The World of Christopher Marlowe [NOOK Book]


The definitive biography: a masterly account of Marlowe's work and life and the world in which he lived

Shakespeare's contemporary, Christopher Marlowe revolutionized English drama and poetry, transforming the Elizabethan stage into a place of astonishing creativity. The outline of Marlowe's life, work, and violent death are known, but few of the details that explain why his writing and ideas made him such a provocateur in the Elizabethan era...
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The World of Christopher Marlowe

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The definitive biography: a masterly account of Marlowe's work and life and the world in which he lived

Shakespeare's contemporary, Christopher Marlowe revolutionized English drama and poetry, transforming the Elizabethan stage into a place of astonishing creativity. The outline of Marlowe's life, work, and violent death are known, but few of the details that explain why his writing and ideas made him such a provocateur in the Elizabethan era have been available until now. In this absorbing consideration of Marlowe and his times, David Riggs presents Marlowe as the language's first poetic dramatist whose desires proved his undoing.

In an age of tremendous cultural change in Europe when Cervantes wrote the first novel and Copernicus demonstrated a world subservient to other nonreligious forces, Catholics and Protestants battled for control of England and Elizabeth's crown was anything but secure. Into this whirlwind of change stepped Marlowe espousing sexual freedom and atheism. His beliefs proved too dangerous to those in power and he was condemned as a spy and later murdered. In The World of Christopher Marlowe, Riggs's exhaustive research digs deeply into the mystery of how and why Marlowe was killed.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Riggs (Ben Jonson: A Life), an English professor at Stanford University, traces the life of Elizabethan poet, playwright and spy Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), placing him in the context of the institutions that both fostered his keen intellect and reinforced his awareness of his lowly class origins (his father was a shoemaker). Riggs suggests that Marlowe, Shakespeare's great contemporary, author of Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus, may have sought to overcome those origins through his unusual and dangerous career path. Working in the New Historicist vein most recently mined by Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World, Riggs evokes the pedagogical preoccupations of Marlowe's school and university education, revealing layers of intricate detail in Marlowe's formation as a literary artist: his study and translation of Ovid, his innovations in blank verse, and the substance and reception of all of his plays and poetry. While downplaying Marlowe's disputed sexuality, Riggs pays careful attention to the homoerotic and homophobic aspects of his plays, most notably Edward II, considering each in its contemporary moral and political setting. Riggs concludes with fresh insights into the mysterious circumstances of Marlowe's violent death. This study balances close literary readings with lucidly presented historical context to give us a portrait of a brilliant but volatile enigma who shunned convention in favor of risk and marginality. 50 b&w illus. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Jan. 5) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Riggs (English, Stanford Univ.), whose previous work includes the authoritative Ben Jonson: A Life, has drawn together a marvelous biography of the talented and notoriously combative poet, playwright, and spy. As with Marlowe's contemporary Shakespeare, very little is known about the day-to-day details of his short life. We know, in part, that Marlowe received an M.A. from Cambridge, was briefly jailed for his role in the murder of an innkeeper, was then ordered by a court to cease threatening two members of the local constabulary, and that his life was cut short at the age of 29 after being stabbed in the brain by a drinking companion. Riggs successfully deals with the dearth of specific details of Marlowe's life by placing known events in the context of Elizabethan society and institutions. For example, he does a masterful job of discussing the 16th century's grueling higher education system with its focus on dialectic and rhetoric and the influence it had on Marlowe's thought and writing. If this sounds a bit dry, it is a testament to Riggs's skill as a writer that the book doesn't come across that way. These sections are every bit as lively as the author's discussions of espionage, counterfeiting, and court intrigue. This truly impressive work of scholarship, with 50 black-and-white illustrations, is enthusiastically recommended to academic and public libraries.-William D. Walsh, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Highly satisfying biography of the first great English playwright, who was also a "landmark figure in the history of atheism and sedition. "Because there is virtually no firsthand evidence about the beliefs or actions of Christopher Marlowe (1564-93), Riggs (English/Stanford; Ben Jonson, not reviewed) turns to the culture and time that created him. He does so with authority and vigor, recapturing the climate of religious flux and common disaster, not just in England but across Europe, that surrounded Marlowe's youth. Riggs traces his subject's passage from "poor boy on scholarship" (at the King's School and Cambridge) to a dodgy adult life juggling "the tripartite roles of wayward scholar, secret agent and innovative poet-playwright." Into the historical matrix he weaves Marlowe's intellectual daring, his affection for every form of subversion, and his levitating touch on his homeland's literature and drama as he "captured the lofty sound of Virgil's epic verse in lines of English poetry." Riggs devotes a good, and fascinating, amount of time to considering the possibility that Marlowe was a double agent in the employ of European powers seeking to destabilize English rule, but he gives equal measure to the writer who addressed poverty, class conflict, eroticism, and dissent. "The criminal element in his story, far from being accidental, was intrinsic to his life and art," declares the author, finding in Marlowe's work veiled expressions of the skeptical and libertine ideas that came part and parcel with his classical education. Riggs takes gorgeous lines like "I'll fire thy crazed buildings and enforce / Thy papal towers to kiss the lowly ground" (from King Edward II) and explains wherethey came from, how they shaped a whole new literary and social framework, and why they damned Marlowe in the eyes of some contemporaries as a godless blasphemer. Limning a life described by its protagonist as "infinite riches in a little room," Riggs explodes the walls of that room in a book that rivals the richness of Marlowe's masterpieces. (50 b&w illustrations)Agent: Katinka Matson/Brockman
From the Publisher
"Full-blooded biography . . . We are drawn deep into the sordid realm in which Marlowe fashioned his life and met his violent death."

-Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University, author of Hamlet in Purgatory

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466862340
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 627,048
  • File size: 8 MB

Meet the Author

David Riggs is a professor of English at Stanford University. His books include Ben Jonson: A Life and The World of Christopher Marlowe. He lectures regularly at leading universities in the United States and Great Britain, and has written articles for The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Shakespeare Quarterly, among others. He lives in Stanford, California.

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