Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Christopher Marlowe: Identities, Traditions, Afterlives: Introduction

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

Christopher Marlowe: Identities, Traditions, Afterlives: Introduction

Article excerpt

A Marlovian Anniversary

2014 has been a year of note for those with an interest in early modern literature. The 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth has prompted an intensifying of media interest in the work of the period's most famous author, culminating - coincidentally - with the discovery in Saint-Omer of a hitherto unknown copy of the first folio, complete with performance notes on Henry IV. In addition to the usual abundance of scholarly publications, the year has been marked by major events hosted by The Globe, The Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, all widely reported in the UK national press.1

On the periphery of this public glare, rather fittingly, a number of less prominent but nonetheless significant publications and events have marked the same anniversary of Shakespeare's altogether more shadowy contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. Throughout the year, venues associated with the playwright's life have seen a variety of revivals from the dramatic corpus. The Marlowe Society of Cambridge University - Marlowe's alma mater - has run a 'Marlowe Festival', incorporating productions of all of the plays and a reading of the poems staged at various locations around Cambridge and London.2 The Rose Theatre on Bankside, the scene of many of Marlowe's theatrical triumphs and now an archaeological site, has staged productions of Doctor Faustus and The Massacre at Paris, while Canterbury has seen a 'Marlowe450' season comprising productions by the Fourth Monkey theatre company of Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta at the Marlowe Theatre and The Massacre at Paris in the Canterbury Cathedral Crypt. With forthcoming productions of Marlowe plays at both the RSC and The Globe, the momentum set by this anniversary looks likely to continue.

Marlowe scholarship has also had a particularly active year. King's College, London recently hosted a symposium on 'Local and Global Marlowes', which will doubtless feed profitably into the 'International Christopher Marlowe' conference scheduled to take place in Exeter in September 2015.3 A number of significant publications have appeared, too. A particularly healthy crop of journal articles and book chapters has been bolstered by the publication of Marlowe's Ovid, a monograph by one of the contributors to this collection, M. L. Stapleton, and the anniversary is to be marked by a collection of essays edited by Sara Munson Deats and Robert A. Logan, Marlowe at 450.4

The current collection of essays, then, arrives at a particularly vibrant moment in the history of Marlovian criticism and performance. But an anniversary brings with it a certain quality as well as quantity of attention. As a marking of the passage of time, it invites a retrospective examination, not just of the period of the subject's life and work but of the course that work has taken in the intervening years; it begs the question, 'what has happened to Marlowe's work, and our sense of it, over the last four centuries?' As the differing level of coverage of the Shakespearean and Marlovian aspects of this anniversary year demonstrate, it also represents an opportunity to consider the place that subject occupies in the popular imagination today. With this in mind, the present collection aims to contribute to the anniversary year's Marlowe scholarship by examining his work and his influence diachronically; that is, it seeks to examine Marlowe's work in the context of the material conditions of its production, but also seeks to illuminate the ways in which that work both responds to pre-existing literary traditions and contributes to the creations of new traditions long after the author's death. Alongside consideration of what his work reveals about the ontology of the early modern soul, the understanding of the British Isles as a geographical space and the material proximity of open sewage to the public theatre, then, essays in this collection apply focus to Marlowe's manipulation of his source material and to the ways in which subsequent writers - from the late sixteenth century to the early twenty-first - have appropriated and reconstructed Marlowe's authorial and biographical identity. …

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