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Tamburlaine “as fierce Achilles was” John Cutts McAlindon’s very recent articlel on the use of classical mythology and Christian tradition in Faustus is certainly appropriate in demon­ strating very convincingly Marlowe’s “own fine ironic sense in the established ironies of Christian literature” in Faustus, but its statement that The use of classical mythology in Dr. Faustus, then, may be seen as distinct from that in Marlowe’s other plays. It does more than serve the neutral and typically Renaissance purpose of aesthetic intensification and metaphoric extension. It has a dramatic role, and with magic, acts as the “ heavenly” illusion which lures Faustus into Hell leaves much to be desired. I have already indicated how criticism of Dido Queen of Carthage must necessarily begin, as the play does, with consideration of the subtle dramatic role played by the Jove and Ganymede references.2 In Tamburlaine, too, classical mythology plays a dramatic role, but because critics have been enamored by the glory and the glitter of Tamburlaine, have been “ Won with [his] words, & conquered with [his] looks” (1, I.ii.423) 3 they have tended not to examine the man behind this glittering mask, and this has largely come about, I think, because they have overlooked the subtle dramatic use of mythology at a crucial point in the play. The well-known description of Tamburlaine begins with mention of his tall stature, his large limbs, strong joints and breadth of shoulders “as might mainely beare/Olde Atlas burthen” (1, II.i.464465 ), and so far there is nothing to disconcert Tamburlaine vs. Atlas comparisons. This part is immediately followed, however, by reference to his head as a pearl, which is curiously incongruous with the massive­ ness of the rest of the body but does not of itself jeopardize the Atlas comparison. It is when the description refers to Tamburlaine as being “ [p]ale of complexion” (1, I.i.473) that we feel the incongruity is perhaps intended. A Scythian shepherd with a pale complexion! But again we can make allowance by referring to descriptions of people from Scythia. By the time Marlowe introduces the second classical allusion, however, there can surely be no further misunder­ standing. Tamburlaine is described as having 105 a knot of Amber heire, Wrapped in curies, as fierce Achilles was, On which the breath of heauen delights to play, Making it daunce with wanton maiestie: (1, II.i.477-480) Even if the Achilles phrase were not there one would be tempted to think of the lines as more appropriately applicable to a woman than a man; the Achilles phrase clinches our suspicion. Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book X III, 200-205 refers to the incident in this way. Ulysses is speaking: The Lady Thetis hid Achilles in a maydes attyre. By which fyne slyght shee did All men deceyve, and Ajax too. This armour in a packe With other womens tryflyng toyes I caryed on my backe, A bayte too treyne a manly hart. Appareld like a mayd Achilles tooke the speare and sheeld in hand, and with them playd. Then sayd I: O thou Goddesse sonne, why shouldst thou bee afrayd Too raze great Troy, whoose overthrowe for thee is onely stayd? And laying hand uppon him I did send him (as you see) Too valeant dooings meete for such a valeant man as hee.4 Ulysses rescued Achilles from his “ maydes attyre” and sent him on to man’s work! Now it is open to question whether this ever happens to Tamburlaine in either Parts I or II. Rhetoric is his first method of attack whenever there is a possibility of a parlee; bedazzlement by gold and jewels when a parlee is not yet bespoken; and the color symbolism of his tents, white, red and black continues the same razzle dazzle technique. He is not shown performing manly feats in battle nor are there descriptions by others of his feats in battle. His com­ panions win whatever battles have to be fought for him. His acts of “valor” amount to rather petty torture and killing, as for instance of the emperor Bajazeth in his cage, and the helpless virgins, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 105-109
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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