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Playing with Desire

Playing with Desire: Christopher Marlowe and the Art of Tantalization

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 312
  • Book Info
    Playing with Desire
    Book Description:

    Examining Marlowe's plays and his major poems, Tromly uses Renaissance mythography, a study of literary sources (especially Ovid), performance history, and social history to demonstrate the centrality of the Tantalus myth to Marlowe?s imagination.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7854-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Texts
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    This book is about a distinctive but unremarked preoccupation of Christopher Marlowe’s writing: games of tantalization in which enticing objects and ideas are offered and then withdrawn before they can be grasped. These teasing games so thoroughly pervade Marlowe’s work as to be a virtualsine qua nonof his engaged imagination, and they occur often enough to provide a framework for studying almost his entire body of work. The pages which follow trace the changing representation of tantalizing games in all seven of Marlowe’s plays. This focus on tantalization is particularly fruitful in that it provides a means of...

  6. 1 Marlowe and the Torment of Tantalus
    (pp. 9-27)

    In his continuation of Marlowe’sHero and Leander,George Chapman employs a curious image to invoke his dead predecessor. He describes Marlowe as a poet ‘whose living subject stood / Up to the chin in the Pierian flood,/And drunk to me half this Musaean story …’¹ While drinking of the Muses’ Pierian spring is a common trope for poetic inspiration, the odd detail of actually standing in the sacred water (and up to the chin) appears to be Chapman’s invention. There is, however, one mythological figure who stands immersed in water in the posture which Chapman attributes to Marlowe. That...

  7. 2 Translation as Template: All Ovid’s Elegies
    (pp. 28-45)

    Even though it is an imposing piece of work consisting of forty-eight poems and some 2400 lines, Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’sAmoreshas received short shrift in accounts of his imaginative development. Emphasizing its probable composition during Marlowe’s student years at Cambridge, critics have elected to readAll Ovid’s Elegieswith red pencil in hand, dismissing it as if it were an academic exercise of no real consequence — an assignment duly submitted and forgotten. (A recurrent and revealing feature of commentaries on theElegieshas been the donnish catalogue of Marlowe’s Latin-to-English howlers.)¹ In the first comprehensive study of...

  8. 3 Playing with the Powerless: Dido Queen of Carthage
    (pp. 46-65)

    Marlowe’sTragedy of Dido Queen of Carthageis both more like and more unlike his translation of Ovid’sAmores(All Ovid’s Elegies) than commentators have indicated. For the most part, critics have been content to note general points of contact between the two works: that both are learned and that Marlowe probably wrote both when he was at Cambridge; thatDidois closer in spirit to Ovid than to Virgil’sAeneid,the source of its plot; that the poetry ofDidois in various ways ‘Ovidian.’¹ The primary link, however, between the two works has not been noted. This is...

  9. 4 The Conqueror’s and the Playwright’s Games: Tamburlaine the Great, Part One and Part Two
    (pp. 66-91)

    In some obvious ways Part One and Part Two ofTamburlainemark a new direction in Marlowe’s writing, a clean break from the Ovid translation andDido Queen of Carthage.While the earlier works derive from Latin verse read at school,Tamburlainehas the feel of a thoroughly contemporary engagement with the energies of an expansionist age.¹ There is also a jagged discontinuity in subject matter, as Marlowe abandons the wanton world of Ovidian sexual play to depict the Scythian warrior — with the imposing figure of Edward Alleyn in the role — ‘Threat’ning the world with high astounding terms/And...

  10. 5 Playing with Avarice: The Jew of Malta
    (pp. 92-112)

    Far more than the callow sons to whom he reluctantly hands the chariotreins, Tamburlaine’s true spiritual heir is Barabas, the endlessly egotistic and energetic protagonist ofThe Jew of Malta.To be sure, Barabas does not inherit all of Tamburlaine’s characteristics; he is himself aware that he lacks the ambition of those who (in an image recalling Tamburlaine) ‘thirst so much for principality’ (1.1.134). Despite his more constrained theatre of action — Barabas is in effect an island on an island — he does share some of Tamburlaine’s defining traits, most notably a constant oscillation between desire and discontent. Barabas,...

  11. 6 The Play of History and Desire: Edward II
    (pp. 113-132)

    In abstract, thematic terms, Marlowe’sEdward IIcontinuesThe Jew of Malta’scorrosive exploration of hypocrisy, as in both plays political self-interest dresses itself in the rhetoric of moral outrage. But the two plays’ effects on a theatre audience prove to be as different as they can be. Through its exhilarating fantasies, caricatures of good and evil, and unforeseen plot twists,The Jew of Maltainvites playful collusion and subversive laughter from its audience. InEdward II,however, the play does not entertain the audience, release its fantasy, or engage its humour. Though it begins with the promise of imaginative...

  12. 7 Damnation as Tantalization: Doctor Faustus
    (pp. 133-152)

    Though opinion remains divided whether it is Marlowe’s last play, in many waysDoctor Faustushas the force of a summary or conclusive vision.¹ In no other work by Marlowe are the farthest reaches of desire articulated so fully and then frustrated so conclusively as in this play about a magician with delusions of omnipotence. InDoctor Faustusimages associated with Icarus and Tantalus, Marlowe’s archetypes of aspiration and frustration, occur with uncommon force and frequency. Indeed, Marlowe conceives of Faustus’ career in symbolic terms as the grim transformation of a would-be Icarus into a tormented Tantalus. The association of...

  13. 8 Frustrating the Story of Desire: Hero and Leander
    (pp. 153-173)

    Quite apart from the possibility that it may be Marlowe’s last,Hero and Leanderis the appropriate work with which to end this study, for it provides especially striking evidence of his proclivity to equate desire with tantalization. Unfortunately,Hero and Leanderhas rarely been read in the context of Marlowe’s oeuvre, and thus its centrality has not been appreciated. Being Marlowe’s only narrative poem,Hero and Leanderhas suffered from the simple fact that it is not a play, and a consequence of its generic uniqueness has been the common strategy of situating it in a non-Marlovian context: the...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 174-176)

    In one of his Oxford Lectures, Seamus Heaney praises Marlowe for ‘extending the alphabet’ of expression in English verse, and especially for being ‘boldly liberating’ in his treatment of language and desire.¹ The invigorations which Heaney finds in Marlowe are important and not to be dismissed, but they are also — as I hope to have shown — part of a larger, finally ironic rhythm. To illustrate Marlowe’s work with passages of lyric brio, as Heaney does, is to create an attractive but misleading picture, for these local exhilarations inevitably terminate in frustrated desire. What seductive lyricism places on offer,...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 177-210)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 211-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-238)