Sarah K. Scott

is Assistant Professor of English at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she teaches courses in early modern literature and culture. She is Associate Editor of Marlowe Studies: An Annual, and Assistant Editor of The New Variorum Shakespeare Julius Caesar.

The fifth session dedicated to the study of Marlowe’s artistry at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, and the first to examine specifically the process of influence between Shakespeare and Marlowe, convened in the Burnham Room of the Chicago Hyatt Regency on a spectacularly warm and sunny Good Friday, 2 April at 3:30 p.m.* The session, jointly led by M. L. Stapleton and me, set out to investigate the critical tradition linking the two writers that incorporates a mythology of influence and rivalry. We wanted to know whether our seminarians understood Shakespeare scholarship to have largely determined Marlowe’s reception, following conventional scholarly thinking, and, if so, whether it was an inevitability. Have Marlowe studies reciprocally framed the reception of Shakespeare? Why has “value” been privileged, with Shakespeare as Marlowe’s “superior,” Marlowe as Shakespeare’s “equal”? Our seminar emphasized the conception of influence as a process rather than an end in itself, and sought to reexamine evidence of its existence between the two authors.

Thirteen participants contributed essays that collectively engaged all but three of Marlowe’s dramatic and poetic works (The Massacre at Paris, 2 Tamburlaine—and most strangely—Hero and Leander) and several of Shakespeare’s plays and his sonnets. We explored relationships among texts, and theatrical tools, such as stage objects and music, to map a range of analogues and dissonances by examining linguistic parallels, dual perspectives, literary and cultural antecedents, and dramaturgical practices. In our discussions, we applied a variety of methodological treatments to investigations of historical or aesthetic influence pertaining to an array of topics. We recognized that our work contributed to a larger critical context, extending back to the work of A. P. Rossiter (1946), F. P. Wilson (1953), Nicholas Brooke (1961), and Harold F. Brooks (1968).

The two-hour meeting yielded a rich diversity of subject matter, and, given the session’s interdisciplinary nature, very little (if any) time was spent on conventional textual issues, such as differences between the A- and B-texts of Doctor Faustus. Moreover, scant discussion based on value judgments or arguments claiming that one’s artistry was an improvement of the other’s reflected a pronounced reluctance on the part of the group to make such assessments of worth. The subject of the seminar inspired new treatments of the relationship between the artists. A study of dissonances in Edward II and Richard II as it relates to Helgersonian “forms of nationhood,” for instance, led to a realization of the differences of the playwrights’world views, as well as dramaturgical treatments of geography, eschatology, and the exotic. Comparisons of religious, political, and personal relations in The Jew of Malta to those in The Merchant of Venice—as well as to those in Doctor Faustus, Hamlet, and Othello—helped us consider how we define genre in Marlowe’s work, and, most interestingly, led to a discussion about his attitudes towards family and kinship. The course of such conversation led us to recognize with greater awareness the importance of combining performance studies with textual studies, in general, and the nature of influence, in particular. Another lively line of inquiry emerged as participants sought to determine whether Shakespeare is paying tribute to Marlowe or parodying him, and what parody really means, while simultaneously recognizing both playwrights’sometimes perverse treatment of their classical, medieval, and early modern literary antecedents. This investigative thread opened with taking the measure of Dido, Queen of Carthage, and led to the Elegies; combined, their treatment in the session composed the most concentrated examination of classical Marlowe. Furthermore, we recognized Marlowe as quite clearly having influenced Shakespeare’s plays throughout his early, middle, and late career, from Titus Andronicus to Henry V to The Tempest in the forms of character development, stage properties and music, and set pieces.

Twenty auditors in total joined our meeting, at one point outnumbering the participants. When invited to join the conversation in the last twenty or so minutes, several of our colleagues contributed valuable insights on the idea of Marlowe-Shakespeare influence as well as on Marlowe studies in general. In response to the difficult question of what Shakespeare specifically learns from Marlowe, posed by my co-chair several times throughout the conversation, Pierre Hecker (Carleton College) argued that from Marlowe, Shakespeare learns to pitch questions and to write dramas focusing on antiheroes. Roslyn Knutson (University of Arkansas, Little Rock) underscored the importance of recognizing that questions of “influence are necessarily complicated by the number of lost plays (and their dramatists) that he knew but we don’t,” with The Famous Victories of Henry V, The True Tragedy of Richard III, The Troublesome Reign of King John, and King Leir in mind. This suggests, then, that we search for Marlowe’s art in Shakespeare, in part because his works survive. Robert Darcy (University of Nebraska, Omaha) relayed his appreciation for the group’s interrogation of problems of unconscious and conscious influence in Shakespeare, and questioned the degree to which we are predisposed to believe Shakespeare intentionally set about to rewrite Marlowe by way of scholarly suggestion. Moreover, he asked whether more work might be applied to the study of Shakespeare’s direct references to Marlowe, such as in As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The session proved an enjoyable experience that led all of us to engage more fully in our own interests as well as those of others. The field of Marlowe studies was well served. As our discussion deepened (and continued later at the hotel bar), many of us contemplated new directions for the future to be taken up at another time, perhaps during a sixth meeting at a future SAA. Participants expressed the need to consider more fully Marlowe’s dramaturgical influence on the work of his near contemporaries other than Shakespeare, such as Jonson and Middleton, as well as on later playwrights in the years leading up to the present day. Perhaps the most compelling idea to emerge was a desire for more narrowly focused inquiries into specific literary and cultural moments, such as the dramatic milieu of the late 1580s and early 1590s.

*The history of Marlowe at SAA is as follows: “Marlowe and Middleton,” led by Douglas Bruster, 24 March 1995, Chicago; “The Place of Marlowe,” led by Emily C. Bartels, 27 March 1997, Washington, D.C.; “Marlowe Today” led by David Riggs, 8 April 2000, Montréal; “Marlowe as Maker,” led by Sara Munson Deats and Georgia E. Brown, 17 March 2005, Bermuda; “Marlowe and Shakespeare,” led by Sarah K. Scott and M. L. Stapleton, 2 April, 2010, Chicago.