Violence and the overreacher in the plays of Christopher Marlowe

Collins, Peter (1990) Violence and the overreacher in the plays of Christopher Marlowe. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Elizabethan scholarship has, for the most part, overlooked the importance of violence in the period's drama. Although recent scholarship displays an awareness of this glaring oversight, the study of Christopher Marlowe's use of dramatic violence remains, for the most part, limited to uneven commentaries, of no more than a page or two, in the major works of Marlovian criticism. The standard critical approach has been to dismiss the dramatic violence of his plays as either the regrettable product of a violent social milieu or the result of the influence of the violent Senecan and native dramatic traditions. -- The generally dismissive critical attitude towards violence in Marlowe's work and, by extension, in all Elizabethan drama, is clearly inadequate. I shall attempt to rectify this oversight by examining the use of dramatic violence in Marlowe's plays in order to show how thoughtfully the playwright employed violence for a variety of theatrical and thematic purposes. As a primary focus I will use the "overreacher," a term originally coined by Harry Levin in his seminal study of power and aspiration in Marlowe's works, to illustrate how integral is the analysis of Marlowe's use of dramatic violence to the study of character and theme in his plays. -- In Tamburlaine: Part One Marlowe uses violent language to define an overreaching figure of incredible power and attraction, while in Part Two his increasing use of disturbing staged violence suggests a questioning of the overreacher's amorality. In The Jew of Malta Marlowe makes extensive use of comic violence to refashion a morality Vice within a Renaissance context. Here the exploitation of the comic aspects of violence (a common feature of the dialogue and stage action in all of Marlowe's plays) undercuts any negative audience reaction to the protagonist's crimes and even allows the audience to identify, to some degree, with the fantastically villainous Barabas. In Doctor Faustus the comic violence of the "eldritch" and "comedy of evil" traditions plays a vital role in depicting the degeneration of the Marlovian overreacher. With The Massacre at Paris and Edward II the overreacher has been debased from visionary to villain. In these plays Marlowe questions the overreacher's power and engenders sympathy for the pathetic Edward, despite his weak misrule of England, by portraying him as the hapless victim of the overreacher's violence.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5477
Item ID: 5477
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 148-155.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1990
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Marlowe, Christopher, 1564-1593--Plays--Criticism and interpretation; Violence in literature

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