Christopher Marlowe: Spy. The idea that Shakespeare’s nearest Elizabethan competitor had an action-packed life in the political stage is too fun to dismiss, slight as the evidence of Marlowe’s adventures are. Sometimes the theorists cling to such minor details as the fact that Marlowe inserts an “English Agent”/ spy / self-portrait at the end of “The Massacre at Paris.” Marlowe’s less-beloved play is a minor burst of chaotic violence, dealing with the same bloody events as Alexandre Dumas’ “Queen Margot” and extending to the latter part of the Wars of Religion (up to the assassination of the Duke de Guise by Henri III, an act which dismayed Catherine de Medicis.) The play was far more influential politically than aesthetically: it was used in England as anti-Catholic-refugee propaganda during the 1590s. The fact that Marlowe was uncharacteristically dealing with recent, still controversial history is of interest to scholars, but try as I might, I cannot see here the poetic power or theatrical inventiveness of the author of “Dido, Queen of Carthage” and “Doctor Faustus”… Although the character of De Guise does ocassionally show something of the dare-devil, fate-tempting nature that Marlowe favored in characters. Not only is De Guise Faustian, he’s downright Miltonian:
What glory is there in a common good,
That hangs for every peasant to achieve?
That like I best that flies beyond my reach.
Set me to scale the high Pyramides,
And thereon set the Diadem of France,
I’ll either rend it with my nails to naught,
Or mount the top with my aspiring wings,
Although my downfall be the deepest hell.
But for the most part, whatever enjoyment I extracted from this brief play came from re-encountering the characters from the Valois Trilogy, albeit here in paler, far less charming versions.
RATING : SHRUG