Tamburlaine's Malady: And Other Essays on Astrology in Elizabethan Drama

By Johnstone Parr | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
TAMBURLAINE'S MALADY

THE CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT of commentary published on Marlowe's Tamburlaine in recent years makes highly significant the fact that Tamburlaine's catastrophe remains one of the unsatisfactorily explained enigmas of the play. The unwary reader doubtless assumes that at the end of Tamburlaine 11 the Scythian conqueror simply-- though somewhat vitriolically--dies, and that Marlowe should be called to account for marring his play with a badly-motivated catastrophe. The careful reader of Marlowe's text doubtless perceives (or at least suspects) that Tamburlaine's "distemper" at the end of the play is linked definitely with Renaissance medical, physiological, psychological, and astrological concepts. Yet no satisfactory analysis of how these concepts are involved in Tamburlaine's death has been made.1 Carroll Camden hazards the suggestion that Tamburlaine's death is immediately resultant upon his choleric humour.2 Miss Una Ellis- Fermor , the most recent editor of Tamburlaine, attempts to supply proper annotation regarding the physician's diagnosis of Tamburlaine's "distemper," but her footnotes are inadequate as well as inaccurate.3 Don Cameron Allen, believing that "Marlowe conceived of his hero as a typical representative of the fortunati"4 a Renaissance type of fortunate man upon whom Fortune never failed to smile, contends mistakenly that Tamburlaine comes to no catastrophe at all but tri-

____________________
1
Carroll Camden articles, "Marlowe and Elizabethan Psychology," PQ, VIII ( 1929), 69-78, and "Tamburlaine: The Choleric Man," MLN, XLIV: ( 1929), 430- 435, do not (I hope to show) satisfactorily explain Tamburlaine's malady.
2
PQ, p. 77.
3
Tamburlaine the Great ( Methuen & Co., London, 1930), pp. 273-274.
4
Renaissance Remedies for Fortune: Marlowe and the Fortunati, SP, XXXVIII ( 1941), 195.

-3-

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