Friday, June 25, 2010

Marlowe and Comedy by Ros Barber

It is a common misrepresentation of Marlowe that he couldn't be funny. We know there were comic scenes in Tamburlaine - the printer Richard Jones admits to having cut them out, saying, "I haue (purposely) omitted and left out some fond and friuolous Iestures, digressing (and in my poore opinion) far vnmeet for the matter...they haue bene of some vaine conceited fondlings greatly gaped at, what times they were shewed vpon the stage in their graced deformities: neuertheles now, to be mixtured in print with such matter of worth, it wuld prooue a great disgrace to so honorable & stately a historie."

Doctor Faustus contains a number of comic scenes; The Jew of Malta can be played as a farce. Anyone who saw the National Theatre's excellent production in London last year will know that even in Dido Queen of Carthage there is plenty of comic material available to a skilful company. There is also a great deal of wit (and one might say out and out comedy) in the long narrative poem Hero and Leander.

Like Marlowe's plays, the early Shakespeare plays - the Henry VI trilogy, King John, Titus Andronicus, Richard III - are generally serious in intent. The earliest Shakespeare comedy is either The Comedy of Errors or The Taming of the Shrew (depending on whose dating you go with), the latter existing in an earlier version (The Taming of a Shrew) which may, some scholars suggest, have been penned by Marlowe.

Marlowe was considered a wit in his day, and there is contemporary personal testimony to back that up: Thomas Thorpe calls him “that pure, Elementall wit Chr. Marlow," and Thomas Heywood writes that he was “renown’d for his rare art and wit.” He was friends with, and influenced by, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Watson - both famously witty men. The commonly held belief that Marlowe wasn't capable of writing comedy just doesn't hold water. It is part of what Lukas Erne calls Marlowe's "mythography." One only has to read the accusations in the Baines Note to appreciate Marlowe in full comedic flow. It was the misinterpretation of his wit as seriousness that led to his personal tragedy in 1593. Let’s not perpetuate the error.

Ros Barber

© Ros Barber, June 2010

Ros Barber is the first person in the world to complete a PhD in Marlovian authorship theory. Her PhD was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). A founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, she has published articles challenging the orthodox biography of Marlowe in academic books and journals, including the peer-reviewed Routledge journal Rethinking History. Her essay "Was Marlowe a Violent Man?," which was presented at the Marlowe Society of America conference in 2008, is featured in Christopher Marlowe the Craftsman (Ashgate 2010). A published poet, her latest poetry collection, Material (Anvil 2008), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was funded by Arts Council England.


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12 comments:

DresdenDoll said...

my thoughts exactly, Ms. Barber!

Donna Murphy said...

Yes, it is a gross misperception that Marlowe wasn't funny. I've laughed my way through staged readings of "The Jew of Malta" and "Hero and Leander"!

Isabel Gortazar said...

That's excellent, Ros. Thanks for the full R. Jones' quote which I couldn't find, though I knew it existed.

Pax said...

Marlowe "unable to write comedy" has always burned me up. It is such a bogus argument by Stratfordians.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Perhaps the most hilarious scene in all of Marlowe is when Barabas pretends to be a French minstrel and manages to poison Ithamore and his lady love while serenading them. The audience must have been rolling in the aisles watching the arch villain poisoning his fellow villains.

Rado Klose said...

Hi Ros
Heres' a completely different take on the whole thing. Douglas Adams ( who knew of what he wrote ) said, apropos of our under appreciation of a true comedic genius P. G.Woodhouse, something like this : The British equate literary genius with Shakespeare, Shakespeare had NO GIFT FOR COMEDY, ergo Woodhouse, whose entire gift was for comedy, could not aspire to a place at the top table of literary greatness.

RJEngle said...

Hero & Leander is filled with comic hyperbole.

Jonathan said...

Well done, Ros.

For those of us who have read all of Marlowe and all of Shakespeare, the "connection" between the two if very, very obvious.

My, how misguided the Oxfordians are. If they would only read Marlowe.

Sam Blumenfeld said...

Jonathan is right. You really cannot see Marlowe in Shakespeare until you've first read Marlowe. Then everything becomes quite clear that it is Marlowe who wrote the 36 plays in the First Folio.

SterlingD said...

Simply and effectively argued.

Anonymous said...

a very sexy scholar!

Chutny said...

Ditto, Anonymous!