By Charles Matthews

Monday, July 19, 2010

5. The World of Christopher Marlowe, by David Riggs, pp. 98-126

The World of Christopher 
MarloweChapter Six: The Teacher of Desire
Once he received his B.A., Marlowe had freedom to leave Corpus Christi for extended periods, and took advantage of it for weeks and sometimes months throughout his M.A. studies. The last time he was recorded as present at the college was in March 1587. But the only recorded appearance away from the college comes in Canterbury in August 1585, when he served as witness to the last will and testament of the mother of a fellow student. He signed his name as "Cristofer Marley." "It is his only extant autograph signature."

During this time, he may have devoted himself to translating Ovid's Amores, the "most obscure and lascivious" of Ovid's love poems.
Marlowe's translation of the Amores bears many traces of apprentice work. His line-for-line rendering frequently departs from the plain sense of the original, occasionally lapses into obscurity and lacks the sure metrical touch of his other verse, especially Hero and Leander, his later Ovidian poem. Although the botched translations in Marlowe's All Ovid's Elegies occasionally stem from errors in his Latin texts, many are his own doing. For this reason, scholars surmise that Marlowe put the Amores into English while a student at Cambridge. 
Marlowe's translation is "more direct and coarse" than the original, and he might have been prosecuted if he had published it under his own name. "The very act of translation forged a bond between Ovid and Marlowe, who revived the Roman poet's radical commitment to sexual licence and freedom of speech." When Marlowe's translations of the Elegies were published six years after his death, Archbishop Whitgift ordered them copies of them to be rounded up and burnt in St. Paul's Churchyard. Elements of the translation can be detected in his later work, including Hero and Leander, Dr. Faustus and Edward II. He also revived the ancient rivalry between Ovid and Virgil in Elizabethan England:
Edmund Spenser had staked his own claim to be the "Virgil of England" by publishing his inaugural book of pastoral eclogues, The Shepherd's Calendar (1579) and undertaking The Faerie Queene, a national epic of Virgilian proportions. Marlowe's translation of the Amores thus cast him in the Ovidian role of Virgil's ancient rival.
Marlowe's lyric, "Come live with me and be my love," is also an early work. He parodies it in his plays, including three times in Dido, Queen of Carthage, which dates from the mid-1580s. It was inspired by the song sung by the Cyclops to Galatea in Ovid's Metamorphoses. It was untitled until it was reprinted in the anthology The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, where it was called "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." But the poem itself doesn't specify the genders of the speaker or the person spoken to -- the "kirtle" referred to in the poem could be either a man's tunic or a woman's dress or skirt.
In Marlowe's sources monologue turns into dialogue and the Passionate Shepherd becomes the protagonist in an Ovidian tragedy. After Galatea says no, the Cyclops crushes her lover Acis to death with a rock. ... When [Marlowe] recasts "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" in dramatic form, he does so in a context of rape, possession, prostitution and abandonment. 
The university men who turned to drama did so first for the children's companies made up of choirboys from the Chapel Royal, St. George's Chapel Windsor and St. Paul's, which performed at court throughout the sixteenth century. In 1576 the Chapel Children began performing for paying spectators at the Blackfriars Theatre under the supervision of William Hunnis, the Master of the Chapel Children, in a partnership with the Earl of Oxford and John Lyly. Like Marlowe, Lyly left Cambridge with no desire to have a career in the Church. So he wrote a prose narrative, Euphues: Or, The Anatomy of Wit, which became a bestseller in 1579 and was followed by an equally successful sequel, Euphues and His England in 1580.

Oxford, Lyly's patron, was trying to make a comeback at court after causing a scandal: He had secretly converted to Catholicism while in Italy, and when he returned to England he made friends with some Catholic noblemen whom he betrayed to the queen. In retaliation, the victims charged Oxford with "pederasty, atheism and repeated attempts to murder his enemies. Many of these accusations are quite believable." Some of the charges also echo the ones that Baines would later make against Marlowe, and "offer a glimpse of the libertine sentiments that circulated within Oxford's circle. Even if Marlowe did not belong to that circle, he knew people who did."

The evidence suggests that Dido, Queen of Carthage was written for the Chapel Children around 1584-85. It was not published until 1594, when it was attributed to both Marlowe and Thomas Nashe. But Nashe may simply have been the one who prepared the text for print; it "seems to be mostly Marlowe's work."
John Lyly gave Marlowe a model of what it meant to be a major playwright. Lyly had an immediate, transforming impact on the language of English comedy; his prose marked a qualitative leap forward from the rambling, invertebrate syntax of his predecessors. The finely crafted symmetries between the sound and the sense of Lyly's sentences enabled the children to project complicated ideas without losing their audience. Marlowe brought about a comparable revolution in the language of verse tragedy. Where Lyly invented an English approximation of Ciceronian prose, Marlowe captured the lofty sound of Virgil's epic verse in English poetry.
The difficulty was finding an equivalent for English verse to the quantitative metres of Latin, which are based on the length of the vowel sounds. For the long and short syllables of Latin, English poets were forced to substitute stressed and unstressed syllables. They "found it difficult to employ polysyllabic words without clogging the flow of the verse. Here is Surrey [in his translation of the Aeneid] on the run-up to Queen Dido's suicide: 'But trembling Dido eagerly now bent / Upon her stern determination.'" The alternative, sticking to monosyllables, produced monotonous lines like these from Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton's Gorboduc, the pioneering blank verse tragedy: "Yield not, O King, so much to weak despair, / Your sons yet live and long I trust they shall." In 1575, George Gascoigne published Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Rhyme in English, in which he advocated "accentual iambic metres ('a foot of two syllables whereof the first is depressed or made short, and the second is elevate or made long') in a five-foot line.... Gascoigne had discovered iambic pentameter." But Gascoigne was skeptical about the ability of English verse to achieve "the richness and complexity that he recognized in classical poetry."

Marlowe's solution is found in the opening lines of Dido, Queen of Carthage:
Come, gentle Ganymede, and play with me:
w     s  w   s  ws     w   s    w   s
I love thee well, say Juno what she will.
w s    w    s     w   s w  s    w   s
Both verses contain the five pairs of alternating weak (w) and strong (s) syllables that constitute an iambic pentameter line.... In the first foot, "gen-" is at once the second syllable of the iamb "Come gen-" (ws) and the first syllable of the trochaic (sw) word "gentle." In the second "Gan-" likewise completes the iambic foot "-tle Gan-" (ws) and initiates the trochaic "Gany-" (sw).... Since polysyllabic words in English generally have trochaic (sw) rhythms ... trochaic words invariably disrupt iambic meters, however slightly. Marlowe turns this supposed liability into an asset. 

Marlowe also alters the tone of Virgil's story of Dido and Aeneas, which was supposedly "about manly Roman piety prevailing over effeminate Eastern passion." On the other hand, Ovid and Chaucer "saw Aeneas as a cad and a prig." "Marlowe considers this question from a queer point of view," juxtaposing the homosexual love of Jupiter for Ganymede and the heterosexual love of Aeneas for Dido. He parodies "Come live with me and be my love" by having Jupiter say "Come, gentle Ganymede, and play with me."
For Renaissance humanists, this was the definitive myth about homoerotic love, Jove's choice of Ganymede over Juno epitomized the Socratic preference for boys over women.... The distinction between eroticized male friendship and sodomy turned on cultural rather than exclusively sexual criteria. During the Renaissance, men were encouraged to love boys if both parties belonged to the same class and the relationship was not mercenary.... The stigma of sodomy attached to the base interloper who traded sex for reward and threatened the marital alliances that maintained class privilege.... The Earl of Oxford, the leading patron of boy actors in the mid-1580s, was himself a pederast, the only titled Elizabethan to be charged with sodomy.
As for Dido and her fate, Marlowe follows Ovid in minimizing her "moral culpability" and "enlarges the role of Cupid to show Dido as the victim of forces beyond her control."
Virgil's hero epitomizes the self-denying ethic taught in Renaissance Latin lessons, and Marlowe's play finds him wanting. Despite the misogyny that surrounds her, the radical will in this early play belongs to Dido. She alone speaks with the voice of desire that would become the trademark of Marlowe's tragic heroes.... When he writes Edward II a few years later, the conflict of king, queen and Ganymede descends from Mount Olympus into history, and the struggle between opposed sexualities comes to its appalling conclusion.

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