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of the blot, and then started again from the upper edge
external evidence which appears to connect Marlowe with Tamburlaine is to be found in a sonnet” of Gabriel
Harvey's, printed at the end of his New Letter of Notable
Contents, 1593. From a passage in the Black Book, 1604 (a tract attributed on no sure ground to Thomas Middleton the dramatist), Malone inferred that Tamburlaine was written in whole or part by Nashe. The passage to which Malone referred occurs in the account of an imaginary visit paid to Nashe in his squalid garret. “The testern, or the shadow over the bed,” we are informed, “was made of four ells of cobwebs, and a number of small spinner's ropes hung down for curtains: the spindle-shank spiders, which show like great letchers with little legs, went stalking over his head as if they had been conning of Tamburlaine.” (Dyce's Middleton, v. 526.) It is difficult to see how any conclusion about the authorship of Zamburlaine can be drawn from this passage. The writer's meaning is that the spiders walked with the pompous gait of an actor rehearsing the part of Tamburlaine. But, putting aside the evidence (in itself conclusive) of style, there is an excellent reason for dismissing Nashe's claims. To Robert Greene's Menaphon, of which the first extant edition is dated 1589 (though some critics supposed that the book was originally published in 1587), Nashe con
* This sonnet, with the accompanying postscript and gloss, will be examined later in the introduction.
tributed an epistle “To the Gentlemen Students of Both Universities,” in which he holds up to ridicule the “idiote art-masters that intrude themselves to our eares : as the alcumists of eloquence ; who (mounted on the stage of arrogance) think to outbrave better pens with the swelling bumbast of a bragging blank verse. Indeed it may be the ingrafted overflow of some kilcow conceipt that overcloieth their imagination with a more than drunken resolution, beeing not extemporall in the invention of anie other meanes to vent their manhood, commits the digestion of their cholerick incumbrances to the spacious volubilitie of a drumming decasillabon.” (Grosart's Mashe, i. xx.) This passage was surely intended as a counterblast to the Prologue of Zamburlaine. The allusion to “idiote art-masters” points distinctly to Marlowe, who took his Master's degree in 1587; and it was Marlowe who had stamped “bragging blank verse” as his own. Afterwards Nashe was on friendly terms with Marlowe; but in 1589 (or 1587 ?) he was doing his best to aid Greene in discrediting the author of Zamburlaine. In an address “To the Gentlemen Readers,” prefixed to his Perimedes the Black Smith, 1588, Greene denounces the introduction of blank verse, which he compares to the “fa-burden of Bo-bell.” He speaks with scorn of those poets “who set the end of scollarisme in an English blank verse;” and expressly mentions Tamburlaine,—“daring God out of heaven with that atheist Zamburlan, or blaspheming with the mad preest of the sonne.” It is therefore plain that Tamburlaine, which was entered in the Stationers' books
on 14th August 1590, and published in the same year, had been presented on the stage in or before 1588 (probably in 1587); and it is equally plain that Nashe' had no share in the composition of a play which he so unsparingly ridiculed in the epistle prefixed to Menaphon. It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of Tamburlaine in the history of the English drama. To appreciate how immensely Marlowe outdistanced at one bound all his predecessors, the reader must summon courage to make himself acquainted with such productions as Gor. bodur, The Missortunes of Arthur, and Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes. He will then perceive how real is Marlowe's claim to be regarded as the father of the English drama. That the play is stuffed with bombast, that exaggeration is carried sometimes to the verge of burlesque, no sensible critic will venture to deny. But the characters, with all their stiffness, have life and movement. The Scythian conqueror, “threatening the world in high astounding terms,” is an impressive figure. There is nothing mean or trivial in the invention. The young poet threw into his work all the energy of his passionate nature. He did not pause to polish his lines, to correct and curtail; but was borne swiftly onward by the wings of his imagination. The absence of chastening restraint is felt throughout; and, indeed, the beauty of some of the most majestic passages is seriously marred by the introduction of a weak or ill-timed verse. Take the following passage from the First Part:— “Nature that framed us of four elements, Warring within our breasts 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, Wills 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.” (ii. 7.)
1 Several allusions to Tamburlaine might be culled from Nashe's works. The following curious passage is from Christ's Teares over Jerusalem, 1592:—"When neither the White-flag or the Red which Tamburlaine advaunced at the siedge of any Citty, would be accepted of, the Blacke-flag was sette up, which signified there was no mercy to be looked for; and that the miserie marching towardes them was so great, that their enemy himselfe (which was to execute it) mournd for it. Christ having offered the Jewes the White-flage of forgivenesse and remission, and the Red-flag of shedding his Blood for them, when these two might not take effect, nor work any yeelding remorse in them, the Black-flagge of confusion and desolation was to succeede for the obiect of their obduration." (Works, ed. Grosart, iv. 27.)
The ear exults in the sonorous march of the stately verse as each successive line paces more majestically than the preceding; but what cruel discomfiture awaits us at the end It seems almost inconceivable that the poet should have spoilt so magnificent a passage by the lame and impotent conclusion in the last line. For the moment we are half inclined to think that he is playing some trick upon us; that he has deliberately led up to an anti-climax in order to enjoy the malicious satisfaction of laughing at our irritation. The noble and oft-quoted
passage on Beauty (1 Tamburlaine, v. 1) is injured con- siderably by the diffuseness of the context. Marlowe seems to have blotted literally nothing in this earliest play. But that he was responsible for the vulgar touches of low comedy I am loth to allow. In the preface the publisher, Richard Jones, writes:—“I have purposely omitted and left out some fond and frivolous gestures, digressing, and, in my poor opinion, far unmeet for the matter, which I thought might seem more tedious unto the wise than any way else to be regarded, though haply they have been of some vain-conceited fondlings greatly gaped at, what time they were showed upon the stage in their graced deformities: nevertheless now to be mixed in print with such matter of worth, it would prove a great disgrace to so honourable and stately a history.” It would be well if he had used his pruning-knife with even greater severity and had left no trace of the excrescences of buffoonery. There can be no doubt that these “vain and frivolous gestures,” of which the publisher complains, were foisted in by the players. The popularity of Zamburlaine must have been extraordinary. A prologue by Heywood, written at the revival of the Jew of Malta in 1633, informs us that the part of Tamburlaine was originally taken by the famous actor Edward Alleyn. The hero's habiliments were of a most costly character. His breeches, as we learn from Henslowe's Diary, were of crimson velvet, and his coat was copper-laced. It is easy to conceive what roars of applause would be evoked by the entrance of Tamburlaine drawn in his chariot by the harnessed monarchs.