I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all begged for one more minute as children: one more minute of play before bedtime, before going to do our homework, before being given an injection… As though that “one more minute” might somehow change things…
As we grow up, it takes small, everyday forms – such as the “snooze” button of the alarm clock, or lingering a little over a coffee break before that unpleasant meeting, or procrastination in general. Or else, in really bad moments, we revert to that kind of panicked, irrational craving for “one more minute”, just to stave off the bad things a little longer, to keep them away – no matter how little – to not have them happen just yet.
It’s entirely irrational, terribly human, and heartbreaking – and I believe that few poets have used it as powerfully as Marlowe did. Think of Faustus, as his hour draws near, and he begs of the whole cosmos:
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature’s eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.
And then again in Edward II, made all the more poignant because, at first, Edward seems to have resigned himself to giving up his crown, because “two kings in England cannot reign at once”. But then…
But stay a while: let me be king till night,
That I may gaze upon this glittering crown;
So shall my eyes receive their last content,
My head, the latest honour due to it,
And jointly both yield up their wished right.
And, like Faustus, after asking for a little more time, Edward begs for time to stop:
Continue ever, thou celestial sun;
Let never silent night possess this clime;
Stand still, you watches of the element;
All times and seasons, rest you at a stay,
That Edward may be still fair England’s king!
But day’s bright beams doth vanish fast away,
And needs I must resign my wished crown.
Unlike Faustus’s, though, Edward’s fears have a very human cause: those who want to dethrone him – as he clearly recognises even in his half-delirious state:
Which fills my mind with strange despairing thoughts,
Which thoughts are martyred with endless torments;
And in this torment comfort find I none,
But that I feel the crown upon my head;
And therefore let me wear it yet a while.
Like Faustus, he knows he has no chance – and still tries to cling to his crown, as though for the sheer physical comfort of it. Unlike Faustus, though, he doesn’t ask for time to do anything particular – not a last-minute conversion, just “one more minute”, a little, entirely useless time as king – if only in his own imagination. He knows he is to be dethroned, and more than likely killed, and nothing can prevent that… just not yet.
Powerful stuff, don’t you think? Whatever else one may think of Kit Marlowe, he had a fine grasp of the workings of fear.