Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

The Year's Work in Marlowe Studies: 2014

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

The Year's Work in Marlowe Studies: 2014

Article excerpt

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it was the 450th anniversary of Marlowe's birth, 2014 proved an immensely productive year for Marlowe scholars, with Daniel Cadman and Andrew Duxfield's guestedited Early Modern Eiterary Studies special issue, "Christopher Marlowe: Identities, Traditions, Afterlives" and M. L. Stapleton's monograph, Marlowe's Ovid: The 'Elegies" in the Marlowe Canon, plus around fifty other shorter publications on Marlowe's work being published.1 (Sara Munson Deats and Robert A. Logan's superb collection, Christopher Marlowe at 450, was held over until early 2015 and will be discussed in next year's "Year's Work" article).2 From studies of Marlovian ambivalent attitude to "wit" (or poetic production), characterized by dissatisfaction, to a Badiou-inspired reading of the concept of "impasse" and the "the dismissal of the arch-metaphysical subject-object polarity" in Marlowe's works, the 2014 Marlowe-related publications were rich and provocative.3

Poetry and Mythology

In Marlowe's Ovid,, Stapleton reads Marlowe's translations of the Amores (c. 19 BCE) [All Ovids Elegies and Certaine of Ovids Elegies) against the critical grain, assuming neither that they were necessarily the work of juvenilia, nor that their technical errors are a sign of inferiority that should color our perception of the work. Seen as a work of imitation and emulation, sometimes refracted through the prism of Renaissance commentary texts, the Elegies can be profitably related to Marlowe's literary technique in significant ways, and Stapleton sets about "determining exactly how translating the Amores into the Elegies profited [Marlowe] as a writer" (7). Although the Elegies has traditionally not enjoyed the same level of attention from Renaissance scholars as the Metamorphoses (c. 8 CE), Stapleton resists the easy (but unfortunately not credible) supposition that it had a "notorious status as forbidden reading," demonstrating instead that even clergymen used this erotic writing "as support for Christian authority" (12). The Elegies was the Ovidian text with which Marlowe was demonstrably most familiar, and although the Metamorphosed presence can be felt throughout the Marlowe canon, it is the act of translating the Amores that (Stapleton argues) assists Marlowe in the theatrically necessary act of "creating the illusion, in poetical form, of a human being speaking to others, and to himself or to an audience in soliloquy" (26). This is not an exercise in allusion-spotting or source study; it is a detailed exploration of "Marlowe's Ovidian poetics," supported by an extensive knowledge of classical writings and by close readings of the Ovidian / Marlovian Elegies and Marlowe's other literary works (31).

The first chapter, on tire Elegies, explores how the Amores "predicts" the sonnet sequences of the 1580s and 90s and thus provides Marlowe with an alternative model of literary subjectivity (36). It offers a generous summary of the key elements of Ovid's work and their significance, briefly noting the features that Marlowe would subsequently embrace (the mocking of cuckolds, soliloquies describing unjustified duplicity, and declarations of fidelity, for example). It also observes that several of the elegies "resemble scenes with speakers and dialogue," hence the act of translating them offered Marlowe the opportunity to hone his craft as a playwright, and to refine the use of "dissimulation, overconfidence, and autoincrimination"-traits that his dramatic protagonists would come to embody (54, 56). Subsequent chapters analyze Marlowe's plays through the lens created in chapter 1. The sexual sublimations of the Tamburlaine plays are read as "a residual effect from translating the Amores," and the correspondences between the warrior and the lover "demonstrate the transference from the elegiac form into the dramatic" (57-58, 59). Tamburlaine is shown to owe a surprising debt to the techniques of the "desultor" or speaking-subject of the Amores, including a "nuanced dramatic speech with a richly variegated emotional range" (78). …

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