'A world of ground': terrestrial space in Marlowe's Tamburlaine plays.
Marlowe's geographical awareness will strike any reader of the Tamburlaine plays. At first critics were content to note the mere frequency of exotic place names, and a comparison with Milton's practice in Paradise Lost became a commonplace. There were, after all, over forty different place names mentioned in Part One of Tamburlaine and over eighty in Part Two, and some of these names were introduced not only once but several times and then given even greater salience in studiedly pointed repetition--'And ride in triumph through Persepolis' is an obvious instance. But it was left to Ethel Seaton to take the subject a decisive step forward in her classic essay 'Marlowe's Map' (1924). (1) She advanced the study of Tamburlaine by moving from a vaguely sensed geography to a more precisely focused cartography. She demonstrated conclusively that one notable passage in Part Two was not a mere fantasy of outlandish names but an account of a journey (by Techelles) through Africa, which Marlowe had based on a close study of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum. This great world atlas was first published in Antwerp in 1570. Some of Marlowe's details, which had been taken by editors to be errors or blunders on his part, could now be justified by reference to Ortelius, notably the placing of 'Zanzibar' on the west coast of Africa rather than on the east. But the chief effect of Seaton's work was to make Marlowe's procedure in the Tamburlaine plays seem incomparably more rational than before. It showed him to be aware of some of the most recent technological innovations by putting him in touch with the enormously influential map culture of his time. But it also gave more point to Marlowe's conception of his hero, who, before succumbing to death at the end of Part Two, actually calls for a map to be brought before him. In Tyrone Guthrie's great production of both Tamburlaine plays at the Old Vic in 1951 (which I was fortunate enough to see), a map was brought on as big as a large Persian carpet and was unrolled to fill the whole central area of the stage. Tamburlaine, now visibly dying, stepped on to the map, while his followers respectfully stood around it and watched. And so, in recalling his life's achievements--endless conquests and journeys--he makes gesturally visible both what he has done and what he would still long to do: 'And shall I die, and this unconquered?' (2 Tamburlaine, v. 3. 150). (2) The line, repeated, becomes a bitterly dejected refrain as he points to this or that place on the map that remains 'unconquered'. 'Marlowe's Map', in Ethel Seaton's phrase, takes form here as Tamburlaine's own map, a stage property as concretely visible to the audience as the royal crown of Persia or Bajazeth's cage had been in Part One, or Tamburlaine's own king-drawn chariot earlier in Part Two. It is as if, at the end of his second Tamburlaine play, Marlowe acknowledges where he found his original inspiration. He was a reader of maps; and maps, along with poems and romances and histories, played a crucial part in feeding his dramatic imagination.
A reading of Seaton's essay, however, might lead one to suppose that, as a result of his poring over Ortelius's maps, all that Marlowe had to do was simply to have the idea of tracing his characters' journeys by using the place names in front of him. Seaton seems to attribute to Marlowe the original idea of using a map in a literary text, and in this she has been followed by later Marlowe scholars. According to this view, Marlowe the map reader directly inspired Marlowe the dramatist.
I want to make a different suggestion. Marlowe may have been the first dramatist to incorporate cartographical passages in a play, but he was not the first writer to do so in a poetic work. In this he was anticipated by Ariosto in Orlando furioso, and it was here that Marlowe found the model for his map-based passages. It has, of course, long been known that Marlowe was acquainted with Orlando furioso. The source for the minor episode of Olympia in the second part of Tamburlaine (iii. 4 and iv. 2) is in Ariosto (Orlando furioso, xxix), which Marlowe presumably read in the Italian, since Harington's English translation was not published until 1591. Apart from this minor plot connection, however, Marlowe's literary relations with Ariosto have not been explored. But before I look further at each of the Tamburlaine plays and their treatment of terrestrial space, I need to say briefly what Ariosto achieved so that it will seem plausible that an English poet such as Marlowe should have sought him out.
Ariosto's huge poem was first published in 1516 (further editions, with revisions by Ariosto, appeared in 1521 and 1532). Ariosto was offering a continuation of Boiardo's Orlando innamorato and, in so doing, was bringing into the sixteenth-century reader's world all the actions and settings (Christian and Saracen) and the themes and conventions of medieval chivalric romance, but always in a distinctively new, modern, post-chivalric way. He did so, moreover, with immense and inimitable urbanity. The poem was an instant success--'the most popular work of modern poetry in the sixteenth century', as Daniel Javitch says in his book-length study of the work. (3) Javitch brings out the potent nature of the poem's appeal and the wide range of its distribution, at first throughout Italy and then through western Europe. Ariosto's final 1532 version was republished sixteen times by 1540, and was then reprinted every year by several publishers: 'Altogether, from 1540 to 1580 there appeared at least 113 editions of Ariosto's poem'. (4) In Italy it seems to have been read by everyone who could read--by nobility, gentry, and commoners alike, by the learned as well as by those with no learning at all.
In England Ariosto was certainly known by the second half of the sixteenth century, at least by some of the literary minded. In one of his letters to Gabriel Harvey, Spenser remarks that he hopes to 'overgo Ariosto', while in his letter to Ralegh prefacing The Faerie Queene, Spenser refers as familiarly to Ariosto and Orlando as to Homer and Achilles and Virgil and Aeneas. Ariosto must have seemed the greatest of modern European poets. And Marlowe, as a Cambridge student with a more than usual interest in poetry, would perhaps have sought out Ariosto--indeed, he could hardly have avoided him.
Marlowe's particular affinity with Ariosto, however, is to be found in their common interest in cartography. Ariosto was apparently the first poet to make extensive use of maps in his poetry so as to evoke the experience of traversing vast areas of the earth's surface. On a number of occasions he makes his reader accompany someone on a long and hazardous journey, in the course of which place names are faithfully recorded in the order in which those locations would have been encountered in real life. Ariosto was himself well placed to develop his interests as a cosmographical poet. He was the court poet at Ferrara, and was granted free and full use of the ducal library. C. P. Brand shows how up to date and modern Ariosto was able to make his superficially old-fashioned romance so that it took on a contemporary relevance. (5) The previous fifty years had seen a series of great voyages in which Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian mariners had crossed the oceans to discover unknown regions of the world. Brand points out that Ferrara was itself a centre of cosmographical studies, with a well-equipped library where Ariosto could sit comfortably while enjoying armchair travel. He also clearly enjoyed contriving arduously long journeys for the characters of his poem. For instance,
Ruggiero, equipped with a flying horse and a thirst for travel (x. 72), flies from Europe to India 'per la via occidentale', probably a reflection of Columbus's journey. From India he returned via Central Asia, to Poland, Hungary, Germany 'e il resto di quella boreale orrida terra' to England and the Thames. (6)
Astolfo, 'an English lord', is an important character in the poem, since it is he who befriends Orlando in his madness and flies up to the Moon to recover Orlando's wits. Before he does so, however, he goes on a journey, which vividly illustrates Ariosto's cosmographical interests. 'I will tell you', he says, 'what did to Astolfo chance':
Who, mounted on his statelie winged steed Well tamed late by Logistillas wit, Tooke perfect vew of France with passing speed And saw how ev'rie towne of worth did sit; Which having well observ'd and markt with heed From Rhine to Pyren mount, he thought it fit In maner like, all over Spaine to ride And many countries of the world beside. To Aragon he passed through Navar, Each man that saw him wondring at the sight. Then Taracon he did discry not far Upon his left hand, Biskie on his right. Where Castill, Lisbon, and Galicia are And Cordove neare and Sivill see he might Which divers crownes now joined in one raigne Are governed by the mightie king of Spaine. There saw he Gades where erst by Hercles hand Two pillars, markes for Marriners, were plast; Then over Atlant sea to Egipt land And over Affrica forthwith he past And saw where Balearick Iles do stand; Then travelld to Eviza with like hast And to Arzilla-ward he thence departeth Quite ore that sea that it from Spagna parteth. Oran he saw, Ippon, Marocco, Fesse, Algier, Buzea, and those stately townes Whose Princes with great pompe and pride possesse Of divers Provinces the stately crownes. He saw Byserta and Tunigi no lesse, And flying over many dales and downes He saw Capisse and Alzerbee Ile And all the Cities to the flood of Nyle, Tripolie, Bernick, Tolomit, and all Between the sea and Atlas woodie sides; Then on the Cereneys he right doth fall And past Carena mounts and more besides. Then crossing ov'r the barren fields and pall Where sands with wind do ebb and flow like tides The tombe of Battus he doth leave behind And Ammons temple now worne out of mind. Then came he by an other Tremisen That follows eake of Mahomet the law; Unto an other Ethyopia then He went, the which before he never saw, That differs both in language and in men. From thence he toward Nubia then did draw, Dobada and Coallee just between Of which these Christend and those Turkish been. (7)
Characteristic of Ariosto is the fusion of the fantastic with the mundanely realistic: we enjoy the easy pleasures of sixteenth-century air travel--our vehicle is a winged horse--but our route is strictly constrained by the facts of geography. Alexandre Doroszlac has written at length on Ariosto's 'inspiration cartographique', and has, in particular, analysed four examples of journeys or movements on land (for instance, the siege of Paris), in all of which Ariosto can be shown to be minutely influenced by the maps he was using. (8) In those places where he seems--to modern readers--to be making a mistake of some kind, he can be shown to be being accurate, or in some way defensible, according to the maps he was using. (In a similar way, Ethel Seaton showed that Marlowe too was not simply blundering when he placed Zanzibar on the west coast of Africa.)
As C. P. Brand remarks, 'The wanderings of these medieval knights and their enchanted beasts are charted with a precision not found in any of Ariosto's predecessors', (9) for Ariosto is pre-eminently the poet of geographically grounded romance; maps fuelled his inspiration, so that at many points of the poem the reader is granted a sense not only of the location of specific named places in relation to each other, but also a larger feeling for the actual vastness of the world. One of Ariosto's modern admirers, Jorge Luis Borges, includes a short piece in Labyrinths called 'Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote'. It opens with the words: 'Tired of his Spanish land, an old soldier of the king sought solace in the vast geographies of Ariosto.'10We may note that Borges does not say 'the vast spaces of Ariosto' but 'the vast geographies of Ariosto'; the vast spaces are viewed, or glimpsed, through the spectacles of geography and specifically of cartography. Maps or charts, some of which had been used by the fifteenth-century voyagers who sailed the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, were crucial in helping to awaken this new feeling of distance.
Vastness is a quality that enters the European imagination in the sixteenth century, finding expression for the first time not only in literary form but in painting. The sense of gazing through immense distances begins to excite and thrill major artists. I will touch briefly on the subject of painting later, but at this point I must return to the two Parts of Tamburlaine. Marlowe's treatment of space is different in each Part, although, of course, there are strong elements of continuity and consistency. Part Two is much closer to Ariosto. There is nothing in Part One that corresponds to the map-based accounts of journeys in Part Two: these conclude the reports given by Usumcasane, Techelles, and Theridamas (2 Tamburlaine, i. 3), as well as, shortly before his death, Tamburlaine's own recapitulation of his entire career (v. 3). In all these speeches we have a map-based depiction of movements across the earth's surface that recalls the minutely plotted journeys of Orlando furioso. Admittedly, these speeches do not occupy much of the action in Part Two. Indeed, one may conjecture that it was in a late stage of composition that Marlowe had the idea of incorporating something like Ariosto's journeys in his play. When Tamburlaine suddenly decides to ask his three subordinate chiefs to tell him about their campaigns, it sounds almost like an afterthought on Marlowe's part: 'But now, my friends, let me examine ye--| How have ye spent your absent time from me?' (2 Tamburlaine, i. 3. 172-73). And the accounts of the three journeys follow. The whole section seems like an insertion that, conceivably, was invented after Marlowe had written Tamburlaine's death scene, with its long map speech at its centre. But this is conjectural. What is more certain is Ariosto's priority as a poet of cartographic inspiration.
In one respect, however, Marlowe differentiates himself from Ariosto, and the difference points to the originality of his conception. Ariosto's travellers glide through space at their ease, often flying through the air: winged horses are the favourite means of locomotion. Marlowe's travellers, on the other hand, have nothing but their own bodies to propel them across such vast distances. They walk or, rather, 'march' everywhere. Marlowe uses this word 'march' over and over again; it becomes a stylism of the Tamburlaine plays, used in both Parts and always enforcing the recognition that journeys through space require exhausting physical effort.We are not in a magical romance world but the world of history, in which distances must be traversed step by step. So, in Part One, Tamburlaine addresses his three chief followers:
Kings of Argier, Moroccus, and of Fesse, You that have marched with happy Tamburlaine As far as from the frozen plage of heaven Unto the wat'ry morning's ruddy bower, And thence by land unto the torrid zone, Deserve these titles I endow you with, (1 Tamburlaine, iv. 4. 123-28)
In Part One some of these marching references receive relatively little stress: it is as if Marlowe only gradually realized the potency of the term, so that in Part
Two it is used with greater and perhaps darker force. Thus, after Zenocrate's death, Tamburlaine tells his sons how he will train them to become conquerors like himself:
I'll have you learn to sleep upon the ground, March in your armour thorough watery fens, [...] I'll teach you how to make the water mount, That you may dry-foot march through lakes and pools, [...] View me, thy father, that hath conquered kings And with his host marched round about the earth (2 Tamburlaine, iii. 2. 55-56, 85-86, 110-11)
And then, shortly before his death, when he has asked for a map to be brought to him, he once more recalls their marches from country to country:
Here I began to march towards Persia, Along Armenia and the Caspian Sea, (v. 3. 126-27)
Egypt, Arabia, and Zanzibar follow:
Then by the northern part of Africa I came at last to Graecia, and from thence To Asia, where I stay against my will Which is from Scythia, where I first began, Backward and forwards near five thousand leagues. (v. 3. 140-44)
He goes on, with a slight change of tone, to stress the extent of the world that is still unpossessed:
Look here, my boys, see what a world of ground Lies westward from the midst of Cancer's line Unto the rising of this earthly globe, (v. 3. 145-47)
The 'world of ground' is no airy dream but a solid earth-based project that acknowledges the effortful movements of Tamburlaine's armies, soldiers walking, marching on the ground. Marlowe must have decided to omit any reference to the historical Timur's well-attested lameness. His Tamburlaine is not lame but a man physically perfect and certainly well qualified to march 'round about the earth'. (11)
But there is one notable exception to Tamburlaine's marching rule. In Act ii of Part One, Cosroe has, with Tamburlaine's help, become king of Persia at the expense of his foolish brother Mycetes. Cosroe departs to 'ride in triumph through Persepolis' (ii. 5. 49). And Tamburlaine, struck by those words just spoken--'And ride in triumph through Persepolis!' (ii. 5. 50)--suddenly conceives his idea of taking the crown of Persia for himself. He sends Theridamas after Cosroe with 'a thousand horse' (ii. 5. 99). The ensuing battle comes and goes as an offstage abstraction, but the reference to (offstage) horses, as opposed to marching foot soldiers, suggests the lightning audacity of this vital moment in Tamburlaine's ascent to regal power. And shortly after it, with Cosroe dying at Tamburlaine's feet and his own coronation as king of Persia, comes the visionary moment of his hymn to kingship: 'The sweet fruition of an earthly crown' (ii. 7. 29). Accordingly, for once we do not 'march', we ride or glide or even, as Theridamas says, 'soar' upwards:
And that made me to join with Tamburlaine, For he is gross and like the massy earth That moves not upwards, nor by princely deeds Doth mean to soar above the highest sort. (ii. 7. 30-33)
Theridamas has caught the more than festive mood of Tamburlaine--the almost ecstatic lift of the spirit--created by the winning moment.
I now move to a difference aspect of Marlowe's treatment of space, and I shall focus mainly on Part One. But in order to explain Marlowe's procedure here, I need first to stress the importance of a structural feature that for the most part has been neglected if not altogether overlooked. Both the Tamburlaine plays fall into two phases, the division between them occurring between Acts ii and iii. This division should be made clear to all readers and playgoers. If it is not made clear, the tendency is to collapse each play into indigestible five-act sequences or, worse still, to merge both plays into what the literary historian J. J. Jusserand called 'a huge drama in two parts and ten acts'. (12) (Critics still commonly refer to Tamburlaine as if it were a single play.) But Marlowe articulates his plays in shorter, more easily assimilable segments and sets these segments against each other in a meaningful pattern.
The two phases of Part One might be called 'Cosroe' and 'Bajazeth', since these are Tamburlaine's principal antagonists; but I shall argue later that this is not the best way to approach the play. The first phase (Acts i and ii) disposes of Mycetes and his brother Cosroe and leaves Tamburlaine crowning himself king of Persia. The second phase (Acts iii-v) introduces a largely new set of characters, led by Bajazeth the Turkish emperor. He is quickly taken prisoner and caged, while Tamburlaine then has to face Zenocrate's defenders--her father the Soldan of Egypt and her betrothed the king of Arabia. The play ends with Tamburlaine's victory and his coronation of Zenocrate. Marlowe is careful to end each of his two phases with a similar event or double-event--victory followed by a coronation--which gives the whole play an effect of structural rhyming. The second part of Tamburlaine does something very similar. The first phase, at the end of Act II, brings the death of Zenocrate, while the second phase brings Tamburlaine's own death. (In Part One, the man's coronation is taken first, the woman's second; in Part Two, the woman's death is taken first, the man's second--a characteristic Elizabethan contrivance of structural chiasmus.) In each case, the central event (victory and coronation; death) is embedded in matching circumstances: in Part One, Tamburlaine's triumph confronts the abject death of Cosroe, just as in the final moments of the play the conqueror Tamburlaine accepts as his due the sight of his dead enemies ('And such are objects fit for Tamburlaine', 1 Tamburlaine, v. 1. 476) without prevarication and with no sense of regret. In Part Two, in both death scenes Tamburlaine is surrounded and supported by his sons and followers but is at the same time compelled to acknowledge necessity: 'And all this raging cannot make her live' (2 Tamburlaine, II. 4. 120); 'For Tamburlaine, the scourge of God, must die' (v. 3. 248). Viewed in this way, each play has something of the firm clarity of form of a Petrarchan sonnet, with its octave followed by its sestet. Here, in Marlowe's resourcefully arranged dramatic sequences, the first phase (two acts) is followed by a larger, culminating second phase (three acts).
In this second phase of Part One, the dramatic contrasts and conflicts become more testingly complex: Tamburlaine's steady and imperturbable progress towards the final stasis (reconciliation with the Soldan, marriage to Zenocrate, temporary peace) is given definition by being set against the misery and final despair of Bajazeth and Zabina and the elimination of Arabia. The scenes unfold with clarity and orderliness, sometimes with a suggestion of ceremony and ritual (as with the three colour schemes in white, red, and black) and with an abundance of action and event (as with the banquet of crowns or the appeal for mercy by the virgins of Damascus). Yet, as well as forwarding his lucidly complex main action, Marlowe manages to leave us at the end of Part One with the powerful sense that we have been on a journey with an exceptional individual, a military genius, someone comparable to Alexander the Great--hence Marlowe's title for him, 'Tamburlaine the Great'. This feeling that we have been on a journey through several countries, a tract of unspecified extent, is conveyed entirely obliquely, and it constitutes one of the imaginative achievements of the play. No earlier play in English does anything like it. We can be sure that Shakespeare took full note of it, since his Henry V copies, or adapts, Marlowe's play for its own purposes. It too takes its audience on a journey involving military engagements and concluding in a mood of festive triumph. (There is even what seems a reminiscence of Marlowe's marching theme in Henry's words to Mountjoy just before the battle: 'Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched | With rainy marching in the painful field', iv. 4. 110-12.) By fashioning his play in the form of a military expedition led by a heroic military genius, Shakespeare is following the template of Part One of Tamburlaine.
Marlowe's division of the play into two phases has a direct bearing on its geographical and spatial concerns. In Acts I and II, the first phase, we are somewhere in Persia, and it ends with Tamburlaine putting the Persian crown on his own head. Act III, which opens the second phase, forms a compact unit: it shows Tamburlaine's army clashing with Bajazeth's at what was historically the battle of Ankara (or Angora) in Bithynia (modern Turkey). In Acts iv and v, the action is more difficult to locate: we alternate between Tamburlaine, who seems to be in transit south of Asia Minor (or Turkey), and his adversaries the Soldan of Egypt and the king of Arabia, who are joining forces to confront Tamburlaine at Damascus. Everything converges at Damascus: the city is besieged and falls, the citizens are massacred, and Egypt and Arabia are defeated in battle. In the final moments of the play, however, Tamburlaine seems to locate the action with unusual precision when he says: 'here in Afric where it seldom rains' (1 Tamburlaine, v. 1. 458). Damascus, however, is not in Africa but in Asia. Certainly, in Ortelius's map of Asia, 'Damasco' is where we should expect it to be--in 'Soria' (modern Syria); in Ortelins's map of Africa, 'Damasco' is even more clearly in Soria, which is 'Asiae Pars' (part of Asia). (Both maps are conveniently reproduced in the 1998 edition of Tamburlaine by David Fuller; (13) but otherwise Marlowe's editors could do more to help readers over these geographical references.) Marlowe's 'African' Damascus needs to be explained.
We can safely say that most of the action of the first Part of Tamburlaine takes place in Persia, Turkey, and at or near Damascus. The Soldan's first scene (iv. 1) is clearly placed in Egypt ('Awake, ye men of Memphis', l. 1), but otherwise he too joins the others at Damascus. Geographically, it all makes perfectly good sense: we can imagine Tamburlaine's army marching from Persia west to Turkey and then south to Syria, where the play concludes. What remains puzzling is locating Damascus in Africa. Africa is mentioned a number of times in Part One, and for modern readers it always causes confusion. When Tamburlaine first appears, for instance (i. 2), he has captured Zenocrate, but she claims that she has been travelling under the protection of 'the mighty Turk'--'To safe conduct us thorough Africa' (i. 2. 14, 16). However, she is not travelling in Africa but in a region that seems to be close to Persia. Marlowe's most recent editors (Cunningham and Fuller) quote the earlier edition of Marlowe by E. D. Pendry and J. C. Maxwell (1976), which offers a conjectural explanation for 'Africa': '?i.e. (full extent of) Turkish empire'. (14) This tentative suggestion appears to fit all Marlowe's references, but there seems to be no further information as to why he used the term in this unexpected way. Marlowe's 'Africa' means all the territories governed by Bajazeth the Turkish emperor. This includes Turkey and the countries south of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean (all of which would seem to be in Asia), as well as those along the north African coast from Egypt to Morocco and which are obviously African. The question remains as to what Marlowe thought he was doing with these geographical references in a play that is conspicuously well shaped and designed.
We need to look again at the division of the play into two phases. In the first phase we observe Tamburlaine's ascent from obscure brigand to king of Persia. Critics usually focus on the persons involved (Mycetes, Cosroe, Theridamas, etc.), but for the present purpose it is preferable to look at the place names. The opening scene gives us our guidelines. Persia is at the centre of an extensive empire that is often called 'Asia'. This empire is also sometimes referred to as 'the East'. So Cosroe first discloses that there is a plot afoot 'To crown me emperor of Asia', and he is then duly crowned in terms that specify the extent and limits of his great domain:
We here do crown thee monarch of the East, Emperor of Asia and of Persia, Great lord of Media and Armenia, Duke of Assyria and Albania, Mesopotamia and of Parthia, East India and the late-discovered isles, Chief lord of all the wide vast Euxine Sea And of the ever-raging Caspian Lake. Long live Cosroe, mighty emperor! (1 Tamburlaine, i. 1. 161-69)
This list of states and places serves to give substance to Tamburlaine's achievement by the end of Act II, when he takes possession of Cosroe's crown and puts it on his head. Tamburlaine, not Cosroe, is now emperor of the East, as his followers shout: 'Long live Tamburlaine, and reign in Asia!' (II. 7. 64).
If the first phase of the play shows Tamburlaine becoming emperor of Asia, the second will show him becoming emperor of Africa and monarch of the West, for this symmetry of empire of the East and empire of the West is one that Tamburlaine insists on repeatedly. So, after he has defeated and captured Bajazeth in battle, Tamburlaine urges Zenocrate to take the Turkish 'imperial crown' (III. 3. 113), which Bajazeth has left in the keeping of his wife, and bring it to him:
Nay, take the Turkish crown from her, Zenocrate, And crown me emperor of Africa. (III. 3. 220-21)
And he goes on to state his double emperorship--a claim he reiterates later:
Those walled garrisons will I subdue, And write myself great lord of Africa: So from the east unto the furthest west Shall Tamburlaine extend his puissant arm. (III. 3. 244-47)
In the final speech of the play he sums up yet again how he sees his achievement--the subjugation of both Eastern and Western empires, Asia and Africa:
To gratify thee, sweet Zenocrate, Egyptians, Moors, and men of Asia, From Barbary unto the Western Indie, Shall pay a yearly tribute to thy sire; And from the bounds of Afric to the banks Of Ganges shall his mighty arm extend. (v. 1. 517-22)
His stress on the enormous extent of his double-empire--from Morocco in the African west to the Ganges in the Asian east--reminds us that we should not think too much in terms of his defeat of individuals, despite his prolonged tormenting of Bajazeth: what he finally exults over is the territorial vastness of his rule. This is what constitutes for him the achievement of Tamburlaine the Great.
As for the pairing of Asia and Africa, we may ask what might have prompted Marlowe to arrange his two-phase play in this way for an English--that is, European--audience. John Gillies has drawn attention to the frontispiece of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum. It shows 'Europe enthroned upon an upper stage forming a canopy beneath which Asia and Africa stand on railings flanking the main stage'. And he refers to 'the classical sisterhood of "Europe", "Asia", and "Africa"'. (15) The grouping of Europe, Asia, and Africa was a traditional way of describing the known world. But Marlowe did not find in the sources for his play references to Tamburlaine's Asian and African empires; these are Marlowe's own contribution. One of his main sources, for example, Whetstone's The English Myrror, has the following:
Tamberlaine thus possessed of Asia minor, which was before in the possession of the Turke, he speeded unto Aegypt, and by the way raised all Siria, Phenice, and the Palestine, he took manye famous Cities and among others Smirna, Antioch, Tripoli, Sebastian and Damas; in Aegypt he encountered with the Souldan, and the king of Arabia, and overthrew them. (16) Marlowe seems to have decided to call the Turkish dominions 'Africa' so as to set up his symmetrical Asia-Africa scheme. He was using his licence as a poet to adapt or adjust the facts of geography and history. His Tamburlaine plays are certainly history plays up to a point; but they also incorporate a good deal of fiction--invented incident and unhistorical persons. Zenocrate, for example, is wholly invented, although Marlowe deftly makes her the daughter to the 'Souldan' of Egypt, mentioned by Whetstone, and the betrothed of 'the king of Arabia', also mentioned by Whetstone.
There is one further way in which ideas of space can be introduced into dramatizations of Tamburlaine's military career. Marlowe is always making an effort to encompass immensity, compelling us to imagine--to see--huge armies confronting each other on spacious terrains. To this end his use of numbers, or numbers rhetoric, is essential, and is highly characteristic of one side of sixteenth-century sensibility. The following words of Usumcasane are a brief instance:
Let him bring millions infinite of men, Unpeopling Western Africa and Greece, (1 Tamburlaine, III. 3. 33-34)
The numbers are colossal, the hyperbole unflinching. Elsewhere, the huge numbers manning the opposing armies are themselves used to evoke the physical spaces they traverse and occupy. In Part Two especially, the numbers of people in movement and the size of armies on the march enforce over and over again the gigantesque nature of these supranational confrontations:
He brings a world of people to the field. From Scythia to the oriental plage Of India, where raging Lantchidol Beats on the regions with his boisterous blows, That never seaman yet discovered: All Asia is in arms with Tamburlaine. Even from the midst of fiery Cancer's tropic To Amazonia under Capricorn, And thence as far as Archipelago: All Afric is in arms with Tamburlaine. (2 Tamburlaine, i. 1. 67-76)
And later, when Callapine, son of Bajazeth, assembles his army, he is empowered by hearing specified from his generals the sheer numbers they bring in his support: one brings 'three score thousand fighting men', another 'full fifty thousand more', yet another 'Ten thousand horse and thirty thousand foot', swelling 'the army royal' to 'Six hundred thousand valiant fighting men' (III. 5. 33, 42, 48, 50, 51). Callapine replies:
Then welcome, Tamburlaine, unto thy death. Come, puissant viceroys, let us to the field The Persians' sepulcher--and sacrifice Mountains of breathless men to Mahomet, (III. 5. 52-55)
Of course, even this huge host is not enough to bury Tamburlaine: what it does instead is to enhance our sense of his even greater stature.
I remarked earlier that vastness is a quality that enters the European imagination in the sixteenth century. It is, I think, important to recognize that Marlowe shares this European sensibility, with its peculiar appetite for huge numbers and immense vistas. Early in the sixteenth century a new kind of landscape painting emerges in the German states and in the Netherlands. A high viewpoint is often adopted, which allows the artist to take in the most distant features of the landscape, where chains of ice-capped mountains merge indistinctly with the snowy clouds of the heavens. In the foreground may stretch an immense plain, which the artist may cover with thousands of fighting soldiers. The greatest painter of the Danube School was Albrecht Altdorfer (c. 1480-1538). In his book The Art of the Renaissance in Northern Europe, Otto Benesch sets Altdorfer in his historical context and relates his landscapes to the theories of his contemporary Paracelsus: 'Paracelsus called the art of interpretation of nature "chiromancy"' (that is, palmistry: the art of reading a person's character from the markings on his or her palms). Benesch goes on: He applied it not only to the hands of men but also to plants, trees, woods, and finally even to scenery, through the means of mountains, roads, and rivers. The grandest chiromancy of scenery ever achieved by an artist is Albrecht Altdorfer's Battle of Alexander the Great against the Persian King Darius at Issus (Munich, Alte Pinakothek) which he painted in 1529 for Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. It unfolds a cosmic world panorama like the maps of the new cosmography. (17)
This extraordinary picture presents us with an aerial view of a battle involving tens of thousands of soldiers in a vast plain beneath a turbulent sky in one corner of which a blood-red sun is setting. The spatial extent is astonishing, but also astonishing is the depiction of so many minute human forms meticulously rendered. A more recent art historian, James Snyder, adds his own reading of the scene: 'we have here a mind-boggling expansion of the Danube landscapes' of Aldtdorfer's earlier works:
Everything is here: the foot soldiers, the cavalry, the bannerets, the dead, the debris, as well as the encampments and the preparations. But this staffage is only the beginning of Altdorfer's sublime war games. The setting is truly cosmic, a vast panorama in roiling flux wherein the details are lost and mean little. It is the flowing cosmos at war in which man (those engaged in the chaotic battle on the plain of the Illus), nature (the sprawling mountains, valleys, and waters that overwhelm the closer plateau stage for the countless tiny figures), and God (the fundamental elements in the deep, nearly infinite universe with its spiraling sun and swift rotation of dark blue clouds) provoke an awesome response that we cannot quite articulate. (18)
Altdorfer is only one, though one of the greatest, of the northern European painters who gave overwhelming expression to their sense of what Benesch calls the 'vast panorama of the globe'. (19) Others would include Joachim Patinir and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. By referring to their great achievements in painting, I am not suggesting that Marlowe actually saw any of Altdorfer's (or Patinir's or Bruegel's) work, although the subject of Altdorfer's astounding picture cannot but strike anyone with an interest in Marlowe. We know nothing of what Marlowe might have seen of contemporary European art. And we know very little about the circulation of prints and engravings in Marlowe's England. But we should not assume, I think, that his interest in gigantic battle scenes can be explained simply with reference to classical literary sources such as Lucan's Pharsalia. He could in any case have seen the illustrations included in editions of Ariosto, with their very suggestive scenes of battle merging into distant land formations, including recognizable map outlines of parts of Europe. This is the period in which were produced what art historians call 'Weltbilder' (worldpictures), works that occupy an intermediate place between paintings and maps. (A set of Ariosto illustrations can be seen in McNulty's edition of Harington's translation.)
Further research in this direction might be rewarding. In two later plays, The Jew of Malta and Doctor Faustus, Barabas's Malta ('our Mediterranean sea', as he says) and Faustus's Germany ('our land', in his words) are distinctively Marlovian. Marlowe's cosmographical interests are producing new dramatic forms and characters, but are still essential to him. Barabas and Faustus are both map readers--Faustus is even said at one point to have 'gone to prove cosmography'. But Tamburlaine had been there before them, imagining and coveting for his own rule 'a world of ground' by scrutinizing a map.
(1) Ethel Seaton, 'Marlowe's Map', Essays and Studies, 10 (1924), pp. 13-35.
(2) All quotations from the Tamburlaine plays are from Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, ed. by J. S. Cunningham (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981).
(3) Daniel Javitch, Proclaiming a Classic: The Canonization of 'Orlando Furioso' (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).
(4) Javitch, Proclaiming a Classic, p. 10.
(5) C. P. Brand, Ludovico Ariosto (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1974).
(6) Brand, Ariosto, p. 115.
(7) Ludovico Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso' Translated into English Heroical Verse by Sir John Harington, ed. by Robert McNulty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), canto xxxiii, stanzas 87-92.
(8) Alexandre Doroszlac, 'Les Sources cartographiques et le Roland Furieux: Quelques hypothEses autour 1'"espace reel" chez l'Arioste', in Espaces reels et espaces imaginaires dans le 'Roland Furieux', ed. by Doroszlac and others (Paris: Universite de la Sorbonne nouvelle, 1991), pp. 11-46.
(9) Brand, Ariosto, p. 115.
(10) Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, ed. by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (New York: New Directions, 1964), p. 242.
(11) Marlowe's marching stress was perhaps reflected in Edward Alleyn's performance as Tamburlaine. Alleyn seems to have adopted a memorably emphatic gait. In his 1598 satire on theatre audiences (Virgidemiarum I.iii), Joseph Hall does not name Alleyn, but he refers to 'Turksih Tamberlain' and describes an actor performing 'With high-set steps, and princely carriage', while a poor and ignorant groundling gazes up at'The stalking steps og his great personage/Graced with hof-cap termes and thundring threats' (The Collected Poemsof Joseph Hall, ed. by A. Davenport, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1949).
(12) J. J. Jusserand, A Literary History of the English People (1909), Vol. 3, p. 135.
(13) Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, Parts 1 and 2, in The Complete Works, vol. 5, ed. by David Fuller and Edward J. Esche (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
(14) Christopher Marlowe, Complete Plays and Poems, ed. by E. D. Pendry, rev. Everyman edn (London: Dent, 1976), p. 516 (Glossary).
(15) John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 74.
(16) George Whetstone, The English Myrror (1586), i, ch. 12; extract quoted from Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, ed. by Cunningham, pp. 322-23.
(17) Otto Benesch, The Art of the Renaissance in Northern Europe, rev. edn (London: Phaidon, 1965), p. 58.
(18) James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575 (New York: Abrams, 1985), p. 363. See also Christopher S. Wood, Albrecht Altdorfer and the Origins of Landscape (London: Reaktion Books, 1993).
(19) Benesch, Art of the Renaissance, p. 59.
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|Publication:||Yearbook of English Studies|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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