He was a man of his time, born in India to British parents, into a culture which was to inspire his output: ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Kim’ being two of his more famous works.
The man who many see as the forerunner to playwright William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, died on this day (May 30) 1593, in Deptford, London.
Marlowe was born in Canterbury, Kent, England, sometime in mid to late February 1564. There is an extant record showing that he was baptised on February 26 of that year.
In those days babies were usually christened quite quickly because of high mortality rates among infants. Therefore Marlowe was probably born just two to three days before this date.
Although born to a cobbler, it would seem that young Christopher was quite a precocious child. He went to The King’s School in Canterbury.
It’s worth remembering that then, as still now, Canterbury is the seat of England’s premier archbishop, a very important place.
Later, though perhaps at a relatively late juncture in his early life, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on a Parker scholarship.
In 1584 he got his BA degree and an MA in 1587, although the university was reluctant to award him the latter because of certain, irregular, though quite lengthy absences from the college.
Suffice it to say, that much has been written and speculated about these absences, as well as what he purportedly believed. Some say he was an atheist, despite spending years studying divinity.
Nevertheless, Marlowe went on to a meteoric literary career as a poet and playwright. He is often credited with inventing blank verse, poetry which doesn’t rhyme but written usually in iambic pentameter.
His play ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, was a huge success in London in 1587, so much so that he wrote a second part to it the following year.
There followed a string of ‘hit’ plays; ‘The Jew of Malta’, ‘Edward the Second’, ‘The Massacre at Paris’ and, probably his most famous play, ‘Doctor Faustus’.
The subject matter of his plays was often controversial, as was his apparent second career as a spy, or ‘intelligencer’ for the Elizabethan government. He seems to have been recruited for this whilst still at university.
Such controversy finally caught up with him in May 1593, when, after apparently being arrested on charges of ‘blasphemy’, released on bail, and then spending a whole day in an obscure house or pub with some rather shady ‘friends’ – he ended up being infamously murdered, during an argument about the bill, the ‘reckoning’.
The circumstances of this too are endlessly speculated on. Incredibly, the inquest of this murder was discovered as recently as 1925.
Even Shakespeare may allude to this in his play, ‘As You Like It’, where he seems to have known some of the details of Marlowe’s premature death.
So Marlowe’s meteoric rise and fame lasted about six years. After this, his reputation, maybe because of the controversy he courted, fell away dramatically.
Today, however, his reputation is back on the rise. He is seen as the true forerunner to Shakespeare, someone who ‘set the scene’ for The Bard’s longer career.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
Soon I intend to do another piece speculating Marlowe’s birthdate and time for my ‘Astrology Musings’ section.
*If you would like a personal astrology report, please contact me on: email@example.com or details.
Of course, much has been written about this novel since it was first published in 1916. To call ‘A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man’ (Penguin – this publication) a landmark, would be grossly understating its impact.
So I’m not attempting to go into great depth, all that has already been done. I merely want to convey my own recollections of first reading it, way back in school.
For me, it was this book and D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ that first truly opened my eyes to what we sometimes call serious literature. Both of them are, in their own way, semi-autobiographies and broke the mould of novel writing.
Naturally though, Lawrence and Joyce wrote in very different ways. I think Joyce wrote more intuitively, in a way which conjured up for me a wholly different milieu of imagery. He is a natural narrator, a story teller like many of his countrymen.
For example, when he describes Stephen Dedalus’ childhood, I get drawn into that world through the use of evocative child-like language; I become that child. I can remember endless classroom discussions about this part of the book.
And the world of Dublin in the late 19th century, was a very different world from that of the industrial Nottingham area, where Lawrence sets his book.
Although Joyce was to reject almost everything about his upbringing, his beliefs, his writing is nevertheless suffused with that imagery, bringing it alive, like new music as some describe.
So what are we to make of the criticism of those who first rejected his manuscript? The book is, when compared to more classic literature, without doubt somewhat formless and unconventional.
Yet, those of an artistic nature tend to be like this, especially over the last hundred years or so. I think Joyce, whose approach was understood and encouraged by none other than Ezra Pound, was simply bold enough to open up the taps of his creativity. The artist himself almost becomes like God, a creator in his own right, a bit like the Daedalus of legend, who built wings for himself and his son so that they could fly.
Joyce’s upbringing within the strict bounds of Catholicism, his training for the priesthood, was in retrospect the perfect grounding for such free artistry, once it was released from its captivity.
Ironically, Joyce’s world never seems to lose the colour of his Catholic upbringing, even though he ultimately rejected it. With Lawrence, the harsh, English Protestant world, seems altogether more grim, enlightened by the writer’s love of nature.
Joyce’s innate creativity, held back for so long, could only emerge later like a succession of Michelangelo masterpieces, hewn by the craft and intelligence of a native genius.
Unlike his other classics, Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses, I have successfully completed reading his first great novel.
Even so, one day I intend to finish the former two, although I suspect I will read ‘Portrait’ again before I do that.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019