By Charles Matthews

Sunday, May 9, 2010

1. "The Complete Plays," by Christopher Marlowe, pp. vii-xliv

Preface, Chronology, Introduction, "The Baines Note," Further Reading, A Note on the Texts, eds. Frank Romany and Robert Lindsey
"Helen haunted Marlowe's imagination. What fascinated him was the destructiveness of her beauty: men died and cities burned for it." But in the speech "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships," some of the beauty referred to "is male beauty, and the uncertainty of Faustus' imagining of ravishment plays back over the speech as a whole. The initial question -- was this the face? -- is only half-rhetorical: this is not Helen but a boy-actor and, more darkly, a succubus (an evil spirit in female form) who 'sucks forth [his] soul in ways that are indistinguishably erotic and terrifying."

"The self-destructive desire in these lines is a central preoccupation of all Marlowe's plays."

"The opening scene [of Dido, Queen of Carthage] sets the tone, beginning not with grand heterosexual passion but with the pederastic Jupiter 'dandling GANYMEDE upon his knee.'"

"The conflicts [in Tamburlaine] are at once religious and territorial, and the play is not on the Christian side. The perfidious Christians are overrun by a pious Muslim who calls on Christ; the God he reveres is one 'that sits on high and never sleeps, / Nor in one place is circumscriptible....' Beyond the vast Asiatic spaces over which the action is fought out, there is a vaster spiritual dimension."

In Tamburlaine's death, "Marlowe avoids conventional Christian moralizing. His final illness begins just after he has burned the Koran, an act which could be interpreted as a fatal defiance of divine power, except that he burns it in the name of God."

Of Marlowe's own religious views, nothing certain is known. The closest we come is the dubious record of "his damnable judgement of religion and scorn of God's word" preserved in the "note" Richard Baines delivered to the Privy Council close to the time of Marlowe's death. Baines was a hostile and unreliable witness (he had been apprehended with Marlowe for counterfeiting in Holland; each accused the other of intending to desert to the Catholic enemy), and his note is an informer's delation.
The Massacre at Paris "is virulently anti-Catholic; but, although the text in which it survives is too poor to make certain judgments, its satire seems also to cover the anti-Guisard backlash which follows."

The story told in [Doctor Faustus] is well on the way to its "degeneration" in the next two centuries into the popular media of ballads, farces and puppet shows -- the last being the form in which Goethe first knew it. Yet it is also a spectacle of damnation.
The Jew of Malta "is largely a satire on Christian venality and hypocrisy."

Edward the Second: "The barons' hatred of Edward's love is less homophobia than class-antagonism. Gaveston is an upstart on whom the King showers favours at the expense of the old nobility."

Modern criticism, concentrating on Marlowe's "subversiveness," sometimes makes him sound like Joe Orton in doublet and hose. To some Elizabethans, he was something more than dangerous. Richard Baines's testimony against Marlowe includes the pious wish that "all men in Christianity ought to endeavour that the mouth of so dangerous a member may be stopped." Speculation continues that, when Marlowe was killed in Deptford in May 1593, that is exactly what happened.

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