Giving the Tragic Boot to the Comic Sock: The Recoding of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine from Low to High Culture

John Christopher Frongillo


In his prefatory letter to the 1590 printed edition of Christopher  Marlowe's wildly popular Tamburlaine 1 and 2, the printer Robert Jones addresses the "courteous reader" and justifies excluding from this first printed version of a major Elizabethan play certain "frivolous Jestures," likely comic scenes well-known from stage performances of the play.   Rather than seeing these editorial exclusions as an attempt to standardize the genres of Elizabethan tragedy and history, this essay argues that the cultural context of the recoding of Tamburlaine from stage to page reveals a social tension between Elizabeth's administration and the unruly margins of popular dissent, between the "gentlemen" readers of books and the raucous play-going "mechanics."   Besides Jones's letter, Sidney's Apology for Poetry, scholarly discussions of the textual problems of Marlowe's plays, contemporary accounts of the performance of Elizabethan theater, and Bakhtin's notion of carnival help frame discussion of Tamburlaine as the site of conflicting social forces.

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