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Many major and influential authors emerged during the Renaissance. Among these talented individuals was Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe and his fellow writers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, impacted the course of writing, which preceded their life. Their works continue to be read and studied by numerous people, to this day. Christopher Marlowe was a dominant English poet and playwright, who perhaps was William Shakespeare’s most important predecessor in England (Britannica 917). Of all writers in the Elizabethan era, he was perhaps the most dashing, tempestuous, and appealing (Microsoft Encarta). Although Marlowe was considered the most important dramatist, prior to Shakespeare, his entire career as a playwright lasted only six years.
Marlowe was born on February 6th, 1564 in Canterbury, England. His father, John Marlowe, was a shoemaker and tanner. His mother, Catherine Author, was the daughter of a clergyman. Marlowe attended Kings School in Canterbury, England. At Kings School, he received a very regimented education, which was considered one of the best available during that time. The school day began and ended with a prayer at six am and five p.m. respectively. In addition to daily instruction in religion and music, they also sang the morning mass in the Cathedral. The boys were allowed to speak solely in Latin, even while at play. He was granted a scholarship, established by Matthew Perry, to attend Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. (Gale
Research) After receiving his BA in 1584, he became known as “Dominus'; Marlowe(. At age twenty-one, his motto was “That which nourishes me, destroys me'; (Kunitz 823). This statement foretold and shaped his writing style. From thereafter, many absences from the university were recorded. In 1587, he was allowed to obtain his Masters, only after the Privy Council sent a letter to the university making it very clear that his service to the government had frequently taken him abroad. He left Cambridge after six and a half years of study with the intention of taking holy orders and entering the Anglican Church, as ordained by his scholarship. However, instead he entered the government service, as an agent. In edition, Marlowe became a playwright for the London theatres. As an occasional actor in 1589, Marlowe maintained his role as a regular dramatist for the Lord Admirals Company. He also wrote for The Earl of Nottinghams Companies. Marlowe was often in trouble with the law, and little is known about his life, aside from his writings.
He led an adventurous and dissolute life.
Earlier playwrights concentrated on comedy, while Marlowe worked on tragedy, and advanced it considerably as a dramatic medium. By uncovering the great possibilities for strength and variety of expression in blank verse, Marlowe helped to establish the verse as the predominant form in the English drama. His first successful play, Tamburlaine the Great, was divided into two sections, parts one and two. It appeared that originally Marlowe intended to only write the first part. However, the popularity of the first part motivated him to create a second part. It was produced at Rose Theatre from 1587 to 1588, and published by R. Jhones in 1590. The ambition-maddened hero, in Tamburlaine the Great, was a shepherd, who desired the crown, luxury and power. However, his conquests were damaged by his absurdity. Tamburlaine
marked the birth of the Shakespearean drama. The following lines from Tamburlaine illustrate Marlowe’s opinion of human glory:
Nature that fram’d us of four elements
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet’s course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruitition of an earthly crown. (Britannica 917)
His masterpiece, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, told of a man selling his soul for the price of all knowledge. This appealed to the superstitious Elizabethans. It was produced in 1594 as Dr. Faustus at the Rose Theatre. V. Simmes published The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus in 1604. The following lines from this work show the possible redemption through Christ’s blood:
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.
O, I’ll leap up to my God! -Who pulls me down? -
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ! -
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!
Yet will I call on him: O, spare me, Lucifer! -
Where is it now? ‘tis gone: and see, where God
Stretcheth out his arm, and bends his ireful brows!
Mountains and hills, come, come, and fall on me,
And hide me from the heavy wrath of God! (Britannica 918)
In addition to writing plays, Marlowe also wrote poetry. His major poetic work was Hero and Leander. This was incomplete at his death, the first two sections were completed at his death and the remaining two were finished by George Chapman in 1598, almost five years after Marlowe’s death. Marlowes writing here shows an amazing skill in the management of the narrative decasyllable couplet. No agreement was reached as to the composition date of this poem, but it is ranked as a major work along with Tamburlaine and Faustus.
Marlowe began writing poetry and performing plays, when he entered Kings School. His education shaped him to become the genius who first created the Shakespearean blank verse drama. This is why many hailed him as “The Morning Star';, of the turning point from comedy to drama in England (Marlowe Society Home Page).
Marlowe had a dangerous reputation for being “atheist';; however, he could have had just unorthodox beliefs. He was aquatinted with Sir Walter Raleigh, who was adventurous in his religious beliefs. Marlowe was summoned on May 18th, 1593, to appear before the Privy Council for accounts of “atheism and immortality';. The charge was a heresy and a most serious crime; the ultimate penalty was burning at the stake. Despite the seriousness of the crime, Marlowe was released bail, however he had to appear at the court daily. Marlowe escaped to Debtford, England. He stayed at Dame Eleanor Bull’s house who hired out rooms and served meals. Marlowe was murdered there on May 30th, 1593, at age 29. The strange circumstances for Marlowes murder in that room in Debtford, have been the subject for many debates. Four men were present at the house on that day Robert Poley was an experienced government agent who carried the Queens most secret letters to and from the courts in Europe. He had arrived from Debtford, straight from The Hague, where he had been on the Queens business. Igram Frizer
was the personal servant and business agent of Marlowe’s patron, Thomas Walsingham. Nicholas Skeres often assisted Poley. Poley, Skeres and Frizer were all experienced con men and liars. Also present that day was Christopher Marlowe. Some believe that the cause of his murder was a dispute over a dinner bill. Others believed that Marlowe was murdered because
the three men believed that he knew too much about the government. Although the facts surrounding his death are unknown, the end result was Marlowe’s death by stab wounds. Igram Frizer was accused of the murder of Marlowe, however he was pardoned on June 28th, 1593. Marlowe was buried in Debtford on June 1st, 1593. The death of Christopher Marlowe led many scholars to theorize that he faked his death and assumed the name William Shakespeare to escape the Privy Council. Shakespeare was born two months after Marlowe, and he became very popular shortly after the death of Marlowe. Little is known about Shakespeare other then mentioned of his poor education. There is not much evidence of his existence other then baptism paper, and a will left leaving his bed to his wife. There is no mention of his works or manuscripts in his will
Marlowe began his career as a poet and playwright towards the end of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was the period from about 1350 to 1600 in which European scholars revived the learning of ancient Greece and Rome. It was a period in European history that saw a renewed interest in the arts. In this time, the middle ages and feudal times were transformed into a society dominated by the arts. It was a time of achievements in the arts and sciences as well as a period when people were deeply concerned with religious issues. Renaissance is a French word meaning “rebirth';. Scholars reacted against what they saw as the “dark ages'; of medieval Europe and revived the learning of ancient Greece and Rome. Like painting and sculpture, literature expressed the attitudes of the Renaissance. The middle class formed a demanding new audience, which enjoyed dramatic tales rather the comedies. Literature was often written in the common language, but some continued to write in Latin. Literature emphasized religious as well as worldly themes. Invention of printing during the Renaissance greatly increased the number of
book available. In the fourteenth century, Europeans learned from Arabs who had previously learned from the Chinese how to make paper from rags and wood pulp. The fifteenth century invention of movable type by Johann Gutenberg also shaped the way literature had previously been written. Gutenberg developed a type of metal that could be used to make movable type. In 1455, the first complete edition of the bible was printed; this started the era of printed books. More and more pieces began to be printed up, and thus decreased the cost of books, making them more available and more popular (Beers 245).
Each of Marlowe’s play included a protagonist with single passion that dominated them. The character is doomed to destruction due to their desire of power. He had a background of classical and theological learning. Marlowe “turned blank verse into a supple instrument for dramatic expression';. (Gale Research). Marlowe worked on tragedy and advanced it immensely. “Marlowe shows the power to view a tragic hero from more then one angle, achieving a simultaneous vision of grandeur and impotence'; (Microsoft Encarta). Renaissance impacted Marlowe due to the desire of the middle class for tragedy rather then comedy, which had previously been the focus of European literature. Marlowe was one of the first writers of drama and tragedy that shaped the history of Europe. Marlowe laid the foundation of tragedy of what
would rise up as a new era, known as the Shakespearean Era. Writing was a competition and was taken very seriously by writers including Marlowe.
Writers are impacted tremendously by the time period that is taken place during their careers. The Renaissance was a time of new ways of writing and expressing ideas, which impacted the attitudes of the people. The writers changed their style to reflect the time and attitudes. They influence the minds of people to think about their ideas and opinions on a
particular subject. Writers can persuade people concerning a topic by revealing the positive and negative aspects of it. Marlowe was an influential and powerful writer. It was unfortunate that his career was cut short. He had a very promising career, but his own decision to become a government agent endangered his career and stopped him from becoming an more popular and productive playwright.