- Marlowe’s Ovid: The Elegies in the Marlowe Canon by M. L. Stapleton
The “Marlowe’s Ovid” of Stapleton’s title refers not to the entirety of Marlowe’s indebtedness to Ovid in his writings, but specifically to his translation of the Amores. As his subtitle indicates, Stapleton’s primary interest is in the way that this translation affected the rest of the Marlovian canon. The book is a welcome addition to Marlowe studies, although it is more rewarding in its parts than in its overall thesis. That is to say, Stapleton provides numerous intriguing insights into the texts he considers, but the encompassing unity for which he argues is not fully convincing. His premise is that Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s Amores “is an essential text for apprehending Marlowe’s poetical sensibility” and that the process of translation contributed to Marlowe’s development as a dramatist (2). Urging that the poetry of the Amores is “eminently dramatic,” and that Ovid’s “unreliable and self-lacerating speaker” is a “nonpareil of contradictory rhetoric and turbulent emotions,” Stapleton finds that capturing these qualities in English gave Marlowe “invaluable training in the composition of theatrical speech” and “provided essential training for him as an apprentice playwright learning to create beings who would blaze to life onstage” (35). Such a conclusion necessarily presumes that the act of translating the Amores preceded the dramatic works. [End Page 375] Although Stapleton points out that there is no actual evidence for the common assertion that the Elegies is early, he argues for an early date on the grounds that Marlowe’s “plays and poetry sometimes quote the translation or run variations on its themes in a way that suggests it preceded everything else” (28).
The book therefore begins with a discussion of Marlowe’s translation of the Amores and then proceeds to address the rest of the works in the Marlovian canon in the order of their first appearance in print, an order which Stapleton has chosen so as “to avoid creating a faulty argument dependent on a specious theory of authorial development based on a speculative chronology” (31). Stapleton’s discussion of the Elegies acknowledges the critical perception that the translation is informed by the conventions of the sonnet sequence, though he maintains that it is “more analogous to the sonnet sequence genre rather than an embodiment of it” (37). His own emphasis is on the ways in which translating Ovid taught Marlowe “to create the effects of dialogue, character, action, and consciousness that inform dramatic production” (56). The Elegies appeared in two differing editions: the 48-poem All Ovids Elegies and the ten-poem Certaine of Ovids Elegies. Although the shorter version was the first published, editors have concluded that the ten elegies of Certaine of Ovids Elegies were selected from the poems ultimately published in the full text of All Ovids Elegies. They are not earlier versions of those texts. Consequently, the work has not been given a great deal of attention as a text in its own right. In an important contribution to Marlowe studies, Stapleton argues at length the merits of Certaine of Ovids Elegies, emphasizing the thoughtful selection of the chosen elegies and the effectiveness of the order into which they have been rearranged.
Stapleton next turns to the two Tamburlaine plays, the dramas with which Marlowe first burst forth upon the stage. Ovidian allusions in these plays have long been noted, but particularly to the Metamorphoses in Golding’s translation, and as Stapleton remarks, few have paid attention to the possibility that they are informed by Marlowe’s translation of the Amores. Stapleton therefore pays particular attention to Tamburlaine’s reference to Corinna as he sits by the bedside of the dying Zenocrate. However, Stapleton’s primary concern is not with direct allusions, but with the impact of the Amores on language and characterization. He asserts that Ovid’s lover provided Marlowe a model for his boastful warrior: “each vaunts and rants, blind or indifferent to the consequences of his actions for...