Printer Friendly

Writing under Influences: A Study of Christopher Marlowe. (Reviews).

Yuzo Yamada, Writing under Influences: A Study of Christopher Marlowe.

Tokyo: Eihosha, 1999. x + 214 pp. n.p. ISBN: 4-269-72059-X.

J.A. Downie and J.T Parnell, eds., Constructing Christopher Marlowe.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiii + 232 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-57255-X.

Clare Harraway, Re-Citing Marlowe: Approaches to the Drama.

Aldershot, Hants, England, and Brookfield, VT: Ashgare Press, 2000. 224 PP. $74.95. ISBN: 1-84014-234-0.

Marlowe might be pleased to see the translation of his empire. Together, these three books draw a Tamburlainian arc from east to west: from Japan to England and Ireland to America. To my knowledge, Yuzo Yamada's Writing under Influences: A Study of Christopher Marlowe is the first monograph on Marlowe to make its way from Japan. Constructing Christopher Marlowe, edited by J.A. Downie and J.T. Par-nell, was published in England by British scholars but includes essays by Irish and American scholars. Clare Harraway's Re-Citing Marlowe: Approaches to the Drama was written by a British scholar but was published by a press with houses in England and America. Such internationalism is at home in Marlowe's poems and plays, but it also registers an increasingly diverse interest in Shakespeare's Canterbury contemporary.

Beyond this, comparison produces a mental challenge. I cannot imagine two such different monographs as those by Yamada and Harraway, while both formally resist comparison with a collection of essays. Yet the three studies conjoin where we might suspect: Marlowe's counterfeit profession -- the question of the author himself. For instance, Yamada is an influence critic interested in Marlowe's intentional rivalry with other writers: "If there is one [constant] throughout these pages, ... it is that Marlowe fashioned himself as a new type of playwright in the course of his seven-year career, struggling with a broad spectrum of influences, and thus his texts were produced" (21). By contrast, both Harraway and the Downie/Parnell collection owe their origin to the resistance movement. Harraway observes that "a common concern with the figure of the author... characterizes Marlovian scholarship to its detriment" (2), and alternatively she argues that "the significance of the evidence claiming to describe his opinions does not depend on its authenticity but rather upon its very textuality" (6). Similarly, Constructing Christopher Marlowe "engage[s] ... with the ways in which Marlowe has been constructed by the critical discourse that has developed around his works" (1). Surely, it is advantageous to see Marlowe approached so diversely, for we can appreciate the simultaneous strength of both Marlowe and "Marlowe." If there is a mystery here, perhaps it is worth entertaining.

Despite being outnumbered, Yamada makes a strong showing. I like his book a good deal, and hope it will enter the Western conversation. Attempting to "dissociate Marlowe from Shakespeare," he observes that "Marlowe's ways of dealing with his sources of influence were so varied that he stands out as an exceptionally interesting figure among pre-Shakespearean playwrights" (3). To get at Marlowe's originality, he "partially revise[s]" Harold Bloom's model of influence with a three-pronged approach that 1) emphasizes "the socio-cultural context from which influences arise;" 2) includes as sources non-literary documents, such as pamphlets, marginalia, and libels; and 3) expands the Marlovian family of influence from a "single Father" (14-15) to "plural voices" (3). Rather than looking at Marlowe's connection with Shakespeare, Yamada focuses on "six key groups" of writers: "(1) Lucan and his commentator Sulpitius (2) John Lyly and his children players at Court (3) the emblematists, such as Andrea Alciati and Geffre y Whitney (4) Giordano Bruno, the magus (5) Niccolo Machiavelli, the political philosopher and. dramatist and (6) Peter Ramus and other logicians" (16). While this wide-ranging model is a useful corrective to the Bloomian-Shakespeare model, Yamada's specific thesis is most valuable: "There is...a remarkable shift in the middle of his career, around the end of the 1580s, in the way Marlowe dealt with his sources of influence. In Lucan's First Book, Dido and the two plays of Tamburlaine, Marlowe tends to veil his sources of influence so that he can inscribe his own voice on the texts through his conflict with those sources. Yet he finally reveals his sources to the audience in his last plays by way of personification" (20). Yamada's insight here is important: in contrast with his earlier plays, in Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and The Massacre at Paris Marlowe puts his sources on stage as characters (21): Bruno, Machiavelli, and Ramus.

Yamada divides his six-chapter study into two corresponding parts of three chapters each. Already perhaps readers will have discovered his most daring feature: the opening chapter breaks the Shakespearean "dramatic" stronghold by considering Marlowe's poetic rivalry with Lucan (and Lucan's commentator Sulpitius) in his pioneering verse translation of Book I of the Pharsalia. Specifically, Yamada sees Marlowe around 1587-88 "mistranslating" Lucan in order both to transpose "the two national boundaries of Nero's Rome and Elizabethan England" (17) and to distort playfully Lucan's epic into "sexual verse" (46). Yamada then goes on to show how the "young dramatist" tends to "veil new humanist materials or influential sources" (49) in his next two chapters, both offering fresh material, especially on the court comedies of Lyly in Dido and on emblem literature in the Tamburlaine plays, The Jew, and Edward II. In chapter 4 on Faustus, Yamada sees Marlowe shifting away from the veiling of sources to the personificatio n of them. The problem with the two texts of Faustus, however, prohibits Yamada from seeing Marlowe actually putting Bruno on the stage here in "Saxon Bruno" -- an argument that does foil expectations a bit. Chapter 5 sees Machiavelli's comedies, especially Mandragola, as influences on The Jew, but Yamada's learning is here on display, for he has plowed the Machiavellian field freshly (141). Chapter 6 on The Massacre begins with a nicely bold declaration that Yamada then explores: "Peter the most eccentric character that Marlowe ever created," notable because Ramus is "an anti-overreacher' who rather defends the boundary of scholarship and restricts his desire to a limited field" (159). Overall, Yamada's study of a Marlowe under the influence of these English and European writers usefully complements a longstanding scholarly project that aims to recognize the complexity of Marlowe s representational scholarship.

For many readers, Harraway's study may appear less useful, in part because of her strident demeanor: "I have...set myself the task of redirecting the movement of Marlovian criticism from its preoccupation with the man, to the texts written by and about him" (6). But readers will also confront an odd temporal faultline, as Harraway in her 2000 book makes claims of critical revolt that today seem rather tame, as when she specifies her Barthesian-Foucauldian-Derridean model: "It is therefore with an awareness of early modern criticism's distrust of deconstruction that I embark undeterred upon my present study of the textuality of Marlowe's drama" (19). It now seems rather odd to interrogate "Traditional readings" (93) when so much revisionist criticism exists. If the study was written years ago (only seven works in the "Bibliography" post-date 1993), it should probably have been sufficiently up-dated. While such features may be off-putting, readers should remain patient, for Harraway has fresh things to say.

Take, for instance, her clear and compelling three-part structural argument. In Part One, "Reading and Writing," she sees Doctor Faustus and Edward II as both about "the staging of reception and inscription." In Part Two, "Repetition," she sees the Tamburlaine plays and Dido as staging "anxieties about the possibility of fathering an original work." And in Part Three, "Re-formation," she sees The Jew of Malta and The Massacre at Paris as "plays informed by subversive revisions of conventional structures" (20). Recurrently, these chapters include valuable local commentary. The chapter on Faustus is particularly rewarding: "The reiterated actual and virtual versions of the Faustus story literalize the theme of textual uncertainty caused by repetition, on which the plays' narratives dwell" (28). Her following chapter on Edward II is filled with intriguing observations, such as: "Like the plays of Doctor Faustus, Edward II has at its heart a document designed to effect a man's death" (52). Her introduction of two historical contexts for Mortimer's famous letter sealing Edward's fate -- Henry VIII's will and Elizabeth's Bond of Association -- is new and illuminating. In her third chapter, Harraway argues that "by staging the consequences of repetition on character, narrative and language, the plays of Tamburlaine interrogate the assumption that a work of art can ever be truly and singularly original or... unrepeatable" (83). In contrast, the next chapter on Virgil in Dido is less original (see 131-32), but in her penultimate chapter, Harraway argues that The Massacre "examines the transcendental, transhistorical and translational structure of the canon which serves to classify all literary artefacts" (141), while in her final chapter she argues that The Jew examines "the concept of genre which influences and informs a text both at the moment of its inception and again at the point of its reception" (168). In her conclusion, Harraway suggest that her "express aim is to re-examine the plays usually attributed to Christo pher Marlowe, through post-structuralist theories of language which indicate the inevitability of multivalent texts and multiple interpretations" (207).

While Harraway and Yamada represent a professional division over authorship, both share a commitment to the category of the literary, and they further endorse a Shakespearean literary category: a fundamentally "dramatic" Marlowe. For all her eagerness to detach herself from past criticism, Harraway is most bound to this popular template. Working within it, she usefully presents a "Marlowe" deeply concerned with matters of textuality and representation.

Constructing Christopher Marlowe includes two excellent essays on Hero and Leander but is also tied to the Shakespearean dramatic model, since the inclusion of one poem in a study devoted to "the drama" is largely a variation on the familiar template. The problem is that we encounter an anachronistic delimiting of authorial construction that post-dates both authors. Nonetheless, in its commitment to "the ways in which Marlowe has been constructed by the critical discourse that has developed around his works" (1), the collection shares an interest in the linguistic project of the other two studies. Yet here the critical lens of "construction" widens considerably. As Parnell puts it in his introduction, the "essays gathered here aim... to contribute in a positive sense to the critical effort to construct a fuller understanding of the poet and playwright, but with a keen awareness that such a project is necessarily ongoing and incomplete" (1). Reminiscent of Harraway in its Bartesian and Foucauldian model, he ad ds that the "contributors... are united in their rejection of biographical approaches and their attention to more nuanced and flexible readings of the complexities of Marlowe's texts and culture" (1). While it is not clear that the contributors are as unified as Parnell claims (see Shepherd, Wilson, and Brown on agency), readers will find this volume an authoritative contribution to Marlowe studies.

The primary achievement is to consolidate a profession-wide commitment to revisionist notions of Marlovian authorship along a series of cultural vectors. The opening essay by Downie elaborates on the volume's core idea. Since "[w]e know next to nothing about Christopher Marlowe... [w]hen we speak or write about him, we are really referring to a construct called 'Marlowe"': while the same might be "said about all writers... Marlowe/'Marlowe' poses the problem in a peculiarly acute form" (13). Downie concludes that the coroner got Marlowe's death right: he was not assassinated. Julian M.C. Bowsher's essay on "Marlowe and the Rose" is largely informational but still fascinating: "Marlowe would have known the Rose in both of the building phases uncovered by the excavations" (39).

While the first two essays examine Marlowe's biography and theater historically, the next two examine his texts, especially Faustus. Richard Proudfoot's "Marlowe and the Editors" is a strangely cast essay filled with original thoughts. He cites the final stage direction to William Mountfort's 1697 The Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Made into a Farce -- "'Faustus Limbs come together. A Dance, and Song'" -- as "an emblem of Marlowe scholarship" and of "the editing of Marlowe." As a "disciple of the New Bibliography," Proudfoot says he "would have to rewrite the stage direction: 'Scene changes to Heaven. Marlowe's Texts come together. A Dance, and Song"' (45). In "Marlowe and the Metaphysics of Magicians," the late (and learned) Gareth Roberts -- to whom the volume is dedicated -- sees a connection between editors' reconstructions of the play and critics' interpretation of "magic": "The hope of recovering an 'authentic' text might be as fallacious as recovering 'magic' in the play" (59). Accordingly, Roberts sees in Faustus "a heteroglossic plurality of magical belief and opinion" (73).

The next pair of essays attend to dramaturgy and performance more broadly. In "Marlowe's 'Theatre of Cruelty,'" Janet Clare "argue[s] that we benefit from looking beyond the period to the writings of Antonin Artaud on theatre" (74), seeing that the "textual subversions...are dramaturgically, not ideologically, inspired" (75) and emphasizing "a shift of emphasis to the aesthetic. . . of cruelty" (79). Provocatively titled "Marlowe Onstage: the Deaths of the Author," Lois Potter's essay offers an overview of Marlowe in performance and film, suggesting that such work as Peter Whelan's The School of Night "releases Marlowe from the role of victim and martyr, making the playwright's work, after all, more interesting than his death" (101).

The next two essays, on Marlowe's recent critical reception, are among the most striking. Simon Shepherd's "A Bit of Ruff: Criticism, Fantasy, Marlowe is gripping in its equation between "Marlowe's name" and "sex and violence," especially the brilliant inscription of a dramatic narrative in the postmodern Marlovian register: "Ipushed the bolt across the door. Underneath our feet the floor was wet with piss. We manoeuvred so that he was standing with his legs either side of the lavatory bowl Then, leaning towards the cistern, the king began to undo his jeans" (102). Shepherd's is not an easy act to follow, but that's presumably why we next greet Richard Wilson. In "'Writ in blood': Marlowe and the New Historicists," Wilson joins Shepherd in sounding the "revival of the author" (129), in responding to New Historicism, and in critiquing Stephen Greenblatt. The essay is a deeply informed history of an era being contained for interrogation.

The penultimate pair of essays complicates the mold of Marlowe the dramatist by examining Hero and Leander, the first attending to gender and sexuality, the second to gender and voice. In "'Hero and Leander': the Arbitrariness of Desire," Claude J. Summers articulates his thesis in his title, emphasizing Marlowe's "vanance with the conventional morality of [his] . . . society and its dominant constructions of sexuality," as well as both its tragic and comic potential (133). Locating Marlowe's "project of destabilization" in "his treatment of homosexuality," Summers nicely emphasizes that Marlowe's historic originality lies in his use of same-sex relations" (134). Complementing Summers, Georgia E. Brown in "Gender and Voice in Hero and Leander" usefully places Marlowe's project of destabilization in "the context of the aesthetic and literary debates of the 1590s": "Thus the poem not only interrogates gender assumptions, it also interrogates the very notion of the aesthetic and the nature of the canon" (148).

The final two essays foreground questions of "sexual politics" by returning the volume to the plays. Joanna Gibbs' "Marlowe's Politic Women" argues importantly that in the plays "women often are allowed to make inroads into male space and actively to engage in statesmanship," including Isabella, Dido, and Olympia, with Abigail functioning as a negative example (175). Lawrence Normand brings the volume to a compelling close in "'Edward II', Derek Jarman, and the State of England," showing through the film that "configurations of same-sex desire are historically relative, and implicated in a field of complex social and political forces" (177). If for Gibbs Marlowe's women have political identities, for Normand Marlowe's men have sexual identities wired only for politics, unlike in Jarman's film, which rewrites the play with a modern conception of gay identity.

These three books confirm the brilliance of Marlowe's diverse empire, both in his plays and in two of his poems, in print and on stage, even in recent film. The three conjoin in the constructedness of Marlowe, for even Yamada sees Marlovian authorship "produced" from other agents. Four hundred years later, Marlowe continues to make his pioneering traverse over major cultural territory, foregrounding the tormented joy of his heated spirit: in his works, we discern a professionally competitive, politically subversive, sexually driven authorship written out of the complex cultural trench in which he penned and finally was penned.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Renaissance Society of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, 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:Dec 22, 2001
Previous Article:Showing Like a Queen: Female Authority and Literary Experiment in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. (Reviews).
Next Article:English Court Theatre, 1558-1642 & Theatre, Court and City, 1595-1610: Drama and Social Space in London. (Reviews).

Related Articles
Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe and the Renaissance of Tragedy.
The Gift of Fire: Aggression and the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe and English Renaissance Culture.
Sex, Gender, and Desire in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe.
Marlowe's Counterfeit Profession: Ovid, Spenser, Counternationhood.
Playing with Desire: Christopher Marlowe and the Art of Tantalization.
Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation.
1590s Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlowe, Chapman and Shakespeare's Henry V. .

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |