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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 Nashe, i. xx.) This passage was surely intended as a counterblast to the Prologue of Tamburlaine. 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
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 Tamburlaine. 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 Tamburlan, 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 1 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 Gorboduc, The Misfortunes 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
i 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.)
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 :
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 (i Tamburlaine, v. 2) is injured considerably 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 Tamburlaine 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 Albyn.
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.
One delightfully ludicrous line in his address to the captives :
“Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia !” was constantly parodied for the next half century. Greene, as we have seen, infuriated at the success of the piece, railed against the “atheist Tamburlaine.” The satirist Hall, in a passage quoted by Dyce, is equally severe :
“One higher pitch'd doth set his soaring thought
Then he proceeds to ridicule the comic business introduced by the players :
“Now least such frightful showes of Fortune's fall
These lines were written in 1597. Ben Jonson in his