Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Marlowe and Millay

The way I ended up reading about Edna St. Vincent Millay is fairly typical of my reading habits. I was reading some bits of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up, and that led me to thinking about Zelda Fitzgerald, so I went to my local bookstore looking for Nancy Milford’s acclaimed biography of her. It was out of stock, but I happened to see Savage Beauty and, since Millay had recently popped up in my mind while I was thinking about Christopher Marlowe, I picked it up.

And now I realize that “First Fig” wasn’t quite the right poem to refer to when writing about Marlowe. On leaving Cambridge, Marlowe most likely had the option of using his connections and degree to get himself a comfortable living in some country parish, performing his church duties and having plenty of time to write, as Swift and Sterne, among others, would later do. If, as David Riggs would have it, Marlowe’s refusal to pretend belief caused him to choose the rackety, uncertain life of the theatre instead, then the appropriate poem, really, would be “Second Fig”:
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

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