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The face that launch'd a thousand ships -- Christopher Marlowe

from Dr. Faustus...
(Poem #75) The face that launch'd a thousand ships
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!
-- Christopher Marlowe
20 lines of blank verse, and a wealth of phrases that have passed into
the language - this speech of Faust's is deservedly celebrated.

I've often thought that one of the marks of true poetic genius is the
ability to coin phrases that resonate in the mind of the reader, phrases
which take on a life of their own, becoming, in the end, part and parcel
of the language they're written in. Shakespeare is, of course, the
pre-eminent figure of English poetry in this regard (as he was in so
many other ways), but name almost any other 'great' poet, and you'll
find that his/her works contain their own fair share of new expressions
which become commonplace as the years go by. Examples are too numerous
to mention... from Milton's "trip the light fantastic" to Eliot's "not
with a bang but a whimper", great poems and great poets have enriched
both literature and language.

thomas.

[Biography]

Christopher Marlowe was born on 6 February 1564, the eldest son of a
shoemaker. Apparently he was never really meant to follow in his
father's footsteps (sorry), because he was very well educated, which,
back then, meant that he could read and translate Ovid. At 23, he went
off to London and became the dramatist for the theatre company owned by
Lords Admiral and Strange. Dramatist was a rotten job, really, but
Christopher (or Kit, as he was often called) had several outside
hobbies, like talking to his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, being an
atheist, and getting arrested for an 'unspecified' offense.

Kit's plays include works such as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of
Malta, Edward the Second, and the infamous Dr. Faustus. His most
ambitious work was the heroic epic Tamburlaine the Great, a play in two
parts of five acts each. This was in poem form, as all plays were then,
but it has the added distinction of being the first play written in
English blank verse. This may not seem terribly exciting, but bear in
mind that it was Kit's pioneering use of blank verse that encouraged
Shakespeare to try it. He was the first to write a genuine tragedy in
English, again paving the way for Shakespeare. Kit also wrote one of the
most famous lyric poems in the English language, "The Passionate
Shepherd to his Love".

Now we get to the really interesting stuff. In the spring of 1593, a
friend of Kit's was captured and tortured by the Queen's Privy Council.
Based on this 'evidence,' the Council was preparing to arrest Kit. But
before this arrest could take place, Kit was killed in a brawl at a
rooming-house in the town of Deptford. He was staying there with three
of his friends--and let me tell you, these were some very interesting
friends. Ingram Frizer was a known con artist and (even worse) a
moneylender. Nicholas Skeres was Frizer's frequent accomplice and
probably a fence. Robert Poley was an occasional courier/spy for Her
Majesty's secret service, who had boasted of his ability to lie
convincingly under any circumstances. Frizer's master, Thomas
Walsingham, was a cousin of the noted spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.
On the night of 30 May 1593, the four of them had just finished eating
when Frizer and Kit began arguing over the bill. Kit eventually grabbed
Frizer's dagger and attacked him from behind, and in the ensuing fight,
Frizer regained his dagger and stabbed and killed his friend. He was
quickly pardoned on grounds of self-defense, and his employers did not
fire or otherwise ostracize him.

Both the timing of Kit's death and the lack of any retribution against
his murderer have led some scholars to theorize that his death was faked
and Kit himself took up a new identity to escape the Privy Council. Some
go so far as to state that this new identity, was, of course, obviously,
that of William Shakespeare. Either people think it unreasonable for one
tiny island to have produced two literary geniuses in such a short space
of time, or they're subscribing to the idea that Shakespeare received a
terrible education.

But I've digressed sadly from our friend Kit. Regardless of how it
ended, he led a very interesting life, and it's a great shame that he
was unable to continue his pioneering work (under his own name, at
least).

    -- from the Web, http://www.incompetech.com

PS. I'm going on vacation for two weeks, starting today, but fear not -
the Minstrels will go on without me :-). Actually, I've already sent
Martin my next few poems; he'll do the list-sending thing.

98 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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