With Richard III, we've finished both the major and minor tetralogies of Shakespeare's history plays. This week, we could finish the history plays with Henry VIII, or we could do a comedy, perhaps Twelfth Night. We could even read Shakespeare's first mature tragedy, and one of his greatest triumphs, Hamlet.
But this week, we're not going to read any of those plays. In fact, we're not going to read Shakespeare at all.
Dating Shakespeare plays is a sketchy science, but so far we've covered his career from 1592 or 1593 through approximately 1600 -- the year the Bard wrote his transformative Hamlet. Before we move into this new era of Shakespeare's work, I'd like us to take a step back. We have been reading his work in a literary vacuum, but Shakespeare drew from historical sources, theater tradition and -- perhaps most important -- the work of his contemporaries.
Among those contemporary playwrights, perhaps none was as influential as Christopher Marlowe. He and Shakespeare were the same age, and critics are fond of pointing out that Marlowe's early plays were much more promising than Shakespeare's. Had he not died young, Marlowe might hold Shakespeare's place as the greatest playwright in history.
So, this week, you have a different assignment: to read a play by Marlowe. It's your choice: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta or whatever appeals to you. I read The Jew of Malta a few years ago, so I think I'll read Faustus.
Don't think Marlowe should be included in the Shakespeare in a Year Challenge? That's your call. Use the week to catch up on a play you missed, or get a head start on Hamlet or Twelfth Night, both of which are coming up soon. But I hope you will accept this mini-Marlowe challenge, and I look forward to our discussion next Sunday!