- Shakespeare’s Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Artistry
Robert Logan's new study is a sustained attempt to trace the impact of Marlowe's linguistic, literary, and dramatic innovations on Shakespeare's work. But the task, as he recognizes, is fraught with methodological and practical difficulties. The question of Marlowe's influence can be construed on so many different levels—even when the focus is on the topic of "artistry"—that a comprehensive account of this subject will probably never be written. More importantly, although there is currently a scholarly consensus that elements of Marlowe's innovative [End Page 373]language, meter, characterization, plotting, and thematic ambiguity influenced Shakespeare's writing, the nature and extent of this influence continue to be subjects of debate. Logan, to his credit, recognizes this problem and begins his first chapter by ridiculing the claim that Shakespeare explicitly refers to Marlowe's Hero and Leanderin The Two Gentlemen of Verona(1.1.21–26 and 3.1.117–20), when the play offers conventional mythological allusions to the famous tragic lovers. Indeed, in an effort to be more precise, Logan distinguishes between "source" and "influence," between the mostpatent and more conjectural signs of contact. When Sir Hugh in The Merry Wives of Windsorconsoles himself by singing verses from "The Passionate Shepherd" and when Phebe in As You Like Itquotes a line from Hero and Leander, the sourcesof these allusions are self-evident. The critical assertion that The Jew of Maltainfluenced The Merchant of Venice, however, rests on indirect verbal, character, and plot parallels that are inherently more speculative. Yet even though Logan admits that Marlowe's influence on Shakespeare is difficult to assess, he nevertheless maintains, with considerable justification, that this project still affords one of the best methods literary historians possess for tracing Shakespeare's creative development as a playwright.
How, then, did Marlowe influence Shakespeare? What Logan finds is largely what others have already discovered. His primary conclusion is that "the most important Marlovian contribution to Shakespeare's artistry was an inventiveness with … dramaturgical ambiguities." "Marlowe's Prologue to Tamburlaine," Logan writes, "undoubtedly set in motion a heightened awareness of the writer's artistry" (167). This new sense of artistry, he stresses, not only encouraged Shakespeare to be creative, but also led him to form an "aesthetic viewpoint" that "allows a suspension of the desire to make moral judgments and a freedom … to be awed through the responses of our senses and emotions." Through Marlowe's influence, according to Logan, Shakespeare acquired the ability to escape a "moral viewpoint" that required "a need to reason, judge, and become reductive" (108).
It is within this overarching category of the "aesthetic" that Logan considers the customary markers of Marlovian influence which can be defined as concretely as the "mighty line" and villain-hero or rendered as ethereal as "epic grandeur" or "majestic amplitude" (176). These include verbal dexterity, the ability to reconfigure genre, the internalization of character, the creation of overreachers, gender reconceptualizations, and an emphasis on the creative imagination. What consequently differentiates Shakespeare from Marlowe, Logan explains, is Shakespeare's "emotionally connotative language" (156) and his greater accommodation to political and social orthodoxy, although what Logan means when he describes Titus Andronicusas displaying an "orthodox morality" remains questionable (38). [End Page 374]
To what extent, then, should Shakespeare's "inventiveness" be attributed to Marlowe, and to what extent should it be attributed to his own predilection for dialectical complexity? Shakespeare obviously demonstrates ambiguity in a wide range of works that bear no trace of Marlowe's influence. In fact, when Logan cites John Keats and Norman Rabkin to support his hypothesis, he is drawing on the work of writers who find allof Shakespeare's writing fundamentally ambivalent. Scholars of English Renaissance literature and theater tend to characterize the period generally as one that sponsored the production of multiple, often contradictory, attitudes toward experience. Numerous studies, such as Joel B. Altman's The Tudor Play of...