In 1921, T.S. Eliot wrote, “When Shakespeare borrowed from him, which was pretty often at the beginning, Shakespeare either made something inferior or something different.” He was talking about Shakespeare’s near-contemporary Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), whose literary career was cut short by his murder at the age of 29, though not before he established himself as one of the most accomplished and innovative poets who ever lived. A scholar, a spy, a poet, a tragedian, a counterfeiter, an influencer of Shakespeare – wrestling with Marlowe’s interests and ambiguities could fill a hundred novels. Theories have long abounded: was his death ordered by the Crown? Or perhaps it was staged – paving the way for Marlowe, in hiding, to continue to write plays under the name William Shakespeare. But assuming that he did die in that tavern brawl, the questions are no less appealing: what would he have done, had he lived? How might he have continued to influence Shakespeare – and how might Shakespeare have influenced him? Host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the life and works of the extraordinary Christopher Marlowe.
Have you ever wanted something so badly you’d sell your soul to get it? Youth? Wealth? Sex? Power? Knowledge? We call it making a deal with the devil, or in more literary terms, a Faustian bargain. But who was Faust? How did his tale first get told? How was his legend advanced, and what great works did he inspire? In this special episode of The History of Literature, we look at the historical Faust and dig into the literary myth of Faustian bargains, from Icarus and the Temptations of Christ, through Christopher Marlowe and Goethe, all the way to bluesman Robert Johnson and his legendary trip to the Crossroads.
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“Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson
“NewsSting” and “Dragon and Toast” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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