J. B. Steane, Marlowe: A Critical Study (1964)
Steane’s idiosyncratic, semi-formalist study was praised in its time because it was truly a critical reading of the canon with “poetry at its centre of interest” rather than biography, textual scholarship, sources, or Shakespeare. He approached Marlowe as an author with a coherent body of work with recognizable patterns and themes, such as the conflict between the glorification of the will and its destruction by impersonal, universal forces. He attended as much to the poetry and translations as the plays, and attempted to synthesize their ideas by close reading of the text. He championed Dido, Queene of Carthage, All Ovids Elegies, and Lucans First Booke, devoting thirty-one pages to the latter. His prose style is also clear, urbane, and infused with a sense of humor.
John Barry Steane (1928-) is both a literary critic and a musicologist. He studied English under A. P. Rossiter (Angel with Horns, 1961) at Cambridge (Jesus College) and taught in Northwood (Middlesex) until 1988. He wrote the introductions to the first Penguin edition of Marlowe’s plays (1969) and Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works (1972), became a reviewer for Gramophone (1973), and published The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record (1974) and Singers of the Century (1996). He has written many other articles and reviews in The Musical Times, Opera, Opera Now, and The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Enjoy Marlowe: A Critical Study.
Joel B. Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind (1978)
Altman’s landmark study proposes that much Elizabethan drama has its roots not in the homiletic or moralizing tradition but in the humanist education program, specifically the idea of questio, posing questions and arguing them in utramque partem, on both sides. This dialectic helps create the complications and ambiguities inherent in plays such as Gorboduc, Tamburlaine, The Spanish Tragedy, Every Man in His Humour, and others. Altman demonstrates how sixteenth-century playwrights develop debate questions into the dramatic forms we so value, with special focus on Terentian comedies, Lyly’s allegories, Senecan tragedy, and finally, Marlowe’s radical experiments in the theater. His final chapter, “‘If Words Might Serve’: Marlowe’s Supposes,” would be of special interest to Marlovians. The Tudor Play of Mind was widely praised: “This is a superb book, one of the best ever written on the Elizabethan drama. It handles an important theme with enormous authority and skill, combining breadth and learning with some extremely incisive critical commentary. Books of this calibre are rare” (Jonas Barish, 1981).
Joel B. Altman is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of The Improbability of Othello: Rhetorical Anthropology and Shakespearean Selfhood (2010).