Christopher Marlowe

Life

Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare , the son of a cobbler and grandson of clergyman. In 1580 he went to Cambridge University where he established a reputation for free thinking and atheism. Due to frequent absences, the university authorities refused him his degree. The queen's council then intervened on his behalf, saying that he had been in Her Majesty's service; the Queen recognised his merit and did not wish him to be penalised. After taking his degree, Marlowe moved to London in 1587 where he rapidly established himself as the most important playwright of the period. At that time he was fascinated by extremes: ambition on a vast scale, boundless desire, and a restless willingness to overcome limits. Such perhaps were the passions that made Marlowe able in the six short years between 1587, when he received his MA from Cambridge, and 1593 when he died , to transform the English theatre. His, death , he was killed by Ingram Friser in a London tavern, is still shrounded in mystery. SOme critics have suggested that as result of his activities possible as a spy, he may simply have known too much and had thus become undesirable.

Main works

During his short life, he wrote five dramatic masterpieces: Tamburlaine the Great, Doctor Faustus--- His plays are thought to be among the first to embody the true spirit of hte Renaissance, concentrating on man as opposed to God. THe most important themes of these works are: the lust for power, the desire to break free from the resrtictions of the Church, the limitations of knowledge, and the demands of ruthless ambition in the face of prevailing morality. Marlowe's works also represent a departure from the didactic spirit of the Morality Plays and his characters are no longer personifications of virtues or vice, but are enriched b human passions and faults. Two of the plays however , are very directly concerned with God, and these are Marlowe's most famous dramatic works, also perhaps his finest and most important. They are T......., neither of them readily conceivable as the work of an athiest in the modern sense of the word. That sense, of course, is not the Elizabethan : an atheist was not necessarily one who denied the existence of God but one who rejected churches and orthodox beliefs. Tamburlaine is the play in whic Marlowe shows the most consistent intensity, the most sustained imaginative power. Tamburlaine was the famous conqueror Timur who in the 14th century ruled in Samarkand, subduing Persians, Tartars , Syrians and Turks. Marlowe shows Tamburlaine, dying, studying a map of the world, saying, " ANd shall I die and this unconquered?" Tamburlaine Himself Seems to carry a religious force: for his vigour is the god within him. He is at one with Nature, warring , distruptive and allpowerful; a Nature which teaches him to have aspiring aims is the personal force elsewhere called God.

Doctor Faustus:the plot

In contrast to tamburlaine the Great, who strives for material power, and Barabas in the Jew of Malta, who looks for money , Doctor FAustus seeks the power coming from knowledge. The play is the poetic re-working of the story of a man who sold his soul to the devil in order to have power in this life. Marlowe's Faustus agrees to give his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles, in return for 24 years of the unlimited power of knowledge. During these years the devil must serve him and give him what he wants; at the end of that period the devil takes Faustus's soul to Hell.

A Morality Play?

Though Doctor Faustus is regarded as a Morality Play, it is different from the medieval play Everyman , where Death is a character, God is harsh and vindictive, and the only life possible to reach eternal salvation is the one leading t death. Faustus does not believe in predestination and in life after death; according to him theology and philosophy , that is, medieval and Renaissance thought, are too restrictive; Faustus views his pact with Mephistopheles as the only means to fulfil his ambitions.

A self-made man

Faustus reflects the ambition and the restlessness of the Renaissance man, who is still linked tmedieval culture but wants to be the maker of his own destiny . He is linked both to Prometheus myth, the one of eternal dissatisfaction, typical of Bacon, too; and Icarus myth, that of the overreacher, a man of great culture and ambition, who is unsatisfied with his own situation and thus tries to increase his powers.
In the first act Doctor Faustus is presented as a well proclaimed and respected scholar: " so much he profits in divinity, that shortly he was grac'd with doctor's name. However, that wasn't enough for Faustus who wanted to govern Nature and Death through the power of necromancy. He defied God and made a pact with Lucifer, selling his soul for 24 year of service from Mephistopheles. His punishment was to spend the rest of eternity in hell. The moral of this play is that ambition and dissatisfaction with what God had given man is a terrible sin that could only lead to damnation. Faustu acquires the power he wanted, but at the end he couldn't use it to save himself from hell.

The way to Shakespeare's theatre

Marlowe's use of the soliloquy in this play is notable, it is a way to show both sides of Faustus's character. This is not to say that Marlowe reached Shakespeare's perfection but he certainly marked a transition from the medieval drama. His use of descriptive language and his ability to manipulate blank verse is also remarkable. There is great energy and life in his use of colour and description: Faustus is "swollen with cunning and self-conceit, his waxen wings did mount above his reach"

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