Christopher Marlowe: An Encomium
The Muses' Darling
Christopher Marlowe's friends and contemporaries were quick to honour him, with the dramatist George Peele referring to him as "the Muses' Darling"1 in a tribute printed less than a month after the events at Deptford. Thomas Nashe moved quickly to organise a Quarto edition of Dido, Queen of Carthage which was published in 1594, perhaps a little cheekily attributing himself as co-author, but writing an elegy to Marlowe inserted in some copies which is sadly no longer extant. The colourful dramatist, pamphleteer and prose writer Robert Greene who died in 1592 had seemingly been critical of Marlowe's atheism, but had recognised "Thou famous gracer of Tragedians".
The printer Thomas Thorpe, best known for his dedication of Shakespeare's Sonnets to Mr. W.H., also praised Marlowe as "that pure Elemental wit ... whose ghost or Genius is to be seen walk[ing] the [St Paul's] Churchyard in (at the least) three or four sheets"2. Henry Petowe was inspired to pen a continuation of Hero and Leander (as was George Chapman) by "Marlo admir 'd, whose honey-flowing vaine No English writer can as yet attaine"3. Francis Meres thought Marlowe, along with Shakespeare, was "one of our best for Tragedie"4, Thomas Heywood noted him "renown'd for his rare art and wit," whilst Michael Drayton was perhaps most eloquent concerning
Had in him those brave translunary things,,
That the first Poets had, his raptures were
All air, and fire, which made his verses clear
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.5
The Morning Star
Critics and scholars through the centuries have lavished praise on the dramatic brilliance and poetic genius of one, who like Shakespeare, began life in humble circumstances, but who achieved undying fame in a very few years. Perhaps most memorably, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote of Marlowe in the nineteenth century: "If Shakespeare is the dazzling sun of this mighty period, Marlowe is certainly the morning star"6. Critic and scholar Edward Dowden similarly opined that "if Marlowe had lived longer and accomplished the work that lay clearly before him, he would have stood beside Shakespeare."
Marlowe has been honoured among poets and playwrights as the real founder of English drama, and the perfecter of dramatic blank verse. Poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne thought Marlowe without compare here. "Of English blank verse, one of the few highest forms of verbal harmony, or poetic expression, Marlowe was the absolute and divine creator.".
Marlowe was loved and honoured by his contemporaries for his love poetry, and his translations of Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan poets and dramatists would certainly not have achieved the reputation they enjoy today.and . Without Marlowe as guide and leader,
Read more about the life and times of Christopher Marlowe, and his work. Also find out about the contemporary portrait found at Cambridge and believed to be of Marlowe, and the eventful history of his Memorial in Canterbury.
- Note 1: , The Honour of the Garter (26 June 1593). Back to Text
- Note 2: From the dedicatory letter by Thomas Thorpe to Publisher Edward Blount prefacing Lucans First Book Translated Line for Line (1600). Back to Text
- Note 3: , Continuation to Hero and Leander (1598) II.59-62. Back to Text
- Note 4: , Palladis Tamia (1598) . Back to Text
- Note 5: , Elegy to Henry Reynolds (1627). Back to Text
- Note 6: , tbc. Back to Text