Monday, March 28, 2005

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

    CROWNED, girdled, garbed and shod with light and fire,
    Son first-born of the morning, sovereign star!
    Soul nearest ours of all, that wert most far.
    Most far off in the abysm of time, thy lyre
    Hung highest above the dawn-enkindled quire
    Where all ye sang together, all that are,
    And all the starry songs behind thy car
    Rang sequence, all our souls acclaim thee sire.
    "If all the pens that ever poets held
    Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,"
    And as with rush of hurtling chariots
    The flight of all their spirits were impelled
    Toward one great end, thy glory -- nay, not then,
    Not yet might'st thou be praised enough of men.
    Algernon Charles Swinburne(1837-1909)


Christopher Marlowe, dramatist and free-thinker, born in 1564, the son of a shoemaker was fatally stabbed in Deptford on May 30 in 1593. This piece can be found in Sonnets of English Dramatic Poets (1590-1650) published in 1882.

May 30th is one of the most important dates in English literature. After the evening meal on that fateful night at an inn Deptford, playwright Christopher Marlowe was murdered. Time has obscured the circumstances and many theories today declare that Marlowe wasn't murdered at all. Some claim that he faked his death in order to escape enemies, to escape prosecution for atheism, (which was punishable by death during the 16th century) or to go undercover in the Queen's service. Marlowe is considered among the premiere of Elizabethan dramatists primarily for Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Edward II. His entire writing career spanned less than seven years and he is greatly praised for his proficiency with plot and diction.

What's interesting about this sonnet is Swinburne's clever application of Marlowe's own blank verse in the poem. The first two lines of the sestet come from the fourth act of the first part of Tamburlaine:

What is beauty saith my sufferings, then?
If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes:
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of Poesy,
Wherein as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem's period,
And all combined in beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, poet and critic said: "Of English blank verse, one of the few highest forms of verbal harmony, or poetic expression, Marlowe was the absolute and divine creator. He is the greatest discoverer, the most daring and intrepid pioneer, in all our poetic literature. After his arrival the way was prepared ... for Shakespeare." Producing prolific studies of such writers as Lord Byron, William Blake, Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire; it was his work on Shakespeare and his contemporaries which is most memorable as a critical influence today.

Sources:

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Swinburne, Algernon

The Marlowe Society

The Poet's Corner

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner

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