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

By Johnstone Parr | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
THE DUKE OF BYRON'S MALIGNANT NATIVITY

DOUBTLESS one of the most entertaining of Elizabethan plays on contemporary political events was George Chapman's presentation of the downfall of the famous Duke of Byron, the favorite of King Henry of Navarre whose behavior at last caused his sovereign to send him to the executioner's block. Professor Parrott sees Byron's over-weening pride, consummate ambition, and blind conceit of his own importance as the dominant causes of the Duke's tragic end.1 That Byron possessed these disaster-provoking qualities no one can deny. But I should like to emphasize a factor in the Duke's catastrophe which Professor Parrott has apparently ignored: namely, that to the Elizabethans the motivating force in Byron's tragedy lay in large measure in his stars.2 It is my purpose also to present an adequate explanation of the dreadful Caput Algol which the astrologer La Brosse finds in the Duke's natal horoscope.

Scholars of the Renaissance are now aware of the fact that even those Elizabethans who distrusted astrologers had faith to some extent in the power of the stars; that astral influence was intricately linked with the objective psychology which passed for sober science in that day; and that hundreds of testimonials in Elizabethan plays in favor of stellar influence far outnumber the few expressions berating astrology as sheer

____________________
1
The Plays and Poems of George Chapman, ed. Thomas Marc Parrott ( London and New York, 1910), I, 591-598 (esp. pp. 593, 597-598). Cf. also Hardin Craig , "Ethics in the Jacobean Drama: the Case of Chapman," in Essays in Dramatic Literature ( Princeton, 1935), pp. 25-46, who emphasizes the Elizabethan science and objective psychology in Chapman's plays but offers no specific reason for Byron's catastrophe.
2
For a similar treatment of the catastrophe in Marlowe Tamburlaine, see Chapter 1.

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