Annotated Bibliography--Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe: Censorship and Construction

(Sorry if this didn't show up on your grading radar earlier...blogging and tagging confusions on my end!)

In his article on William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, Richard Dutton describes the controversial figure of Marlowe as a frank, outspoken playwright whose works often reflect his own worldview. Dutton writes, "the 'over-reaching' protagonists of the plays mirror the man of aggressively heterodox views who came under Privy Council scrutiny, while some ideas voiced in the plays are very close to opinions that Marlowe himself was supposed to hold and which were recorded as incriminating" (Dutton, 2) He continues to illustrate the image of Marlowe as a dualistic character: a "gentleman scholar" with seedy, "unfortunate associations with the popular theatre," whose own incompleteness can be found in the characters and themes of his written texts. Marlowe's contrasting image of a "great poet" and "'demon' of the Elizabethan culture" bolstered the social and religious debates on his work, Dr Faustus. While some seemingly understood his work as an orthodox Christian play with a strong, conclusive ending, others saw his play as an expression of humanist views with a provocative, indeterminate ending.

Dutton also addresses Marlowe's highly controversial murder in 1593. He frames his historical findings in Marlowe's close friendship or association with Sir Thomas Walsingham, the dedicatee of an English publisher. As it so happens, Ingram Frizer, the man who stabbed Marlowe to death was the Walsinghams' business agent. With this new tangle of relationships revealed, Dutton asks the reader to reconsider the nature of Marlowe's murder. Was this crime perhaps committed on the Walsinghams' behalf to quiet the controversial atheistic voice of Christopher Marlowe and simultaneously sever their association with a "godless man"?

Edmund Tilney is another character who appears in Dutton's framing of Marlowe's social context. Tilney was delegated the Master of Revels, or "the Queen's Censor," who was responsible for the censoring and organization of revels and plays for them to be suitable entertainment for the court. His position is designed to appease those in rule, and Tilney was granted the power to administer punishment for resisting rules of play as he saw fit.

Dutton writes, "[G.E.] Bentley gives definitive voice to an attitude to the government of the period that was widely prevalent for much of this century: that the regime was in principle ruthlessly authoritarian, if often in practice incompetent, and underpinned by graft and corruption.That being so, the drama of the day must have been anodynely non-controversial from the point of view of the authorities, except for the odd blunder or when 'dangerous matter' some how found a surreptitious path to the stage"" (Dutton, 13). Since these performances were intended to be viewed by the court, playwrights had the opportunity to express their community's discontents with rulers and their policies and possibly incite change through subtle thematic inception.

Dutton quotes Glynne Wickham: 'the relationship between Church, State and individual being [....] was the very subject matter which the whole machinery of censorship and control had been devised to police and suppress.' (Dutton, 13)

Dutton, Richard. "Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe: Censorship and Construction."

Yearbook of English Studies. Vol. 23. (1993): 1-29. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. HTML tags.

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