A Sample of Critical Views
Christopher Marlowe has had a curious journey through the corridors of literary history. He was largely neglected during the eighteenth century, a period obsessed with classical models of drama and preoccupied with Shakespeare (whose work was often rewritten to suit contemporary tastes). Marlowe was seen as decidedly inferior to Shakespeare; Thomas Warton’s criticism of Marlowe’s ‘tedious and uninteresting scenes’ is representative (1781). Warton remarks that ‘such extravagancies … proceeded from a want of judgement’ and the ‘barbarous ideas of the time’, adding that ‘it was the peculiar gift of Shakespeare’s genius to triumph and predominate’ over these defects — a typical slighting of Marlowe’s work by comparisons with Shakespeare’s. Marlowe was rediscovered in the nineteenth century by writers like William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb: the latter noted in 1808 that the death scene in Edward II ‘moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or modern, with which I am acquainted’. At about the same time, Edmund Kean, perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, staged a cut version of The Jew of Malta in 1818. Although the production led some critics to reassess Marlowe’s reputation, it was still standard procedure to compare him unfavourably with his contemporary: as a dramatic character, Barabas was considered no match for Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
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