture has a valuable point to make. New materials are presented and fresh contexts provided for a fuller appreciation of Marlowe's oeuvre. There might have been more discussion of the poetry, but this is outweighed by the vibrant appraisals of the drama. The contributors have had the benefit of reading each other's work, thereby giving the collection the properties of a genuine dialogue. Marlovian studies, it seems, were given a new lease on life in 1993, and this volume is eloquent testimony to the fact that there are still important claims to be made for this extraordinary Elizabethan playwright.

MARK THORNTON BURNETT The Queen's University of Belfast
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Author:Burnett, Mark Thornton
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1998
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