So, Tamburlaine the Great, part II. Part I had been such a smashing success, and suddenly conquerors were all the rage in London playhouses, and one can easily imagine the Admiral’s Men pestering Kit Marlowe about a sequel…
“But… What about? I’ve used up all there was to say about Tamburlaine…”
“So make it up! Who’ll notice?”
“But I don’t know that I want another Tamburlaine…”
“Well, the groundlings want nothing else. Think of the bills: Edward Alleyn is Tamburlaine again!” It even rhymes.”
“But… Look, I have this new idea: Hannibal at the Trasimene…”
“Tillyvally! Kit, lad, you don’t understand crowds: they want more Tamburlaine? We give them more Tamburlaine.”
Which makes me wonder: did Tamburlaine die this time because tyrants had to, and it smoothed things with the Revels Office, or because Marlowe wanted to make sure no one would even dream of a Part III? Because one think is certain: Part II is not like Part I. Gone is the breathless fieriness, gone are the sweeping feel, the relentless climb, the oneness of purpose – even the daring colour-scheme. I can’t help thinking that Part II is more episodic, more repetitive. Perhaps it was inevitable that the tight, urgent quality of Part I should dwindle down… After all, it is in the very nature of trailblazing that you can blaze a particular trail just once.
Which isn’t to say Part II is drivel – far from it. It has beautiful things, and stirring things, and things that greatly pleased the crowds…
I have a particular liking for Orcanes, the King of Natolia, discussing the odds of forging new alliances to fight Tamburlaine, in Act 1, Scene I. It is worth noting that Part II begins much like Part I – enemies discussing the yet unseen Tamburlaine. Only, by now, the enemies know better than to make light of him. Says Orcanes:
My realm, the centre of our empery,
Once lost, all Turkey would be overthrown;
And for that cause the Christians shall have peace.
Sclavonians, Almains, Rutters, Muffs, and Danes,
Fear not Orcanes, but great Tamburlaine;
Nor he, but Fortune that hath made him great.
We have revolted Grecians, Albanese,
Sicilians, Jews, Arabians, Turks, and Moors,
Natolians, Sorians, black Egyptians,
Illyrians, Thracians, and Bithynians,
Enough to swallow forceless Sigismund,
Yet scarce enough t’ encounter Tamburlaine.
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:
Therefore, viceroy, the Christians must have peace.
All else apart, there is a taste for fine names in this, don’t you think? Beautiful, resounding names evoking vast, vast spaces in faraway lands. One can imagine a very young Kit Marlowe poring over some atlas in Parker’s Library at Corpus Christi, and whispering names under his breath, again and again for beauty’s sake… And years later, in London, when he has become a sensation playwright, taking the names again and spinning them into poetry – and maybe rushing to Paul’s to ask Ned Blount for a peak at the Mercator?
Oh, I love this thing of names… Maybe we’ll talk about names again, shall we?