Marlowe on the English stage: 1588-1988 : a stage history of three Marlowe plays Dr. Faustus, Edward II, and the Jew of Malta
This study attempts to follow the stage history of three of Marlowe's plays, Dr. Faustus, Edward II, and The Jew of Malta, from Marlowe's own time to our own time. It also attempts to discuss changes in critical attitudes to these plays in particular, and to Marlowe in general, and to relate these to the plays' theatrical fortunes. Each of the first and last three chapters is devoted to one play. The first three deal with the early stage history of the three plays under discussion. Chapter One discusses that of Dr. Faustus, Chapter Two discusses that of The Jew of Malta, and Chapter Three, that of Edward H. On the basis of what is known with reasonable certainty, and of what can be deduced from a general knowledge of the Elizabethan theatre, the first three chapters explore dates, places and circumstances of the performances of these plays. They also attempt to reconstruct the stage action of major scenes in the plays and to investigate what theatrical techniques were available or were made exclusively available for staging these scenes. In the light of the social, political, and cultural climate of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, there is also an attempt to study what the thematic issues in each play represented for Elizabethan audiences, and this is juxtaposed in the three last chapters with what they now represent for modern audiences. This juxtaposition hopefully illuminates our understanding of the plays in their own time and shows how some aspects of these plays which do not appeal to modern audiences and directors were, in fact, of great significance to their first audiences. Chapters Six, Seven and Eight deal with the twentieth-century stage history of the plays in the same order as that of the three early chapters. The large number of performances in the twentieth century made the approach to these chapters inevitably selective. Therefore, in each chapter a certain number of performances have been chosen for detailed analysis, some of which have been seen; other performances have been discussed more briefly and only with a view to their effect in the stage history of the plays. For the productions discussed in detail, promptbooks and reviews have been examined, and, where possible, directors have been interviewed. Together, the early and the modern period seem to exhibit two peaks of Marlowe's popularity on the stage. These are bridged by Chapters Four and Five, where the lack of Marlowe performances formed a kind of valley between two mountains. Thus these two middle chapters, as it were, provide the stepping stones between the first and the last three chapters. Chapter Four deals with the period between 1642 and 1800, reviewing the prevailing critical attitudes to Marlowe, and their relation to his absence from the stage. Chapter Five opens with a study of Edmund Kean's revival of The Jew of Malta in 1818 and of how the play was adapted to the social and theatrical climate of the time. The Chapter also reviews the critical attitudes to Marlowe's plays in the nineteenth century, as seen in editions of, and essays on, the plays; and it ends with a study of William Poel's revivals of two of the plays under discussion, Dr. Faustus and Edward II, in 1896 and in 1903, respectively. All the eight chapters attempt to discuss the stage history of the plays in the light of the theatrical conditions of the times, and the ways in which these influenced the staging and interpretation of the text. There is no claim that it is possible to reconstruct the effect of a certain performance or how words were spoken, but, where promptbooks are available, there is a fair degree of certainty concerning what was spoken in the production. Thus, a study of cuts and additions made by actor-managers and directors proved necessary. In cases where further extracts from the promptbooks may be helpful to the reader, such extracts have been provided in appendices. There are also lists of dates and places of modern professional and amateur productions of these plays, which are useful though by no means exhaustive. Illustrations have also been provided, to illuminate points made in the discussion of particular productions. The conclusion sums up the reasons why Marlowe's plays were popular only at certain times and in certain climates, discusses how certain difficulties experienced in staging them are still seen as major obstacles in productions. It finally focuses on Marlowe's position in the theatre of today.