Shakespeare's Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare's Artistry

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Shakespeare's Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare's Artistry, by Robert A. Logan. Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2007. Pp. 251. $89.95.


In this outrageously overpriced and somewhat inconveniently presented volume (the extensive footnotes, which need constantly to be consulted, appear only at the end of chapters, besides which the print is uncomfortably small), Professor Logan provides us with a thoughtful, wide-ranging, and careful reconsideration of a subject that has attracted students of the two dramatists for well over a century. Although I have reservations about some of the conclusions reached, as well as about certain of the critical formulations that serve as their premise, I want to begin by praising three of the book's major strengths. First, Logan treats Marlowe and Shakespeare as artists - as dramatists and poets with uniquely individual temperaments, talents, and purposes, rather than as mere producers of "cultural texts" that may serve as fodder for postmodernist harangues on the politics of power struggle in Tudor and Stuart society or for reducing the excitements of great drama to the narrow specialisms of class, race, and gender. Second, Logan's analyses are couched in a lucid and humane style, generally unmarred by jargon, "critspeak," and the ugly, obfuscatory abstractions that have lately become the common parlance of much scholarly discourse. Third, the author has done his homework. One of the exemplary features of Shakespeare 's Marlowe is its impressive command of scholarship and its assimilation of the daunting accumulation of commentary by multifarious predecessors.

Convincingly, Logan sees the relationship between Marlowe and Shakespeare less as a professional rivalry than as a probably cordial and stimulating colleagueship in the business of producing popular entertainment for similar audiences - a colleagueship from which the less experienced Shakespeare learned self-confidence and that, after Marlowe's murder, spurred him to adopt Marlovian innovations in poetic expression, characterization, and dramaturgy without slavishly imitating his model or uncritically sharing his more pessimistic worldview. Logan assumes, probably correctly, that although the two playwrights were associated with different acting companies, they knew each other well enough to be fully aware of each other's work, and that in 1594 when Shakespeare became part of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the force of his dead friend's plays began to tell on him in subtle and heterogeneous ways. Properly rejecting Stephen Greenblatt's glib dictum that "source study is . . . the elephants' graveyard of literary history" and Harold Bloom's notion that an "anxiety of influence" (9) could have shaped Shakespeare's reaction to Marlowe, Logan insists that "a study of influences illuminates both the influencing and the influenced work" (14). It is a measure of Logan's critical caution and common sense that he begins by acknowledging the prominent element of subjectivity and speculation that inevitably attends any attempt to assess the nature of Marlowe's impact upon Shakespeare. As he points out, the influence of one dramatist upon another is not only a matter of formidable complexity but one that should never be considered as an end in itself. What this book seeks to accomplish, then, is to gain greater insight into the achievements of both dramatists by setting various of their works in juxtaposition - to point out how a given play or poem by Marlowe that invites comparison to a work by Shakespeare helps to illuminate the latter' s fresh development and originality, however unprovable or remote the supposed "influence" might be. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of this investigation is Logan's conclusion that the more generalized and distant the supposed impact of Marlowe's work on Shakespeare, the deeper and more pervasive is its importance. …