- Christopher Marlowe in Context ed. by Emily C. Bartels and Emma Smith
Christopher Marlowe in Context, edited by Emily C. Bartels and Emma Smith, draws upon existing scholarship while also developing new trends in studies about the poet-playwright. In their introduction, Bartels and Smith discuss the “paradox” that is Christopher Marlowe, a figure who is at once “too familiar and rather evasive” (1). But as we find over thirty-three chapters within this volume, Marlowe acts as a point of connection between histories, genres, and figures, revealing his relevance within his own time, as well as his influence on later years. As a result, “It seems all the more important, then, that we look closely at multiple contexts and recover, explore, augment, and critique the literary and historical narratives that frame the study and appreciation of Marlowe” (2). This volume, which attempts to “model heterogeneity, offering diverse ways of defining what actually counts as context and deciphering how it counts, when, and for whom” (2), is divided into three sections which explore Marlowe’s plays and poems, the historical climate in which he wrote, as well as the afterlife of the author and his works.
In part 1, “Marlowe’s Works,” authors develop existing discussions concerning Marlowe, including his reinvention of poetic language, his rewriting of generic conventions, and his reinterpretations of original texts. Catherine Nicholson’s contribution investigates “Marlowe and the Limits of Rhetoric,” taking the author’s powerful way with words as her starting point, and moving outward from there to consider what happens when we direct our attention away from language: “Marlowe may excel in bringing to life humanist fantasies of eloquence, but he is equally adept at exposing the half-truths and wishful thinking on which those fantasies depend” (28). Through a close reading of Hero and Leander, Nicholson demonstrates how a focus solely on language limits the potential of the text. With the poem’s ancient analogues, its reinvention by various writers, and its reappropriation in grammar schools, Marlowe “inherits … a poem saturated from within and without by the romance of rhetoric” (31), but one for which Marlowe “produces in response … a far more equivocal text, one that indulges in richly ornamented displays of rhetorical skill while contriving to represent eloquence itself as inessential, ineffectual, or downright counterproductive” (31). The performative aspects of the [End Page 224] poem, such as “the lovers’ instantaneous silent intimacy” (32), alert readers to more powerful articulations of desire and intention that extend beyond the limits of language.
Marlowe’s manipulation of source material is further explored in other chapters in the volume, such as Danielle Clarke’s “Marlowe’s Poetic Form” which considers the ways in which Marlowe “rework[s], rewrite[s], and hybridise[s] [poetic genres] from within” (57). Her argument centers on the notion that Marlowe’s poetry “represents both resistance to established conventions and a concern to work playfully within classical models” (57) by closely analyzing his works to reveal his seeming desire to “mak[e] new” by “rewriting and reworking classical heritage” (58). Jenny C. Mann likewise explores these “reworking[s]” by considering Marlowe’s role as a translator. She takes Marlowe’s critics to task by suggesting that his translation “provides an unexpected view of how the passion for classical literature shapes Marlowe’s English poetry” (112). Considering Ovid’s Elegies, she guides us through a discussion of how his seeming linguistic ineffectiveness within translation—a critique that ultimately sheds light on the importance of power and “masculinity” (111) for Roman writers—actually performs the speaker’s tendency to get “sidetracked by erotic concerns” when attempting to “write epic poetry” (114). We see, then, that these alterations are intentional, and address the larger processes Marlowe undertakes to “work playfully” within earlier, established models.
The second part of the volume, “Marlowe’s World,” offers a series of chapters centering on the social and political climate in which he wrote. Given the limited information we have, the authors attempt...