An Introduction to Tudor Drama

By Frederick S. Boas | Go to book overview

IX
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE AND POETIC TRAGEDY

SINCE the golden age of Tudor drama had been heralded by the performances of Campaspe and Sapho and Phao in 1584, it had been variously and abundantly enriched. Lyly had furnished his delicate fancy and his sparkling prose dialogue; Kyd his skilled craftsmanship and his flair for the arresting situation and phrase; the University wits their academic culture and versatile talents;1 the writers of domestic tragedy their poignant realism, and the chronicle-history playwrights their patriotic impulse and zest for the vivid panorama of national life. But for the English theatre to attain its meridian height there was needed the supreme gift of lofty poetic imagination. This was now to be supplied by Christopher Marlowe.

Marlowe, born on 6 February 1564, was Shakespeare's senior by about eleven weeks, but we naturally think of him as a predecessor, for his career came to its close just when Shakespeare's was getting fairly under way. There is nothing more poignant in the range of Elizabethan tragic art than the untimely fate of the young poet-dramatist. New light has of late been thrown upon it from documentary sources, but every discovery has brought fresh problems in its train.

The eldest son of John Marlowe, a Canterbury shoemaker, by his marriage with Catherine Arthur, Christopher was sent for about two years to the King's School, where the educational curriculum included the

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1
See Chapter X, below.

-129-

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