Guest post: The two young men

Originally a comment by Tim Harris on His plays harbor problematic depictions and characterizations.

‘Edward II’ has a very strong relationship to Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’ (one of my favourite plays, one that I have directed and acted in as Richard); it is the forerunner to Shakespeare’s play, and an influence on it, just as Marlowe’s poem ‘Hero & Leander’ (a wonderful poem) was a stimulus to Shakespeare to write ‘Venus & Adonis’. In ‘As You Like It’, Shakespeare makes a specific reference to Marlowe and ‘Hero & Leander’ when Phebe says:

Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,

‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’

The second line is a a line from ‘Hero & Leander’. The dead shepherd is Marlowe.

I suspect the two young men worked together on some of the early history plays, which were not by Shakespeare alone, and in particular on ‘Edward III’, a play that is now recognised as almost certainly being in part by Shakespeare. They clearly stimulated each other. I put on and directed a production of it at the university I worked at in connexion with the British Council’s British arts festival in 1998, I think. It was the first production ever in Japan, and probably only the third or fourth full production for 400 years. The first half is, I believe, definitely by Shakespeare – it contains probably the first of Shakespeare’s great temptation scenes, when Edward attempts to seduce the Countess of Salisbury. In the second half, which is not so intimate and literary (by which I mean no criticism) but works wonderfully well as theatre (it is about the wars in France), there is one speech by Edward which has all the hallmarks of Marlowe, in its building and cutting away at the end almost to a kind of bathos. It was wonderful to work on a play that hadn’t been done thousands of times before.

The play of Marlowe’s I love best is ‘Dr Faustus’ (the first version), with Faustus’s final soliloquy, in which blank verse is used with a quite astonishing mastery, and an hour’s time is convincingly contracted on stage into a speech lasting about ten minutes.

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