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Date. The two parts of Tamburlaine are commonly ascribed to the years 1587 and 1588 respectively, and these dates are almost certainly correct, at least as regards theatrical presentation. It is possible that some portion of the first part may have been written during Marlowe's residence at Cambridge, but it can hardly have been acted on any stage before the poet came to London in 1586. The downward limit is fixed by a sneer of Robert Greene in the epistle 'to the gentlemen readers' of Perimedes the Blacke-Smith, where he ridicules the popular tragedy of the time, daring God out of heauen with that Atheist Tamburlan,' and goes on to speak of the mad and scoffing poets, that haue propheticall spirits, as bred of Merlin's race, if there be anye in England that set the end of schollarisme in an English blanck verse. . . .' The first allusion is pretty clearly to Tamburlaine's speech in Act v of the second part (11. 4290-4313), while the words 'Merlin's race' are a punning reference to Marlin', the common Elizabethan variant of Marlowe's name.
Early editions and stage history. Tamburlaine was entered at Stationers' Hall in 1590. The entry reads as follows: 'xiiijto die Augusti (1590) Richard Jones. Entred vnto him for his Copye The twooe commicall discourses of TOMBERLEIN the Cithian shepparde vnder the handes of Master Abraham Hartewell, and the Wardens. vjd.' The two parts were issued together in octavo form in 1590, and again in 1592, the publisher in both cases being Jones, who takes occasion to announce in his epistle to the readers (cf. p. 7) that he has omitted 'some fond and friuolous Ìestures'. How great these omissions were there is no likelihood of our learning. Certainly in their present form the two plays have little claim to the title of 'commicall discourses', even when we allow for Elizabethan roughness of definition.
Henslowe's diary records fifteen performances of Part I and seven performances of Part II between August 28,
1594, and November 13, 1595; the profits are in nearly every case large. From this and from the letter 'j' affixec to the notice of the first performance,1 it may be assumed that Tamburlaine had been to some extent re-written for revival in 1594-5 by the same company which had originally produced it-the Lord Admiral's or Henslowe's. The revised text seems never to have been printed. In 1605-6 Edward White printed a third edition, based on that of 1590; the two parts are here for the first time given separate title pages, and they were published in successive years. There is no reason to believe that any other text of Tamburlaine existed until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Bibliographers' allusions to a quarto of 1590, and to editions of 1593, 1597, and 1600 respectively, are not supported by any discoverable evidence, and the statements of all modern editors previous to A. Wagner (1885) contain inaccuracies.
Authorship. The two parts of Tamburlaine differ from all the other works of Marlowe here printed, in that there is no documentary evidence to establish their authenticity. The title pages of the three early editions bear no author's name, and it so happens that among the myriad allusions to these plays prior to the Restoration we find no pronouncement on the subject of their origin. A reference in Henslowe's Diary 2 to Marloes tambelan' turns out to be a flat forgery, another mention in the Gorgon' poems suffixed to Gabriel Harvey's New Letter of Notable Contents (1593) is much too obscure to prove anything, and the lines in Heywood's second Prologue to the Jew of Malta,3 once taken as a statement of Marlowe's authorship of Tamburlaine, make in fact no such assertion.
That a young poet's first experiment in a not very aristocratic species of literature should go publicly unclaimed and unheralded, even after it had achieved success, is, of course, in the Elizabethan age the reverse of surprising. The fact has for us no earthly significance except that it explains what would otherwise be almost inexplicable, namely, the way in which Milton's blundering nephew, Edward Phillips, came to ascribe the plays to Thomas Newton, author of a prose history touching the same events; and the repudiation of Marlowe's authorship in
1 Cf. Henslowe's Diary, ed. W. W. Greg, Pt. II, pp. 167, 168.
later years by Malone, Broughton, and the compiler of the first collected edition of the poet's works. The question has now settled itself beyond the imaginable possibility of change, and the two parts of Tamburlaine will continue to head the list of Marlowe's writings, until we are able to establish the chronological priority of some other work of the same poet-Dido, for instance, or the Ovid translations. For the Marlovian authorship of Tamburlaine an almost overwhelming case could be made out, if need were, from circumstantial evidence alone, but there is no reason for resorting to such proof. The personality of the writer is everywhere apparent in these plays. We are not merely assured that no poet except Marlowe was desirous or capable, about 1587, of starting the dramatic and stylistic revolution which Tamburlaine inaugurated. We perceive also that the individual artistic development which we can trace backwards from Edward II to Dr. Faustus must inevitably have had its rise in Tamburlaine.
The dominant trait of Marlowe's genius is its youthfulness; and we approach nowhere else so near to the essential character of the poet as in these two early plays, which, if they did not actually begin his career of authorship, certainly introduced him first to public notice. To a higher degree perhaps than is usually apprehended our conception of Marlowe as a personal influence in poetry is derived from the enthusiastic lyrism of Tamburlaine, and it remains a very open question whether the gain in form and objectivity in the later dramas brings with it an altogether sufficient compensation for the decrease in boyish ideality.
Source. The question of the sources whence Marlowe derived his material for Tamburlaine has been much discussed, and is still not entirely solved. For the first part it seems clear that the poet was indebted primarily to the fourteenth chapter of the second part of Fortescue's Foreste, published in 1571, and again in 1576. Fortescue's book is a translation of Pedro Mexia's Silva de varia lecion (1543), which in its turn is based largely, as regards the chapter in question, but by no means entirely, on the chronicle of Andreas Cambinus. A direct translation from the Italian of Cambinus by John Shute 2 appears to have been entirely ignored by Marlowe, and there is no reason for
Two very notable Commentaries the one of the Originall of the Turcks and Empire of the house of Ottomanno 1562.
assuming the poet's acquaintance with George Whetstone's condensed version of Fortescue in The English Myrror, 1586 (pp. 78-83). It would seem probable, however, that Thomas Newton's Notable History of the Saracens, 1575, furnished Marlowe with a number of proper names and suggested the story of Sigismund in Part II, while Messrs. Herford and Wagner have shown that individual passages of Part I are taken in all probability from the Latin of Petrus Perondinus (1553).
The second part of Tamburlaine is confessedly an afterthought, not contemplated when the first part was written. It is mostly Marlowe's invention. The story of Olympia, however, was taken, as Collier first pointed out, from Ariosto (Orlando Furioso, Bk. XXIX). It would be of interest to determine the precise channel through which this tale reached the dramatist; he may, of course, have known it in the Italian, but it is more likely that he read it in MS. in Sir John Harington's translation, which after years of preparation was published in 1591. A similar instance of borrowing from a MS. source occurs at the end of the fourth act of Part II (11. 4098-4103), where six lines are copied from the as yet unpublished Fairy Queen, and copied so carelessly as to leave a tell-tale Alexandrine in the midst of the usual pentameters of dramatic verse,
Who, from a Scythian Shepbearde,
by his rare and woonderfull Conquests,
And (for his tyranny, and terrour in
The Scourge of God.
Deuided into two Tragicall Dif
courses, as they were fundrie times
By the right honorable the Lozd
Now firft, and newlie published.
unted by Richard I hones: at the figne