While on holiday, I read the complete plays of Christopher Marlowe, my first encounter directly with his work. It was very interesting; I know Shakespeare to a certain extent (I read/listened to the entire canon a few years ago, starting here), and was struck by both the similarities and the differences between them. Marlowe died, of course, just as Shakespeare was getting started; experts trace several direct references to Marlowe’s works in Shakespeare’s plays.
I have some general thoughts about Marlowe, but I am going to save them to the end. First, I’m going to write up the six (or seven) surviving plays here, one by one, giving you my conclusions at the end.
I’m starting therefore with:
Dido, Queen of Carthage
Second speech of third scene (Act 2 Scene 1):
ACHATES: Why stands my sweet Æneas thus amaz’d?
This is the first play printed in the Complete Works although it’s not clear if it was the first historically performed or written, published only the year after the authors death. Mostly it’s a dramatisation of the Dido story from the Æneid, which would have been been well known to the audience (quite a different situation from the other plays where the stories are more original).
But Marlowe (with input from Nashe) bulks up two elements in particular. First, he gives Dido herself lots more to do and say than Virgil did. She is his only strong female protagonist, and although she is hopelessly and irrationally in love with Æneas (who is not such an attractive character here) this is not because she is a weak woman, it is because she is being toyed with by the gods; having been set up in a difficult situation by divine caprice, she otherwise retains agency to the end.
To the core love story, Marlowe adds a number of other romances (again, unlike his other plays and unlike the original story). Most obviously, the play opens by showing us the man/boy relationship between Jupiter and Ganymede. But there are other non-standard relationships too, and I’m struck that Marlowe was not playing them for laughs but as real situations in the terms of the story.
I wasn’t able to find any audio or video of Dido online. That seems a shame to me; it’s not too complex and I think would be particularly good on audio. It was apparently first written (or at least first performed) by child (=teenage) actors. The Marlowe Society has a good overiew of it here.