Rival Poet Sonnets

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Sonnets 78-86



Rival Poet Sonnets

The following section includes those sonnets dealing with a rival poet.  In the shortest sonnet delineation, the Sonnet Speaker is railing against his friend for paying attention to another poet who he claims has a superior writing ability to his.  While several candidates have been put forward, the most likely candidate at this time in Shakespeare's life was Christopher Marlowe.  Marlowe, prior to his untimely death, was considered the best playwright in London, well known to the royal court and had experience immersing into the affairs of others.  When not writing his own masterpieces and being a rabble rouser, Marlow moonlighted as a spy.  Many writers, given their myriad connections to many levels of society and to make a quick buck, partook in the practice and conversely the royal spy service may good use of them spying against Catholic sympathizers and others that might pose a threat to the crown.  The rival poet disappears as quickly as he appears and may coincide with Marlowe's untimely and rather murky death, most likely at the hands of the same people he spied for.  Though, there was rivalry between Marlowe and Shakespeare it appears that it did not extend beyond the professional realm as Shakespeare fondly remembers his fellow playwright in passages in As You Like It and hints at the strange murder as well.  Most if not all of Shakespeare's early plays and other period playwright's reflect Marlowe's influence in one way or another.  Below a brief biography of Marlowe:

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was an English playwright, Shakespeare's immediate predecessor as leading English dramatist and a considerable influence on his work. Marlowe, with Thomas Kyd, virtually invented Elizabethan Tragedy, and Marlowe's influence on Elizabethan Drama in general was great. In his Tamburlaine (1587) he successfully established Blank Verse as the standard medium for drama, and the grandeur of his protagonists and themes elevated his successors' aspirations. 

A painting of Marlow circa 1592

Many passages in Shakespeare's early works are clearly modeled on Marlowe; scholars who believe that many of Shakespeare's plays were written in part by other playwrights have even attributed parts of the Henry VI plays, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, and others to Marlowe, though modern scholars mistrust most of these attributions. In As You Like It, PHEBE quotes a line from a Marlowe poem, ascribing it to a 'dead shepherd' (3.5.81-82), Shakespeare's only certain reference to a contemporary poet. Further quotations from and allusions to Marlowe's work abound in the plays (e.g., A Midsummer Night's Dream 1.1.170, Merry Wives of Windsor 3.1.16-35, Much Ado About Nothing 5.2.29), attesting not only to Shakespeare's admiration but also to his confidence that his audiences knew and appreciated Marlowe's work. In addition, Marlowe's The Jew of Malta (1589) probably helped inspire Shakespeare's Shylock; similarly, Marlowe's Edward II (1592) probably informed Richard II's presentation of a flawed ruler, and his poem 'Hero and Leander' offered a model for Venus and Adonis. (Marlowe's poem was unfinished at his death and published posthumously—with additions by George Chapman in 1598, but Shakespeare knew it earlier, in manuscript.) Marlowe led a violent, dissolute, and dramatic life.  A notorious drinker and brawler, he flaunted his homosexuality at a time when homosexuality was a capital crime. He was a soldier in the Netherlands, from which he was deported for counterfeiting gold coins, and he was probably a spy for the government of Queen Elizabeth-both abroad and in England. In 1589 he was involved in a street fight in which a man was killed. He was one of the earliest Englishmen to publicly admit to atheism, and in 1593 he was charged with blasphemy—along with Kyd—but before he could be tried, he was stabbed to death, reportedly in a dispute over a tavern bill. Some historians believe he was murdered, silenced by a government agent; in any case, his killer, who is known to have been a fellow spy, was immediately pardoned. (Marlowe's death may be alluded to in As You Like It 3.3.9-12.) 

The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe nevertheless received a good education, graduating from Cambridge University in 1587, in the same year that his first play, Tamburlaine, became the talk of London. He followed it with 'Tamburlaine, Part 2 (1588), The Jew of Malta (1589), Dr Faustus (1592), Edward II (1592)—the first English historical play—and The Massacre at Paris (1593). Most of his plays were probably commissioned by the Admiral's Men and his heroic protagonists first played by Edward Alleyn. At his death Marlowe left another play unfinished—Dido, Queen of Carthage, completed by Thomas NASHE and staged in 1594—along with 'Hero and Leander'. His oeuvre was completed by two other short poems (one of them, the delightful 'Passionate Shepherd to his Love', which was falsely attributed to Shakespeare in The Passionate Pilgrim).  While the body of work is small, it encompasses at least three great plays—Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, and Dr Faustus—and a magnificent lyric poem, 'Hero and Leander'. Marlowe, who was born the same year as Shakespeare, was only 29 when he was killed.


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Sonnets 78-86

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