That Fine Madness

Christopher Marlow as Dr. Faustus
24" ×
Oil on Panel

Christopher Marlowe was born in 1564, the son of a Canterbury shoemaker. His intelligence earned him scholarships at local schools and, eventually,a berth at Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University. Graduating with his Master's degree, Marlowe eschewed the usual ecclesiastical employment and moved to London to "live by his wits". In London Marlowe wrote much admired poetry and several dramas for the burgeoning London theatrical industry and occasionally travelled to France on espionage missions for the English government. Marlowe's plays, written in a uniquely formidable iambic pentameter style, were huge hits on the stage.

When William Shakespeare arrived in London he both learned from, and competed with, the already established Marlowe. Elizabethan theater personnel were a rough lot, and Marlowe was no exception. After numerous legal scrapes involving street killings, counterfeiting charges, and alleged atheism, Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl at the age of 29.

I have portrayed Marlowe in the guise of Dr. Faustus, a character from his most popular play who sells his soul to the Devil in return for 24 years of magical power. Marlowe/Faustus is shown in the midst of drawing a magical conjuror's circle on the floor in chalk , which will be used to summon Satan's servant Mephistopheles. The wall is covered with various items relating to either Marlowe or Faustus.

In the 1950's, a painted portrait was discovered in an old dormitory at Cambridge which is believed to be Marlowe in 1585. I used this portrait to create the head and face in my painting. The title of the work is from a poetic eulogy written for Marlowe by his friend Michael Drayton: "for that fine madness still he did retain, which rightly should possess a poet's brain".

I recently sent an image of this work to The Marlowe Society in London, and they will be featuring it in their next newsletter.

Represented by
Jane Hamilton Fine Art

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