Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Marlowe's Influence and "The True History of George Scanderbeg"

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Marlowe's Influence and "The True History of George Scanderbeg"

Article excerpt

Christopher Marlowe's influence on the spate of conqueror plays of the 1590s that mimicked the language, sense of spectacle, or antihero of Tamburlaine the Great has been well documented.1 Strangely, the story of Scanderbeg, the man whose name is most often evoked by early modern commentators in the context of Tamburlaine, was apparently not dramatized until the early seventeenth century, despite its suitability for expanding a repertory. The "True History of George Scanderbeg" occupies a unique position in this series of conqueror plays in that it has been misguidedly attributed to Marlowe himself and its medieval Albanian protagonist has strong affinities with the historical Tamburlaine. For reasons such as these, it is important to address the implications of this lost play having been staged in the répertoriai context of 1600-1601 and to assess Marlowe's continuing influence into the seventeenth century across company lines.

The historical Scanderbeg was born Giorgio Castriota in 1403, the year after the historical Tamburlaine defeated Bajazeth I. In The Crescent and the Rose (1937), a seminal study of the East and Islam during the English Renaissance, Samuel C. Chew relates that when the Turks invaded Scanderbeg's homeland of Epirus in 1423, Scanderbeg was taken hostage by Murad II and served in the Ottoman military for twenty years despite resenting the Turks' treatment of their subjects. In recognition of his competence in battle, they dubbed him "Iskander-Bey," or Lord Alexander (a reference to Alexander the Great), by which name, in the corrupted form "Scanderbeg," he was known throughout Europe. In 1443, after two decades of fighting for the Turks, Scanderbeg escaped his masters, proclaimed himself Christian, raised an Albanian resistance force, and deployed guerrilla warfare techniques to frustrate his captors for the following twenty-four years. Eventually, Sultan Mahomet I, conqueror of Constantinople, recognized him as Lord of Albania and Epirus in 1461. After Scanderbeg's death in 1467, his son sold Albania to Venice, who in turn returned it to the Ottomans. Although the Turks despised Scanderbeg in life, they cherished his physical remains (buried at Alessio) like saints' relics, the Janissaries seeking to "procure pieces of his bones to wear as amulets so as to get for themselves something of his resourcefulness and valour in battle."2

The historical evidence pertaining to the lost "Scanderbeg" play is the July 1601 entry in the Stationers' Register:3

iii° Julij

Edward Alde[e]

Entred for his Copye vnder the hand of master whyte warden 'the true histoye of GEORGE SCANDERBARGE ' asyt ivas lately playd by the right honorable the Earle of OXENFORD his servantes.


The record clearly shows that on July 3,1601, "Scanderbeg" was registered at Stationers' Hall for the usual sixpence fee and identifies the Earl of Oxford's players as the owners and performers of the text. The wording of the entry, describing the drama as having been "latelyplaydf supports the theory that the performances were indeed recent. Oxford's Men were certainly active in 1600, when The Weakest Goeth to the Wall was entered in the Stationers' Register on October 23, hence there is no compelling reason to doubt the company attribution.4

Establishing the probable venue is problematic. Although records of some thirty-six regional performance payments to Oxford's players are known from the period of 1580 to 1595, the quarto of Weakest and the Stationers' Register entries for this and the "Scanderbeg" play are the only evidence of the company's activity at the turn of the century, and neither offers any information about venues.5 Herbert Berry records that by the summer or early autumn of 1601, Oxford's Men had amalgamated with Worcester's and were probably playing works by Thomas Heywood and others at the Boar's Head Theater in Whitechapel. Although it may have been written with another playhouse in mind, as was probably the case with Weakest, performances would therefore probably have occurred at the Boar's Head if "Scanderbeg" was continued into the 1601 season. …

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