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Ritual in Marlowe’s Plays Thomas B. Stroup Jocelyn Powell has rightfully observed that critics have wrongfully made excuses for Christopher Marlowe’s stagecraft in that they have failed to recognize his plays as drama of spec­ tacle. They have failed to realize that in his plays he tried to fuse “the timeless and soul-searching of the morality with the relent­ less progress of the chronicle.”! They have failed to realize also that in making such fusion he pays most “careful attention to visual effects made by each scene in action, and contrives that the movement of actors, their properties, costumes and back­ ground against which they appear, shall combine to form a picture as representative as words.”2 And only within the last decade have they noted that Marlowe integrates his pageantry with blank verse to set forth his ethical values objectively and not as if they were exempla in a sermon.3 These observations represent a part of the recent defense of Marlowe as an effective and sensitive stage dramatist, not a miscast lyric poet.4 Now the spectacle of Marlowe’s plays is provided mainly by pageantry, and integral parts of the pageantry are ritualistic and ceremonial actions. It seems that critics have ignored or deprecated the appearance of rites and ceremonies in his plays quite as much as they have generally made excuses for spectacle in them.5 They have not systematically observed the extent and variety of these phenomena or their dramatic function. I be­ lieve such observation may lead to still better understanding of what Marlowe was trying to do as a stage dramatist and there­ fore make possible a better appreciation of his plays as works to be acted, not merely read as fine poems. I am not here concerned with the play as ritual in itself, however much one might discover similarities between the struc­ ture of certain rites and the structure of certain plays; rather I am concerned with the appearance of recognized rituals and cere198 199 monies, both ecclesiastical and secular, within the plays: ritual­ ized processions, prayers, oaths, betrothals, blessings, charms, challenges, catechisms, coronations, curses, the holding of court, and the like. I shall not try to discover original rites which the poet may himself devise, only the use he makes of those rec­ ognized as such by reader and audience. Formal orations, though scarcely rites, are ritualistic and were presented formal­ ly; so also were the processions, dumb shows, and tableaux vivants.6 Indeed such a play as Tamburlaine, in both its parts, is really little more than a series of pageant-like processions go­ ing on and off the stage, stopping only long enough to allow an episode to be enacted. Although I shall here point out in some detail the number and variety of the formal processions and identify the rites and ceremonies which come upon the stage with them, I am more concerned with their dramatic use, in how they may provide the recognition of meanings beyond the lit­ eral event by which an audience may be moved and satisfied in both mind and emotion. Some sixty formal or ceremonial processions bring the char­ acters upon the stage in Marlowe’s six plays.7 In Dido Queen of Carthage few of the entrances, perhaps only three, would normally be presented as processions. But a wise director would surely make the opening of Ill.iii a procession. Dido, Aeneas, Anna, Iarbus, Cupid (as Ascanius), and the whole court ap­ pear, splendid in their hunting costumes. The Queen, addressing Aeneas formally, calls attention to the fact that she has laid aside her princely dress and has put on Diana’s “shrouds.” (To refer to the dress of the goddess of chastity as “shrouds” adumbrates and calls attention to the irony of what happens later at the hunt and at the end of the play also.) Similarly near the opening of IY.iv a ceremonial procession is indicated, where Anna, Aeneas, Achates, Ilioneus, Sergestus, and followers appear at court and where Dido gives Aeneas the crown of Lybia. The procession and the presentation of the crown should constitute a coronation indeed. As such it heightens the occasion...


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