General Characteristics.—As we sum up Marlowe’s general qualities, it is well to note that they exhibit in a striking way the characteristics of the time. In the morning of that youthful age the superlative was possible. Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and Dr. Faustus show in the superlative degree the love of conquest, of wealth, and of knowledge. Everything that Marlowe wrote is stamped with a love of beauty and of the impossible.
Tamburlaine speaks like one of the young Elizabethans—
“That in conceit bear empires on
Affecting thoughts co-equal with the clouds.”
Marlowe voices the new sense of worth of enfranchised man:—
“Thinkest thou heaven glorious thing?
I tell thee, ’tis not half so fair as thou,
Or any man that breathes on earth.
* * * * *
’Twas made for man, therefore is man more excellent."
Marlowe’s faults are the faults of youth and of his time. Exaggeration and lack of restraint are shown in almost all his work. In Tamburlaine, written when he was twenty-two, he is often bombastic. He has hardly any sense of humor. He does not draw fine distinctions between his characters.
On the other hand, using the words of Tamburlaine, we may say of all his dramatic contemporaries, excepting Shakespeare—
“If all the heavenly quintessence
From their immortal flowers of poesy,”
were gathered into one vial, it could not surpass the odor from patches of flowers in Marlowe’s garden.
These seven lines represent better than pages of description the aspiring spirit of the new Elizabethan Renaissance.
“Our souls whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet’s course
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves and never rest
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all."
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 1564-1616
[Illustration: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. From the Chandos portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.]
Birthplace and Parents.—William Shakespeare, the greatest of the world’s writers, was born in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire. The name originally meant one skilled in wielding a spear. The first William Shakespeare of whom mention is made in the records was hanged for robbery near Stratford; but it is only fair to state that in those days hanging was inflicted for stealing even a sheep.