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wields the elements at will, and has the energies of Nature at his command; summons the Grecian Helen to his side for a companion; and holds the world in wonder at his acts. Meanwhile the knowledge which Hell has given him of Heaven haunts him; he cannot shake off the thought of what the awful compact binds him to; repentance carries on a desperate struggle in him with the necromantic fascination, and at one time fairly outwrestles it; but he soon recovers his purpose, renews his pledge to Lucifer, and finally performs it.
This feature of the representation suggests a great thought, perhaps I should say, principle of man's moral being, which Shakespeare has more than once worked upon with surpassing effect. For it is remarkable that, in Macbeth, the thinking of the Weird Sisters (and he cannot choose but think of them) fires the hero's moral and imaginative forces into convulsive action, and thus causes him to shrink back from the very deed to which the prophetic greetings stimulate him. So, again, in Hamlet, the intimations of the Ghost touching "the secrets of its prison-house" kindle the hero full of "thoughts beyond the reaches of his soul," which entrance him in meditation, unstring his resolution, and render him morally incapable of the office to which that same Ghost has called him.
The Jew of Malta has divers passages in a far higher and richer style of versification than any part of Tamburlaine. The author's diction has grown more pliant and facile to his thought; consequently it is highly varied in pause and movement; showing that in his hand the noble instrument of dramatic blank-verse was fast growing into tune for a far mightier hand to discourse its harmonies upon. I must add that considerable portions both of this play and the preceding are meant to be comical. But the result only proves that Marlowe was incapable of comedy. No sooner does he attempt the comic vein than his whole style collapses into mere balderdash. In fact, though plentifully gifted with wit, there was not a particle of real humour in him; none of that subtle and perfusive essence out of which the true comic is spun; for these choice powers can hardly live but in the society of certain moral elements that seem to have been left out of his composition.
Edward the Second, probably the latest, certainly much the best, of Marlowe's dramas, was printed in 1598. Here, for the first time, we meet with a genuine specimen of the English Historical Drama. The scene covers a period of twenty years; the incidents pass with great rapidity, and, though sometimes crushed into indistinctness, are for the most part well used both for historic truth and dramatic effect; and the dialogue, generally, is nervous, animated, and clear. In the great article of character, too, this play has very considerable merit. The King's insane dotage of his favourites, the upstart vanity and insolence of Gaveston, the artful practice and doubtful virtue of Queen Isabella, the factious turbulence of the nobles, irascible, arrogant, regardless of others' liberty, jealous of their own, sudden of quarrel, eager in revenge, are all depicted with a goodly mixture of energy and temperance. Therewithal the versification moves, throughout, with a freedom and variety, such as may almost stand a comparison with Shakespeare in what may be called his earlier period; as when, for instance, King Richard the Second was written. It is probable, however, that by this time, if not before, Marlowe had begun to feel the power of that music which was to charm him, and all others of the time, out of audience and regard. For we have very good evidence, that before Marlowe's death Shakespeare had far surpassed all of that age who had ever been competent to teach him in any point of dramatic workmanship.
Marlowe is of consequence, mainly, as one of the first and greatest improvers of dramatic poetry in so far as relates to diction and metrical style; which is my reason for emphasizing his work so much in that regard. But, as this is a virtue much easier felt than described, I can best show what it is, by giving a taste of it; which however must be brief:
"Edw. What, Lord Arundel, dost thou come alone 1
Aran. Yea, my good lord, for Gaveston is dead.
Edw. Ah, traitors! have they put my friend to death?
Arun. Neither, my lord; for, as he was surpris'd,
Edw. And, tell me, would the rebels deny me that?
Spen. Proud recreants!
Edw. Yea, Spenser, traitors all!
Arun. I found them at the first inexorable:
Edw. Well, and how fortunes it that he came not?
Spen. Some treason or some villainy was cause.
Arun. The Earl of Warwick seiz'd him on the way;
Spen. A bloody part, flatly 'gainst law of arms!
Edw. 0, shall I speak, or shall I sigh, and die?
Spen. My lord, refer your vengeance to the sword
Edw. I will have heads and lives for him as many
As I have manors, castles, towns, and towers ! —
Spen. My lord, here is a messenger from the barons,
Edw. Admit him.
Herald. Long live King Edward, England's lawful lord!
This, to be sure, does not read much like, for instance, Hotspur's speech, beginning,
"0, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire," nor is there any thing in Marlowe that does. In the passage quoted, however, (and there are many more nke it,) we have the rhymeless ten-syllable iambic verse as the basis; but this is continually diversified, so as to relieve the ear and keep it awake, by occasional spondees, dibrachs, anapests, and amphibrachs, and by the frequent use of trochees in all parts of the verse, but especially at the beginning, and by a skilful shifting of the pause to any part of the line. It thus combines the natural ease and variety of prose with the general effect of metrical harmony, so that the hearing does not surfeit nor tire. As to the general poetic style of the performance, the kindling energy of thought and language that often beats and flashes along the sentences, there is much both in this and in Faustus to justify the fine enthusiasm of Drayton:
"Next, Marlowe, bathed in the Thespian springs,
Before leaving the subject, I must notice a remark by Charles Lamb, — the dear, delightful Charley. "The reluctant pangs," says he, " of abdicating royalty in Edward furnished hints which Shakespeare scarce improved in his Richard the Second; and the death-scene of Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted." Both the scenes in question have indeed great merit, but this praise seems to me far beyond the mark. Surely, there is more of genuine, pity-moving pathos in the single speech of York, — " As in a theatre the eyes of men," etc., — than in all Marlowe's writings put together. And as to the moving of terror, there is, to my mind, nothing in Edward the Second that comes up to Faustus; and there are a dozen scenes in Macbeth, any one of which has more of the terrific than the whole body of Faustus. And in the death-scene of Edward, it can hardly be denied that the senses are somewhat overcrammed with images of physical suffering, so as to give the effect rather of the horrible than the terrible.
Others, again, have thought that Marlowe, if he had lived, would have made some good approach to Shakespeare in tragic power. A few years more would no doubt have lifted him to very noble things, that is, provided his powers could have been kept from the eatings and cripplings of debauchery; still, any approach to that great Divinity of the Drama was out of the question for him. For, judging from his life and works, the moral part of genius was constitutionally defective in him; and, with this so defective, the intellectual part cannot be truly itself; and his work must needs be comparatively weak in those points of our being which it touches, because it does not ;ouch them all: for the whole must be moved at once, else there can be no great moving of any part. No, no! there was not, there could not have been in Marlowe, great as he was, a tithe of Shakespeare, for tragedy, nor any thing else. To go no further, he was, as we have seen, destitute of humour; the powers of comedy evidently had no place in him; and