Stephen Greenblatt

The swerve of verse: Lucretius' 'Of Things' Nature' and the necessity of poetic form

The de-versification of Lucretius -- treating it as prose -- is an unintended theme of the most famous contemporary account of Of Things' Nature, Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011). Greenblatt begins The Swerve with an account of his youthful discovery of Lucretius through Martin Ferguson Smith's excellent prose translation. Greenblatt pretty much sticks to citing this prose version throughout his book, despite his nod to Dryden as the best for conveying Lucretius's "ardor" and also noting that he consulted all the translations. 

Tamburlaine's footstool, part 2

Footstool by David Scher
Footstool by David Scher

“Stoop, villain, stoop, stoop” (Tamburlaine, Part 1, 4.2.22-23). Marlowe liked the sound of the vowel in “stoop” so much that he wanted to hear Tamburlaine say it three times. Then he wanted to hear it again in Faustus: “Saxon Bruno, stoop” (Doctor Faustus, B-Text, 3.1.89). But this was not enough! Adrian says the word another time — a fifth repetition — just seventy lines later: “Then thou and he and all the world shall stoop” (3.1.158).

Maybe it was the final “p,” the only sound that “stoop” doesn’t share with “stool,” that Marlowe really wanted to hear. In any case, the frequent returns of the simple command to stoop suggest a frustration of someone’s desire. No matter how many times you indulge this desire, it’s still not enough. Maybe the command simply isn’t working except as a sound effect. (You might say that Tamburlaine has to give the command a third time because Bajazeth hasn’t carried it out after the second.)

The fact that Tamburlaine is talking at all is somewhat gratuitous. The entire exchange could be replaced by a short stage direction: “Bajazeth kneels before the throne. Tamburlaine steps on his back and climbs into the seat.” The scene doesn't go like that. Instead, they command, reply, curse, and wrangle, for thirty-two lines. Marlowe wanted to hear all of the words. The king and the footstool have to be talking the entire time.

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