Thursday, August 03, 2006

This Thing About Christopher Marlowe

I love Shakespeare. His plays are my reason for living if there is any and were it not for him I would have failed literature. I can recite some of Coriolanus, most of Julius Caesar and all of Hamlet. I think As You like It is the funniest thing ever written in English and Othello is the only good role ever written for a black man. But as solid a marriage as I have to Shakey, and even though I have no reason to, sometimes a reader has to cheat. Got to because he's being compelled by a dark, lusty, dangerous and totally wrong force. What good can come out of a The Massacre of Paris? Or being glutted by the conceit of Doctor Faustus? What satanic depths, what ridiculously ecstatic highs? Yup, it wasn’t long before I was cheating on Shakespeare big time with Christopher Marlowe.

Not hard to see why. It's like if you’re a Clash fan. Yeah they have all you need, but perhaps not all you want. Sometimes a guy needs a little Sex Pistols anarchy just to feel something dangerous. Sometimes one needs heretical poetry and dark drama. And drama doesn’t get more dark than Marlowe. And sure I need to know whether t’is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but damn it sometimes I want to be a rude boy touched by unknown love who Let maids whom hot desire to husbands lead. It's wonderful to remember, to thine own self be true (gee, thanks Polonius) but sometimes, just sometimes I want to be the scourge of God and the terror of the world and plague such peasants as resists in me, the power of heavens eternal majesty.

Marlowe. Think of the most wrong person you could ever have in your life and transform her or him into a book and you’re close. And come on, when that person is a bastard, scholar, drunkard, braggart, thief, deviant, hedonist, catholic, poet, playwright and double agent could even Shakespeare blame me for cheating? Sure Marlowe was a rock star 400 years before the fact, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed and Mick Jagger rolled into one, but what mattered most was that Marlowe made drama sing. He liberated it from the morality play and found the human core of drama that would change the course of playwriting forever. More than Shakespeare, Marlowe was the true successor to Dante, except that he wasn’t burdened with Dante's need to moralize. Hell, there wasn’t a single moral bone in Marlowe’s body. His only real contemporary was Caravaggio the painter, in life and art. Both were condemned as blasphemers in their day, but to find the power, glory, ecstasy and horror that resided in mere human flesh was blasphemy back then.

Of course Marlowe was murdered. How else could a man like that die? He left behind a string of masterpieces, including Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine, and Dido Queen of Carthage and to read them is to read the Zola to Shakespeare’s Henry James, the 'infernal intelligence' (James' take on Zola) let loose. Of course the debate rages on as to who was better and I won’t dignify that bullshit argument with an answer. That’s like asking who was better, the Police or U2? But I will say this. Had Shakespeare died the same year as Marlowe all he would have had to show for it was Richard III.