Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation

Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation

Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation

Marlovian Tragedy: The Play of Dilation

Synopsis

This study of Marlowe's appropriations of tragic narrative shows how his moral ambiguity is a rhetorical effect produced by his favored use of dilation or amplification. Through close readings of Marlowe's seven works, Grande outlines a typology of Marlovian dilation on various levels.

Excerpt

Critics have yet to define the distinct pleasure of Marlovian tragedy. What is clear is that Marlowe's drama is in many ways a queer breed. When his plays are compared—as invariably happens—with those of his chief playwright-rival Shakespeare, Marlowe more often than not comes off as less moral, less capable of “inward” reflection, less orderly, less stable. Or, to put the comparison in positive terms, Marlowe is considered more brilliant, flamboyant, and daring than Shakespeare, more deliberately ironic and open to a transgressive moral ambiguity. Surprisingly, studies of Marlovian tragedy have not theorized far beyond such basic pronouncements, mainly because they continue to tether Marlowe under the giant shadow of Shakespeare. A full-length study of Marlowe's own distinctive transformations of tragedy, which would take the works on their own terms, is long overdue.

Readers of Marlowe have often begun by grappling with what is, by most accounts, the striking feature of his work—his notorious moral ambiguity (in Leah S. Marcus's words, “the simultaneous exaltation and undermining of official ideology that generates the 'Marlowe effect'”). A decade ago, Carol Leventen Duane indicated the need for a full-scale study of Marlowe's ambiguity. Duane convincingly argues that “much of Marlowe's characteristic moral ambiguity may result from his deliberate, controlled, and masterly presentation and manipulation of multiple perspectives and divided responses.” But Duane's cue has gone largely unheeded. Few critics, for example, have turned their attention to Marlowe's technique of generic manipulation as one of the chief ways in which he achieves “multiple perspectives and divided responses.” In particular, Marlowe consistently manipulates the moralized structure of tragedy. All of Marlowe's plays end in the conventional tragic way, with death. But each play, as well as Hero and Leander, repeatedly evokes the reader's expectations of a tragic end only to defer them, dilating the moment of pleasure so that the protagonists can dally before the “law” of tragedy. Tracing his tendency to play with, extend, or dilate the conventional end of tragedy may well illuminate the ambiguous effects that readers have long associated with Marlowe's signature.

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