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incommensurable with the tiny means that were employed.
Turning to our immediate subject, we speedily discover that Shakespeare, although unique in degree, was not unique in kind. He is the supreme instance of a general tendency. Marlowe, born a few months Christopher before him, was killed in a tavern brawl in 1593,
Marlowe : that is, at the age at which Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis. Comparing his work with what Shakespeare is known to have done up to the time of Marlowe's death, it seems difficult to doubt that had his development continued at the same rate, he might in his mature years have proved, at least in tragedy, a second Shakespeare. The chronology of Shakespeare's earliest plays is not without elements of uncertainty. But of the work that he had done before 1593, Romeo and Juliet is the only piece that is indisputably superior to anything of Marlowe's; and in its earliest form the superiority was, in all probability, much less apparent.
Marlowe is the only one of the predecessors or contemporaries who manifests in drama the special Shakespearean characteristic of a seemingly boundless energy and wealth of resource. It is one thing to attain a great height by straining one's powers to their utmost limit; it is quite another thing to ascend higher than anybody else has done, and, in doing it, to give the impression that the ascent is effortless, and is a restrained manifestation of a power that could easily have gone higher. Sublimity is, indeed, The to be defined as the suggestion of a reserve of unseen Elizabethan
sublimity. force, indefinitely transcending what is displayed. That is why we call the stormy sea sublime; its gigantic frolicking is but a hint of what it might do.
This is the characteristic shared in common by Shakespeare and Marlowe, though displayed on a vastly wider scale, and with immeasurably more subtlety and complexity, in the former than in the latter. We may say, indeed, that this is the chief distinctive attribute of the Elizabethan age. It is well typified in that picturesque legend, ben trovato if not true, of Sir Francis Drake's insistence on finishing the game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before putting out to sea to meet the Armada:“We have plenty of time to finish the game and beat the Dons too." Shakespeare, piling Othello upon Hamlet, Macbeth upon Othello, and Lear upon Macbeth, and in his last completed play creating a new genus, gives the impression that after producing a world in six days, he has no real need to rest on the seventh, but could easily turn out another next week.
In Marlowe this energy is seen in its reckless youth. “Marlowe's mighty line,” the now hackneyed phrase by which Ben Jonson described his
work, is no exaggeration. The force poured forth Tamburlaine in Tamburlaine and in The Jew of Malta is the Great
for the most part crude and unchastened. Marlowe is the swashbuckler of poetry. He is a volcano, hurling out precious metal for lava,— with everything in the crude molten state. He is redundant, bombastic and swaggering. But, with it all, the chief impression left upon one's mind is that of effortless and unexhausted power. He is flinging off an output that might have been indefinitely multiplied. The rest are constructors and fabricators; Marlowe and Shakespeare are creators.
Witness the riotous braggadocio of Tamburlaine:First Part, I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains, I ii.
And with my hand turn Fortune's wheel about;
And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere
Ibid. II iii.
Fates and oracles of heaven have sworn
To some direction in your martial deeds,
If this is the way Tamburlaine talks before his triumph, what language will he have left to boast himself withal after he has really shaken the earth with his achievements? Only Marlowe could answer the question; and this is the fashion in which he does it :
Jove, viewing me in arms, looks pale and wan,
This is the spring fever of youth, suddenly conscious of new and unheard-of powers. It is the riotous excess produced by the first sense of a new
emancipation “from jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits and such conceits as clownage keeps in pay.” Marlowe is like a schoolboy on holiday. In the “blossomy twists” of his "linked fantasies,” he
swings the earth a trinket at his wrists." He outroars the reverberations of Jove's thunderbolts, and looks down upon the loneliest stars.
In subtlety of character-sense and power of psychological analysis he is out-distanced, even by the youthful Shakespeare. Yet the meditations of Barabas, the Jew of Malta, betray a nascent power that The Jew of might in its maturity have created other Shylocks. Malta. Barabas is a mere brute criminal; but there is something titanic in the malevolence of his will. His wealth, his "infinite riches in a little room," is valued for the power it gives him, and he has the deep racial detestation of the Christians, which in Shylock is transmuted into dignity and grandeur :
Thus trolls our fortune in by land and sea,