Printer Friendly

Christopher Marlowe and the Renaissance of Tragedy.

"I am tragical within," King Henry III tells Epernoun in The Massacre at Paris (xx.74), and similarly King Edward in Edward II tells Lightborn, "I see my tragedy written in thy brows" (V.v.73). In Christopher Marlowe and the Renaissance of Tragedy, Douglas Cole does not cite either passage but could have to profitably support his centralizing thesis: that Marlowe is significant in the evolution of Western tragedy because he constructs a "Renaissance of Tragedy" in late-sixteenth-century England through a "depiction of mindscape" (152), the sharpest feature of which is the mind's "ironic quest of grand delusions" (151). This engaging thesis enfolds three main ideas worth discussion: Marlowe creates "a new sense of tragedy" (39); "Marlovian tragedy is more psychological than metaphysical" (153); and Marlowe "liked to demonstrate the ironic force of individual desire in determining one's own destruction" (151). In this thesis, we must measure the achievement of Cole's book.

As a volume in this series, which aims to provide a "scholarly introduction" to the lives of theatre practitioners (ix), The Renaissance of Tragedy succeeds admirably. Written by an authoritative scholar who wrote his first Marlowe book in 1962, the present study provides a useful overview of Marlowe's entire dramatic canon. In this regard, Cole's volume differs from recent books by Bartels, Cartelli, Healy, and Proser. Readers who seek a comprehensive assessment of "the consequences of Marlowe's life in the theatre," of "how his plays transformed the varied dramatic and literary traditions of his time," and of how his plays "redefine[d] the themes and modes of tragedy" (xi), could hardly do better than turn to Cole's Renaissance of Tragedy.

In addition to thoughtful chapters on the plays, the volume includes useful introductory chapters on Marlowe's "Life and Death" and his role in "The World of the Theatre," a conclusion on "Marlowe's Legacy to Tragedy," a "Chronology," eleven illustrations, and even "Kyd's Accusations of Marlowe" and the "Baines' Note." In his "Prologue," Cole reveals his critical leanings: "I do not presume to find the man in the works, to interpret his works as products of a particular neurosis, as a cry of the heart, or as a concerted effort to challenge oppressive cultural institutions" (xi). Cole eschews biographical and psychoanalytical criticism as well as New Historicism because they "blur" the "central story" of how Marlowe's "art was first crafted from earlier . . . traditions, and how it was then perceived . . . in those . . . theatrical times" (xi-xi). As Cole's chapter titles reveal, he sees each play as a diachronic and synchronic response to a particular form of tragedy: Dido to "Classical" tragedy; Tamburlaine to Renaissance "Discourse and Spectacle"; The Massacre and The Jew of Malta to "Machiavellian Tragedy"; Edward II to the "De Casibus Tradition"; and Doctor Faustus to the "Allegorical Tradition."

Unfortunately, Cole's study perpetuates a long-standing scholarly misunderstanding: that "Marlowe (Christopher) [is] the Dramatist" (General Catalogue, British Library). Unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe is not primarily a dramatist, as the ratio of poetic verse to drama in his canon testifies: nearly thirty percent is in poetic verse. Unlike Shakespeare as well, Marlowe translates classical poems, the amatory Amores and the epic Pharsalia, and in the first translation (II.xviii) we learn that Marlowe planned to follow Ovid - rather than prefigure the Bard - in combining verse with drama, amatory poetry and epic with tragedy. As the Elder Seneca, Quintilian, and Tacitus reveal, Ovid did not simply produce a tragedy, Medea (extant in two lines); he was regarded in antiquity as having excelled in tragedy. Had Cole examined Marlowe's use of "tragedy," he would have found that six of Marlowe's fourteen uses of the term occur in Ovid's Elegies and one in Hero and Leander. For this series, Cole needed to focus on the plays, but by attending to Marlowe's verse he could have discovered a larger career context for Marlowe's creation of a "Renaissance of Tragedy."

Cole's thesis, that Marlowe's innovation lies in his dramatization of a self-destructive mindscape, is either inaccurate or critically aloof, since Charles Segal makes a similar claim for the Younger Seneca. Moreover, by focusing on Marlovian tragedy's "destructive" center and by neglecting "the man in the works," Cole overlooks a comedic counter-discourse of authorial creation. "O, I'll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?," cries Faustus (V.ii.146), imitating (as Steane notes) Marlowe's own translation of poetic immortality in Amores I.xv; this itself overgoes Ovid (as Harry Levin notes): "Then though death rakes my bones in funeral fire, / I'll live, and as he pulls me down mount higher" (41-42).

Despite limitations, Cole's Renaissance of Tragedy is a useful introduction by a learned and finely analytical critic committed to genre, imitation, and the tragedic dramatization of inward evil.

PATRICK CHENEY Pennsylvania State University, University Park
COPYRIGHT 1997 Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cheney, Patrick
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Words:791
Previous Article:Erotic Beasts and Social Monsters: Shakespeare, Jonson, and Comic Androgyny.
Next Article:The Caroline Church heroic: the reconstruction of epic religion in three seventeenth-century communities.
Topics:


Related Articles
Sovereignty and Intelligence: Spying and Court Culture in the English Renaissance.
The Jew of Malta.
The Gift of Fire: Aggression and the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture.
Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum.
Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
Marlowe's Counterfeit Profession: Ovid, Spenser, Counternationhood.
Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation.
Writing under Influences: A Study of Christopher Marlowe. (Reviews).

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters