Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quod me nutrit, me destruit

That translates as “What nourishes me, destroys me.” It’s the inscription on this portrait, discovered in 1952 in Corpus Christi College. It’s of the other guy besides Shakespeare who’s celebrating a 450th birthday this year: Christopher Marlowe.
Like Shakespeare, Marlowe's actual birth date is not known; but since he was christened on the 26th of February, exactly two months before Shakespeare’s christening—and since Shakespeare’s birthday is commonly assumed to have taken place 3 days before his own christening—it’s consistent to assume that Marlowe was born on the 23rd of the month as well.

And like Shakespeare, we do know the actual date of Marlowe's death: May 30, 1593, when he was barely 29 years old.  Officially, he was killed by a knife thrust into his eye during a tavern brawl in Deptford.  I say "officially" because the other three men involved in the brawl, as well as Marlowe himself, have definite connections to the spying circle that is part of the hell of the Elizabethan underworld, and at the time of his death, Marlowe was under suspicion by the Privy Council of (among other things) writing a libelous poem against illegal aliens and signing it "Tamberlane."   All of which became known less than a hundred years ago, when Leslie Hotson  hunted down and found a copy of the pardon which had been given to Marlowe's killer a month after the murder.

There are some who think that Marlowe faked his death and then went on to write most of Shakespeare's plays between 1594 and 1616.  To my mind, all you have to do to refute this argument is to read any one of Marlowe's plays.  They're beautiful poetry, in some cases even more beautiful than the best of Shakespeare, but you can sift through all of them and find precious little evidence that Marlowe ever had or overheard an actual conversation with a living breathing human being, never mind showed any interest in how they felt or what made them tick.  

Which is not to say that there aren't a ton of Marlowe echoes throughout Shakespeare (especially in As You Like It, which I'll go into in another post).  The portrait inscription above, for instance, is echoed in two places in Shakespeare: Sonnet 73 (“consumed with that which it was nourished by") and Pericles (“Quod me alit, me extinguit"). 

It's entirely possible to use these echoes as evidence that the same man wrote all three lines; me, I prefer to think of it as one man haunted by the ghost of another for his entire writing and acting career.  Why?  Because Marlowe's deceptively simple iambic pentameters pretty much created Elizabethan theatre as we know it.  If Shakespeare is the era's Beatles, then Marlowe is its Elvis. With the sad corollary that most of what he did either got censored or corrupted or lost along the way (the subject of yet another upcoming post). 

The simplest way to think of Marlowe's effect on the playmakers of the day?  What he did went viral.  Everybody imitated him.  Everybody echoed him.  But nobody really equaled him.  Not even Shakespeare, who saddled the horse that Marlowe reared and rode it off into an entirely unexpected direction.

An example of Marlowe going viral?  In 1599, a poem he wrote God knows when (before 1593, unless you think he was still alive 6 years after his official death) was published in a collection called The Passionate Pilgrim.  Everybody went nuts over it, so much so that when it was reprinted a year later in a collection called England's Helicon, it was followed by an answer poem written by Sir Walter Raleigh.  (After which John Donne wrote his own version.)   Here they all three are.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields
Woods or steepy mountain yields
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flower, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs;
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
by Sir Walter Raleigh

If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complain of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

The Bait
By  John Donne

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there the 'enamour'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark'nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.



1 comment:

Molly said...

Much more fun than any lit class.