In his closely argued essay Christopher Fanta maintains that the ambiguity in Marlowe's plays may well result from the duality of Marlowe's thought. Fiery protagonists like Tamburlaine, who are bent on overpowering the limitations of society and nature, are set against what Fanta terms the "agonists": a handful of minor, virtuous characters who by their actions and interaction with the hero express Marlowe's "other," muted voice. Fanta analyzes five "agonists": Zenocrate and Olympia in Tamburlaine, Abigail in The Jew of Malta, Prince Edward in Edward II, and the Old Man in Dr. Faustus.
In this sustained full length study of Marlowe's plays, Andrew Duxfield argues that Marlovian drama exhibits a marked interest in unity and unification, and that in doing so it engages with a discourse of anxiety over social discord that was prominent in the 1580s and 1590s. In combination with the ambiguity of the plays, he suggests, this focus produces a tension that both heightens dramatic effect and facilitates a cynical response to contemporary evocations of and pleas for unity. This book has three main aims. Firstly, it establishes that Marlowe’s tragedies exhibit a profound interest in the process of reduction and the ideal of unity. Duxfield shows this interest to manifest itself in different ways in each of the plays. Secondly, it identifies this interest in unity and unification as an engagement in a cultural discourse that was particularly prevalent in England during Marlowe’s writing career; during the late 1580s and early 1590s heightened inter-confessional tension, the threat and reality of foreign invasion and public puritan dissent in the form of the Marprelate controversy provoked considerable public anxiety about social discord. Thirdly, the book considers the plays’ focus on unity in relation to their marked ambiguity; throughout all of the plays, unifying ideals and reductive processes are consistently subject to renegotiation with, or undercut entirely by, the complexity and ambiguity of the dramas in which they feature. Duxfield’s focus on unity as a theme throughout the plays provides a new lens through which to examine the place of Marlowe’s work in its cultural moment.
There has never been a retrospective on Christopher Marlowe as comprehensive, complete and up-to-date in appraising the Marlovian landscape. Each chapter has been written by an eminent, international Marlovian scholar to determine what has been covered, what has not, and what scholarship and criticism will or might focus on next. The volume considers all of Marlowe’s dramas and his poetry, including his translations, as well as the following special topics: Critical Approaches to Marlowe; Marlowe’s Works in Performance; Marlowe and Theatre History; Electronic Resources for Marlovian Research; and Marlowe’s Biography. Included in the discussions are the native, continental, and classical influences on Marlowe and the ways in which Marlowe has interacted with other contemporary writers, including his influence on those who came after him. The volume has appeal not only to students and scholars of Marlowe but to anyone interested in Renaissance drama and poetry. Moreover, the significance for readers lies in the contributors’ approaches as well as in their content. Interest in the biography of Christopher Marlowe and in his works has bourgeoned since the turn of the century. It therefore seems especially appropriate at this time to present a comprehensive assessment of past and present traditional and innovative lines of inquiry and to look forward to future developments.