Notes on the Blank Verse of Christopher Marlowe

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Notes on the Blank Verse of Christopher Marlowe

"Marloe was stabd with a dagger, and dyed swearing"

A MORE friendly critic, Mr. A. C. Swinburne, observes of this poet

that "the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank

verse was therefore also the teacher and the guide of Shakespeare." In

this sentence there are two misleading assumptions and two misleading

conclusions. Kyd has as good a title to the first honour as Marlowe;

Surrey has a better title to the second; and Shakespeare was not

taught or guided by one of his predecessors or contemporaries alone.

The less questionable judgment is, that Marlowe exercised a strong

influence over later drama, though not himself as great a dramatist as

Kyd; that he introduced several new tones into blank verse, and

commenced the dissociative process which drew it farther and farther

away from the rhythms of rhymed verse; and that when Shakespeare

borrowed from him, which was pretty often at the beginning,

Shakespeare either made something inferior or something different. 1

The comparative study of English versification at various periods is a

large tract of unwritten history. To make a study of blank verse

alone, would be to elicit some curious conclusions. It would show, I

believe, that blank verse within Shakespeare's lifetime was more

highly developed, that it became the vehicle of more varied and more

intense art-emotions than it has ever conveyed since; and that after

the erection of the Chinese Wall of Milton, blank verse has suffered

not only arrest but retrogression. That the blank verse of Tennyson,

for example, a consummate master of this form in certain applications,

is cruder (not "rougher" or less perfect in technique) than that of

half a dozen contemporaries of Shakespeare; cruder, because less

capable of expressing complicated, subtle, and surprising emotions. 2

Every writer who has written any blank verse worth saving has produced

particular tones which his verse and no other's is capable of

rendering; and we should keep this in mind when we talk about

"influences" and "indebtedness." Shakespeare is "universal" (if you

like) because he has more of these tones than anyone else; but they

are all out of the one man; one man cannot be more than one man; there

might have been six Shakespeares at once without conflicting

frontiers; and to say that Shakespeare expressed nearly all human

emotions, implying that he left very little for anyone else, is a

radical misunderstanding of art and the artist-a misunderstanding

which, even when explicitly rejected, may lead to our neglecting the

effort of attention necessary to discover the specific properties of

the verse of Shakespeare's contemporaries.
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