The Plays of Christopher Marlowe

Loving boys and tobacco

During all the voting play against play (see my first post), it became clear to me that people are Wrong about the comparative quality of Christopher Marlowe’s seven plays. Doctor Faustus is without argument Marlowe’s most frequently performed play; but it is far from his best. Still people voted for it without fail and even permitted it to beat the far superior The Spanish Tragedy. Objectively speaking, I think Faustus is not a very good play. And this is even with it holding a special place in my heart because it was my MFA role and I remain hugely proud of that entire production. But the play is a mess. And it’s not much fun if you aren’t Faustus or Meph. And then there’s the whole question of what even is the play? A-text or B-text? More a series of sketches than a plot, most of the characters are forgettable or just make you go, whaaaaa? And honestly, when the B-text bits are included, I’ve seen very few productions actually succeed at making them funny. For that matter, I’ve not actually seen many Faustuses make me care about him either.*

Anyway, Faustus was eventually beat by another Marlowe play Edward II, but we had to petition hard for it, and even then the two plays tied in the vote, and if I’m understanding what happened correctly, twitter just randomly picked the winner? And while this was going on The Jew of Malta surprised some of us with the number of votes it was getting.

Weirdly, I’ve managed to see all of Christopher Marlowe’s plays (though Tamburlaine in two conflated productions and one of Part 1; I’ve not known of anyone to do Part 2 by itself). So I half-jokingly tweeted to @ClearShakes that he and I should collaborate on a definitive ranking of Kit’s plays. Akiva tweeted back his basic tiers and they lined up precisely with mine:

Top Tier: Edward II and Dido, Queen of Carthage
Middle Tier: Tamburlaine Part 1 and Doctor Faustus
Bottom Tier: Massacre at Paris, Tamburlaine Part 2, and The Jew of Malta

I said I’d consider bumping Massacre over Faustus just to piss people off. But mostly I just came away inspired to do a re-read of all of Marlowe’s works. After all, it’s only seven plays. So feel free to join me! Especially if you don’t know Dido!

And in case it’s not clear due to my first paragraph, I do love Marlowe. I think he was a tremendous talent and it’s a great shame he died so young. I appreciate that Marlowe didn’t play it safe and I would have loved to see what else he would have written. And I don’t think any writer in that era was better at the epic monologue. Join me on this journey and you’ll get to read some amazing speeches.


*Is this polemic against Doctor Faustus merely to revenge the honor of Thomas Kyd? Probably.