The Plays of Christopher Marlowe

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  • Topic: Christopher Marlowe, Edward II of England, Edward III of England
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  • Published : October 30, 2011
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Norbert Oyibo Eze
Department of Theatre Arts,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Marlowe’s popularity does not only stem from the grandeur of his poetry and penetrating tragic tone, but lies heavily on the social relevance and sublimity of his themes. Harry Levin is of the opinion that “Marlowe’s name is the one that comes after Shakespeare’s in any discussion of English tragedy” (1956:Blurb).

Marlowe’s Elizabethan age disclosed to men, “a store of wealth and power in the world which they were too stunned and intoxicated to use well” (Bronowski and Mazlish, 1970:23). As a dramatist who was sensitive to his environment, Marlowe did not ignore this living problem in his dramaturgy. Rather, “like an alchemist, separating pure gold from the base metals, in the crucible of his art, he extracted the ‘pure’ drives of human nature” (1970:166). His tragedies are ethical comments on certain disquieting human possibilities, the lust for power and gold. They do not only present before our very eyes, “the thunder and flaming” (Watt, 1968:213) involved in treacherous pursuit and use of power, as well as malevolent wealth acquisition, they equally show us “the certainty with which the hand of judgment clutches the heel of the deed” (1968:212). In Tamburlaine the great, King Edward the Second, and The Jew of Malta, Marlowe shows us “the loose morals of a free and easy age” (1968:213), the depth of human greed, decadence and pathos. But in all this, he still allows us to hear the penetrating cry of that “still small voice” In Tambulaine the great, Marlowe paints the picture of the Renaissance period as “an age in which power was often personal and usurpers existed at the head of many states” (Bronowski and Mazlish, 1970:23). In this greatly tumultuous tragedy, Tarmburlaine, a “scythian shepherd becomes the scourge of the eastern world” (Vargas, 1960:102). His thirst for power is neither to permit social mobility in the Persian politics, nor to help the masses, whom Cosroe argues, “droof and languish in Mycetes’ government, to have a good sense of governance. His aim of seeking limitless power is to become the “arch-monarch of the world, the earthly God” (Part II, Act 1 Scene III). The Elizabethan age was a period of overreaching, and an age of great tempestuous. Bronowski and Mazlish express the view that During a period of overreaching, even god might be by-passed by a few daring spirits. When men themselves become godlike in their power and attributes, there seemed no need for other gods (1970:168).

“The swift conquests of Tamburlaine, his unbridled wrath, and the captive Kings chained to walk beside his chariot” (Vargas, 1960), gives him the impression of himself as a god among men. And he parades himself as one. For example, when Theridamas looses the courage to fight him and instead begins to adore him, Tamburlaine proudly tells him: Forsake thy King and do but join me,

And we will triumph all over the world;
I hold the fate fast bound in chains
And with my hand turns fortune’s wheel about, And sooner shall the sun falls from his sphere Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome
(Part I, Act I scene I).

Every statement of Tamburlaine in the play reveals the ethos and quintessence of a superman. When Zenocrate, his wife becomes surfeited with his war-mongering attitude, she asks him:

Sweet Tamburlaine, when wilt thou leave these arms, And save thy sacred person from scathe,
And dangerous chances of the wrathful war?

Tamburlaine arrogantly answers:
When Heaven shall cease to move on both the poles, And when ground, whereupon my soldier march, Shall rise aloft and touch the horned moon...
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