Robert A. Logan. Shakespeare’s Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Artistry. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. viii+252pp. ISBN 9780754657637.

Tom Rutter
Sheffield Hallam University

Tom Rutter. “Review of Robert A. Logan, Shakespeare’s Marlowe: The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Artistry." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 12.1-7 <URL:>

  1. While the title of this book seems to presuppose ‘the influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s artistry’, a repeated contention of its author is that critics have been too willing to see influence or allusion where none exists, as with those who would read Touchstone’s line, ‘it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room’ (As You Like It, 3.3.12-13) as a reference to The Jew of Malta and/or to Marlowe’s death after an argument over a bill. Robert A. Logan is also dubious about other persistent assumptions, like those of a rivalry between Shakespeare and Marlowe and of a creative anxiety on Shakespeare’s part. Throughout his book, he tries to distinguish between the probable, the possible, and the uncertain, and to maintain a difference in terminology between tangible ‘sources’ and more speculative ‘influences’ (12).

  2. As a result, any readers expecting the first chapter proper, about ‘Influence and Characterization in The Massacre at Paris, Titus Andronicus, and Richard III’, to be about the influence of the Massacre on the other two plays will be disappointed: not only is the chronological sequence of the three plays uncertain, the two Shakespeare plays ‘lack verbal echoes’ of the Massacre (35), and similarities of characterisation are superficial. Rather than Marlowe’s Duke of Guise lying behind the villainous Aaron and Richard, Logan identifies other Marlovian antecedents in the form of Tamburlaine (whose rhetoric influences Aaron’s opening speech) and Faustus (whose final agonies anticipate Richard the night before Bosworth). Both in this chapter and the one that follows (on Hero and Leander and Venus and Adonis, which again ‘show no influence from one another’ (56)) Logan is less concerned with influence than with the way the search for influence stimulates comparison and contrast. He finds in Marlowe a degree of political and intellectual cynicism absent from Shakespeare, and in Shakespeare the ability to infuse Marlowe’s rhetorical pyrotechnics with psychological insight.

  3. The next two chapters are about pairs of plays – Edward II and Richard II, The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice – whose order of composition is more certain, and to some extent Logan accepts that this puts discussion of influence on firmer ground. Having said that, while he identifies ‘similarities in the psychologies and situations of the two weak kings and in their unhappy political consequences’, he does not accept that Edward II is a source for Richard II in respect of ‘characterization, plot, and language’ (83-4). Rather, he sees Shakespeare both in Richard II and in The Merchant of Venice as deliberately seeking to ‘invite comparison’ (103) between his and Marlowe’s plays, essentially as a selling point. This exemplifies one appealing feature of Logan’s approach, namely, his insistence on seeing Marlowe and Shakespeare not as Great Writers but as professionals and pragmatists: ‘Shakespeare shows himself primarily interested in the theatrical and literary techniques of Marlowe that made him a successful commercial playwright’ (120). Such similarities as Shylock has to Barabas – and for Logan, these are fairly limited – derive not so much from the playwrights’ ethical interest in xenophobia and the experience of minorities as from ‘the possibilities such figures offer for generating conflict and tension, and neither writer eliminates opportunities for complications by absolving the Christians of wrongdoing’ (136).

  4. Logan's chapter on Tamburlaine and Henry V follows a similar pattern in that rather than seeing Marlowe's influence in Shakespeare's use of the Chorus or his depiction of a conquest against massive odds (both of which he regards as commonplaces), he suggests that it lies in something more nebulous. This is the 'Marlovian aesthetic principle of avoiding easy categorization and the [...] concentration on the protagonist's and others' linguistic strategies' (150). At the same time, Shakespeare's willingness to (for example) develop the comic potential of Tamburlaine's rhetoric into the figure of Pistol is a sign of Shakespeare's growing maturity.

  5. The Shakespeare plays Logan discusses in the final chapters – Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth and The Tempest – were all written over a decade after Marlowe’s death, so the pairings he sets up between them and Dido, Queen of Carthage and Doctor Faustus are not quite so critically well-worn as, say, those between The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice. Perhaps for this reason, these chapters feel a bit more relaxed, as Logan does not have to devote so much energy to distinguishing himself from those who have gone before. In particular, the suggestion that Antony and Cleopatra is more ‘Marlovian’ than Dido in its privileging of individualism and sensuality over conformism and duty is fresh and provocative.

  6. Having said that, I did wonder whether Logan is occasionally guilty here of identifying links of the kind that, in the work of other critics, he regards as tenuous. He compares ‘Fair is foul’ in the first scene of Macbeth (and elsewhere in the play) with Tamburlaine’s ‘Fair is too foul an epithet for thee’ (Part One, 5.1.136) (205); while it’s not implausible to see this as a recollection of Marlowe, given the commonplace nature of this particular opposition it’s not clear what sets it apart from ‘forced links’ (117) such as Geoffrey Bullough’s note that the word ‘sufferance’ is used by both Barabas and Shylock (137n3).[1] Logan’s earlier observation that the word ‘packed’ appears with a similar meaning in both Antony and Cleopatra and Dido, Queen of Carthage (170) again does not feel so very different from what he criticises in Bullough.

  7. Such criticisms, however, may to some extent be missing the point. Close verbal resemblances are not really what Logan is interested in, and readers who are looking for them might better be directed to, say, Charles Forker’s edition of Edward II.[2] Logan is concerned not so much in similarities of outcome as in similarities of approach: not so much how two characters are like each other (for example) as how they derive from similar techniques of characterisation. To this extent, while I would say that he is sometimes overly insistent in rejecting the identifications that earlier critics have suggested, his book opens up new ways of thinking about the creative relationship between these two dramatists.


[1] Logan cites Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 1: Early Comedies, Poems, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York, Columbia UP, 1957), 454.

[2] Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, ed. Charles R. Forker (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1994).


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at

© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).