Marlowe's Counterfeit Profession: Ovid, Spenser, Counternationhood.
This is a complex and ambitious book which makes an important and valuable contribution to Marlowe scholarship. Cheney offers the first comprehensive reading of the Marlowe canon in nearly a generation. In doing so, he finds Marlowe a professional, "artistic scholar" who fashions an Ovidian career path which rivals that of Spenser as a poet and writer of English nationhood.
Indicting New Historicism for contextualizing relations generally rather than literary relations specifically, Cheney points out that New Historicist writing on literary careers and rivalries has, in the case of Marlowe, ignored the immense influence of Lucan, Seneca, and principally Ovid - and the influence of Lucretius on all of these. Cheney proposes a specific "deconstructive strategy" that he calls "typology of intertextuality" in order to reveal how Marlowe's imitation of a classical text veils his rivalry with Spenser; in so doing, Cheney claims to add heretofore disregarded diachronicity to New Historicism's exclusive engagement with synchronicity.
Cheney persuasively demonstrates that to understand Marlowe, his career path, and his rivalry with Spenser, we must, as has not been done before, pay close attention to Marlowe's translations of Ovid's Amores and Lucan's Pharsalia. In the Amores, Ovid articulates his plan to become a writer of both tragedy and epic. Marlowe replicates, indeed completes this Ovidianly uncompleted curriculum vitae, in graduating first from translator and lyricist to tragedian, and finally to epicist in Hero and Leander and in the translation of Lucan. Cheney claims that just as Ovid and Lucan countered Vergil both as precursor and as writer of Roman Empire, so Marlowe counters Spenser as writer of English nationhood in choosing an Ovidian career path instead of a Spenserian (= Vergilian) career path of pastoral, georgic, epic. Cheney uncovers numerous, heretofore unnoticed evocations of Spenser's poetry in Marlowe's plays and poems to support this thesis and therein situates Marlowe's inveterately subversive stance in reference to contemporaneous constructions of political and religious orthodoxy. In the course of exposing this Spenser-Marlowe relationship and of establishing a Marlovian career path, Cheney offers a comprehensive and detailed body of primary and secondary annotation which will be invaluable to all future researchers of Marlowe.
Despite this book's great learning, importance, and value, I have some reservations. The ambitiousness and complexity of this project have, I fear, contributed at times to a loss of clarity and focus by crowding too many features, sometimes counter-productively, together, often resulting in a sentence like this: "Marlowe fuses Machiavellian policy to Senecan tragedy to flesh out 'Ovidian tragedy'" (176). Such occasions have the unfortunate effect of collapsing this fine study upon itself and entangling it inextricably in its own discourse. Likewise at the theoretical level, while promising a corrective to New Historicist methodology, the book ultimately operates in conventional New Historicist mode by focusing not on "literary relations" themselves, but on how those relations evoke political and professional rivalries. Finally, in both the text and the annotations, the apparent desire for meticulousness often produces an unfortunate tone of ungraciousness and immodesty in the author's positioning of himself and his critical predecessors; moreover, the author reiterates, more than he needs to and usually verbatim, his thesis. Especially on these points, I believe that Professor Cheney could have been better served by his editors at Toronto Press.
Despite these difficulties, the book represents an important step forward in Marlowe criticism, and it paves the way for the much needed engagement of Marlowe the scholar and translator in the construction of his entire oeuvre. It also finally redeems Marlowe from the shadow of Shakespeare and situates him, properly, as an independently prominent figure of Renaissance letters.
BRIAN STRIAR University of North Florida
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.|
|Next Article:||A View of the State of Ireland: From the First Printed Edition (1633).|