POWER, WEALTH AND TREACHERY IN THREE PLAYS OF CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE By Norbert Oyibo Eze Department of Theatre Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Marlowe’s popularity does not only stem from the grandeur of his poetry and penetrating tragic tone, but lies heavily on the social relevance and sublimity of his themes. Harry Levin is of the opinion that “Marlowe’s name is the one that comes after Shakespeare’s in any discussion of English tragedy” (1956:Blurb).
Marlowe’s Elizabethan age disclosed to men, “a store of wealth and power in the world which they were too stunned and intoxicated to use well” (Bronowski and Mazlish, 1970:23). As a dramatist who was sensitive to his environment, Marlowe did not ignore this living problem in his dramaturgy. Rather, “like an alchemist, separating pure gold from the base metals, in the crucible of his art, he extracted the ‘pure’ drives of human nature” (1970:166). His tragedies are ethical comments on certain disquieting human possibilities, the lust for power and gold.
They do not only present before our very eyes, “the thunder and flaming” (Watt, 1968:213) involved in treacherous pursuit and use of power, as well as malevolent wealth acquisition, they equally show us “the certainty with which the hand of judgment clutches the heel of the deed” (1968:212). In Tamburlaine the great, King Edward the Second, and The Jew of Malta, Marlowe shows us “the loose morals of a free and easy age” (1968:213), the depth of human greed, decadence and pathos.
But in all this, he still allows us to hear the penetrating cry of that “still small voice” In Tambulaine the great, Marlowe paints the picture of the Renaissance period as “an age in which power was often personal and usurpers existed at the head of many states” (Bronowski and Mazlish, 1970:23). In this greatly tumultuous tragedy, Tarmburlaine, a “scythian shepherd becomes the scourge of the eastern world” (Vargas, 1960:102). His thirst for power is neither to permit social mobility in the Persian politics, nor to help the masses, whom Cosroe rgues, “droof and languish in Mycetes’ government, to have a good sense of governance. His aim of seeking limitless power is to become the “arch-monarch of the world, the earthly God” (Part II, Act 1 Scene III). The Elizabethan age was a period of overreaching, and an age of great tempestuous. Bronowski and Mazlish express the view that During a period of overreaching, even god might be by-passed by a few daring spirits. When men themselves become godlike in their power and attributes, there seemed no need for other gods (1970:168). The swift conquests of Tamburlaine, his unbridled wrath, and the captive Kings chained to walk beside his chariot” (Vargas, 1960), gives him the impression of himself as a god among men. And he parades himself as one. For example, when Theridamas looses the courage to fight him and instead begins to adore him, Tamburlaine proudly tells him: Forsake thy King and do but join me, And we will triumph all over the world; I hold the fate fast bound in chains And with my hand turns fortune’s wheel about, And sooner shall the sun falls from his sphere Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome Part I, Act I scene I). Every statement of Tamburlaine in the play reveals the ethos and quintessence of a superman. When Zenocrate, his wife becomes surfeited with his war-mongering attitude, she asks him: Sweet Tamburlaine, when wilt thou leave these arms, And save thy sacred person from scathe, And dangerous chances of the wrathful war? Tamburlaine arrogantly answers: When Heaven shall cease to move on both the poles, And when ground, whereupon my soldier march, Shall rise aloft and touch the horned moon Part I Act I Scene III). Like God whom Shakespeare says ‘makes sport of men’, Tamburlaine’s motive for assisting Cosroe to oust his brother from the throne, is to make sport of him. Immediately Mycetes is defeated and Cosroe sets out to ride in triumph through Perspolis, Tamburlaine who, believes that such glory should be his alone, uses force to deprive Cosroe not only the crown the very day he puts it on, but also his life. Tamburlaine does not only see himself as fate itself, his belief in the force of arms makes him to consider the gods as inconsequential.
Hence, when he captures cosroe’s crown by means of brute force, he chides the gods: Though Mars himself, the angry god of arms And all the earthly potentates conspire To dispossess me of this diadem, Yet will I wear it in despite of them (Part I Act II Scene I) Similarly, when Tamburlaine defeats Bajazeth and turns him into a footstool, he tells Bajazeth, in a mocking tone that: The chiefest God, first mover of that sphere, Enchased with thousands ever-shinning lamps, Will sooner burn the glorious frame of heaven, Than it should so conspire my overthrow Part I Act IV Scene II) Tamburlaine does not only talk about his supremacy over the gods, he seeks to demonstrate it in practical terms. Thus, when sickness begins to assail him, he requests his soldiers to join him pick up arms against the powers of Heaven that proclaim his demise: What daring god torment my body thus And seeks to conquer mighty Tamburlaine? Shall sickness now prove me to be a man, That have been termed the terror of the world? Techelles, and the rest, come, take your swords, And hreaten him whose hand afflicts my soul Come let us march against the powers of Heaven, And set black streamers in the firmement, To signify the slaughter of the gods (Part II, Act V, Scene IV). But can Tamburlaine by means of his physical strength and authority conquer the powers of Heaven? The answer to the above question explains the moral gleam of the play. Tamburlaine’s quest for power leads him to decimate nations, tumble crowns and capture kings.
But in spite of his physical strength and military valour, death proclaims his demise, while he has not yet become the ‘arch-monarch of the world nor “chase the stars from Heaven and deem their eyes’. When he perceives that death has drained his martial strength, he requests: Give me a map; then let me see how much Is left for me to conquer the world, (Part II, Act V, Scene III). A thorough examination of the map reveals to him that his life ambition has not been realized.
A feeling of dissatisfaction and resentment overwhelms him, and he laments: Look here, my boys; see what a world of ground Lies westward from the midst of Cancer’s line Unto the rising of this earthly globe. Whereas the sun, declining from our sight, Begins the day with Antipodes! And I shall die, and all this unconquered? Look here, my sons, are all the golden mines; Inestimable drugs and precious stones More worth than Asia and the world besides; And from the Antarctic poles eastward behold As much more land, which never was decried
Wherein are rock of pearls that shine as bright As all the lamps that beautify the sky! And I shall die, and all this unconquered? (Part II, Act V Scene III). Tamburlaine’s dying lamentations and anguish of the soul, demonstrate the futility of human power. His death is an indication that human power is, at least, limited by death. Tamburlaine never enjoys his majesty, neither do his men the benefit arising from it. Daunting thought of conquest never allows his soul any moment of bliss, nor his men any chance to enjoy the fruits of conquered lands.
In King Edward the Second, abuse of power, conspiracy and treachery assume a more horrendous dimension. In this nice poetic tragedy, Marlowe examines “domination of self-interests, lack of self-restraint in pursuit of desire and goals” (Okolo, 1994:67) as the bane of the power-hungry. In this play, King Edward II conceives power as a means of self-indulgence. To have Gaveston return from exile, he is prepared to bereft his court of the nobles, those who “make the King seem glorious to the world”. To push on with his homosexual shows with Gaveston, King Edward II tyrannizes the church, and treats his wife, Queen Isabella with disdain.
Expressing her loss of personal dignity, honour and the King’s love to Gaveston, the Queen laments: For now, my lord, the king regards me not, but doat upon the love of Gaveston. He claps his cheeks, and hang about his neck, smiles in his face and whispers in his ears. And when I came, he frowns (Act I Scene Iv). So, if the Queen later joins forces against the king, and with the Young Mortiner, descrates the king’s “nuptial bed with infamy”, she does so to pay the king back in like terms.
King Edward never conceives power as service, but as lordship. To him, the King must not be overruled in any matters. While external aggression threatens to submerge England from all quarters, and the soldiers mutiny for want of pay, he plans “lascivious shows” and empties the treasury on Gaveston. To indulge in his pleasure, King Edward II makes desperate and unnatural resolutions. For example, he is ready to turn “English civil towns into huge heaps of stones” in order to have Gaverston return from exile.
However, when Edward II succumbs to the wrathful chances of war, and surrenders the crown, the young Mortimer, in order to maintain control, proves himself to be more cruel and arrogant than the King. In fact, he elevates conspiracy and treachery to a monstrous level. He sees power as a means of ego massage, and as a tool to plague perceived enemies. To have a pound of flesh from Edward II, he does not only cause him to suffer incarceration in a dungeon where “the filth of all the castle falls”, he treacherously uses lightborn to murder him in a most heineous way.
Again, for fear that Kent may have overbearing influence on King Edward III, Mortimer, in spite of the young King’s protestation, orders for the beheading of Kent. Feeling satisfied that he has succeeded in eliminating the likely opposition to the realm, he boasts: The prince I rule, the queen I do command, And with a lowly conge to the ground, the proudest lords salute me as I pass. I seal, I conceal, I do what I will. (Act V Scene II). But as the young Mortimer basks in the sunshine of success achieved through conspiracy and treachery, Gurney reveals his complicity in the death of King Edward II.
In a torrent of anger, the young Edward, whose “thoughts have been martyred with endless torment” because of the loss of his dear father, and uncle, orders for an immediate decapitation of Mortiner. In this play, Marlowe, through dramatic examination of abysmal use of power, harps on the concept of ‘fortune wheel’. He uses the play to alert us on the danger inherent in a wrong conception of power, to clarify the point that there is a time for everything; a time to rise and a time to fall.
When the Young Mortiner is being led away to suffer the consequence of his ruthless conspiracy, he recognizes all this imperative point of view: Base fortune, now I see that in thy wheel There is a point, to which when men aspire, They tumble headlong down. That point I touched (Act V Scene VI). The Jew of Malta is a dramatic diagnosis of the evil of capitalism. In it, Marlowe queries the economic morality of his age, and finds unbridle lust for gold as “an unmistakable sign of decadence” (Knights, 1968:6). In this play, Barabas equates wealth with honour.
In spite of the fact that he has enough wealth that can “maintain him all his life”, and which can “serve in peril of calamity to ransom great Kings in captivity” (Act I Scene I), he is ready to “rip open the bowel of the earth” to acquire more wealth. To him, it is better to be “a Jew and be hated; than to be pitied in a Christian poverty”. Like Karl Marx, he sees religion as an opium which poisons the conscience and compels people to live in penury. Mocking the christians’ antagonism against the jews over their unwholesome quest for gold, he boasts:
They say we are a scattered nation. I cannot tell, but we have scrambled up More wealth by far than those that brag of faith There’s Kirriah Jarrim, the great Jew of Greece, Obed in Baiseth, Nones in Portugal, Myself in Malta, some in Italy Many in France, and wealthy every one. Ay, wealthier than any Christian (Act I Scene I). Barabas’ mounting impatience and lust for wealth blinds him completely, and propels him to employ the most monstrous and appalling means the human mind can imagine, to realize his economic interest.
Hear him out: Then after was I an usurer, And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting, And tricks belonging unto brokery, I filled the jails with bankrupts in a year. And with young orphans planted hospitals, And every moon made some others mad, And now and then one hang himself for grief Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll How I with interest torment him. But mark how I am blest for plaguing them, I have as much coin as will buy the town (Act II Scene III). Treachery is Barabas’ second nature.
He does not only employ it to amass wealth, he equally uses it to plague his perceived offenders and enemies. For example, to punish Governor Ferneze for dispossessing him of his gold, he forces his daughter, Abigail to swear false love to Don Lodowick. He tells her: Entertain Lodowick the governor’s son With all the courtesy you can afford; Provided that you keep your maidenhood Use him as if he were a philistine, Dissemble, swear, protest, vow love to him He is not of the seed of Abraham (Act II Scene III). Barabas’ intention in doing this is to pitch the governor’s son against his nice friend, Don Mathias.
Indeed, Lodowick’s proclaimed love to Abigail greatly incensed Mathias, and they engaged in a fight in which both perished. Again, when the death of Mathias compels Abigail to feel that, “there is no love on earth” (Act III Scene III), and forces her to join the nunnery, which “functions as a kind of Acardia, a place of escape from the world of” Barabas, “from the schemings of the material mind” (Lester, 1999:252), Barabas who fears that Abigail may reveal all she knows about him, decides to use Ithamore, his “second half”, to poison the entire nuns.
Similarly, when Frairs Jacomo and Barnadine shun the canon law, and let Barabas know that Abigail confessed his complicity in the death of the governor’s son, he baits them with money, which they are yet to get before he treacherously sends them to the beyond. Furthermore, when the sweet thing between the tighs of women causes Bellamira to entrap Ithamore who, in the enjoyment of it, betrays Barabas to her, in a world akin to Shakespeare’s Belmont, Barabas disguises himself as a French musician and poisons the lovers, even as Ithamore thaws in Bellamira’s laps, echoing Bassanio:
Love me little, love me long; let music rumble Whilst I in thy icony lap do tumble (Act IV Scene VI). Barabas’s treacherous activity reaches its zenith when Governor Ferneze learns that he devised the death of his son, and his friend, and prepares to force him to embrace the spread arms of law. To escape death, Barabas drinks juice of mandrake and feigns death. Perceived dead, he is thrown over the wall to feed the vultures. To pay Ferneze back, in more than like terms, he joins calymath of Turkey to overrun Malta.
He is made governor, but he preffers Freneze to ransom himself. However, when Barabas is assured of huge sum of money, he sets in motion, a dastard process of destroying Calymath and his soldiers. But while he is almost ready to realize his aim, Ferneze causes him to suffer agonizing death in a caldron he intends to use to destroy Calymath. And in an intolerable pangs of extremity of heat, he confesses, fumes and abuses both God and men, before the dark cloud of death finally envelops him.
Barabas’s nefarious means of wealth acquisition, his heartlessness, lack of compassion and fellow-feeling, his inability to be moved by blood, nor touched by piteous situations, are by all standards, hair-raising and spine-chilling, but his catastrophic death, is an indication that there is no smartness in evil. That treachery must necessarily beget treachery. Thus as he pines and smoulders away in the caldron, and we no longer hear from him, “my gold! my gold! e heave a sigh of relief, and join Sophocles to say, “evil never dies; the gods take care of that”. Lisa Hopkins (1996) expresses the view that Marlowe’s world intersects with the Renaissance geographical discoveries and attitudes. In The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great, for example, what is dramatized is the significance of power and gold to the men of the Elizabethan world. The barbaric financial exploits of Barabas, and the onward expansionism of
Tamburlaine, remind us of the wandering English adventurers such as Raleigh, Hawkins, Cavendish, among others, who in search of colonies and gold, became a menace to the entire world during the great age of Renaissance Hopkins further posits that Marlowe’s eastern world is a mirror that transcends mere orientalism. What we see reflected, of course, are English privateers such as Hawkins. The characters of Tamburlaine and Barabas are mirrors of beings in a predatory world where dominance and exploitation have become a resonant evil.
Because of their belief that men are the sum of their appetites, these characters crossed the boundaries between the human and the monstrous to acquire power and wealth. Like Shakespeare’s Shylock, Barabas is an “embodiment of pure evil, a savage spirit of darkness and revenge” (Lester, 1999:256). Though he has more than cruel disregard for the Christians, he sends Abigail, his daughter to the nunnery for the purposes of recovering his gold and revenging his perceived Christian offenders.
As a master dissembler, he emphasizes danger through humour, and masks his evil intensions with palatable but deceitful speeches before his unsuspecting victims. Although Tambourline is painted as a treasonable and Machiavellian character, a being who thinks about nothing except power, war, blood and murder, he does not, I believe, lack completely, the tender touch of humanity. His iron heart is thawed by the seductive power of feminine beauty. Zenocrate’s love is “worth more to Tamburlaine than the possession of the Persian crown” (Part I Act I Scene II).
This is an indication that the only thing that is supreme to political power for Tamburlaine, is feminine love. When love competes with power, Tamburlaine is often thrown into emotional crisis. Here him out: A doubtful battle with my tempted thoughts,- For Egypt’s freedom and the Soldan’s life; His life that so concerns Zenocrate, Whose sorrows lay more siege unto my soul, Than all my army to the Darmascus’ walls; And neither Persian’s sovereign nor the Turk Troubled my senses with conceit of foil So much by much as doth Zenocrate Part I Act v Scene I). Again, when Zenocrate died, Tamburlaine mourns her with all passions put to use. For example, in proud fury and intolerable fit, he tells Theridamas: Draw thy sword And wound the earth, That it may cleave in twain, And we descend into the infernal vaults, To hale the Fatal Sisters by the hair, And throw them into the triple moat of hell, For taking hence my Zenocrate (Part II, Act II Scene IV). Yet, in spite of this outburst of anger, he still wishes that Zenocrate lives: For she is dead! Thy words do pierce my soul!
Ah, sweet Theridamas! Say so no more! Though she be dead, Yet let me think she lives And feed my mind that dies for want of her (Part II, Act II, Scene iv). The above statement reveals Tamburlaine’s limitless capacity for enduring love. According to Luis Vargas: Marlowe’s blank verse made an unparalleled impression on the audience of the day. The magnificent onward sweep of the lines was well matched by the tale of the Scythian shepherd who became the scourge of the eastern world (1960:102) For Marlow, language is an index of characterization.
In the three plays under study, we observe that “every page he wrote reveals a peculiarly intense full-blooded inner life, the quintessence of youthful desires and dreams” (Ellis, 1956:xx). This implies that Marlowe’s poetry is intense and bold-spirited. And this is exemplified by Tamburlaine’s glamorous and thundering speech below: The stately building of fair Babylon, Whose lofty pillars, higher than the clouds, Where wont to guide the seaman in the deep, Being carried thither by cannon’s force, Now fill the mouth of Linnasphaltis’ lake. And made a bridge unto the battered walls, Where Belus, Ninus and great Alexander
Have rode in triumph, triumphs Tamburlaine, Whose chariot wheels have burst the Assyrian’s bones Drawn with these Kings on heaps of carcasses (Part II, Act v SceneI) As a consummate master of the poetic form, Marlowe introduced variety of tones into the blank verse. In his plays, we observe the melancholic, the romantic, as well as conceited tone, which aptly describe the dreams, aspirations and the inner state of characters in different moods. CONCLUSION In this essay, attempt is made to interpret Marlowe’s treatment of the eternal and ubiquitous twists and turns inherent in excessive quest for power and wealth.
In Tamburlaine, Edward II, and The Jew of Malta, Marlowe reveals the internal dynamics of power struggle and malevolent wealth acquisition; he shows us the intricate interplay between self and others, how the images of the self clash and collide with that of others. Marlowe elevates the lust for power and wealth to the level of monstrosity, to show us the loose morals of an impatient and greedy age, as well as to comment on the concept of the ‘fortune wheel’. In the three plays, he demonstrates that life itself, is characterized by ebb and flow, and like the theatre, has its own denouement.
Though written during the Renaissance period, Tamburlaine the great, Edward the Second and The Jew of Malta appear, in our own times, to be equally significant, because human “value commitments have undergone virtually no change” (Maanem and Bennis, 1979:6) since the Renaissance times. LIST OF WORKS CITED Bronowski, J. and Bruce Mazlish (1970) The western Intellectual Tradition. New York: Penguin Books. Elis, Havelock (1956). Ed. Christopher Marlowe: Five Plays New York: Hill and Wang. Hopkins, Lisa (1996) “And I shall die, and this unconquered? : Marlow’s Inverted Colonialism” Early Modern Literary Studies 2. 2