RE-ASSESSMENTS OF MARLOWE
Christopher Marlowe. By John Bakeless. (Cape. sos. 6d.) WHEN Marlowe was stabbed to the brain at the age of twenty- nine, he left behind him a reputation for blasphemy, an un- finished narrative poem of surpassing beauty, and seven or eight plays, some of which were mangled by hacks before they reached publication. During the last fifteen years much valu- able work has been done on the life of Marlowe and on the sources of his plays, but there are tantalising gaps in our know- ledge and good criticism of his work is still rare. The present books combine biography and criticism. Both authors endea- vour to collect all that is known of Marlowe's life and to provide a critical estimate of his plays and poems. Mr. Bakeless has, in addition, unearthed a few new facts. By means of the Buttery Book of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he is able to give a more complete account of Marlowe's residence at the University, and hence of his absences ; and he fills in our knowledge of his family. His book is carefully documented, and it depicts the background of Marlowe's life at Canterbury and Cambridge in a way that helps our understanding of the plays. Mr. Bakeless also throws some light on Marlowe's reading, and his portrait is objective, reasonable and discreet.
Mr. Henderson, having ".a certain feeling of kinship " with Marlowe, gives a more subjective portrait. His references to the lewder side of Elizabethan life are not all indispensable, but his book is picturesque and written with plenty of gusto. He sometimes follows previous biographers of the poet too faithfully, and his book is enlarged by much material which, though interesting in itself, has only a very indirect bearing on his subject. He tends to over-simplify Marlowe's Machiavel- lianism and his attitude to religion. Like many Elizabethans, he brooded on the fact that policy paid, and he even professed to follow with s it ; but it is probable that his sympathies- were wi its victims rather than with its exponents. He was an avowed atheist ; and yet, paradoxically, Doctor Faustus could only have been written by one who was essentially religious. The famous speech of Mephistophilis, defining hell as the deprivation of the light of God's countenance, is as important to our under- standing of Marlowe's beliefs as the allegations of Baines and Kyd.
The second half of Mr. Henderson's book consists of a lively account of Marlowe's writings, expository rather than critical, which should whet the appetite of the reader unacquainted with them. He believes that some of the plays in the First Folio were by Marlowe, but he is not so dogmatic a disintegrator as .Robertson. Neither he nor Mr. Bakeless considers the possibility that the two contention plays were piratical versions of Henry VI rather than source plays by other dramatists.
Mr. Bakeless does not seem to. have made up his mind whether he is writing for students or for the general reader. Some of his criticism is little more than literary gossip, as when he discusses the later history of the Faust legend, the " technical side of poetry," and the value in cash of the rare editions of Marlowe's plays. His criticism is seldom penetrating, and not often original ; he has an irritating habit of repeating his more memorable remarks ; and if his book is intended primarily for scholars, it is unfortunate that his references to Elizabethan literature should reveal ignorance of well-known facts. Lyly, so far as we know, did not write comedies in rhymed couplets, his prose style was based on earlier models, and his plays were written not before, but many years after, Gorboduc. Greene was not writing " cheaply sensational pamphlets " in 5589, but Euphuistic romances. Leander does not, in Marlowe's poem, swim the Hellespont " nightly." The Kit mentioned by Harriot was probably not Marlowe, as Mr. Bakeless apparently assumes. But, _nevertheless, his book, because of its new material, will be useful to scholars. •
Mr. Henderson also makes a number of slips. He refers to :Sidney and Greville as 'atheists ; he asserts that Kyd came out with his allegations before Marlowe's death ; and he supposes that Marlowe was translating Ovid at the same time as he was Writing Hero and Leander.. Sir Edmund Chambers, moreover, does not say that the Joan of Arc scenes in Henry VI were written by Shakespeare ; it is unlikely that Kyd had a hand in The Jew of Malta ; apart from the direct reference to the " dead shepherd," Phoebe's speeches can hardly refer to Marlowe ; and the last soliloquy of Faustus is in the 1656 Quarto preceded, not interrupted, by the interpolated visions of heaven and hell.
But in spite of these flaws, Mr. Henderson's book will be appreciated by the reader for whom it is intended. In the main he has been successful in his effort to produce a credible portrait of Marlowe against the background of his time. If Mr. Bake- less' book is disappointing, it is because he has aimed higher. Yet it is never dull; it is the fruit of seventeen years? work; and it is full of information which does help us' to appreciate