By Charles Matthews

Friday, May 14, 2010

6. "The Complete Plays," by Christopher Marlowe, pp. 71-81

Tamburlaine the Great, Part One, Act 1, Scene 1
Mycetes, the king of Persia, and his brother, Cosroe, are at odds, largely because Cosroe thinks Mycetes is a dunce: "Unhappy Persia, ... / Now to be ruled and governed by a man / At whose birthday Cynthia with Saturn joined, / And Jove, the sun, and Mercury denied / To shed their influence in his fickle brain!" (The note tells us that Cynthia, i.e., the moon, is "changeable" and Saturn is dull, whereas Jupiter denotes greatness, the sun majesty and Mercury wisdom and eloquence.) Mycetes replies, "I perceive you think / I am not wise enough to be a king." Well, duh. But when he asks Meander if he can have Cosroe killed for what he said, Meander replies, "Not for so small a fault, my sovereign lord."

So Mycetes gives in and proceeds to fret about "that Tamburlaine, / That like a fox in midst of harvest time / Doth prey upon my flocks of passengers," i.e., the "merchants ... / Trading by land unto the Western isles," as Meander reiterates, noting that Theridamas has been "Charged with a thousand horse, to apprehend / And bring him captive to your highness' throne." And so Mycetes bids Theridamas, "Go frowning forth, but come thou smiling home, / As did Sir Paris with the Grecian dame." (Yet another Marlovian reference to Helen.)

When Mycetes tries to send Menaphon after Theridamas, however, Cosroe protests that Menaphon should be sent to rule over Assyria, "Which will revolt from Persian government / Unless they have a wiser king than you." Mycetes tells Meander to make a note of this latest slur from Cosroe, who says, "And add this to them, that all Asia / Lament to see the folly of their king," and follows it up with a sly joke about ass-kissing that seems to fly over Mycetes' head, although he loses his temper:
What, shall I call thee brother? No, a foe
Monster of nature, shame unto thy stock,
That dar'st presume thy sovereign for to mock.
And he exits with his retinue, leaving Cosroe and Meander alone. Cosroe, it seems, isn't bothered by his brother's anger because "The plot is laid by Persian noblemen / And captains of the Median garrisons / To crown me emperor of Asia." Whereupon a trumpet sounds and Menaphon announces, "Behold, my lord, Ortygius and the rest, / Bringing a crown to make you emperor." Cosroe says to them,
Well, since I see the state of Persia droop
And languish in my brother's government,
I willingly receive th'imperial crown
And vow to wear it for my country's good,
In spite of them shall malice my estate. 
And having been crowned by Ortygius, Cosroe goes off to join up with Theridamas and his army to complete his coup against Mycetes.

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