Shakespeare bestrode his world, and indeed the whole world of English literature, like a Colossus. Hence 12 essays on him, when I have contented myself with one each on the 30 writers discussed previously. They were of a later period, and many of them still have much to say that we can readily understand, which is why I dealt with a large number of those who wrote in the last two centuries.
The case is different with those of the previous period, so I shall look at fewer than a dozen writers in the period between Shakespeare’s age, the end of the 16th century, and that of Wordsworth, at the end of the 18th. Three of these however will be contemporaries of Shakespeare, which suggests how brilliant was that efflorescence of English writing, during the Elizabethan period.
First of these was Christopher Marlowe, who has even been suspected of being the writer of the Shakespearian canon. But this is a particularly absurd supposition, for Marlowe was a genius in his own right, with a very different perspective from that of Shakespeare, who covered such a wide range of human nature and experience in his works.
Marlowe on the contrary had in essence just one subject. That was the study of individuals who sought to achieve more than the usual limits set by the world allowed. From the moment Tamberlaine burst upon the stage, Marlowe made it clear that what he was concerned about was the attractions, and the relentless consequences, to oneself as well as to others, of excess.
I am a lord, for so my deeds shall prove;
And yet a shepherd by my parentage.
But, lady, this fair face and heavenly hue
Must grace his bed that conquers Asia,
And means to be a terror to the world,
Measuring the limits of his empery
By east and west, as Phoebus doth his course. Continue reading