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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Marlowe and Kyd

§ 6. Edward II, the Massacre at Paris and Dido Queene of Carthage

Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta constitute the first dramatic group. In his next play The Troublesome Raigne and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, Marlowe turned from romantic tragedy to history. It is the first English “history” of the type which Shakespeare has given in Richard II; a drama of more sustained power, and showing some of Marlowe’s best work. It is this sustained power which has won for it, since Charles Lamb’s time, the honour of comparison on equal terms with the later masterpiece; and, on the other hand, has stimulated the suspicion of Marlowe’s responsibility for the inequalities of the earlier plays. The most convincing proof of the dramatist’s genius is conveyed in the transformation of the existing “chronicle” habit of the popular stage into a new genre. A fifth and a sixth play—The Massacre at Paris and The Tragedie of Dido Queene of Carthage—complete the list of the accredited dramas. The first known edition of the former has been dated between 1596 and the close of the century; the earliest text of the latter belongs to the year 1594. In these, it must be admitted, the suspicion of patchwork is reasonably strong, especially in Dido, where Nashe is openly named on the title-page as a sharer in the work. The literary interest of The Massacre is very small, except, perhaps, in the second scene, where Guise’s speech has the ring of Tamburlaine:

  • Give me a look, that, when I bend the brows,
  • Pale death may walk in furrows of my face;
  • A hand, that with a grasp may gripe the worlde; etc.
  • An ingenious suggestion has been made that, in the more extravagant passages in Dido, such as the description of the death of Priam, which Shakespeare parodied in Hamlet, Nashe was “laughing in his sleeve,” and showing that he had learnt the trick of “bragging blank verse” and could swagger in “drumming decasyllabons.” It is better to take such passages at their poor face value, and to say that they cannot well be Marlowe’s, even at his worst. Such blatant lines as fall to Dido when she addresses the “cursed tree” which bears away the Trojan:
  • And yet I blame thee not: thou art but wood.
  • The water, which our poets term a nymph,
  • Why did it suffer thee to touch her breast,
  • And shrunk not back, knowing my love was there?
  • cannot be by Marlowe; or even by Nashe, whether in prankish or in serious mood.