The Marlowe Studies Entry: August 13, 2011

Roman marble bust of Epicurus


Marlowe Learns Hell Is A Fable


Riggs says, "Pythagoras introduced Renaissance undergraduates to the ancient (un)belief system of Epicurus and his disciple Lucretius: hell is a fable, and belief in hell a craven superstition; the body metamorphoses into the elements after death; poets and rulers invented divine retribution to keep men in awe of authority. Renaissance divines understandably concluded that epicureans were atheists."

The term "epicurian" has a somewhat derogatory connotation today. It is used to describe someone who is devoted to sensual pleasures. In reality, Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher (died 270 before Christ) who founded the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. His ideas were quite similar to those found in Buddhism: when we do not suffer pain, we are no longer in need of pleasure, and we enter a state of "perfect mental peace". He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. And to think, this man lived before the time of Christ.

Epicurus was far ahead of his time. Not only was he the first Greek philosopher to admit women into his school, he was a key figure in the development of science and the scientific method because of his insistence that nothing should be believed, except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. Many of his ideas about nature and physics presaged important scientific concepts of our time. He was a key figure in the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE, during which similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India, Iran, the Near East, and Ancient Greece. His statement of the Ethic of Reciprocity as the foundation of ethics is the earliest in Ancient Greece, and he differs from the formulation of utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill by emphasizing the minimization of harm to oneself and others as the way to maximize happiness.

Epicurus's teachings were founded on many of the same principles as Democritus. Like Democritus, he was an atomist, believing that the fundamental constituents of the world were indivisible little bits of matter (atoms, Greek atomos, indivisible) flying through empty space (kenos). His theory differs from the earlier atomism of Democritus because he admits that atoms do not always follow straight lines but their direction of motion may occasionally exhibit a 'swerve' (clinamen). This allowed him to avoid the determinism implicit in the earlier atomism and to affirm free will. Compare this with the modern theory of quantum physics, which postulates a non-deterministic random motion of fundamental particles.

Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus circa 1589, after he and his fellow Cambridge students had absorbed the teachings of Pagan historicists, poets, dramatists, and philosophers. It is a fair assumption, though an assumption nevertheless, to say that he did not believe in the Christian heaven and hell, the divinity of Christ nor the Trinity by the time he wrote Doctor Faustus. If this is true, Marlowe would have penned Doctor Faustus with tongue in cheek and a desire to dramatize the plight of not just the scholar Faustus, but all men and women in the theater audience whose earthly pursuit of freedom and happiness was thwarted by the guilt-oriented Christian religion which taught them this direction would be making a pact with the devil. Long before the birth of Christ Epicurus and Lucretius had told the sea of Pagans around them that divine retribution was a concept created by rulers to keep men in awe of authority. The early Christian Bishops in Rome picked up the threads of this concept, and implanted it into the Catholic religion.

As Riggs says, many "atheists" emerged from within the college walls. "The philosopher John Case encountered clouds of these unbelieving 'scorpions and locusts' at Oxford. Laurence Chaderton, the Master of Emmanuel College Cambridge, wondered 'Whence come such swarms of atheists?' "

The "monstrous opinions" that the informer Baines attributed to Marlowe came directly from the dramatist's Cambridge textbooks. Baines claimed Marlowe had said, "the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe" and that one ought "not to be afeared of bugbears and hobgoblins". These ideas came from Ovid, Lucretius, Polybious and Livy. This gives us a more in-depth understanding of the motto on Marlowe's Cambridge portrait: That which nourishes me destroys me. The Divinity scholarship that this son of a cobbler gratefully received had opened the doors to an education which ironically taught him ideas contrary to those of the Church of England, ideas that pitted Marlowe dangerously against his ecclesiastic benefactors. The Cambridge BA course prepared graduates for careers in the Church, but paradoxically, taught them little about Christianity. This fact is not held in retrospect, but was consciously known at the time. Riggs quotes the English academic theologian Richard Holdsworth who was Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 1637 to 1643: "It is necessary to have some entrance in Divinity before you commense".

Riggs says, "On Fridays at five o'clock, Marlowe listened to two of the Fellows dispute about 'a problem in Divinity, which continueth two hours'. Although the Fellows argued over fundamental points of Christian doctrine, the rules of dialectical disputation required them to argue for and against every thesis, and thus to uphold heretical or even blasphemous positions. Henry Barrow recalled that these exercises treated God's word 'as a tennis ball'.

A manuscript list of theses dating from around 1580 reveals that students disputed such propositions as: 'The style of sacred Scripture is not barbarous'; 'There is a place of hell'; 'The reprobate do not truly call on God'; 'God does not want everyone to be saved'; 'The will acts freely'; and 'Nothing is done without prior consent and volition by God'. Since dialectical disputation took up 'both parts of every question', one of the students had to argue that the style of the sacred Scriptures is barbarous, that there is no place of hell, that the reprobate truly call upon God, that God wants everyone to be saved, that the will does not act freely, and that things are done without God's prior consent and volition. Any doctrine could be made credible; none could be proven.

The intellectual licence of dialectical disputation made a strong impression on Marlowe. His notorious remark [the remark attributed to him by the informer Baines] 'that all the new testament is filthily written' simply restates, in stronger language, the academic commonplace that 'the style of sacred Scripture is barbarous'. Marlowe's crime was to broadcast such teachings, to carry the debate outside the privileged space of the university."

We now see the seed of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Riggs goes on to say, "Dr Faustus, another academic renegade, reckons that the reward of sin is death, but takes comfort in the thought that there is no place of hell. He pleads for mercy, only to find that God does not want everyone to be saved. But does Faustus's will act freely? Is everything done with prior consent and volition by God?" Even though Marlowe's classes cultivated skepticism, the purpose of his education was to maintain the English Church as it then was. The pursuit of theological truth was discouraged by Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley, and Archbishop Whitgift. The state religion was more a matter of ritualistic behavior than spiritual belief.

Riggs says, "Tamburlaine invokes Ovid's creation myth to justify his winner-take-all ideology, and dies alluding to epicurean teachings on death. Small wonder that Marlowe's protagonist was soon dubbed 'that atheist Tamburlaine'. The epicurean Dr Faustus asserts that 'hell's a fable' (II.i.129). The Machiavellian Prologue to Marlowe's Jew of Malta boasts that: 'I count religion but a childish toy, And hold there is no sin but ignorance'. Atheism as such was not the issue in Marlowe's case. Renaissance academics and statesmen inherited the Roman view that philosophers and rulers were entitled to a sphere of private unbelief. Marlowe took the further, more provocative step of circulating epicurean ideas among the general public."

Riggs is talking about Marlowe's plays which had a wider audience than any preacher in England, including the Archbishop. The question is, was this what the young Shakespeare did before he learned (was forced by circumstance to learn) a more subtle way of saying what he wanted to say? The inexperienced passionate boldness of youth is tempered by age. Genius learns how to adapt its ideas to the circumstances of the times using art as its tool. For Shakespeare the favored tool was ambiguity which allows us to interpret his lines two ways. Ambiguity is the artful way of presenting what a censor would otherwise not allow.

Perhaps someday soon academic literary studies might consider essay explorations comparing Marlowe to Shakespeare, and exploring hypothetical evolutions of style that can be charted. They might begin by dialing the historical context lens to a wider setting which would enable them to capture more data. In order to do this they would have to begin to allow the cultivation of ideas they have heretofore ignored, such as Riggs' statement that the Renaissance academics and statesmen inherited the Roman view that philosophers and rulers were entitled to a sphere of private unbelief.

The Marlovians are brimming over with data because they've asked the questions orthodox scholars have not seen to ask, and they always back up their hypotheses with documented research. While the Marlovians read the books of University academics, academics have not read the books of the Marlovians. Perhaps it is time to do so.

At this point it would be prudent to illustrate why it might be time to do so.

The Marlowe Studies Entry: August 29, 2011

wraightA.D. Wraight with Shakespearean actor Sir Ian McKellen in Canterbury.

Excerpts from A.D. Wraight's first chapter in Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn, "A Dramatist of History" will reveal the extraordinary difference between the well-researched Marlovian approach and that of the academic "New Orthodoxy", which has blithely concluded that Marlowe's interest in Tamburlaine the Great was the projection of his own "atheism", "violent tendencies", and "ambitious desires" upon his hero.

John Bakeless was an orthodox Shakespearean who wrote the most thorough (2 volumes) biography of Christopher Marlowe's life an works in existence, The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe. Of Marlowe's Tamburlaine, he says:

The study of Marlowe's sources for Tamburlaine is of particular importance because it definitely reverses the view of his mind and character which has been generally accepted for three centuries. Detailed, minute, even trifling though the necessary investigation may be, it is rewarded in the end by a new understanding of the mind of a very great poet. It shows Marlowe as something more than an impetuous youth with a gift for poetry. It shows him as a careful writer who bases work of the purest poetic beauty on an elaborate and careful study of all available materials.

He goes on to say:

The oath of Amurath (Orcanes in Marlowe's play) is a good illustration of the way in which the study of sources sometimes throws light upon an author's mind. This passage has long been supposed to illustrate Marlowe's "atheistic" leanings and has been pointed out as an example of the sort of blasphemy about which Richard Baines bore tales to the authorities. But when the 'blasphemy' turns out to be merely a vivid bit of history, we see that it is merely once more instance of the selective skill with which Marlowe has sifted the material in his sources.
(The two passages above have been taken from Wraight's "A Dramatist of History")

The following example of Wraight's documented research serves to show the detail gleaned when a scholar's work has not been propelled by the Marlowe Myth. We begin with her research into Marlowe's source material for Tamburlaine and his use of this material in the play which reveals he did not create Tamburlaine's cruelty from his imagination .

Marlowe's Sources for Tamburlaine

Excerpts from A.D. Wraight's A Dramatist of History

Marlowe's first encounter with the history of his hero, Tamburlaine or Tamerlane, could have been as early as his fifteenth year when he entered the King's School. His Headmaster was then the scholarly John Gresshop, who owned a well-furnished private library which might have been made available to a bright boy with a keen interest in history. It was in the best tradition of dedicated schoolmasters of that day to offer personal help and encouragement to further their ablest pupils, and all the evidence we have on Marlowe indicates that he was given preferential treatment throughout his education and was the kind of impressive lad who attracted patronage. In Dr. Gresshop's library Marlowe might have read Philip Lonicer's Chronicorum Turcicorum and Thomas Fortescue's The Foreste, both containing histories of Tamerlane. These could have aroused his interest so that the seed lay long in his mind maturing.

It is all but certain that Marlowe must have written The First Part of Tamburlaine while still at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he was for six and a half years studying, ostensibly to enter the Anglican Church. At Corpus Christi he was fortunate to have had available in the library a store of books which afforded him almost all the historical background he needed for his dramatization of the life of Tamburlaine. Every student of Marlowe must be indebted to Dr. Bakeless's invaluable and definitive study of the sources used for his dramatic works. He has shown that among the literary treasures of Archbishop Parker's bequest of books and manuscripts to his old college, Corpus christi or Bene't Hall as it was then known, were four works detailing the history of Tamburlaine, some of them repetitive of each other but giving useful factual background. These source books were: Pope Pius's Asiae Europaeque elegantiss.descritio (1574); Baptista Fulgotius's Exemplorum Libri IX (1578); Baptista Ignatius's De Origine Turcarum Libellum bound together in the second edition with Petrus Perondinus's Vita Magni Tamerlanis (1556). [Isabel Gortazar suggests this may have been 1551]

Paulus Jovius's Turcicarum Rerum Commentarii had been in Corpus Christi's library for some time, and Jovius's Shorte Treatise upon thee Turkes' Chronicles had appeared in an English translation in 1546 and might well have been available to Marlowe elsewhere, and he would obviously have been keenly seeking information on Tamburlaine wherever it might be found. Philip Lonicer's Chronicorum Turcicorum, possibly first read at the King's School, was a source he used for, as Bakeless has shown, he closely follows Lonicer's account in The Second Part of Tamburlaine, Act III Scene 1. He seems also to have used John Shute's translation from the Italian of Andrew Cambine's Turkish affares published as part of Two Very Notable Commentaries (1562) and Antonius Bonfinius's Rerum Vngaricvm Decades Qvatvor (1581).

From these books Marlowe could have obtained the basis of his dramatization of the historical Tamerlane's life to which he adhered closely.

He may have based his description of Tamburlaine's appearance on what is stated in Jovius's Elogia virorum bellica virtute illlustrium (1578), although he improved on it to make his hero considerable more appealing. The excerpts from Jovius and other Latin authors are here given in an English translation. Jovius tells us:

Tamerlane had a grim face, always menacing, with deep-set eyes; his body was enormous, with strong muscles so as to be brawny in appearance.

Marlowe's Tamburlaine is presented essentially following the historical source above being 'large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit' with great 'breadth of shoulders' and 'His arms and fingers long and sinewy' and his eyes are described as 'piercing instruments of sight'. A stunning description of Tamburlaine as Marlowe visualized him is given by Menaphon at the beginning of Act II.

Manaphon. Of stature tall, and straightly fashioned
Like his desire, lift upwards and divine;
So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit,
Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear
Old Atlas' burden;
for the rest, see pages 18, 19 Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn

Marlowe's Departure From His Sources from "A Dramatist of History"

Wraight says

Marlowe's portrait of Tamburlaine deliberately departs from the Mongol warrior of history to give us an idealized Englishman with his 'knot of amber hair' - in the Elizabethan romantic convention men always had amber hair, women were golden-haired. The real Tamer-lane was also reputed to have been lame, but this disability in his hero Marlowe discards. I have previously suggested, following Eleanor Grace Clarke, that the portrait of Tamburlaine may have been partly inspired by his admiration for Sir Walter Raleigh who is reputed to have had 'that awful ascendancy in his aspect over other mortals', and arriving at the 'court 'a bare gentleman' had 'gotten the Queen's ear in a trice' to become her favourite on whom she lavished wealth and power second to none. Raleigh's campaign in Ireland under Lord Grey had given him a fearsome reputation for ruthlessness in battle comparable to Tamburlaine's, for he mercilessly slaughtered the 400 Spaniards and Italians who had made common cause with the Irish rebels when he captured Fort Del Ore, so that he arrived back in England in 1581 figuratively dripping blood from the boggy fields of Ireland. Perhaps it was Marlowe's admiration for Raleigh that gave him the entrée to Raleigh's 'little academie' or School of Night, for he puts into the mouth of Tamburlaine words that reflect the aspiring minds of these ardent seekers after knowledge infinite:

Nature that fram'd us of four elements
Warring within our breast for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

The Marlowe Studies suggests it was the Catholic priest Robert Persons’ English publication Responsio ad Edictum Elizabethan out of which the mythic “School of Night” was born. In this satirical piece Persons wrote of “Sir Walter Rawley’s school of atheism” and  “the diligence used to get young gentlemen to this school, wherein both Moses and our Saviour, the Old and the New Testament, are jested at, and the scholars taught among other things to spell God backward.”

Marlowe's Sources For Tamburlaine from "A Dramatist of History"

Jovius provided also a vital clue to Tamburlaine's mind, his concept of himself, as 'Ira die ego sum & orbis vastitas' (I am the wrath of god and the desolation of the world), which is the extraordinary personal conviction that animated this man. Marlowe puts this into Tamburlaine's mouth in The First Part of Tamburlaine:

I that am term'd the Scourge and Wrath of God,
The only fear and terror of the world . . .

Fulgotius is one of several historians who give details of Tamburlaine's spectacularly cruel treatment of Bajazeth, the Sultan of the Turks, whom he defeats and takes prisoner.

He shut up Baiazetes (Sultan Bayezid) in a cage, whom he dragged with him, thus set up on a chariot, wherever he himself went, using him as a footstool to make it easier for him to mount his horse.

[As Bakeless has commented, the books of Marlowe's time bear witness to a general interest in Tamburlaine who was the enemy of England's enemy, the Turks. Wraight says that Bakeless', "discovery of Marlowe's sources has laid bare the dramatist's method of creating his drama from the carefully garnered data of the historians."]

Wraight continues, "We see that the extreme cruelty of the treatment of Bajazeth as a caged animal, and Tamburlaine's use of him as his footstool, emanate not from Marlowe, but from his historical sources, as also the manner of Bajazeth's death when the tormented emperor [of the Turks], unable to bear his degradation longer, beats out his brains against the iron bars of his cage. The half-crazed Zabina follows him in this suicide. It is Marlowe who moves us to pity when Zenocrate, having herself felt the pangs of fear for her father's life as she awaits the outcome of the battle between Tamburlaine and the Egyptians, and thus, knowing suffering, is finally touched by the death of Zabina and Bajazeth.

[The Marlowe Studies suggests the following passage is proof enough Marlowe was not projecting his own ambitions into Tamburlaine.]

Zenocrate. Earth, cast up fountains from thy entrails,
And wet thy cheeks for their untimely deaths;
Shake with their weight in sign of fear and grief!
Blush, heaven, that gave them honour at their birth,
And let them die a death so barbarous!
Those that are proud of fickle empery
And place their chiefest god in earthly pomp,
Behold the Turk and his great emperess!
Thou, that in conduct of thy happy stars,
Sleep'st every night with conquest on thy brows,
And yet wouldst shun the wavering turns of war,
In fear and feeling of the like distress,
Behold the Turk and his great emperess!
Ah, mighty Jove and holy Mahomet,
Pardon my love! Oh, pardon his contempt
Of earthly fortune and respect of pity;
And let not conquest, ruthlessly pursu'd,
Be equally against his life uncens'd
In this great Turk and hapless emperess!
And pardon me that was not mov'd with ruth
To see them live so long in misery!
Ah, what may chance to thee, Zenocrate?

This formula with its poetic, echoing refrain is typical of early Marlowe, which he uses at moments of great emotional intensity in his characters, when mourning the dead, or when a ritual having a religious element is taking place. Even the final line, an emotional denouement, is a trick of technique he repeats in both speeches.

Pope Pius echoes Tamburlaine's historic treatment of the vanquished Turkish Emperor, and he further gives 'innumerable details which Marlowe expanded in his play', Bakeless tells us. The most important of these are in the following extract given here in an English translation.

Tamerlane a Parthian by birth . . . stood out among his own people for nimbleness of both mind & body so that in short time he became the ruler of many nations . . . Pazaites (Baiazites) the lord of the Turks . . . he captured alive, shut in a cage as though he were a wild beast, and carried around throughout Asia . . . Soldanu (Sultan) of Egypt whom he defeated in war he drove back to Perlusum . . In sieges of cities, on the first day he would make use of a white tent, on the second a red, the third a black: those who surrendered to him sitting in a white one came to be spared. Red colour signified death for the heads of household: black meant the destruction of the town, and all things in it to be reduced to ashes. There is a story of a certain crowded city, which had foreborne to surrender on the first day; when all the boys and girls went out dressed in white and carrying olive branches before them to soothe the general's anger: he ordered them all to be trampled on by the cavalry and pulverized, their city to be captured and burnt . . . he left behind two sons to be the successors of his kingdom.

This is brilliantly dramatized at the siege of Damascus when the virgins of the city are sent all dressed in white to plead with him for mercy, and Tamburlaine (so the stage direction reads) appears 'all in black and very melancholy'.

Tamburlaine. What, are the turtles fray'd out of their
Alas, poor fools, must you be first shall feel
The sworn destruction of Damascus?
They knew my custom; could they not as well
Have sent ye out when first my milk-white flags,
Through which sweet Mercy threw her gentle beams,
Reflexed them on their disdainful eyes.
As now when fury and incensed hate
Flings slaughtering terror from my cola-black tents,
And tells for truth submission comes too late?

First Virgin. Pity, O pity, sacred emperor
The prostrate service of this wretched town;
And take in sign thereof this gilded wreath,
Whereto each man of rule hath given his hand,
And wish'd, as worthy subjects, happy means
To be investors of thy royal brows
Even with the true Egyptian diadem!

Tamburlaline. Virgins, in vain you labour to prevent
That which mine honour swears shall be perform'd.
(Drawing his sword)
Behold my sword; what see you at the point?

First Virgin. Nothing but fear and fatal steel, my lord.

Tamburlaine. Your fearful minds are thick and misty
For there sits death; there sits imperious Death,
Keeping his circuit by the slicing edge.
But I am pleas'd you shall not see him there;
He now is seated on my horsemen's spears,
And on their points his fleshless body feeds.
Techelles, straight go charge a few of them
To charge these dames,, and shew my servant Death,
Sitting in scarlet on their armed spears.

Virgins. O, pity us!

Tamburlaine. Away with them I say, and shew them

Marlowe's Departure From His Sources from "A Dramatist of History"

This piteous scene [above] is the prelude to Tamburlaine's famous apostrophe to Beauty in his long soliloquy on Zenocrate [there is no historical basis for Zenocrate, she has been created from Marlowe's imagination], providing the perfect contrast in dramatic tension, in which Marlowe reveals his masterhand as a dramatist. Of this passage, Wraight says earlier, "It is not in the magniloquence of Tamburlaine's rant that the essential Marlowe, the soul of the poet, is to be found, but rather in the famous passage which contains his apostrophe to Beauty.

Ah, fair Zenocrate! - divine Zenocrate!
Fair is too foul an epithet for thee,
That in thy passion for thy country's love . . .

Where Beauty, mother to the Muses, sits,
And comments volumes with her ivory pen,
Taking instruction from thy flowing eyes; . . .

If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspir'd their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes;
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,
Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem's period,
And all combin'd in beauty's worthiness,
You should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.
But how unseemly is it for my sex,
My discipline of arms and chivalry,
My nature, and the terror of my name,
To harbour thoughts effeminate and faint!

[The Marlowe Studies suggests that young twenty-three year-old Marlowe ends this passage resolving Ovid's duality of love versus war]

Save only that in beauty's just applause,
With whose instinct the soul of man is touched;
And every warrior that is rapt with love
Of fame, of valour, and of victory,
Must needs have beauty beat on his conceits:
I thus conceiving, and subduing both,
That which hath stoop'd the chiefest of the gods,
Even from the fiery-spangled veil of heaven,
To feel the lovely warmth of shepherds' flames,
And march in cottages of strowed reeds,
Shall give the world to note, for all my birth,
That virtue solely is the sum of glory,
And fashions men with true nobility.

Wraight tells us that none of the books written about Tamburlaine gave any historical basis for the love story of Tamburlaine and Zenocrate, which, she says, is the central thread of Marlowe's drama. She goes on to say, "As Dr. Bakeless' extensive research on Marlowe's historical sources has shown, the story of Tamburlaine's great love for Zenocrate, with which Marlowe underpins his drama and supplies the human emotional element that lifts his available sources."

Later, Wraight says

But the greatest passage in this play is surely Tamburlaine's magnificent threnody at the death of Zenocrate, making a moving dramatic contrast to the blood and thunder of the rest of the play that follows.

Tamburlaine. Black is the beauty of the brightest day;
The golden ball of heaven's eternal fire,
That danc'd with glory on the silver waves,
Now wants the fuel that inflam'd his beams;
And all with faintness, and for foul disgrace,
He binds his temples with a frowning cloud,
Ready to darken earth with endless night,
Zenocrate, that gave him light and life,
Whose eyes shot fire from their ivory bowers,
And temper'd every soul with lively heat,
Now with the malice of the angry skies,
Whose jealousy admits no second mate,
Draws in the comfort of her latest breath,
All dazzled with the hellish mists of death.

. . .

Marlowe ends the long passage with

Then let some holy trance convey my thoughts
Up to the palace of th'empyreal heaven,
That this my life may be as short to me
As are the days of sweet Zenocrate. -
Physicians, will no physic do her good?
II Tamburlaine Act II, Sc.4.11.1-38

Wraight says

The swift contrasting descent from the sublime to the pathetic query to the physicians is a trick Marlowe developed which is also found in Shakespeare, as here in King Lear's powerfully moving heartcry-

No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life.
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.
Pray you undo this button.
Act V. Sc. 1. 11.305-9

While Marlowe knew well the tastes of his fellow countrymen which would make the choice of such a subject as Tamburlaine, whose spectacular success in war was matched by his cruelty, a popular entertainment, he was never satisfied merely to entertain. The Elizabethans were inured to cruelty, bloodshed and death, but when Marlowe paints scenes of human cruelty he does so to evoke a response which finally recoils from this. He does not pander to sadism as, for instance, Nashe does in The Unfortunate Traveller, Or The Life of Jacke Wilton (1594). In this Marlowe stands aside from most of his contemporaries. The blood-bath of Tamburlaine acts like a powerful cathartic panacea to the soul, for he holds up a cruel conqueror for our admiration only finally to reduce him to a man who is maddened by his bloodlust. A colossus with feet of clay wading in blood, to arouse our pity. The civilizing influence in Tamburlaine is the lovely Zenocrate, and when she dies we hear echoes of Othello's forlorn cry -

But I do love thee; and when I love thee not
Chaos is come again.
Act III Sc.3. 1192-3

Othello depends on Desdemona for his sanity: Tamburlaine without Zenocrate is almost a madman. Zenocrate's remorse and pity for the death of the tormented Bajazeth and Zabina invite us to pity, not to gloat. Mycetes expresses the terrors of war feelingly in his outburst -

Accurs'd be he that first invented war!
They knew not, ah, they knew not, simple men,
How those were hit by pelting cannon-shot
Stand staggering like a quivering aspen-leaf
Fearing the force of Boreas' boisterous blasts!
The First Part of Tamburlaine Act II Sc.4 11.1-5

Wraight says the books in print during Marlowe's time give the number of his sons as two.

She goes on to say

Marlowe expands the sons to three, one of whom is the cowardly Calyphas ('in no way compared to Tamerlaine in military valour') while the other two are as warlike and cruel as their father. Later, she says

. . . Tamburlaine's war-hating third son Calyphas in The Second Part of Tamburlaine is a more complex character, a dissenter against war of courage and conscience who is almost modern. He finds war 'dangerous' yet he is not really a coward - his dislike of warfare is deeply grounded on personal distaste for violence and an intellectual contempt for those who indulge in war. He calls his warlike brothers fools who are 'more childish-valorous than manly-wise' and afraid to be stigmatized as cowards. One of them confesses he is partly motivated by fear of their father's anger should they fail to strive to emulate him in military prowess. 'I would not bide the fury of my father', exclaims Amyra marveling at Calyphas's foolhardiness. But Calyphas has integrity and a cool courage of his own. He tells his brothers:

I know, sir, what it is to kill a man;
It works remorse of conscience in me.
I take no pleasure to be murderous.

When Celebinus taunts him as a coward who shames their house, Callyphas answers derisively:

Go, go, tall stripling, fight you for us both,
And take my other toward brother here,
For person like to prove a second Mars.

He tells Perdicas, with whom he plays at cards while the battle rages:

They say I am a coward, Perdicas, and I fear as little their
taratantaras, their swords, or their cannons as I do a naked
lady in a net of gold, and, for fear I should be afraid would
put it off and come to bed with me.

When Tamburlaine returns he is beside himself with rage that Calyphas has not joined the battle and seeks him crying, 'But where's this coward villain, not my son. But traitor to my name and majesty?' Calyphas utters not a word in his self-defense but silently suffers himself to be stabbed to death by his enraged father, like a sacrificial lamb. There is a deeper significance here - even a symbolism, which critics have missed. Tamburlaine the Great, the most bloodthirsty of all Marlowe's plays, is not merely about blood and conquest. Like all great works of art it speaks to us at many levels.

The Marlowe Studies Entry: September 1, 2011


I count religion but a childish toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.
Machiavel, Act 1, Jew of Malta


Marlowe's Sources For The Christian Hypocrisy in Tamburlaine

The academics who have not made close study of Marlowe often refer to the Christian hypocrisy he has take place in Tamburlaine, not realizing that there is historical truth to it.

Wraight says:

Both Fulgotius and Ignatius confirm the exact numbers of horsemen - a thousand- and foot soldiers - five hundred, which the opposing forces of Theridamas and his Persians and Tamburlaine possess respectively. Marlowe is particular about such details to lend his play historical verisimilitude, although he is prepared to take poetic licence with historic facts where this is necessary to advance the dramatic viability of his play, for he has an infallible instinct for what makes good theatre. For instance, Bakeless has shown in his exhaustive study of Marlowe's use of his sources that the scene in which Orcanes, King of Natolia, and Sigismund, King of Hungary, swear by their respective godheads, Mahomet and Christ, to keep their 'truce inviolable' is based on the text of Bonfinius's Rervm Vngaricvm Decades Qvatvor (1581) which Marlowe seems to have studied closely, but uses his material selectively.

The Turks demand an oath from the king at the Eucharist . . . Finally, there is agreement on both sides that our people should sear on the Gospel, they on the Koran. So they set down in writing, in the same terms but in two languages, the conditions of peace and they vowed that these would be maintained and kept unbroken between them, with a most solemn oath to each other.

Marlowe dramatizes this in a scene which begins with bombastic military challenges between the two kings, but ends in concluding a truce because they are both aware that Tamburlaine is fast advancing on them, whom they must face in the field together or both be vanquished. Orcanes hands Sigismund a sword as symbol of war or peace between them - a Marlovian touch here repeated in The Second Part of Tamburlaine.

Sigismund. Then here I sheathe it, and give thee my hand
Never to draw it out, or manage arms
Against thyself or thy confederates,
But, whilst I live, will be at truce with thee.

Orcanes. But, Sigismund, confirm it with an oath,
And swear in sight of heaven and by thy Christ.

Sigismund. By Him that made the world and sav'd my
The Son of God and issue of a maid,
Sweet Jesus Christ, I solemnly protest
And vow to keep this peace inviolable!

Orcanes. By sacred Mahomet, the friend of God,
Whose holy Alcoran remains with us,
Whose glorious body, when he left the world,
Clos'd in a coffin mounted up the air,
And hung on stately Mecca's temple-roof,
I swear to keep this truce inviolable!
Of whose conditions and our solemn oaths,
Sign'd with our hands, each shall retain a scroll,
As memorable witness of our league.
Now, Sigismund, if any Christian king
Encroach upon the confines f thy realm,
Send word, Orcanes of Natolia
Confirm'd this league beyond Danubius' stream,
And they will, trembling, sound a quick retreat;
So am I fear'd among all nations.

Sigismund. If any heather potentate or king
Invade Natolia, Sigismund will send
A hundred thousand horse train'd to the war,
And back'd by stout lanciers of Germany,
The strength and sinews of the imperial seat.

And after some more boastful promises from Orcanes in which the sonorous names of Natolia and Trebizon are rolled off the tongue in the richly poetic vein which Marlowe relishes throughout this masterpiece, they go off to banquet and carouse in celebration of their truce.

Despite his oath made in the name of Christ, Marlowe's Hungarian king, Sigismund, breaks the truce, and yet again Bonfinius supplies the historical source from which Marlowe probably drew his facts for this episode, although here Bonfinius is writing about a later Hungarian king, Ladislaus, who in 1443 had concluded a truce with the Turkish emperor, Amurath II, (the treaty of Szedin) which he was persuaded to break by the papal legate, Cardinal Julian, and launch an attack on the unsuspecting Turks. But their ruse was no successful for Amurath retreated and regrouped his armies to counter-attack and kill the perfidious Ladislaus and the Cardinal. This piece of poetic justice Marlowe seizes upon and transposes into the time of Tamburlaline to apply to the contemporaneous King Sigismund of Hungary, replacing Cardinal Julian with two Lords of Buda and Bohemia who put Cardinal Julian's arguments to Sigismund. Thus Bonfinius's report in translation:

Julian in a timely speech said: If any of you Proceres, perhaps may marvel because I am going to speak about rescinding the peace and breaking faith: Let him first understand that I am going to discuss with you nothing today other than about observing the treaty . . . In these distressing circumstances hasty counsel may impel us: having made a peace with the Turkish infidel, that we should break the solemn word of the faithful and rescind the sacred deed entered into with the supreme Pontiff and allied Princes before the treaty.

With subtle arguments of political and military opportunism Marlowe skillfully dramatizes the scene.

Sigismund. Now say, my lords, of Buda and Bohemia,
What motion is it that inflames your thoughts,
And stirs your valours to such sudden arms?

Frederick. Your majesty remembers, I am sure,
What cruel slaughter of our Christian bloods
These heathenish Turks and pagans lately made
Your highness knows, for Tamburlaine's repair
That strikes a terror to all Turkish hearts,
Natolia hath dismiss'd the greatest part
Of all his army, pitch'd against our power
Betwixt Cutheia and Orminius' mount,
And sent them marching up to Belgasar,
Acantha, Antioch, and Caeserea,
To aid the kings of Soria and Jerusalem.
Now, then, my lord, advantage take thereof,
And issue suddenly upon the rest;
That, in the fortune of their overthrow,
We may discourage all the pagan troop
That dare attempt to war with Christians.

Sigismund. But calls not, then, your grace to memory
The league we lately made with King Orcanes,
Confirm'd by oath and articles of peace,
And calling Christ for record of our truths?
This should be treachery and violence
Against the grace of our progression.

Baldwin. No whit, my lord; for with such infidels,
In whom no faith nor true religion rests,
We are not bound to those accomplishments
The holy laws of Christendom enjoin;
But Sigismund is not so easily persuaded and the discussion continues.

Frederick. Assure your grace, 'tis superstition
To stand so strictly on dispensive faith,
And, should we lose the opportunity
That God hath given to venge our Christians' death,

. . .

And scourge their foul blasphemous paganism,
So surely will the vengeance of the Highest,
And jealous anger of his fearful arm,
Be pour'd with rigour on our sinful heads,
If we neglect this offer'd victory.

With Machiavellian persuasiveness they win Sigismund over, and he attacks Orcanes, but (as happened to the perfidious Ladislaus of history) Marlowe presents his audience with moral justification for the Christian king's defeat at the hands of Orcanes (Amureth II). For the scene in which Orcanes rages over this perfidy by the Christian king, challenging Christ's divinity, Marlowe once again has his authority from Bonfinius.

Now, O Christ, if yo are God (as they say, and we are not suffering from delusions), turn away your wrongs and mine, I beseech you: and to those who have not yet professed your holy Name pronounce the penalty for broken faith.

Marlowe dramatizes this in a passionate outburst by Orcanes.

Enter a Messenger

Messenger. Arm dread sovereign, and my noble lords!
The treacherous army of the Christians,
Taking advantage of your slender power,
Comes marching on us, and determines straight
To bid us battle for our dearest lives.

Orcanes. Traitors, villains, damned Christians!
Have I not here the articles of peace
And solemn covenants we have both confirm'd,
He by his Christ, and I by Mahomet?

. . .

Can there be such deceit in Christians,
Or treason in the fleshly heart of man,
Whose shape is figure of the highest God?
Then, if there be a Christ, as Christians say,
But in their deeds deny him for their Christ,
If he be son to everliving Jove,
And hath the power of his outstretched arm,
If he be jealous of his name and honour
As is our holy prophet Mahomet,
Take here these papers as our sacrifice
And witness of thy servant's perjury!
(He tears to pieces the articles of peace.)
Open, thou shining veil of Cynthia,
And make a passage from th'empyreal heaven
That he that sits on high and never sleeps,
Nor in one place is circumscriptible,
But everywhere fills every continent
With strange infusion of his sacred vigour,
May, in his endless power and purity,
Behold and venge this traitor's perjury!
Thou, Christ, that art esteem'd omnipotent,
If thou wilt prove thyself a perfect God,
Worthy the worship of all faithful hearts,
Be now reven'gd upon this traitor's soul
And make the power I have left behind
(Too little to defend our guiltless lives)
Sufficient to discomfit and confound
The trustless force of those false Christians!
To arms, my lords! on Christ still let us cry:
If there be Christ, we shall have victory.
II Tamburlaine Act I, Sc 2, II.24-64I

With his depleted forces Orcanes is then victorious, and the perjured Sigismund staggers

wounded onto the stage to die, crying -

Let the dishonour of the pains I feel
In this my mortal well-deserved wound
End all my penance in my sudden death!
And let this death, wherein to sin I die,
conceive a second life in endless mercy!
II Tamburlaine Act II, Sc 3 11.5-9

In Marlowe's works the questioning mind that holds the mirror to man's sinful nature comes to rest always in moral justice and while venturing into unorthodox beliefs returns at last to orthodoxy. This is as true of Marlowe as it is of Raleigh, who was also accused of atheism but lived to refute it.

Bakeless' invaluable research into the astonishingly extensive range of Marlowe's historical sources in compiling his material for Tamburlaine has been a revelation.

Bakeless says

'The study of Marlowe's sources for Tamburlaine is of particular importance because it definitely reverses the view of his mind and character which has been generally accepted for three centuries. Detailed, minute, even trifling though the necessary investigation may be, it is rewarded in the end by a new understanding of the mind of a very great poet. It shows Marlowe as something more than an impetuous youth with a gift for poetry. It shows him as a careful writer who bases work of the purest poetic beauty on an elaborate and careful study of all available materials.'

The research of Dr. Bakeless has provided these sources, here given as Englished excerpts from the original Latin texts from Bakeless, whose scholarly mind makes no concessions to the latter day students whose Latin is rusty or non-existent, alas. His great work on Marlowe is consequently and regrettable to some extent beyond the reach of many readers, for practically every ancient document he quotes is in its Latin original. A reprint of this classic work with translations would be timely.

Bonfinius is only one of a dozen authors, tracked down by Bakeless and Ethel Seaton, whose books were available in print and were possible sources for Marlowe's historical research for Tamburlaine, for the facts and episodes he dramatizes are all there scattered through the pages of these source books. I have quoted in particular the scenes based on Bonfinius because these are concerned with religion and reflect the theological arguments which have been attributed to Marlowe as being entirely his own. Bakeless has demonstrated that this is a fallacy, for they are in fact based on his historical sources - a detail which was evidently obscured to the critics of Marlowe's own time as well as ours until Bakeless' fascinating research into his sources revealed the true situation. As he himself has commented:

'The oath of Amurath (Orcanes in Marlowe's play) is a good illustration of the way in which the study of sources sometimes throws light upon an author's mind. This passage has long been supposed to illustrate Marlowe's "atheistic" leanings and has been pointed out as an example of the sort of blasphemy about which Richard Baines bore tales to the authorities. But when the 'blasphemy' turns out to be merely a vivid bit of history, we see that it is merely once more instance of the selective skill with which Marlowe has sifted the material in his sources.'

This evidence shows that his main aim in researching his material was to supply his dramatic Muse with the stuff from which effective drama could be created. His eclectic taste was catholic in its foraging, and his long years of study had made him a disciplined and dedicated seeker after knowledge, drawing his inspiration from the rich fount of human history in which he found the endless variety that stimulated his art. His theme is humanity, which he interprets preferring to base his portraits on real people whose lives his poetry lifts into the sphere of dramatic art.

. . .

Wraight says

Man's violence and cruelty have ever been popular subjects for what we deem entertainment, from the gory horror stories of ancient Greek tragedy to our own day when violence in the television screen occupies the highest proportion of all our viewing of drama. The self-avowed gentle Kyd chose to wallow in the dramatized cruelty of his popular revenge play, The Spanish Tragedy, only slightly less horrific than Titus Andronicus. Tamburlaine the Great has cruelty in full measure, but here again Marlowe's historical source provided him with the evidence for this in the life of the real Tamburlaine, who was a monster of cruelty, curiously combined in a man who reverence learning and in some respects possessed an aspiring mind even as Marlowe depicts him. It was a tension of opposites that held great attraction for him.

Marlowe's interest in the Mongol conqueror may have been first aroused through some traveler's tale told in his Canterbury boyhood, for all Europe had been agog with his exploits for the past hundred years. Henry IV of England, Charles VI of France and Henry III of Spain had each sent ambassages to his court, anxious to maintain cordial relations with so victorious a conqueror. Tamburlaine, Tamerlane or Timur the Lame, hence Timur-lane, for he had one lame leg (a physical defect Marlowe chooses to ignore) had lived from 1336 to 1405, and led his nomadic hordes to overrun large tracts of Asia, carving himself and empire which stretched from the Volga to India, and included Persia, Turkey and Egypt. His capital was Samara [Samarkand], near Book (now in Uzbekistan in Asiatic USSR) lying on what was known as the 'silk road', for merchants with Median silk traveled this route to Europe, and situated in the foothills about 150 miles north of the Afghanistan border where the mountains of the Hindu Kyushu rear their snowy peaks. At least two intrepid Europeans who penetrated as far as his court at Samara [Samarkand] had written marvelous accounts of what they saw there, one of which was still in manuscript in Marlowe's time - that by the Bavarian Johanna Chatterer whose Latin manuscript was translated into German and edited by Professor Karl Fried rich Neumann in 1859 and finally English ed by Commander J. Buchanan Teller, R. N. as The Bondage and Travels of Johanna Chatterer (1396-1427). The other was a report of the Spaniard Rudy Gonzales de Claudio, the ambassador of Henry III of Castile and Leon, who visited the court of Timor in 1403. This was printed in 1582 and could therefore have been available to Marlowe's, Claudio's account of the splendour of Timor's court, and the richness of the jewels he saw adorning the emperor's clothing and furnishings of his palace, would have interested Marlowe greatly. There are also accounts of Timor's ghastly cruelty to those who displeased him, with which he enjoyed demonstrating his despotic power to visitors. By this time, almost at the end of his life, the Mongol emperor had developed a passion for splendid architecture and conceived the ambition to make Samara [Samarkand] the most beautiful city in the world. He lavished art work in porcelain and turquoise and jade on his Palace of Heart's Delight, which was made of white marble, employing chinese and Persian artists, and he brought in scholar's to supervise his libraries and run his academies of philosophy, mathematics and science. The historic Timor developed into a demoniacal, almost schizophrenic personality, and some of this Marlowe's may have heard about if he did not read it, for in The Second Part Tamburlaine becomes a despotic, megalomaniac following the death of his beloved Zenocrate, without whose gentle restraining influence he descends into the sheer obsession of unending bloody conquest, making impossible demands to satisfy his lust for ostentatious power; just as the real Timor, in his craze for building his perfect city, had newly-erected mosques torn down if something in the design displeased him and ordered that they be rebuilt in ten days on pain of death to the frenzied builders.

Later, Wraight says

The historians on whom Marlowe based his narrative were themselves only partly true to history, and they tended to look to each other's books as authoritative sources which were quoted and requoted. A character like Tamburlaine invited legend, and the interest in his exploits and his extraordinary person had been so wide-spread over so many years that it is surprising that the drama he created is as near to the true history of this exotic conqueror.


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