As with Marlowe’s Dido and Aeneas, lines prompted the music of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale.Marlowe and Shakespeare traded words and ideas, under the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, a member of Essex’s set. Marlowe’s death must have been startling to Shakespeare, must have saddened him, and yet also inspired him since it left the field clear. Marlowe was drawn to disorder, Shakespeare to order.It is an internal spiritual dynamism whose energy altered English poetry and drama, creating pace and intellectual challenge.In the early verse, in the Lucan, the disturbance, expressed as the movement of the elements, is already present ‘confused stars shall meet, celestial fire fleet on the floods, the earth shoulder the sea ...’, ‘with bright restless fire compass the earth’.
Choosing protagonists for his poetry he frequently chose outsiders, rebels, those who did not accept the established order, who sought greater powers or new knowledge, who were self-made, who lacked the hereditary authority of king or priest, who looked into themselves, in self-awareness to find their destiny. It is a tragedy that he has died so young, at the height of his poetic gifts. The institutions of society, after the upsurge of the Civil War, have been strengthened. The wheel has turned so that a different tyranny is on top.Shakespeare searches for reconciliation, for resolution, for renewal, for rebirth.Marlowe’s protagonists fail through adverse fate, through sickness, hostile powers, a strength greater than their own.The effect is of the forces of Death opposed to Life, as in Shelley, a natural order of things.True, Faustus repents, in fear, and recognises his sin like Adam’s of reaching for forbidden knowledge.
Single mindedness to the point of recklessness
The final Chorus of the play reminds us of Apollo, God of Moderation, and suggests that the wise should only ‘wonder at unlawful things’ whose depths are an enticement to practise what heavenly power does not permit.It would be a boldness though to suggest that these were Marlowe’s private opinions.He has put the spirit before the letter, and believed in redemption rather than original sin. Shelley, at the end of it, struggles to understand why liberty has not been achieved. His atheism was an attack on superstition rather than a disbelief in futurity but it had brought him disapprobation. The shadow that has gone along with him has had an element of the death wish in it. Marlowe exhibits the self-created human being, the arch-questioner.Tamburlaine is felled by nature, Mortimer by superior forces, Dido by desertion, Leander by Neptune.
Ambition fails, Pride falls, but Marlowe does not suggest that human ambition is fundamentally wrong, only that in the game of consequences it may be doomed.
On a summer’s morning, a small group of people gathers to witness the disposal of the body of their friend. University educated, he carried his love of Greek and Latin lightly, utilising the myths to serve his poetic purposes.
Dead at the age of twenty-nine, a devastating loss to literature. Sceptical, freethinking, atheistic, radical, cynical of those in power, but also possessed of an unusual idealism, a rarified quality which infused his best verse with the radiance of the high sunlit or moonlit sky. His imagination was complex, difficult, fuelled by conflicting energies, shadowed.
He is homosexual or bisexual in a world where that is still officially unacceptable.
He belongs to that homosexual group that includes the bisexual Shakespeare, Francis and Anthony Bacon, the Earl of Southampton, and other members of the Essex set.