Aaron Kunin

The wish to be an object

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.

Tamburlaine's footstool, part 1

Footstool by David Scher
Footstool by David Scher

Marlowe was fascinated by the image of a man stepping on another man’s back to climb into a chair. The short scene from Faustus revises and condenses a relationship that Marlowe explores more thoroughly in two acts of Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1. Here is a relevant sample.

Tamburlaine: Bring out my footstool.

. . .

Fall prostrate on the low, disdainful earth

And be the footstool of great Tamburlaine,

That I may rise into my royal throne.

Bajazeth: First thou shalt rip my bowels with thy sword

And sacrifice my heart to death and hell

Before I yield to such a slavery.

Tamburlaine: Base villain, vassal, slave to Tamburlaine,

Unworthy to embrace or touch the ground

That bears the honor of my royal weight,

Stoop, villain, stoop, stoop, for so he bids

Adrian's footstool

Lounge chair by Gerald Summers

Does a chair sit or stand?