No. 18: Christopher Marlowe (not) at 40

marloweA number of posts in this series have looked upon authors in their 40th as either just beginning their career, or safely in the midst of it, but just as often we can see 40 as an elusive, unobtainable age, and such is certainly the case for Christopher Marlowe who died in 1593 aged just 29; yet he still maintained a presence on the stage in his 40th year, with the first publication of his most famous play Doctor Faustus eleven years after his death. Yet Marlowe’s early death has also been the making of his reputation, with fans and critics alike bewailing the absence of further plays and regularly arguing that had he lived, be it 40 or older, it might have been him, and not Shakespeare, who we study today. Continue reading “No. 18: Christopher Marlowe (not) at 40”


No. 17: C. S. Lewis at 40

LewisBorn in 1898, Clive Staples Lewis turned 40 in 1938. With a name like that it’s no wonder before he was four he’d already defiantly demanded to be known as Jack, and of course we know him better today by his initials, CS. Continue reading “No. 17: C. S. Lewis at 40”

No. 15: Alexander Pope at 40


Alexander Pope (1688-1744) turned 40 on 21 May 1728, just four days after the first part of his mock epic The Dunciad was published. For all its technical brilliance and customary multitude of levels at which it can be read, the poem was the latest salvo in a longstanding feud, partly in response to attacks on Pope’s 1725 edition of the complete works of Shakespeare (the second edition of which was published in 1728 also).

Lewis Theobald, who also edited Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century, had been critical of Pope’s edition in a review, for which he wound up as the hero ‘Tibbald’ of Pope’s Dunciad. Pope published the first part of this poem anonymously in May 1728, though it was widely recognised as Pope’s work. It followed another work published the year before, to which Pope had put his name, The Art of Sinking in Poetry, in which he once again attacked his critics and rival poets. In The Dunciad he widens his attack to take in the whole of society, with his description of a kingdom of dullness, led by Dunce I (George I) and Dunce II (George II).

DunciadIf Pope thought he had been under attack before, the publication of The Dunciad only exacerbated the situation, to which Pope in turn responded with further volumes of the poem appearing in 1729, 1742 and 1743. Such was the level of scorn put upon him by his detractors for this scandalous work that he was said to only leave the house and walk in public if accompanied by his great dane and with two pistols on his person. For in addition to being a response to personal attacks, it was also part of a wider campaign to attack the Whig government, led by the unpopular Walpole, whom Pope himself had been in close contacts with. In attacking the government he was aided by fellow members of the Scriblerus Club – a collection of wits seeking to mock high writing, and the Whigs in the process, and including among their number the three Johns: John Gay, Jonathan Swift and John Arbuthnot. Together they showed the power of the pen as a political tool, writing pointed satires to highlight the folly of those in charge.

Pope's house
Pope’s home in Twickenham

The impression one gets of Pope from all of the above is of a writer highly political, devious, and with an axe to grind, but neither was he short of friends. He never married, and at age 40 was living in Twickenham with his widowed mother Edith. Pope himself suffered from ill health, developing what may have been tuberculosis (an exact diagnosis has not been agreed upon by scholars) which caused a curvature of his spine – something Pope himself put down to too much study. Thus behind the fiery satirist lay a vulnerable, caring character. At 40 years old he had already achieved a great deal – in addition to his edition of Shakespeare, he had also translated Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, not to mention his own masterpiece The Rape of the Lock. But nor was he slowing down either, with a great many more works still to come before his death aged 66. For Pope, 40 was right in the middle of his stride.


Pope and Buckingham: Pope is a key figure in the Restoration and Augustan Literature module, with his mock-epic poem The Rape of the Lock being a set text.

No. 10: Thomas Middleton at 40


Thomas Middleton was a Renaissance playwright successful enough in his own lifetime, then cast like so many of his contemporaries under the critical shadow of Shakespeare, but now enjoying increasingly greater prominence in academic discussion; admittedly this is in part thanks to what we now recognise as his revision of a number of Shakespeare plays, but moreover due to recent work by OUP in collecting his complete works for the first time that has allowed us to truly grasp the full range of his dramatic power. Thanks to this, we can now get a better sense of his professional progress, and assess his position at the age of 40. Continue reading “No. 10: Thomas Middleton at 40”

No. 5: Terry Pratchett at 40


Born on the 24th April 1948, Terry Pratchett turned 40 in 1988. At this time he was on the ascendant with a great deal of his success still to come; though he was not yet made a knight (that would be 2009), nor even received an OBE (that would be aged 50 in 1998), at 40 years old his reputation was forming and fanbase growing as his now-celebrated Discworld series left its infancy and Pratchett consolidated the direction of these novels. Continue reading “No. 5: Terry Pratchett at 40”

No. 3: William Shakespeare at 40



Chandos Shakespeare

In 1604, at the age of forty, William Shakespeare was a well-known and wealthy man, owning property in Stratford and London, and performing before the Royal Court. By this age he had already written some of his most famous works including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice. This rise to success had irked others along the way, including the playwright Robert Greene, who had named him an ‘upstart crow’. Greene appears bitter when he stated that: Continue reading “No. 3: William Shakespeare at 40”