Marlowe and the critics

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This chapter uses the critical heritage to identify key questions defining (and perhaps limiting) the study of Marlowe. This is not a history of that critical heritage. Instead, the chapter highlights criticism addressing questions responsive to the contexts in which Marlowe worked and the contexts in which Marlowe is reworked. 'Criticism' means and involves lots of things. Critics ask diverse questions about Marlowe, as this collection proves. How can we begin to evaluate these questions? By recognising that the first critic writing on or about Marlowe was Marlowe. His works raise questions about his writing and the writing of others, and about the conditions affecting both. These questions inform later interpretations, including this one. Marlowe the critic Tamburlaine Part i's prologue surveys the literary scene, promising to lead us from one aesthetic experience ('jigging veins of rhyming mother wits … such conceits as clownage') to another ('high astounding terms'). Understandably, then, critics have asked: what was Marlowe's relationship with his precursors, his contemporaries, or pre-existing, popular forms of drama? Such questions generate stimulating answers, but perhaps at some cost: 'Marlowe-who-isn't-Shakespeare obscures discussion of Marlowe-who-is-Marlowe (or of Shakespeare-who-isn't-Marlowe).' Marlowe's attempts to distinguish his work from others' paralleled his desire to overreach his own efforts. The 1592 Latin dedicatory epistle to Mary, Countess of Pembroke, attributed to 'C. M.', is conventionally humble about the author's 'yet rude quill'. Yet that 'yet' intimates that he expects greater things of himself: 'I believe that I can achieve more than my unripe natural talents are accustomed to bring forth.'

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChristopher Marlowe in Context
EditorsEmily C. Bartels, Emma Smith
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781139060882
ISBN (Print)9781107016255, 9781107559363
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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