Note, however, the unexpected shift to male beauty in the last line, the same kind of slither that takes place in the latter part of the gorgeous soliloquy about Helen of Troy ("Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?"):
O, thou art fairer than the evening's air
Michael Dirda's email address is email@example.com. His online discussion of books takes place each Thursday at 2 p.m.
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 azured arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour.
Some have held that "Edward II" -- about that king's passion for his minion Gaveston -- is a better-made play than "Dr. Faustus"; certainly its scene of Edward's murder -- with hints of violation with a red-hot poker -- make for horrifying and powerful theater. To my mind, "The Jew of Malta" might well be regarded as Marlowe's meditation on espionage, since Barabas practices all the skills of the spy and the double agent. It is also a play that Shakespeare must have seen, for at one point the merchant exclaims: "But stay: What star shines yonder in the east?/ The loadstar of my life, if Abigail." In our own time, the play's most famous exchange provided T.S. Eliot with an epigraph: "Thou hast committed -- / Fornication; but that was in another country;/ And besides, the wench is dead."
Great as all these works are, for Elizabethans Christopher Marlowe was above all the dramatist of "Tamburlaine," the shepherd turned conqueror, the wind from the east, the Scourge of God:
I hold the Fates bound in iron chains,
And with my hand turn Fortune's wheel about
And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere
Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome.