Robert Greene (1560-1592) showed much skill in (1) the construction of plots, (2) the revelation of simple and genuine human feeling, and (3) the weaving of an interesting story into a play. His best drama is the poetic comedy Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. In this play, he made the love story the central point of interest.
Thomas Lodge (1558-1625), author of the story Rosalynde, which Shakespeare used to such good advantage, wrote in collaboration with Greene, A Looking Glass for London and England, and an independent play, The Wounds of Civil War. Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), best known for his picaresque novel, The Unfortunate Traveler, wrote a play, Summer’s Last Will and Testament, but he and Lodge had little dramatic ability.
Thomas Kyd (1558-1594), although lacking a university education, succeeded in writing, about 1586, the most popular early Elizabethan play, The Spanish Tragedy, a blank verse drama, in which blood flows profusely. Although this play is not free from classical influences, yet its excellence of construction, effective dramatic situations, vigor of movement, and romantic spirit helped to prepare the way for the tragedies of Marlowe and Shakespeare.
Life.—The year 1564 saw the birth of the two greatest geniuses in the English drama, Marlowe and Shakespeare. Marlowe, the son of a shoemaker, was born at Canterbury, and educated at Cambridge. When he was graduated, the dramatic profession was the only one that gave full scope to genius like his. He became both playwriter and actor. All his extant work was written in about six years. When he was only twenty-nine he was fatally stabbed in a tavern quarrel. Shakespeare had at that age not produced his greatest plays. Marlowe unwittingly wrote his own epitaph in that of Dr. Faustus:—
“Cut is the branch that might have
grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough.”
[Illustration: MARLOWE’S MEMORIAL STATUE AT CANTERBURY.]
Works.—Marlowe’s great tragedies are four in number Timberline, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward, II.. No careful student of English literature can afford to be unacquainted with any of them. Shakespeare’s work appears less miraculous when we know that a predecessor at the age of twenty-four had written plays like Timberline and Dr. Faustus.
Timberline shows the supreme ambition for conquest, for controlling the world with physical force. It is such a play as might have been suggested to an Elizabethan by watching Napoleon’s career. Dr. Faustus, on the other hand, shows the desire for knowledge that would give universal power, a desire born of the Renaissance. The Jew of Malta is the incarnation of the passion for the world’s wealth, a passion that towers above common greed only by the magnificence of its immensity. In that play we see that Marlowe—