MSA at MLA, 2012 (II):
“Medievalism and Marlowe”

Papers in this session interrogated Marlowe’s medievalism in philosophy, crusader rhetoric, and the commercialism of conqueror plays.

Photographs by Roslyn L. Knutson

102. Medievalism and Marlowe

Thursday, 5 January 2012, 3.30-4.45 p.m., Washington State Convention Center, Rm. 613

Program sponsored jointly by the Marlowe Society of America and Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society

Presiding: Robert A. Logan, University of Hartford

1. “Marlowe’s Ars Moriendi,” Andrew McCarthy, University of Tennessee–Chattanooga

In the later Middle Ages, concern over the moment of death was repeatedly articulated in the Ars Moriendi tracts, texts that emphasized the dying Christian’s preparation for judgment in the afterlife. This paper will detail Marlowe’s conversance with this tradition, revealing a playfully subversive understanding of the artful death. Questioning the supposed comfort provided by these “how-to” manuals, Marlowe repeatedly depicts characters in situations where they are forced to contemplate their impending deaths. Tellingly, neither Edward nor Faustus finds any comfort, physical or spiritual, in their final moments. In The Jew of Malta, however, we see the complexity of Marlowe’s thought on the subject as Barabas, a character who is virtually obsessed with the artful death, orchestrates and executes a number of intricately plotted murders until he falls victim to his own machinations. In this way, Marlowe’s plays provide us access to his relationship with the later Middle Ages, specifically his suggestion that old comforts must give way to new understandings of one’s place—albeit a lonely and often tragic one—at the end of our lives.

2. “A Medieval Tamburlaine: Marlowe and the Legacy of the Crusades,” Lee Manion, Yeshiva University

Marlowe’s Tamburlaine is a key transitional text in early modern drama; little attention has been paid, however, to how both parts of the play bridge the medieval and early modern periods via their reconfiguration of crusading history and rhetoric. Tamburlaine’s historical subject was intensely scrutinized by fifteenth-century authors who drew upon crusading’s flexible vocabulary for negotiating relations among Christian rulers and who subsequently extended that vocabulary to include other Eastern forces as allies against the Turks. By reexamining the play’s representations of Christianity in comparison with medieval and early modern crusading texts, this paper stresses how Marlowe’s drama remains largely continuous with late medieval notions of crusading. Altogether Tamburlaine can be viewed as similar to other early modern works, such as James I’s Lepanto and Peele’s Battle of Alcazar, that valorized Catholic and pagan heroes through allegory in order to imagine, however unfeasibly, an allied Christendom.

3. “Marlowe and Medieval Albania,” David McInnis, University of Melbourne

Lost plays are rarely considered in discussions of the spate of conqueror plays unfairly known as the “weak sons of Tamburlaine”(Alphonsus, King of Arragon; Selimus; Wounds of the Civil War) which mimicked Marlowe’s language, sense of spectacle, or new hero (Tamburlaine). The lost True History of George Scanderbeg, entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1601 (but probably composed in the late 1580s) occupies a unique position in this series of conqueror plays, in that it has sometimes been attributed to Marlowe himself, and its medieval Albanian protagonist has strong affinities with the historical Tamburlaine. This paper assesses the evidence for Marlowe’s authorship, recuperates the historical narratives about Scanderbeg (as known to Marlowe’s contemporaries), and considers the repertorial implications of a dramatisation of this medieval figure.