Le Conquérant oriental dans le théâtre élisabéthain : autour des Tamburlaine Plays

‘All the world’s a stage’, s’exclame un personnage d’As You Like It de William Shakespeare (II.vii.140), proposant une déclinaison élisabéthaine du topos antique du theatrum mundi. Mais cette citation célèbre, ainsi que le non moins célèbre nom du théâtre du ‘Globe’ où Shakespeare et sa troupe se produisaient, nous rappellent également à quel point le théâtre de la Renaissance anglaise est marqué par l’imaginaire géographique de son temps. Ce trait caractérise le théâtre professionnel anglais dès ses premiers grands succès dans les années 1580 et 1590, avec une série de pièces mettant en scène la figure tout à la fois fascinante et effrayante du tyran oriental lancé sur le chemin de la conquête du monde. Porté par le pentamètre iambique tonitruant de Christopher Marlowe (qui devient par la suite le mètre privilégié du théâtre anglais) et le charisme de l’acteur Edward Alleyn de la troupe des Admiral’s Men, le personnage de Tamburlaine triomphe dans les deux parties de la pièce qui porte son nom (1587 et 1589). Fléau de Dieu et dévoreur des cartes du Theatrum orbis terrarum d’Ortelius que ses conquêtes suivent et soumettent une à une, cette incarnation de l’altérité orientale engendre une véritable lignée théâtrale à laquelle appartiennent des personnages aux traits et aux fortunes aussi divers que le Grand Turc Amurack dans Alphonsus, King of Aragon (1587) de Robert Greene, le Maure Muly Mahamet dans The Battle of Alcazar (1589) de George Peele, Selimus dans l’anonyme Selimus (1592) et Soliman dans Soliman and Perseda (c. 1587-1592) de Thomas Kyd. Mais en dépit de leur exotisme apparent, ces incarnations de l’altérité orientale, portées par des acteurs anglais, s’exprimant dans la langue de leur public et se fondant progressivement dans un même stéréotype dé-ethnicisé, participent in fine davantage d’un processus de ‘self-fashioning’ tel qu’étudié par Stephen Greenblatt dans son Renaissance Self-Fashioning. Ainsi peut-on voir en de tels personnages l’articulation d’un fantasme qui, en cette fin du XVIe siècle, annonce l’engagement de l’Angleterre dans une course à la conquête du monde à laquelle d’autres puissances européennes participent déjà largement.

Les ‘Tamburlaine plays' (par ordre chronologique)
Marlowe, Christopher, 1 Tamburlaine (1587) et 2 Tamburlaine (1589). Edition en graphie non-modernisée de Fredson Bowers, The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Greene, Robert, Alphonsus, King of Aragon (1587). Edition facsimile de W. W. Greg, réalisée à partir de l’édition originale de 1599, pour ‘The Malone Society Reprints’. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1926.
Peele, George, The Battle of Alcazar (1589). Ed. Charles Edelman, The Stukeley Plays. Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2005.
Anon., Selimus (c. 1592), Vitkus, Daniel J. (éd.), Three Turk Plays from Early Modern England. New York, Columbia University Press, 2000.
Kyd, Thomas, The Tragedye of Soliman and Perseda (c. 1592). Ed. en graphie non-modernisée de John J. Murray. New York et Londres, Garland Publishing, 1991.

Pour aller plus loin
Barbour, Richmond, Before Orientalism : London’s Theatre of the East, 1576-1626. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Bartels, Emily C., Spectacles of Strangeness : Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
Cheney, Patrick (éd.), The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Dimmock, Matthew, New Turkes : Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2005.
Foakes, R. A., Illustrations of the English Stage, 1580-1642. Londres, Scolar Press, 1985.
Gillies, John, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Gillies, John et Mason Vaughan, Virginia, Playing the Globe : Genre and Geography in English Renaissance Drama. Londres, Associated University Presses, 1998.
Greenblatt, Stephen, Renaissance Self-Fashioning : From More to Shakespeare. Chicago et Londres, University of Chicago Press, 1980 ; 2005.
Seaton, Ethel, ‘Marlowe’s Map’, Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association 10 (1924), pp. 13-35.

Citations utilisées
1 - Techelles. And I have martch’d along the river Nile,
To Machda, where the mighty Christian Priest
Cal’d John the great, sits in a milky-white robe,
Whose triple Myter I did take by force,
And made him sweare obedience to my crowne.
From thence unto Cazates did I martch,
Wher Amazonians met me in the field :
With whom (being women) I vouchsaft a league,
And with my power did march to Zansibar,
The Westerne part of Affrike, where I view’d
The Ethiopian sea, rivers and lakes :
But neither man nor child in al the land :
Therefore I tooke my course to Manico :
Where unresisted I remoov’d my campe.
And by the coast of Byather at last,
I came to Cubar, where the Negros dwell,
And conquering that, made haste to Nubia,
There having sackt Borno the Kingly seat,
I took the king, and lead him bound in chaines
Unto Damasco, where I staid before. (2 Tamburlaine, I.iii.186-205)

2 - Cosroe. Unhappie Persea, that in former age
Hast bene the seat of mightie Conquerors,
That in their prowesse and their pollicies,
Have triumpht over Affrike, and the bounds
Of Europe wher the Sun dares scarce appeare,
For freezing meteors and conjealed colde . . .
Now Turkes and Tartars shake their swords at thee,
Meaning to mangle all thy Provinces. (1 Tamburlaine, I.i.6-11 & 16-17)

3 - Meander. Oft have I heard your Majestie complain,
Of Tamburlaine, that sturdie Scythian thiefe,
That robs your merchants of Persepolis,
Trading by land unto the Westerne Isles,
And in your confines with his lawlesse traine,
Daily commits incivill outrages,
Hoping (misled by dreaming prophesies)
To raigne in Asia, and with barbarous Armes,
To make himselfe the Monarch of the East. (1 Tamburlaine, I.i.35-43)

4 - Tamburlaine. These are the cruell pirates of Argeire,
That damned traine, the scum of Affrica,
Inhabited with stragling Runnagates,
That make quick havock of the Christian blood.
But as I live that towne shall curse the time
That Tamburlaine set foot in Affrica. (1 Tamburlaine, III.iii.55-60)

5 - Tamburlaine. Here Jove, receive his fainting soule againe,
A forme not meet to give that subject essence,
Whose matter is the flesh of Tamburlain . . .
By Mahomet, thy mighty friend I sweare,
In sending to my issue such a soule . . .
Thou hast procur’d a greater enemie,
That he that darted mountains at thy head. (2 Tamburlaine, IV.i.111-113, 121, 127-128)

6 - Tamburlaine. I will confute those blind Geographers
That make a triple region in the world,
Excluding Regions which I meane to trace,
And with this pen reduce them to a Map,
Calling the Provinces, Citties and townes
After my name and thine Zenocrate :
Here at Damascus will I make the Point
That shall begin the Perpendicular. (1 Tamburlaine, IV.iv.75-82)

7 - Theridamas. I left the confines and bounds of Affrike
And made a voyage into Europe,
Where by the river Tyros I subdew’d
Stoka, Padalia, and Codemia.
Then crost the sea and came to Oblia,
And Nigra Silva, where the Devils dance,
Which in despite of them I set on fire. (2 Tamburlaine, I.iii.207-213)

8 - Presenter. Honour, the spur that pricks the princely mind
To follow rule and climb the stately chair,
With great desire inflames the Portugal,
An honourable and courageous king,
To undertake a dangerous and dreadful war
And aid with Christian arms the barbarous Moor,
The negro Muly Hamet that withholds
The kingdom from his uncle Abdelmelec
(Whom proud Abdallas wronged),
And in his throne installs his cruel son
That now usurps upon this prince,
The brave Barbarian lord Muly Molocco. (The Battle of Alcazar, Prologue I. 1-12)

9 - Abraham. I warrant you my gratious soueraigne,
He shall be quickly sent vnto his graue,
For I haue potions of so strong a force,
That whosoeuer touches them shall die.
Speaks aside.
And wold your grace would once but tast of them
I could as willingly affoord them you,
As your aged father Baiazet (Selimus, 1722-1729)

10 - Corcut. And if thou wilt not change thy greedie mind,
Thy soul shall be tormented in dark hell,
Where woe, and woe, and neuer ceasing woe,
Shall sound about thy euer-damned soule.
Now Selim I haue spoken, let me die :
I neuer will intreate thee for my life.
Selim farewell : thou God of Christians,
Receiue my dying soule into thy hands. (Selimus, 2166-2173)

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16 février