Marlowe versus Shakespeare.

I realize that this posting is behind the time, but I have been stuck on the couch for ten days now and, in defense of my IQ, have started watching DVD’s instead of the schlock on TV. One of the videos I watched again was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and seeing Derek Jacobi as the Chorus brought home for me the quintessential difference between Marlowe and Shakespeare’s plays. While both playwrights have masterful skills in the use of language, allusion etc. Shakespeare’s writing has an innate drama and emotional power that Marlowe’s writing lacks. So I invite you to compare and contrast the two prologues below. The first is from Dr. Faustus, the second from Henry V. Both were written about the same time (Faustus in 1592 and Henry in 1599). In evaluating their relative merits keep in mind that Marlowe was educated at Cambridge and Shakespeare at the Stratford Grammar School, we think. In terms of education it’s like a high school grad. competing with a Ph.d.

Dr. Faustus;

Not marching now in fields of Thrasymene,
Where Mars did mate the Carthaginians;
Nor sporting in the dalliance of love,
In courts of kings where state is overturn’d;
Nor in the pomp of proud audacious deeds,
Intends our Muse to vaunt her heavenly verse:
Only this, gentlemen,–we must perform
The form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad:
To patient judgments we appeal our plaud,
And speak for Faustus in his infancy.
Now is he born, his parents base of stock,
In Germany, within a town call’d Rhodes:
Of riper years, to Wertenberg he went,
Whereas his kinsmen chiefly brought him up.
So soon he profits in divinity,
The fruitful plot of scholarism grac’d,
That shortly he was grac’d with doctor’s name,
Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes
In heavenly matters of theology;
Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow;
For, falling to a devilish exercise,
And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.

Henry V;

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

Bravo!

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