Melville's Marginalia in Marlowe's Dramatic Works and in Selections from Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets

By Olsen-Smith, Steven; Marnon, Dennis C. et al. | Leviathan, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Melville's Marginalia in Marlowe's Dramatic Works and in Selections from Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets


Olsen-Smith, Steven, Marnon, Dennis C., Ohge, Christopher, Spann, Nathan, Leviathan


While arguing in "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (1850) that American critics were neglecting native geniuses in their midst, Herman Melville similarly decried the literary establishment's veneration of Shakespeare at the expense of other Elizabethan dramatists. Less the result of outright bardolatry than of insufficient resources, scholarship has displayed a similar imbalance in its attention to Elizabethan influences on the phase of Melville's career that produced Moby-Dick (1851) and Pierre (1852). Melville's marginalia in The Dramatic Works of Christopher Marlowe and Charles Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Pools do not appear in Wilson Walker Cowen's multi-volume Melville's Marginalia (1965; rpt. 1987), nor have these markings and notes been cited in criticism of Melville's works. Presented to Harvard's Houghton Library by Gertrude A. Schlachter in 1971, Melville's copy of Marlowe was not available to Cowen, and Melville's copy of Lamb's Specimens was acquired at auction only in 1993 by Clifford Ross, whose extended loan to Houghton reunited the volume with Melville's copies of Marlowe, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Shakespeare. (1) Thanks to the generosity of Ms. Schlachter and Mr. Ross, and to the continuing stewardship of Houghton Library, this special issue of Leviathan reproduces Melville's complete marginalia in Marlowe's Dramatic Works and selections of his markings and notes in Lamb's Specimens. (2) (A complete edition of the Lamb marginalia is forthcoming at Melville's Marginalia Online.) The Lamb and Marlowe marginalia, together with those on other dramatists presented by Cowen, will make the known record of Melville's marginalia to Renaissance drama fully available to scholars. The evidence should make clear the broadly Elizabethan (rather than narrowly Shakespearean) character of Melville's literary interests and intentions at the high point of his career.

Marginalia in Marlowe's Dramatic Works

Melville acquired his copy of The Dramatic Works of Christopher Marlowe (London: Simpkin, Marshall and Chapple, n.d.) during his trip to London and the continent from November to December 1849 (see Fig. 1). (3) Documentation of the copy was first published by Merton M. Sealts, Jr, in 1971, but information about its status did not receive wide circulation until the publication in 1988 of Sealts's revised and expanded edition of Melville's Reading. (4) Melville's copy is a nonce collection of separately published plays bound together in one volume with an undated collective title page and a table of contents added. The latest imprint among the original title pages of individual plays is dated 1820, indicating the plays were gathered and issued as a single volume in that year or afterward. Of the eight dramatic works included, Melville marked "Edward the Second," "Tamburlaine the Great, Part the First," "Jew of Malta," and "Doctor Faustus." (5) The only annotation in the copy apart from the title page inscriptions is Melville's acknowledgment of a Miltonic antecedent in Act 3, scene 3, of "Tamburlaine" (see the transcription below at "Tamburlaine" 41).

In the essay "Melville's Ahab as Marlovian Hero," James S. Leonard was first to make a sustained case for the influence of Marlowe's "Tamburlaine" and "Doctor Faustus" on the writing of Moby-Dick. (6) Leonard points to the egotistical verve of Marlowe's heroes and its comparable strain in Melville's characterization of Ahab, and to the "art of caricature" practiced by both artists in contrast to the more multi-faceted nature of Shakespearean models (52). Foremost in the Marlovian formula is an aggrandizement of heroic human identity, equal to the gods. Leonard's fine study, made before Sealts's wide disclosure of Melville's Marlowe, points to numerous instances of this ethos in Moby-Dick, and, now with Melville's copy in hand, we can see affirmations of Leonard's thesis in Melville's scoring (for instance) of Tamburlaine's heated avowal, "I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains,/And with my hand turn fortune's wheel about" (11), as well as the description of Tamburlaine's person in Act 2, scene 1 (see Fig. …

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