[PDF Notes] Some Famous Dramatists of the Age John Lyly

He was born in 1554. The plays of Lyly were written after the publication of Euphuism, and were acted by the children of Paul’s before her Majesty.” In character they were mythological or pastoral, -nice approximated to the Masque rather than to the narrative drama of Marlowe.

They were written in prose intermingled with verse, and whereas the verse is almost wholly charming, the prose is often marred by the fantastic conceits that weary the reader of Euphuism. Nor had Lyly that sense of the theatre displayed by many of his contemporaries, who lacked his sense of literary form and polished wit.

George Peele:

George Peele, of Devonshire origin, the son of James Peele, citizen and Salter of London, was born about 1558, and as a free scholar was educated at Christ’s Hospital from 1566-70. In March of the following year he went to Broad gate Hall, Oxford, and completed his degree in arts in 1579.

His works are: The Arraignment of Paris, 1584; Edward I, 1593; The Battle of Alcazar, 1594; The Old Wives’ Tale, 1595- the only known copies of this are one in the British Museum and one in the library at Bridgewater House; David and Fair Bathsheba, 1599; and an earlier play now lost, entitled The Hunting of Cupid, supposed to have been written about 1591.

Among other works may be mentioned Polyhymnia, 1590, a poem in blank verse; The Honor of the Garter, 1593; The Fall of Troy, published with A Farewell to Norris and Drake, 1589 ; and a thumb book 1 % X 1, with two lines on a page.

George Peele left behind him some half dozen plays, richer in poetic beauty than any of his group save Marlowe. His earliest work is The Arraignment of Paris’, his most notable, perhaps, David and Bathsheba.

Thomas Kyd :

Thomas Kyd (1558-95) was the son of a London notary, and received his education at Merchant Taylor’s School. Dramatist and translator, he achieved great popularity with his first work The Spanish Tragedy, which was translated into German and Dutch, and in which Jonson is supposed by some to have been his collaborator. The record of his life and works is uncertain.

Putting aside his translation of Cornelia, The Spanish Tragedy is his only known play; and although its ranting style roused the contempt of Shakespeare, yet there are touches of genuine force behind the extravagances; and even extravagance is better than lifelessness.

Robert Greene :

His plays comprise Orlando Furies, Friar Bacon and Friar Bunge Alphonsus King of Aragon, Looking Glass for London and England (with Lodge), and George-a-Greene, the Pinned of Wakefield. Among his other works the most important are Pando to, from which Shakespeare took the plot for The Winter’s Tale: Penelope’s Web, and his partly autobiographical Goat’s Worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance.

Christopher Marlowe :

We pass to the greatest of the band, to the great protagonist of Elizabethan drama-Christopher Marlowe.

Tamburlaine is a Scythian shepherd obsessed with the idea that his mission in life is to be “the scourge of God” and a terror to the world till “Immortal Jove says, Cease, Tamburlaine!” He pursues and overcomes the mightiest monarchs of the Eastern world with the bloodthirstiness of a savage beast:

Captive kings drag his chariot to the field of battle for further conquest, and with their queens imprisoned in case; at length rushing out their brains rather than exist for further indignity. Yet Tamburlaine is possessed of a personal magnetism that cannot be withstood: “Sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome” says the Persian warrior sent to quell him.

Tamburlaine was succeeded by The Tragically History of Doctor Faustus, in which the dramatist gives an old medieval legend a glowing Renaissance setting. The story of the alchemist who sells his soul to the Devil never lost its fascination, and in late years Faustus became more of the heartless sensualist than the headstrong magician. It was in this form that Goethe found the story and turned it to his own use.

In the ancient legend the Faustus barters his soul in return for some years of gaiety and pleasure. Marlowe’s Faustus desires pleasure also, but incidentally only, it is every form of joy that he would drink of freely. He is a genuine incarnation of the Renaissance spirit, and has nothing of that calculating, introspective nature peculiar to Goethe’s gentleman.

‘Faustus’ was followed by The Jew of Malta, a play rich in fine episodes, and with a glorious opening, but lacking the grip and imaginative appeal of the earlier plays. Edward II, his last play, is from the technical point of view also his best. Lacking the intensity and rhythmic beauty of the earlier plays, it shows rare skill of construction, while the characterization is wholly admirable. To some extent no doubt it inspired Shakespeare’s Richard II, and the abdication scene is obviously modeled on Marlowe’s.

Marlowe’s other work for the stage is almost negligible. The Massacre of Paris survives, it is true, in a fragmentary and corrupt condition, but this dramatization of contemporary French History is strangely lacking in power and interest.

The Tragedy of Dido, written in conjunction with Nash and published, bears little impress of Marlowe’s greatness, and is supposed to be an early work, greatly altered and added to by his collaborator. A great portion of Henry VI is from Marlowe’s pen, and more happily reminiscent. But the outstanding work, putting aside the four plays above discussed, is the fragmentary Hero and Leander, a poem of singular freshness and beauty.

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