restricted access A Study of Marlowe. An unsigned review of Christopher Marlowe, by U. M. Ellis-Fermor
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[ 51 A Study of Marlowe An unsigned review of Christopher Marlowe, by U. M. Ellis-Fermor London: Methuen, 1927. Pp. xii + 172. The Times Literary Supplement, 1309 (3 Mar 1927) 140 In devoting a whole book – the first of its kind – to the life and work of Christopher Marlowe, Miss Ellis-Fermor has done a substantial service to the reputation of that great poet and dramatist.1 The mere fact that there is now a book about him means a great deal, will do something to remove him from the position of being merely Shakespeare’s greatest predecessor, and will do much to win him further consideration as a poet and dramatist, very different in temperament from Shakespeare, with a development and a unity, an œuvre, of his own. As for the “Life,” there is, of course, very little of it: out of Miss Ellis-Fermor’s 168 pages, only seven and a half are required for Marlowe’s life. This does not matter: what a book like this performs is to establish, as something to be reckoned with in future by even the most casual of literary critics, the fact that in the work of Marlowe there is both coherence and development. It is easy to recognize the coherence and deve­ lopment in the long work of Shakespeare: it is easy to overlook it in the work so brief and so prematurely cut short as that of Marlowe.2 And whether we agree or not with Miss Ellis-Fermor’s judgments, with her determination of order and value, we must admit that she establishes the importance of the Marlowe canon. Miss Ellis-Fermor’s critical analysis of the more important plays of Marlowe is, on the whole, appreciative and just; she makes many observations that are both new and interesting. Her second chapter should do much to bring to notice the great literary value of the early verse of Marlowe, the translations from Ovid and Lucan. In successive chapters she discusses Tamburlaine, Faustus, The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, Edward II, and Hero and Leander.3 Her views of Tamburlaine and Faustus are, perhaps, the most interesting and the most acceptable. She is, we think, quite just in admitting that the greater part of the second part of Tamburlaine is inferior to the first. After the first part, there is nothing more for Tamburlaine 1927 52 ] to do except to repeat himself and then to die – and his death, of course, is equal to any part of the play. The first part, as Miss Ellis-Fermor rightly observes, is much more the vehicle for Marlowe’s philosophical speculations; she is quite right in emphasizing the philosophical quality of Marlowe’s mind; he has indeed, as she says, a certain affinity to Lucretius; his feeling towards his universe was Lucretian. Nothing in English is more Lucretian than the lines (from the second part, indeed) which Miss Ellis-Fermor quotes: . . . he that sits on high and never sleeps, Nor in one place is circumscriptible, But every where fils every Continent With strange infusion of his sacred vigor. [32]4 She is quite justified, also, in assigning a personal meaning to the treatment of the Christians and Christianity in that play. Though she seeks to mitigate his hostility by saying that it was the practice of Christianity that he hated, not its original inspiration or the personality of its founder, it seems to us more likely that Marlowe, at his age, in his time, and with his impetuous impatience, hardly discriminated, and that he was experimenting in revolt and audacity as far as he could go. Further on, in commenting on the poverty and crudity of Marlowe’s colour sense, compared with Milton’s subtle variety of hues, she makes some very acute criticism. She draws implicitly the distinction, which is probably a true one, that Milton is primarily a sensuous poet, whilst Marlowe is primarily an intellectual poet, employing only as exact a vision as is necessary to realize an idea. When rapture touches him he is, as to the language of the senses, speechless , except for an image or two. He cannot give direct utterance to an emotion or an impression made upon his senses, because that is not the habit of his thought. He may perhaps succeed in touching upon accompanying emotions or images, but it is in the world of the ideas that lie behind these outward forms that he moves familiarly, and in the almost...


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