If there’s anything I enjoy as much as anti-heroes, it’s tales of Promethean over-reachers.
Christopher Marlowe belongs in that category, I believe …
To an extent, all our Prometheans are tragic heroes, every one of them: Prometheus himself, Actaeon, Sisyphus (patron saint of English teachers), Medusa, Victor Frankenstein, Dr Henry Jekyll, LVX-1 (a robot in Asimov‘s 1987 short, ‘Robot Dreams’), and of course that favourite of Iron Maiden, Icarus.
‘Know your place,’ the world of literature seems to scream. ‘Or else …’
Phaeton, who appears in this week’s extract, is one such foolhardy soul. And over the last week or two I have noticed my Forensic Fridays becoming more over-reaching: Episode 1 – where you need to go if you don’t know the rules – covered just two lines; last week‘s was six lines; now, this week, I have seven lines to discuss to decent OCR A Level standard in just 250 words. I need to pare this back before it becomes impossible.
Here’s this week’s annotated extract.
And here’s my answer, to the question: ‘How does Christopher Marlowe use language for dramatic effect?’
Marlowe uses the nobles’ responses to create a crescendo of tension which bursts at lines 20-21.
Pembroke’s rhetorical question is diffident: neither addressed to Edward nor Gaveston. Referencing the Great Chain of Being incidentally dehumanises both king and lover; we might infer that sodomy renders both men inhuman. Pembroke’s distaste is evident, using the verb ‘fawn’ to describe Edward’s overtly public displays of affection.
Marlowe implies that Warwick is braver (thus increasing our tension) by at least addressing Gaveston, although he is unready to directly challenge Edward. His heated, exclamative simile hyperbolises Gaveston’s ‘aspiration’; using the classical allusion to Phaeton as a cipher for the inevitable fall of the Promethean over-reacher who believes they can control the sun (with all its Renaissance connotations of kingship).
Mortimer junior forces the crisis. His use of the collective pronoun, ‘we’, marks him as leader and spokesperson, and his declarative is purposeful and challenging, rather than the relatively opaque or misdirected complaints that have preceded him. He picks up on a pervading semantic field of height and fall by repeating ‘down’. Interestingly, in describing the nobles as ‘over-peer’d’ he seems to both refer to Galveston and to equate himself with Edward in status.
The climax arrives: Edward, noticeably silent during these attacks, finally – and unusually – is goaded into action. His furious, exclamative order allows a short, syllable-length pause, allowing us to register that no-one obeys. Mortimer crosses a rubicon with his stichomythic response, perhaps indicative of knee-jerk reaction.