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From Beast to Mad Beast: A Further Look at Tyrone Guthrie's Tamburlaine

  • James Maloon

When Tyrone Guthrie rescued Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great from three centuries of theatrical oblivion, he raised several issues—some intentionally, some not—touching on the play's, and Marlowe's, adaptability to the modern stage and pertinence to the modern temper.

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1 Other, sometimes unrelated versions of the Timur story are known to have been staged in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and Marlowe's work was reprinted several times—for the reader—during the nineteenth century. I have come across a solitary reference to a certain “revival in 1919”; the citation appears in a program note for a presentation of Tamburlaine, Part I, at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, England, 10 June-4 July 1964. No exhaustive check has yet been made, by the way, of amateur productions of the work; evidently these have, in any case, been rare. I have found no record of any modern productions of Part II alone, nor of any—prior to Guthrie's—combining both parts. Ervin Beck, in a footnote on the first page of an article discussed elsewhere in the present study (see footnote 17), mentions a professional production of both parts at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury in 1966. The Guthrie production, the Canterbury production, and a 1972 production at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre are all listed, finally, in a program printed for the very latest English presentation of the play (in production at the time of this writing): on 4 October 1976 Tamburlaine the Great, starring Albert Finney, opened at the new Olivier Theatre. In this production Parts I and II have been “staged together for the first time”: each of the two parts, “slightly abridged, runs about 1 hour 55 minutes,” and “there is one interval of 30 minutes” between the parts. The new production—perhaps unfortunately—lies outside the scope of the present study.

2 Kerr, Walter F., “Tamburlaine the Great,” New York Herald Tribune, 20 January 1956, in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, ed. Coffin, Rachel W., 23 January 1956, p. 388.

3 Winslow, Richard K., “16th-century Thunder,” Newsweek, 30 January 1956, p. 91.

4 Guthrie, Tyrone, “Introduction,” in Tamburlaine the Great by Marlowe, Christopher, an acting version prepared and introduced by Guthrie, Tyrone and Wolfit, Donald (London, 1951), pp. ix–xi.

5 Guthrie, , “‘Tamburlaine’ and What it Takes,” pp. 21 ff.

6 Wolfit, Donald, “Introduction,” p. xiii.

7 Guthrie, , “Introduction,” p. x. It is worth mentioning that in 1640 Ben Jonson was to write: “The true artificer will not run away from nature, as he were afraid of her; or depart from life and the likeness of truth; but speak to the capacity of his hearers. And though his language differs from the vulgar somewhat, it shall not fly from all humanity with the Tamerlanes and Tamer-Chams of the late age, which had nothing in them but the scenical strutting, and furious vociferation to warrant them to the ignorant gapers.”

8 “‘Tamburlaine’ and What it Takes,” p. 23.

9 Ibid., p. 84.

10 Ibid., p. 86.

11 Ibid. Also Guthrie, “Introduction,” p. x.

12 “‘Tamburlaine’ and What it Takes,” p. 86.

13 Guthrie, , “Introduction,” p. x.

15 Williamson, Audrey, Old Vic Drama 2, 1947–1957 (London, 1957), pp. 7778. See also Harwood, Ronald, Sir Donald Wolfit C.B.E. (New York, 1971), pp. 212219, for a most interesting account of Wolfit's work with Guthrie, both as collaborator and as actor.

16 Guthrie, , “Introduction,” p. x.

17 Beck, Ervin, “Tamburlaine for the Modern Stage,” ETJ (March 1971), 62–74. Beck's article, as a whole, is interesting in many ways; it goes beyond textual analysis to scan much the same ground as the present study, although from a somewhat different angle.

18 Guthrie, , A Life in the Theatre (New York, 1959), p. 238. See also the account in Williamson, pp. 77–80, and in Harwood, pp. 212–219.

19 A Life in the Theatre, p. 239.

20 Winslow, p. 92.

21 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Theatre World (November 1951), 11.

22 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Time, 30 January 1956, p. 34. In fairness, it should be added here that Guthrie had, I think significantly, said a similar thing himself: in his 1956 program note he stated, “Before the age of 30 [Marlowe] had perished in a brawl in a riverside tavern in London. It is virtually certain that his death was no accident, but premeditated political murder in connection with affairs in the Secret Service of Queen Elizabeth the First.” As for the picture of Wolfit, it may be noted that 1951 photographs—properly identified as such, however—were indeed used to promote the 1956 New York opening.

23 Clurman, Harold, “The Theatre,” Nation, 4 February 1956, p. 99.

24 Atkinson, Brooks, “Classical Thunder,” New York Times, 29 January 1956, Section 2, p. 1.

25 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Time, p. 36.

26 Clurman, p. 99.

27 Lambert, J. W., “Plays in Performance,” Drama (Winter 1951), 23.

28 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Theatre World, p. 11.

29 Watts, Richard Jr., “Marlowe's ‘Tamburlaine the Great,’” New York Post, 20 January 1956, in Coffin, p. 387.

30 Wyatt, Euphemia Van Rensselaer, “Tamburlaine the Great,” Catholic World (March 1956), 467.

31 Kerr, p. 388.

32 Coleman, Robert, “Rip-Roaring Drama at Winter Garden,” New York Daily Mirror, 20 January 1956, in Coffin, p. 386.

33 (Harold) Hobson, quoted in Williamson, p. 80.

34 Atkinson, p. 1.

35 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Theatre Arts (March 1956), 19.

36 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Time, p. 34.

37 Chapman, John, “‘Tamburlaine the Great’ Bests DeMille as a Roaring Spectacle,” New York Daily News, 20 January 1956, in Coffin, p. 389.

38 “Tamburlaine the Great,” London Times, 25 September 1951, p. 8.

39 Atkinson, , “Tamburlaine the Great a Show-Piece,” New York Times, 20 January 1956, in Coffin, p. 387.

40 Kerr, , “Angels and a Devil,” New York Herald Tribune, 29 January 1956, Section 4, p.3.

41 Hawkins, William, “‘Tamburlaine’ Opens at Winter Garden,” New York World-Telegram, 20 January 1956, in Coffin, p. 386. This was, I believe, the only reference to Hitler in all the reviews located for this study.

42 Gibbs, Wolcott, “Two Butcheries,” The New Yorker, 28 January 1956, p. 58.

43 Bentley, Eric, “Theatre,” The New Republic, 13 February 1956, p. 20.

44 Williamson, , p. 80. Headline quoted from The Catholic Herald.

45 Kerr, , “Angels and a Devil,” p. 3.

46 Atkinson, , “Tamburlaine the Great a Show-Piece,” p. 387.

47 “Tamburlaine the Great,” London Times, p. 8.

48 Gassner, John, “Broadway in Review,” ETJ (May 1956), 127.

49 Kerr, , “Tamburlaine the Great,” p. 388.

50 Wyatt, p. 467.

51 Atkinson, , “Classical Thunder,” p. 1.

52 Darlington, W. A., “On London Stages,” New York Times, 14 October 1951, Section 2, p.3.

53 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Theatre Arts, p. 19.

54 Worsley, T. C., “Tamburlaine the Great,” The New Statesman and Nation, 29 September 1951, pp. 336–337.

55 Coleman, p. 386.

56 Watts, p. 387.

57 Williamson, pp. 77–78.

58 Winslow, p. 91.

59 Hayes, Richard, “Kings and Desperate Men,” Commonweal, 9 March 1956, p. 593.

60 Hewes, Henry, “A Tale of Sound and Fury, Illustrated,” Saturday Review, 4 February 1956, p. 20.

61 Clurman, p. 100.

62 Hayes, p. 593.

63 Bentley, p. 20.

64 Gibbs, p. 58. Aikens, James, Archivist for the Stratford Festival, has contributed an interesting note in this regard: “The original project was to produce both Tamburlaine and Oedipus Rex … Oedipus fell through because of the costs involved, but because of it many very good actors committed themselves to the tour and wound up playing very small parts in Tamburlaine” (letter, 18 September 1975).

65 “Tamburlaine the Great,” London Times, p. 8.

66 Johns, Eric, “The Scourge and Terror of the World,” Theatre World (November 1951), 18.

67 Lambert, p. 23.

68 “Tamburlaine the Great,” London Times, p. 8.

69 Keown, Eric, “At the Play,” Punch, 10 October 1951, p. 416.

70 Hawkins, p. 386.

71 Wyatt, p. 467.

72 Kerr, , “Tamburlaine the Great,” p. 388.

73 Chapman, p. 389.

74 Hewes, p. 20.

75 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Time, p. 36.

76 Atkinson, , “Classical Thunder,” p. 1.

77 Darlington, p. 3.

78 Kerr, , “Tamburlaine the Great,” p. 388.

79 Atkinson, , “Tamburlaine the Great a Show-Piece,” p. 387.

80 Clurman, p. 100.

81 Williamson, p. 78.

82 The London Daily Telegraph, quoted in Brown, John Russell, “Marlowe and the Actors,” Tulane Drama Review (Summer 1964), 169.

83 Johns, p. 18.

84 Darlington, p. 3.

85 Keown, p. 416.

86 Wolfit, p. xv.

87 Clurman, p. 100.

88 Battenhouse, R. W., Marlowe's Tamburlaine: a Study in Renaissance Moral Philosophy (Nashville, 1941); Bevington, David, Tudor Drama and Politics: a Critical Approach to Topical Meaning (Cambridge, Mass., 1968); Kocher, P. H., Christopher Marlowe: a Study of his Thought, Learning and Character (North Carolina, 1946).

89 Steane, J. B., Marlowe, a Critical Study (Cambridge, 1970), p. 345. The quoted phrases are from Kocher (p. 3). Steane is specifically criticizing both Kocher and Battenhouse, who draw opposite but, as he sees them, similarly suspect conclusions from extrinsic “factual” data. I am indebted, here and elsewhere, to Steane's balanced and thoughtful synthesis.

90 Battenhouse, Introduction, quoted in Steane, pp. 72–73.

91 Bevington, p. 218.

92 Ibid., p. 213. The order of sentences has been altered slightly for emphasis.

93 Ibid., p. 212.

94 Steane, Marlowe, p. 66.

95 Ibid., p. 69.

96 Steane, , Introduction to Christopher Marlowe, the Complete Plays (Baltimore, 1969), p. 18.

97 Steane, Marlowe, p. 351.

98 “Tamburlaine the Great,” Theatre Arts, p. 19.

99 Williamson, p. 78.

100 John Russell Brown, p. 163. Brown's entire article is apropos here; among other things it deals with the importance of simplicity, objectivity, and restraint in the actor's handling of Marlowe's “careful, large-spanned verbal architecture” (p. 160). For an interesting possible example of the “show,” see Brown, William J., “Marlowe's Debasement of Bajazet: Foxe's ‘Acts and Monuments’ and ‘Tamburlaine, Part I,’” Renaissance Quarterly, 24 (1971), 3848.

101 Williamson, p. 79.

102 See again Steane, Marlowe, pp. 62–116.

103 Especially if the Sigismund and Olympia materials, cut by Guthrie and Wolfit, are allowed their original place.

* James Maloon is Chairman of the Theatre and Dance Department at Barat College, Lake Forest, Illinois

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