For an excellent piece addressing Marlowe scholarly criticism, I strongly recommend Irving Ribner’s “Marlowe and the Critics” (The Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 4; Summer, 1964). Although it’s dated by over 40 years, Ribner’s clarity, precision, and erudition make his prose a joy to read, as opposed to the pretentious, obfuscating, and often nihilistic ramblings so prevalent in literary journals of the past 30 years or so (see also our 7/2 post on Ribner's "Marlowe and Machiavelli"). In a nutshell, Ribner (of Tulane) analyzes the three prevailing positions taken by Marlowe’s critics (Marlowe as Renaissance/Romantic overreacher, Marlowe as pious Anglican, and Marlowe as the morally ambiguous dramatist) and persuasively argues the following: “Marlowe presents a virtually unique instance in contemporary criticism, for no one of the three dominant positions now current is in any real way compatible with either of the other two.” Best representing the overreacher critical view, Ribner focuses upon legendary Harvard scholar Harry Levin; for the pious Marlowe, Douglas Cole of Northwestern University; and for the morally ambiguous Marlowe, David Bevington of University of Chicago. Ribner also takes us on an educational trip down memory lane, cataloguing the major Marlowe critics since the Romantic Age, for “[e]n-thusiasm for Marlowe seems really to have begun with William Hazlitt, who devoted fifteen pages of criticism to him in a volume of lectures on the Elizabethan dramatists published in 1820.” In highlighting the three "utterly diverse" approaches to Marlowe that prevail in literary criticism, Ribner beautifully argues how such “incompatibility” is in fact a validation of Marlowe’s complex genius.
© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008
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