Monday, December 05, 2011

Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe

New rule: one post a day. It's not hard, it doesn't take that long, and if I do it right after I read/listen/watch something, I have more to say and it's not intimidating.

Christopher Marlowe is known for his "mighty line," his regular iambic pentameter whose rhetoric sort of sweeps you up and along in its grandiosity. He mastered and polished the use of blank verse which, I was reading on a writing blog, encourages verbosity because the line doesn't want to end. Maybe that's why his characters are such windbags! (Antony and Cleopatra are partially inspired by Marlowe, btw.)

Marlovian heroes are larger-than-life characters whose charisma and ambition are almost too much for the human container. They seek power . . . Faustus wants the power of knowledge, the Jew of Malta wants power of money, and Tamburlaine wants power of . . . well . . . power? These characters are often called "grand" or "haughty" but in the performance of Tamburlaine that I watched, Tamburlaine didn't seem haughty to me. James Keegan, who played him, has in the past played Falstaff and I caught some echoes of Falstaff in Tamburlaine. Granted, he takes himself wayyyy more seriously than Falstaff does, but his moods of laughter and celebration seemed just as gigantic as his moods of gloom and rage and he certainly appreciated coarse jokes as much as the giant jester.

The plot of Tamburlaine, Part One lacked conflict, though. It was basically Tamburlaine just conquering a bunch of nations one after another. Maybe the conflict comes in Part Two. Anyways, you see him woo a lady, win some nations, keep wooing his lady and winning more nations and beating up and imprisoning their rulers for fun, and then finally conquer the nation that his lady is from, even though she begs him to have mercy. There is no mercy from Tamburlaine. Probably because he's such a larger-than-life character. Larger-than-life characters have no room for mercy in their larger-than-life hearts.

As a whole, it was gorgeous and grand. Every new king's crown was more awesome than the last. The scenes where Tamburlaine takes over Damascus, white, then red, then black flags were hung all over the stage. And man, was it gory. Lots of blood. They mopped up fake blood from the stage three times. But it was still watching a bunch of non-relatable characters do and say things that I found completely uninteresting and unsurprising.

Okay, to be fair, there was one part where I related to the characters. The Turkish king Bajazeth (played by Rene Thornton, Jr.) and his wife Zabina (played by Allie Glenzer) are being kept prisoner by Tamburlaine, treated like slaves, made to eat scraps. While Tamburlaine is away, Bajazeth and his wife have a touching talk about how much they love each other; after Zabina leaves to get her husband some water, he kills himself by bashing his head on the side of the prison where he is kept. When Allie came back in as Zabina, she let out a sound that I had never heard before, lamenting her husband and her existence. She eventually kills herself, too. I was crying at the end; I'd never seen something so moving on stage.

No comments: