“Without control can pick his riches up, And in his house heap pearl like pebble stones, * * * * * Infinite riches in a little room.”
Edward II. gives a pathetic picture of one of the weakest of kings. This shows more evenness and regularity of construction than any of Marlowe’s other plays; but it is the one least characteristic of him. The others manifest more intensity of imagination, more of the spirit of the age.
Dr. Faustus shows Marlowe’s peculiar genius at its best. The legend on which the play is based came from Germany, but Marlowe breathed his own imaginative spirit into the tragedy. Faustus is wearied with the barren philosophy of the past. He is impatient to secure at once the benefits of the New Learning, which seems to him to have all the powers of magic. If he can immediately enjoy the fruits of such knowledge, he says:—
“Had I as many souls as there be
I’d give them all.”
In order to acquire this knowledge and the resulting power for twenty-four years, he sells his soul to Mephistopheles. Faustus then proceeds to enjoy all that the new order of things promised. He commands Homer to come from the realm of shades to sing his entrancing songs. He summons Helen to appear before him in the morning of her beauty. The apostrophe to her shows the vividness and exuberance of his imagination:—
“Was this the face that launched
a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
* * * * *
Oh! thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.”
Marlowe left a fragment of a lyrical poem, entitled Hero and Leander, which is one of the finest productions of its kind in the language. Shakespeare accorded him the unusual honor of quoting from this poem.
In What Sense is Marlowe a Founder of the English Drama?—His success with blank verse showed Shakespeare that this was the proper versification for the drama. Before Marlowe, rime or prose had been chiefly employed in writing plays. Sackville had used blank verse in Gorboduc, but his verse and Marlowe’s are as unlike as the movements of the ox and the flight of the swallow. The sentences of Gorboduc generally end with the line, and the accents usually fall in the same place. Marlowe’s blank verse shows great variety, and the major pause frequently does not come at the end of the line.
Marlowe cast the dramatic unities to the wind. The action in Dr. Faustus occupies twenty-four years, and the scene changes from country to country. He knew that he was speaking to a people whose imaginations could accompany him and interpret what he uttered. The other dramatists followed him in placing imaginative interpretation above measurements by the foot rule of the intellect. Symonds says of him: “It