“For I, the chiefest lamp of all the earth…” — Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine

Maybe this is him.

I’m armed with more than complete steel,
The justice of my quarrel.
— Christopher Marlowe, Lust’s Dominion. Act iii. Sc. 4.

Playwright, poet, prodigy, agent in Her Majesty’s secret service: the incomparable Christopher Marlowe was born on this day.

Marlowe was accused of putting atheistic ideas into his plays, and was on the verge of being arrested, when he was stabbed to death on May 30, 1593. Not much is known about him. It seems he was a spy of some kind. He was also a drinker, a fighter, a lover, and … a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. How did the two men inform and perhaps copy one another? Evidence shows that it was Shakespeare who did most of the copying. Scholars have studied this literary symbiosis for years. The answer (who copied whom) is less interesting than the inquiry itself. Info on Shakespeare is slim (way slimmer than what we have on Marlowe). There’s very little evidence left behind (besides the plays and sonnets, I mean.)

That Marlowe would die in a sword-scuffle with “Ingram” over who was going to pick up the check (or … was there more to it??) … means there’s a lot to keep conspiracy theorists happy for centuries.

“And so it befell, in that affray, that the said Ingram, in the defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid of the value of twelve pence, gave the said Christopher a mortal wound above his right eye.” — Coroner’s inquest, 1593

Marlowe’s influence is so vast as to be nearly invisible now. Unseen and yet felt everywhere. You could quote Marlowe without realizing the source his phrases now so common in our language. For example, from Doctor Faustus:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips suck forth my soul, see where it flies:
And all is dross that is not Helena:
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy shall Wertenberg be sack’d,
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest:
Yea I will wound Achillis in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O thou art fairer than the evening air,
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars,
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter,
When he appear’d to hapless Semele,
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms,
And none but thou shalt be my paramour.


Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language:

Marlowe unfolded, while Shakespeare developed.

Thomas Nashe, a friend of Marlowe’s:

No leaf he wrote on but was like a burning glass to set on fire all his readers.

Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy:

“His father lacked cash, always a grave trouble for the family. The chief cause of this lay not in John’s imprudence, but in the fact that payments to shoemakers were often made by either bond or book, which meant that a cobbler often waited for cash while his tanning needs made matters worse. Still, if cash and credit’s mysteries intrigued Christopher, his father’s shop did not. In a juvenile play – which may be his apprentice work if it dates from about 1580 – the script refers, somewhat condescendingly, to Kent and cobblers. Certainly, throughout his writing career, Marlowe avoided his father’s trade, and in this he was unlike the poet of Stratford. Whereas Shakespeare, as the son of a Midlands glover and processor of leather, readily alludes to a glover’s implements or to animal skins, Marlowe, in his known work, never uses words such as shoe, shoemaker, sew, or sole (as for a shoe), but distances himself from his father’s concerns. At various times, when he refers to leather, or boots, or even when he uses the word sell, the allusions are oddly repulsive:

Covetousness: begotten of an old Churl in a leather bag (Doctor Faustus (1616)
wormeaten leathern targets (His version of Lucan’s Pharsalia)
As if he had meant to clean my Boots with his lips (The Jew of Malta)
our boots which lie foul upon our hands (Doctor Faustus, (1604)
You will not sell it [a sacred crown], would you? (Tamburlaine, Part One)

“Such lines may suggest hatred not of the cobbler but of his work, and we can be sure that he never envied John Marlowe’s slavery.”

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language:

One can choose 1587 as an arbitrary date to begin the richest eighty years of poetry in English. Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine was then first performed, perhaps with Shakespeare in the audience, though we do not know when the greatest of poets first arrived in London: 1589 seems to me rather too late, even as an outward limit. The first three books of Spenser’s Faerie Queene were published in 1590. In the early 1590s, Donne wrote many of the Songs and Sonnets, to be published only posthumously. By 1595, at the latest, Shakespeare was at his first full greatness, joined by Jonson at his strongest in Volpone (1606). The Tribe of Ben–disciples of the lyric and epigrammatic Jonson–included Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, and Richard Lovelace. Andrew Marvell, a poetic party of one, wrote his lyrics by the 1650s, coming after the posthumous publication of George Herbert’s poetry in 1633. Richard Crashaw and Henry Vaughan published by the 1650s. Milton’s Comus was composed in 1634; Paradise Lost, dictated by the blind poet, was finished by 1665, seventy-eight years after Marlowe first shattered his London audiences.

Algernon Charles Swinburne:

The place and the value of Christopher Marlowe as a leader among English poets it would be almost impossible for historical criticism to over-estimate. To none of them all, perhaps, have so many of the greatest among them been so deeply and so directly indebted. Nor was ever any great writer’s influence upon his fellows more utterly and unmixedly an influence for good. He first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the right way of work; his music, in which there is no echo of any man’s before him, found its own echo in the more prolonged but hardly more exalted harmony of Milton’s. He is the greatest discoverer, the most daring and inspired pioneer, in all our poetic literature. Before him there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.

Daniel Swift in The Nation:

Christopher Marlowe’s life was short, sharp and irresistible. His fame rests not only on six violently glittering plays written in his 20s but also on the tantalizing story that may be considered his masterpiece, for Marlowe inhabited his time like a player strutting upon an invisible stage. His life was his most remarkable piece of theater. Everyone imitated Marlowe. His first play, Tamburlaine, was staged when he was 23, and its success can most readily be gauged by its imitators. As David Riggs notes in his new biography, The World of Christopher Marlowe, within the next couple of years three new plays were staged that were more or less direct copies of Marlowe’s original, while Shakespeare wrote his early Henry VI plays under the influence of Marlowe’s style. A decade later, as the church authorities burned copies of Marlowe’s semipornographic love poems in the streets, Shakespeare again returned to imitating his predecessor in As You Like It. Marlowe’s contemporaries regarded him with a mixture of awe and fear.

T.S. Eliot on Elizabethan-Jacobean poets:

In common with the greatest – Marlowe, Webster, Tourner, and Shakespeare – they had a quality of sensuous thought, or of thinking through the senses, or of the senses thinking, of which the exact formula remains to be defined.

Edgell Rickword, 1924:

What an example for our distracted poetry, which so often now strikes at the absolute and achieves the commonplace! These poets [George Chapman and Christopher Marlowe] lived life from the ground upwards.

Algernon Charles Swinburne:

The unity of tone and purpose in Doctor Faustus is not unrelieved by change of manner and variety of incident. The comic scenes, written evidently with as little of labour as of relish, are for the most part scarcely more than transcripts, thrown into the form of dialogue, from a popular prose History of Dr Faustus, and therefore should be set down as little to the discredit as to the credit of the poet. Few masterpieces of any age in any language can stand beside this tragic poem – it has hardly the structure of a play – for the qualities of terror and splendour, for intensity of purpose and sublimity of note. In the vision of Helen, for example, the intense perception of loveliness gives actual sublimity to the sweetness and radiance of mere beauty in the passionate and spontaneous selection of words the most choice and perfect; and in like manner the sublimity of simplicity in Marlowe’s conception and expression of the agonies endured by Faustus under the immediate imminence of his doom gives the highest note of beauty, the quality of absolute fitness and propriety, to the sheer straightforwardness of speech in which his agonizing horror finds vent ever more and more terrible from the first to the last equally beautiful and fearful verse of that tremendous monologue which has no parallel in all the range of tragedy.

Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets:

He took his BA in 1584, his MA three years later, by which time he had probably completed Tamburlaine. He was the first of the university wits to employ blank verse. It’s generally thought that most if not all of his small surviving body of nondramatic verse – Hero and Leander, ‘The Passionate Shepherd’, and the Ovid and Lucan translations – were written in his university years, the fruit of youth and relative leisure. The six years that elapsed between his taking his MA and his shadowy death – possibly as a result of drink, or low political intrigue, or a romantic entanglement with a rough character ‘fitter to be a pimp, than an ingenious amoretto‘, or perhaps a tussle over the bill (‘le recknynge’) – at the hand of Ingram Frisar in a Deptford tavern on 30 May 1593 were busy ones. He wrote plays, was attacked for atheism, was associated (if it existed) with Raleigh’s ‘School of Night,’ and lodged with Thomas Kyd (author of The Spanish Tragedy), who later brought charges of blasphemy against him. These he had to answer before the Privy Council in 1593, the very council that secretly employed him to spy on English Catholics on the Continent. He achieved much in a short life.

T.S. Eliot:

If one takes The Jew of Malta not as a tragedy, or as a ‘tragedy of blood,’ but as a farce, the concluding act becomes intelligible; and if we attend with a careful ear to the versification, we find that Marlowe develops a tone to suit this farce, and even perhaps that this tone is his most powerful and mature tone.

Thomas Nashe:

He was no timorous servile flatterer of the commonwealth wherein he lived. His tongue and his invention were foreborn; what they thought, they would confidently utter. Princes he spared not, that in the least point transgressed.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language:

Poetic thinking is contextualized by poetic influences, even in Shakespeare, most gifted of poets, who parodies Marlowe’s Jew of Malta in Titus Andronicus, where Aaron the Moor attempts to overgo in villainy the sublime Barabas, the Marlovian Jew. Shakespeare’s Richard III is more of an involuntary recollection of Marlowe, and it may be accurate to say that Shakespeare thinks less clearly through Richard III than he does through Aaron. But within two years, in Richard II, Shakespeare has so thought through Marlowe’s influence (here of Edward II) that he audaciously mocks his precursor in what could be called Richard’s recognition scene:

Give me the glass, and therein will I read.
No deeper wrinkles yet? hath sorrow struck
So many blows upon this face of mine,
And made no deeper wounds? O flattering glass,
Like to my followers in prosperity,
Thou dost beguile me! Was this face the face
That every day under his household roof
Did keep ten thousand men? was this the face
That, like the sun, did make beholders wink?
Was this the face that faced so many follies,
And was at last out-faced by Bolingbroke?
A brittle glory shineth in this face:
As brittle as the glory is the face;
Dashes the glass against the ground
For there it is, crack’d in a hundred shivers.
Mark, silent king, the moral of this sport,
How soon my sorrow hath destroy’d my face.

The delighted audience, most of whom had attended Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, would have thrilled to Richard’s triple-variant upon Faustus’s ecstatic recognition of Helen of Troy, conjured up for him by Mephistopheles:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Here, Shakespearean thought triumphs over influence, as Marlowe returns from the dead, but only in the colors of Richard II’s gorgeous rhetoric.

James Branch Cabell:

In Marlowe’s superb verse there is very little to indicate that the writer had ever encountered any human beings.

Martha Fletcher Bellinger, 1927:

Marlowe painted gigantic ambitions, desires for impossible things, longings for a beauty beyond earthly conception, and sovereigns destroyed by the very powers which had raised them to their thrones. Tamburlaine, Faust, Barabbas are the personifications of arrogance, ambition and greed. There is sometimes a touch of the extravagant or bombastic, or even of the puerile in his plays, for he had no sense of humor; nor had he the ability to portray a woman. He wrote no drama on the subject of love. Furthermore, his world is not altogether our world, but a remote field of the imagination.

Jorge Luis Borges:

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, like Goethe’s Faust, finds himself before the specter of Helen (the idea that Helen of Troy was a ghost or apparition is already present in the ancients) and says to her, ‘Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.’ And then, ‘O thou art fairer than the evening air clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.’ He does not say ‘evening sky,’ but ‘evening air.’ All of Copernican space is present in that word air, the infinite space that was one of the revelations of the Renaissance, the space in which we still believe, despite Einstein, that space that came to supplant the Ptolomaic system which presides over Dante’s triple comedy.

Algernon Charles Swinburne:

He came to London to seek his fortune . . . a boy in years, a man in genius, a god in ambition. Who knows to what heights he might have risen but for his untimely end?

Michael Schmidt:

Marlowe’s first two sestiads of Hero and Leander are uniquely wonderful in English: witty, easily erotic in a dozen ways, the language unaffected, riveting. No wonder ten editions of the poem appeared in the forty years after its first publication: after Sidney’s Arcadia it was the best-seller. Few copies survive: it was so popular that it was “read to rags.”

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language:

Christopher Marlowe was as flamboyant and violent as Shakespeare (evidently) was colorless and peaceful. Only six years passed between the first part of Tamburlaine the Great and Marlowe’s termination, with maximum prejudice, by Sir Francis Walsingham’s secret service, the Elizabethan C.I.A. Even as an undergraduate, Marlowe operated abroad as Walsingham’s agent against Catholic plotters who sought to eliminate Elizabeth. A street fighter, barely concealed heretic, and homosexual, Marlowe knew too much, and was too unstable to be trusted. Set up for a final tavern brawl, with three other agents, Marlowe died horribly of a dagger thrust to the eye.

From Seamus Heaney’s ‘On Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander”‘:

Both deaths [Marlowe’s and Plath’s] made sensational news and resulted in the poets becoming legendary figures: their tragic ends were seen to have been implicit in their writings all along. Preachers even rigged the Marlowe knifing so that it presented an instructive symmetry; they gave out that the dagger that killed him had been his own and that the fatal wound had been in his head, the very seat of the talent which had made him one of those damnably ‘forward wits’. It was only to be expected, therefore, that the Chorus’s lament for an overweening intellectual [in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus] cut off in his prime should have been understood afterwards as a sort of prediction. To a hot-breathed pubic, high on murder gossip that carried with it the mingled whiff of religious, sexual and political scandal, the note of doom was not only audible: it was ominous and prophetic of Marlowe’s fate.

Michael Schmidt on Hero and Leander:

The absence of a moral is moral statement enough, and characteristic of this poet.

George Puttenham:

…the over reacher, otherwise called the loud liar…

Michael Schmidt of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Islanders”:

Magesterial, with vehement sarcasm, he turns to the flag wavers, the lazy, the malingerers, and shows them where they are likely to fail. They serve false gods, like the chosen people who, in the Bible, suffer the scourge of the angry prophets. Despite his formal variety, he always sounds a hectoring note; he insists in the way that Marlowe’s dramatic verse or the Old Testament insists, with severity.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems of the English Language:

His presence haunts Shakespeare’s plays long after his influence had been absorbed and transcended. I still maintain–though I have convinced no Shakespearean scholars–that Edmund in King Lear is Shakespeare’s final vision of Marlowe.

William Styron:

I’d say I’ve been influenced as much, though, by Joyce and Flaubert [as by Faulkner]. Old Joyce and Flaubert have influenced me stylistically, given me arrows, but then a lot of the contemporary works I’ve read have influenced me as a craftsman. Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, both have been valuable in teaching me how to write the novel, but not many of these modern people have contributed much to my emotional climate. Joyce comes closest, but the strong influences are out of the past – the Bible, Marlowe, Blake, Shakespeare.

From “Elegy of Poets and Poesie” “Of Poets and Poesie” (1627)
By Michael Drayton
Neat Marlow bathed in the Thespian springs
Had in him those brave translunary things,
That the first Poets had, his raptures were,
All ayre, and fire, which made his verses cleere,
For that fine madnes still he did retaine,
Which rightly should possesse a Poets braine.

Thomas Nashe:

…the specious volubility of a drumming decasillabon…

Excuse me?

Michael Schmidt:

“The Passionate Shepherd”, Marlowe’s best-known poem, attributed to a range of poets, including Shakespeare, is the more memorable by the number of replies it inspired, among them Ralegh’s and, perhaps indirectly, Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress.”

Ted Hughes:

By the time I got to university, at twenty-one, my sacred canon was fixed: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot.

From Seamus Heaney’s ‘On Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander”‘:

In Marlowe’s case, therefore, as in Plath’s, the daring of the work and the transgressions which it encompassed were the first things to be emphasized in the aftermath of their deaths. Its ironies and complications were relatively neglected; what got highlighted were the points where it conformed to current expectations generated by the extreme behaviour of the writer. In Plath’s case, the image of victimized woman was immediately in place as a consequence of her tragic suicide; in Marlowe’s, it was the image of the sinner’s fall, of divine retribution for blasphemous presumptions. In each instance, the work was read with more regard to what the posthumously created stereotype might have been expected to produce than what the writer actually delivered. Doctor Faustus, for example, was regarded for a very long time as a casebook of humanist ‘overreaching’ before it was reconsidered as an anatomy of Christian despair. And Plath was celebrated as the author of the vindictive ‘Daddy’ and the morgue-cold ‘Edge’ whilst other more positively inspired works were ignored.

It is hardly news to be reminded of all this. Original poets can obviously sustain a variety of interpretations and answer to very different times and needs. What remains mysterious, however, is the source of that original strength, the very fact of poetic power itself, the way its unpredictability gets converted into inevitability once it has manifested itself, the way a generation recognizes that they are in the presence of one of the great unfettered events which constitute a definite stage in the history of poetry. It is the manifestation of this power in Marlowe’s verse, in the first language-life of the poetry itself, that I wish to praise. If I begin by acknowledging that the conditions of a poet’s reception and the history of subsequent responses to his or her work do indeed become a part of the work’s force and meaning, it is only to indicate that I am as aware as the next person that the import of poetry is affected by several different agencies. But I remain convinced by what my own reading experience tells me: namely, that some works transmit an immediately persuasive signal and retain a unique staying power over a lifetime. Some works continue to combine the sensation of liberation with that of consideration; having once cleared a new space on the literary and psychic ground, they go on to offer, at each re-reading, the satisfaction of a foundation being touched and the excitement of an energy being released.

Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653:

A handsome milk-maid that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do: but she cast away all care, and sung like a nightingale: her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it: it was that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlow, not at least fifty years ago: and the milk-maid’s mother sung an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Ralegh in his younger days.

Harold Bloom:

In the end, the answer to that question is the persuasive force enabling a reader to say, I will sacrifice an easier pleasure for something that takes me beyond myself. Surely that must be the difference between Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, an enigmatic and to me in many ways unequal play. I get a lot more pleasure out of Barabas than I do out of the equivocal Shylock, but I’m well aware that my pleasure in Barabas is an easier pleasure, and that my trouble in achieving any pleasure in reading or viewing Shylock is because other factors are getting in the way of apprehending the Shakespearean sublime. The whole question of the fifth act of The Merchant of Venice is for me one of the astonishing tests of what I could call the sublime in poetry. One has the trouble of having to accommodate oneself to it.

William Faulkner:

The books I read are the ones I knew and loved when I was a young man and to which I return as you do to old friends: the Old Testament, Dickens, Conrad, Cervantes, Don Quixote – I read that every year, as some do the Bible. Flaubert, Balzac – he created an intact world of his own, a bloodstream running through twenty books – Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare. I read Melville occasionally and, of the poets, Marlowe, Campion, Jonson, Herrick, Donne, Keats, and Shelley. I still read Housman. I’ve read these books so often that I don’t always begin at page one and read on to the end. I just read one scene, or about one character, just as you’d meet and talk to a friend for a few minutes.

From Ben Jonson’s elegy to William Shakespeare:
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion’d Muses :
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou dist our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid or Marlowes mighty line.

Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets:

Drama could be profitable: this discovery coincided with “the coming into the field of the first pupils of the new grammar schools of Edward VI, men who did not resent or distrust commerce and entrepreneurship. A new class of “mental adventurers”, the classically educated sons of merchants, made the running. Marlowe was the son of a cobbler, Shakespeare of a prosperous glove maker of Stratford-on-Avon, where the poet was born in 1564. Both were provincials, one educated at the grammar school at Stratford, the other at King’s School, Canterbury. They were harbingers of the social change that would culminate in the Commonwealth.

One of Shakespeare’s advantages was an apparent disadvantage. He was not university-trained. “When Shakespeare attempts to be learned like Marlowe, he is not very clever.” That is part of the problem with his epyllia. But Ford Madox Ford reminds us that he had “another world to which he could retire; because of that he was a greater poet than either Jonson or Marlowe, whose minds were limited by their university-training to find illustrations, telles quelles, from illustrations already used in the Greek or Latin classics. It was the difference between founding a drawing on a lay figure and drawing or painting from a keen and delighting memory.”

Sidney advises: “Look in thy heart and write.” In the Sonnets, Shakespeare takes Sidney’s counsel without the platonizing the great courtier intended. The heart he looks into is singularly complex and troubled, and the poems he writes from this impure “I” are as full of life as the plays.

Excerpt from Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe.

Enter Tamburlaine, Techelles, Theridamas, Usumcasane, Zenocrate, Anippe, two Moores drawing Bajazeth in a cage, and Zabina following him.

Bring out my footstool.

[They take BAJAZETH out of the cage.]

Ye holy priests of heavenly Mahomet,
That, sacrificing, slice and cut your flesh,
Staining his altars with your purple blood,
Make heaven to frown, and every fixed star
To suck up poison from the moorish fens,
And pour it in this glorious tyrant’s throat!

The chiefest god, first mover of that sphere
Enchas’d with thousands ever-shining lamps,
Will sooner burn the glorious frame of heaven
Than it should so conspire my overthrow.
But, villain, thou that wishest this to me,
Fall prostrate on the low disdainful earth,
And be the footstool of great Tamburlaine,
That I may rise into my royal throne.

First shalt thou rip my bowels with thy sword,
And sacrifice my heart to death and hell,
Before I yield to such a slavery.

Base villain, vassal, slave to Tamburlaine,
Unworthy to embrace or touch the ground
That bears the honour of my royal weight;
Stoop, villain, stoop! stoop; for so he bids
That may command thee piecemeal to be torn,
Or scatter’d like the lofty cedar-trees
Struck with the voice of thundering Jupiter.

Then, as I look down to the damned fiends,
Fiends, look on me! and thou, dread god of hell,
With ebon sceptre strike this hateful earth,
And make it swallow both of us at once!

[TAMBURLAINE gets up on him into his chair.]

Now clear the triple region of the air,
And let the Majesty of Heaven behold
Their scourge and terror tread on emperors.
Smile, stars that reign’d at my nativity,
And dim the brightness of your neighbour lamps;
Disdain to borrow light of Cynthia!
For I, the chiefest lamp of all the earth,
First rising in the east with mild aspect,
But fixed now in the meridian line,
Will send up fire to your turning spheres,
And cause the sun to borrow light of you.
My sword struck fire from his coat of steel,
Even in Bithynia, when I took this Turk;
As when a fiery exhalation,
Wrapt in the bowels of a freezing cloud,
Fighting for passage, make[s] the welkin crack,
And casts a flash of lightning to the earth:
But, ere I march to wealthy Persia,
Or leave Damascus and th’ Egyptian fields,
As was the fame of Clymene’s brain-sick son
That almost brent the axle-tree of heaven,
So shall our swords, our lances, and our shot
Fill all the air with fiery meteors;
Then, when the sky shall wax as red as blood,
It shall be said I made it red myself,
To make me think of naught but blood and war.

From Marlowe’s hawt poem “Hero and Leander”:

His body was as straight as Circe’s wand;
Jove might have sipt out nectar from his hand.
Even as delicious meat is to the taste,
So was his neck in touching, and surpast
The white of Pelops’ shoulder: I could tell ye,
How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly;
And whose immortal fingers did imprint
That heavenly path with many a curious dint
That runs along his back; but my rude pen
Can hardly blazon forth the loves of men,
Much less of powerful gods: let it suffice
That my slack Muse sings of Leander’s eyes;
Those orient cheeks and lips, exceeding his
That leapt into the water for a kiss
Of his own shadow, and, despising many,
Died ere he could enjoy the love of any.

Here’s more from Tamburlaine. THE LANGUAGE.

… wrapped in the bowels of a freezing cloud …

…when the sky shall wax as red as blood,
It shall be said I made it red myself…

More from Tamburlaine:

Nature, that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds.
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world
And measure every wand’ring planet’s course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all:
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

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7 Responses to “For I, the chiefest lamp of all the earth…” — Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine

  1. Biff Dorsey says:

    Anthony Burgess’ novel “A Dead Man in Deptford”, perhaps his finest work, is a engrossing speculative novel about Marlowe. Burgess certainly did not believe that Marlowe’s demise was the result of a drunken tavern brawl.
    Herbert Lom, the actor, also wrote a novel about Marlowe (which I haven’t read) entitled, “Enter the Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe”.
    I don’t think there was a more fascinating figure during the English Renaissance and that’s saying something.

    • sheila says:

      // Burgess certainly did not believe that Marlowe’s demise was the result of a drunken tavern brawl. //

      Considering everything ELSE he had going on – it’s almost impossible to believe it was just a random brawl. I haven’t read that Burgess novel – it sounds juicy!

      A couple years back I read the complete works of Marlowe – it took me about a year – The body of work is just mind-blowing. I just don’t even know what to say about it. You can’t even believe a human wrote this shit. It’s insane.

  2. Biff Dorsey says:

    His output is insane, especially since he did not live to see thirty.

  3. lily dale says:

    Great work, Sheila, as always – and speaking of Marlowe (and Burgess) are you familiar with George Garrett’s novel Entered from the Sun, also about Marlowe’s end, part of Garrett’s great ‘Elizabethan’ trilogy. Death of the Fox (about Walter Raleigh) and The Succession (about the end of Elizabeth). The Marlowe novel is my favorite, readable in one evening. I’ve read it three three times and it is just dropdead brilliant. ld

  4. kevin says:

    Great post. Marlowe moves me far more than S-speare. Would olde Will have happened w/out Kit? Don’t even start on Hero and Leander vs Venus and Adonis, but it’s not a competition.

    I call Marlowe, scary smart and just scary. E4 is remarkable. The torture scene…wow.

    Of many things what Marlowe does is portray human affection far better, Will is awful at that, to me. However, Will’s female characters are luminous – Isabella, Kate, Cleopatra, Juliet, Venus, even the “dark lady.” Even Portia is a perfect psychopath in MOV. I will have to close read Kit’s females characters.

    This is useful – https://www.amazon.com/Reforming-Marlowe-Nineteenth-Century-Canonization-Renaissance/dp/B00XX9S9ZI

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