THIS POST IS THE SIXTH (AND LAST) IN A SERIES OF DAILY CONFERENCE RE-CAPS WRITTEN BY EARLY EARLY CAREER SCHOLARS ATTENDING THIS YEAR'S CONFERENCE.
By Kilian Schindler
Friday marked already the fourth and, alas, last day of the conference. But far from causing conference ennui, the programme persistently confronted us with the question who or what Marlowe is. My first session of the day was a roundtable on editing, featuring Peter Kirwan, Ruth Lunney, and Paul Menzer, all of whom are currently editing Marlowe plays. As editors have a habit of doing, all of them problematised the notion that we have immediate access to a pure, Marlovian essence through his texts. Common concerns shared by all three editors were questions of boundaries and continuities and an awareness that editing always involves negotiations and compromises, acts of selection and delimitation. Ruth Lunney, who is preparing the first critical single-volume edition of Dido, Queen, of Carthage for Revels Plays, probed the issue in relation to the play’s sources. Peter Kirwan, who is editing Doctor Faustus for The Routledge Anthology of Renaissance Drama, was preoccupied with the place and function of the play in the context of an anthology and the narrative which it implies. Paul Menzer, who is editing the B-text of Doctor Faustus for New Mermaids, drew attention to the constraints of the paradigm of the single-text edition, but also emphasised the value of the physical book as an object that performs its own boundaries and reveals itself as a product of processes of selection and exclusion.
A number of other papers picked up the theme of boundaries and continuities in various ways. In his Deleuzian analysis of Edward Alleyn’s “abhominable” acting style, Todd A. Borlik argued for continuity between theatrical practice and the industry of animal-baiting pits, in which Alleyn was heavily involved. Alex Garganigo discussed continuities between Puritan preaching and Tamburlaine’s rhetorical delivery, and Paul Menzer traced the anecdote of the extra devil as a showstopper in the notorious Exeter performance of Doctor Faustus through the Civil War to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that the Devil symbolises moments when the theatre’s epistemology "bites off more than its ontology can chew."
Questions of textual integrity, attribution, and collaboration, arguably one of the secret leitmotifs of the conference, came back with a vengeance in the concluding keynote by Lukas Erne on “Disintegrating Marlowe.” Determined to shake our sense that we know Marlowe, he took us on a tour de force through the Marlovian dramatic corpus and radically questioned its stability. As he pointed out, the complex textual histories of the surviving plays and unresolved questions of attribution are often sidelined in the way we talk about plays such as Doctor Faustus as quintessentially Marlovian. However, even our sense of what is Marlovian has a history. As late as in the nineteenth century, Marlowe’s authorship of the Tamburlaine plays was still subject to controversy for alleged reasons of style and content. Erne further made a compelling case that in his Tamburlaine edition (1590), Richard Jones may have intervened in the text more extensively than has been hitherto assumed. In his endeavour to excise the comic elements from the play, Jones may thus well have cut a scene in which the Almeda plotline should have found its carefully prepared conclusion.
To me, the final day of the conference raised a number of questions that testify to the dynamic and vibrant state of current Marlowe studies. How do concerns with individual authorship and textual attribution relate to a current trend in repertory studies and a desire to embed Marlowe’s plays in collective theatrical practice? What sort of author(s) or dramatic practitioner(s) are we ultimately looking for in either of these approaches? In the wake of The New Oxford Shakespeare and other major editing projects in early modern literature, might it be time for a Collected Works of Christopher Marlowe, and if yes, what could such an edition look like? Fuelled by the excellent, locally brewed beer, such discussions continued during the lavish closing banquet in the Brauhaus. I will leave Wittenberg intellectually invigorated and with a sharpened sense of the variety of approaches in Marlowe studies that have yielded significant discoveries over the last couple of days and doubtlessly will continue to do so in the future.
Kilian Schindler is a PhD candidate at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and is currently writing a dissertation on religious dissimulation and the limits of toleration in Early Modern Drama.