Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Marlowe, Hoffman, and the Admiral's Men

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Marlowe, Hoffman, and the Admiral's Men

Article excerpt

It can hardly be wrong to identify Marlowe with the Admiral's long career as much as we do Shakespeare with their opposites.

The data suggest that, while the Admiral's Men started out, unsurprisingly, with Marlowe as a strong presence in their repertory, they quickly cycled his work out of rotation, as they would have done with any play-old or new.... I had been skeptical about the "defining feature" claim, but I did not expect to find that Marlowe had become irrelevant by late 1596.

The two statements above represent diametrically opposing views about the significance of Christopher Marlowe's plays in the repertory of the Admiral's Men. For Andrew Gurr, they were of central importance to the company from 1594, when someone or other "chose to give one of the duopoly companies [the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the Lord Admiral's Men] all of Shakespeare and the other all of Marlowe," until 1642, when "Tamhurlaine and Faustas continued to appear at the Fortune." In the intervening period, the plays (along with Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy [1582-92]) remained "the beating heart of the company's repertory."1 2 3 Holger Schott Syme, however, takes issue with these assertions. Like Roslyn Knutson in the same issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, he highlights the lack of evidence for a shadowy figure (Gurr elsewhere suggests the Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney) allocating William Shakespeare's and Marlowe's plays to the Lord Chamberlain's and Lord Admiral's Men in 1594, when events were set in train that would give those two companies a dominant position in the 1590s theater.4 Furthermore, he points out that whatever the literary prestige of Marlowe then or since, "the idea that Marlowe's plays formed the backbone of the Admiral's Men's economic fortunes" is highly questionable: Even in the company's first season at the Rose Theater, when "the Admiral's Men relied on Marlowe's plays almost 19 percent of the time," "those performances were less lucrative than the company's non-Marlovian offerings," and they declined both in frequency and in their takings thereafter. Finally, he views the hypothesis that new plays written for the Admiral's Men imitated the style of Marlowe's successes as ultimately unverifiable, given that most of them have been lost to posterity.5

While Syme's arguments about the declining profitability of Marlowe's plays are hard to dispute, derived as they are from Philip Henslowe's theatrical records, they do not preclude further comment. In the inaugural number of Marlowe Studies: An Annual\ Paul Menzer notes that the continued willingness of the Admiral's Men to perform those plays in spite of relatively low takings may itself be significant: "Perhaps motives other than the pecuniary influenced some of their decisions: sentiment, envy, status anxiety, and nostalgia." Menzer notes the spate of revivals and augmentations of old plays in 1601-2 in which the company engaged-The Jew of Malta, The Spanish Tragedy, The Massacre at Taris, and others-and links this policy to Edward Alleyn's temporary return to the stage. He also suggests, however, that it may have represented a concerted attempt by the Admiral's Men at "promulgating the canonization of writers in their own repertory and promoting their plays as 'classics,' rewriting English theatre history to portray themselves as conservators of English dramatic heritage."6 This essay takes Menzer's argument a stage further: I will argue that a sense of corporate identity of a kind similar to that which he suggests, and based in particular on the plays of Marlowe (as well as The Spanish Tragedy), informed not only the revival of old plays, but also the production of new ones. My case in point is Henry Chetde's The Tragedy of Hoffman; or, Revenge for a Father (1603), a play whose profound but problematic relationship with Hamlet (1600) has frequently been remarked upon. I shall argue that one way of making sense of this relationship is by seeing Hoffman as a rewriting of Hamlet in a manner in keeping with the existing repertory of the Admiral's Men's. …

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