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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Christopher Marlowe's Dramatic Technique

Many critics opine that Marlowe is not a perfect master of dramatic technique. Dramatic technique is the method to choose and to shape the material, to get the maximum emotional response from the audience. Each dramatist has his own dramatic technique and it depends on the audience and the stage conditions.

Christopher Marlowe's Dramatic Technique
Christopher Marlowe's Dramatic Technique

Christopher Marlowe also has developed a technique and his dramas were highly applauded and greatly enjoyed by his audience. No doubt, his technique appears to be imperfect when it is compared with that of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

Christopher Marlowe's Dramatic Art 

First of all, Marlowe’s dramatic technique must be studied in the context English historical and theatrical conditions during 1500 and 1590s. He wrote his plays for a single stage without a drop curtain. While writing the plays the dramatist had a particular actor in view. The audience was from the lower strata of society. They understood and enjoyed the low spoken word and action. Owing to these reasons, Marlowe had to make many innovations in his dramatic technique. 

Before Marlowe, English drama was in the tradition of Seneca or the moralities. Marlowe broke that tradition by imparting a new direction to English drama. The first and the foremost of his intention are to impress upon the audience. So he selected extraordinary themes that would captivate the attention of the audience. The opening lines of Dr. Faustus clearly describe the story of Faustus, his interest in necromancy and his final downfall. Marlowe handles this theme in a very effective manner.

If we follow the play scenes after scene, the story is slowly built up. We follow the course of Faustus in a graphic detail. Originally he was a great and renowned scholar, who mastered all the subjects under the sun. But he is not very happy because his ambition is to gain unlimited power and authority. So he is ready to mortgage his soul to Lucifer to get that power, and he succeeds in enjoying the fruits. In the end, he dies with great agony, anguish and repentance. Though the main theme is systematically developed throughout the play, the different scenes do not display organic coherency. 

Christopher Marlowe introduced the whole machinery of the morality play; the chorus, the devils, the deadly sins, the dumb show etc. These methods form a part of the play to get a detailed understanding of it. But from the technique point of view, they appear to be additional material. That is why; critics feel that the play is calculation of separate and independent scenes. 

Marlowe’s Art of Characterization

As per characterization, Christopher Marlowe’s technique is very much criticized. His characters do not grow in the process of the drama. They also do not develop on the basis of reaction to a situation, for example, the character of Faustus is clearly described in the first scene. The dilemma in his heart whether to submit to God or to the Devil is exposed there in the play itself. And we do not get any more knowledge about Faustus in the course of the play. 

In an ideal drama, a character is developed by its interaction with the different situations arranged in a plot. But here we see the same hero, talking and raving in different manners. That is why critics conclude that there is nothing like characterization in his plays. 

Besides, Marlowe creates minor characters as shadows to the hero. All the minor characters appear to be mercenaries. This problem must be viewed from a different angle. Marlowe’s idea is to shock and surprise the audience with something unusual. He wants to provide surprises of a sublime nature. Hence he provided passionate and mighty protagonists like Tamburlaine and Faustus. If he tried to give importance to the minor characters also, probably these would be diluted. 

Marlowe’s Writing Style

Regarding the dialogues also, Marlowe appears to be imperfect artist. Dialogues play vital role in dramatic technique. The dialogues not only reveal the character but also unfold the plot and lay the action bare. But in Marlowe’s plays, dialogues mean the long poetic utterance of the hero himself. So, the dialogues in the play look like lengthy poetic passages and they reflect the hero’s ambition to a high degree. This daring poetry of Marlowe has been considered to be his greatest merit. With this kind of poetry, 

Marlowe successfully created a tragic hero of a sublime stature. He also provided a very effective instrument to the English poetic drama. But the same merit appears to be his drawback if we consider it from technique point of view. In Dr. Faustus, there are most beautiful passages and these passages create an atmosphere of an imaginative world. The poetry elevates the theme to a very high peak. 

Marlowe’s Mighty Line: 

Although blank verse was introduced into English literature by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, and was employed in English drama by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton in the first English tragedy, “Gorboduc” in 1565, it was Christopher Marlowe who unveiled the beauty, power, and range of flexibility of in Marlowe’s ‘mighty line’. Later on, it was artistically employed by Marlowe’s successors like William Shakespeare in his dramas and John Milton in his famous epic “Paradise Lost” and “Samson Agonistes”.

John Addington Symonds states, “Marlowe found the blank verse of the literary school monotonous, tame, nerveless, without life or movement. But he had the tact to understand its vast capacities, so vastly wider than its makers had divined, so immeasurably more elastic than the rhymes for which he substituted its sonorous cadences. Marlowe, the first of Englishmen, perceived how noble was the instrument he handled, how well adapted to the closest reasoning, the sharpest epigram, the loftiest flight of poetry, the subtlest music and the most luxurious debauch of fancy. Touched by his hands the thing became an organ capable of rolling thunders and of whispering sighs, of moving with pompous volubility or gliding like silvery stream, of blowing trumpet-blasts to battle or sounding the soft secrets of Lover’s heart. I do not assert that Marlowe made it discourse music of so many moods. But what he did with it, unlocked the secrets of the verse, and taught successors, how to play upon its hundred stops." 

Conventionally, blank verse has no stanza separation but the use of run-on lines and devices allow the poet to group his thoughts into a verse paragraphs. This can be observed in John Milton’s famous epic poem “Paradise Lost”. Marlowe’s diction enriched the new blank verse and he made it famous. 

A.C. Swinburne has rightly remarked, “Before Marlowe there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.”


Christopher Marlowe established blank verse as an appropriate metre for English poetic tragedy. Marlowe displayed his dramatic technique by handling blank verse adroitly and unfolded the charm and secrets of blank verse. He showed a way to his successors how to play upon it. 

Marlowe artistic handling of blank verse can be seen his Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus. The death scene of Dr. Faustus and Tamburlaine’s vision of Zenocrate in heaven are appealing to the audience. These scenes present Marlowe’s mastery over blank verse and its free flow and rhythmic beauty. Before William Shakespeare, the English drama revolved round the central sun, Christopher Marlowe who was a leading figure among the university wits.   


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