Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

'And Thence as Far as Archipelago': Mapping Marlowe's 'British Shore'

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

'And Thence as Far as Archipelago': Mapping Marlowe's 'British Shore'

Article excerpt

The span of Christopher Marlowe's geographical locations underscores what Michael Neill has called 'the intoxicated exoticism of Marlovian cosmography'.1 According to Bill Sherman, 'Marlowe was the earliest English playwright to attempt a systematic exploration of the dramatic potential of travel'. Sherman notes the extent to which Marlowe's texts are tied to travel narratives and tales of empire:

The conquerors, magicians, and merchants in his plays enjoy almost unrestricted movement across the globe, and [...] offer[...] compelling fantasies to audiences whose own movement was extremely limited. They would also have served as a powerful vehicle for reflection on England's place in the wider world and, more generally, on the ethics of travel. The fates of Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas suggest that Marlowe's visits to foreign locations were motivated more by edification than escapism. [...] Marlowe's plays were also among the first to confront the dramaturgical challenges of presenting global movement in the small and fixed space of the stage, using choruses to take audiences through enormous geographical leaps, and peppering his plays with cartographic details (some designed to place his characters with remarkable specificity, and others to show them transcending geographical boundaries altogether).2

As such, Marlowe's promise to 'confute [...] blind geographers' is part of his tabula rasa approach to conquest:

I will confute those blind geographers

That make a triple region in the world,

Excluding regions which I mean to trace

And with this pen reduce them to a map,

Calling the provinces, cities, and towns

After my name and thine, Zenocrate.

Here at Damascus will I make the point

That shall begin the perpendicular. (4.4.73-80)3

Marjorie Garber's comment on this passage reminds us of the cartographic power behind Marlowe's rhetoric: 'Appropriately, the text that he writes and later unwrites is a map, the metonymic sign of the world he seeks to conquer, and, according to his own figure, his pen is the conquering sword [...] The 'map', present here only imaginatively, will become a visible stage property in his death scene at the end of Part 2, at a moment when, paradoxically, the unconquered territories are furthest from Tamburlaine's grasp'.4 Stephen Greenblatt sees Tamburlaine's efforts at confutation as vain: 'Tamburlaine's violence does not transform space from the abstract to the human, but rather further reduces the world to a map, the very emblem of abstraction [...] At Tamburlaine's death, the map still stretches out before him, and nothing bears his name save Marlowe's play'.5 This is not strictly true, since Tamburlaine's name appears in the title of several histories of the period, but the general point stands: mapping is an inexhaustible practice and complete cartographies are beyond mere mortals, even great ones.6 For Garrett Sullivan, 'Tamburlaine's assault on Damascus goes hand in hand with an act of measurement - his sword's tracing of a circuit of the city. While this is a metaphorical measuring, it gestures toward a literal act of surveying. In the early modern period surveying preceded and enabled a siege such as Tamburlaine's'.7

Sullivan views Tamburlaine as a play 'saturated with the language of measurement', a drama that 'repeatedly concerns itself with the traversing of geographical space, which is almost invariably associated with Tamburlaine's conquest of it'.8 For Tina Takapoui, Tamburlaine 'conceives of the world in terms of the confines of the visibility of the map'.9 Zenocrate 'functions as a haloed idol rather than a real entity, some dark space on Tamburlaine's map to conquer [...] a detached inaccessible piece of land, forever detached and intact, fetishized as a territory of an empire'.10

Alongside this recognition of Marlowe's mapping power play, scholars have been alert to the concatenation between religiosity and acts of world-describing in the playwright's works. …

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