Cyril Tourneur (1575 – February 28, 1626) was an Elizabethan era dramatist who enjoyed his greatest success during the reign of King James I of England. His only well-known work is The Revenger's Tragedy (1607), a play which has alternatively been attributed to Thomas Middleton.
Cyril Tourneur was possibly the son of Captain Richard Turner, a water-bailiff and, later, lieutenant-governor of Brill in the Netherlands. Tourneur too served in the Low Countries, for in 1613 there is a record of payment to him for carrying letters to Brussels. He enjoyed a pension from the government of the Dutch Republic, possibly by way of compensation for a post held before Brill was handed over to the Dutch in 1616.
In 1625, he was appointed by Viscount Wimbledon, whose father had been a former governor of Brill, to be secretary to the council of war. This appointment was cancelled by Buckingham, but Tourneur sailed in Cecil's company to Cadiz. On the return voyage from the disastrous expedition, he was put ashore at Kinsale with other sick men and died in Ireland on the 28 February, 1626. (M.BR.)
A difficult allegorical poem is his earliest extant work; an elegy on the death of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of James I of England, is the latest. The two plays on which his fame rests, The Revenger's Tragedy and The Atheist's Tragedy were published respectively in 1607 and 1611, but all students have agreed to accept the internal evidence which assures us that the later in date of publication must be the earlier in date of composition. The Revenger's Tragedy was published anonymously and the attribution to Tourneur was made in a 1650s booklist. There is strong external and internal evidence that this attribution is a mistake, and the true author was Thomas Middleton.
Aside from The Atheist's Tragedy, Tourneur's only other known work is an epicede on Sir Francis Vere, which conveys the poet's ideal conception of a perfect knight or happy warrior, comparable, by those who may think fit to compare it, with the more nobly realized ideals of Chaucer and of William Wordsworth. But if Tourneur had left on record no more memorable evidence of his powers than might be supplied by the survival of his elegies, he would not claim a high place among English writers. The strongest evidence that the play was written by Middleton can be found in the Stationers' Register of 1607. 'The Revenger's Tragedy' and 'A Trick to Catch the Old One', by Middleton, can be found in the same double entry. In every other double entry, the plays prove to be by the same author, and 'A Trick' was written by Middleton.
Of The Revengers Tragedy, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica wrote,
:it is so magnificent, so simple, impeccable and sublime that the finest passages of this play can be compared only with the noblest examples of tragic dialogue or monologue now extant in English or in Greek. There is no trace of imitation or derivation from an alien source in the genius of this poet ... The resemblance between the tragic verse of Tourneur and the tragic verse of Shakespeare is simply such as proves the natural affinity between two great dramatic poets, whose inspiration partakes now and then of the quality more proper to epic or to lyric poetry. The fiery impulse, the rolling music, the vivid illustration of thought by jets of insuppressible passion, the perpetual sustenance of passion by the implacable persistency of thought, which we recognise as the dominant and distinctive qualities of such poetry as finds vent in the utterances of Hamlet or of Timon, we recognise also in the scarcely less magnificent poetry, the scarcely less fiery sarcasm, with which Tourneur has informed the part of Vindice--a harderheaded Hamlet, a saner and more practically savage and serious Timon. He was a satirist as passionate as Satires of Juvenal or Swift, but with a finer faith in goodness, a purer hope in its ultimate security of triumph. This fervent constancy of spirit relieves the lurid gloom and widens the limited range of a tragic imagination which otherwise might be felt as oppressive rather than inspiriting. His grim and trenchant humour is as peculiar in its sardonic passion as his eloquence is original in the strenuous music of its cadences, in the roll of its rhythmic thunder. As a playwright, his method was almost crude and rude in the headlong straightforwardness of its energetic simplicity; as an artist in character, his interest was intense but narrow, his power magnificent but confined; as a dramatic poet, the force of his genius is great enough to ensure him an enduring place among the foremost of the followers of Shakespeare.
Evidence now suggests that this ecstatic response should have to be directed to Middleton, not Tourneur. The Atheist's Tragedy is a relatively clumsy, and straightforwardly moralistic play. If, as seems likely, it is Tourneur's only play, he can no longer be ranked among the greatest playwrights.
The Atheists Tragedie; or, The Honest Mans Revenge (1611) A Funeralt Poeme Upon the Death of the Most Worthie and True Soldier, Sir Francis Vere, Knight . . . (1609) A Griefe on the Death of Prince Henrie, Expressed in a Broken Elegie ..., printed with two other poems by John Webster and Thomas Haywood as Three Elegies on the most lamented Death of Prince Henry (1613) The Revengers Tragaedie (1607 and 1608) The Transformed Metamorphosis (1600), an obscure satire The only other play of Tourneur's of which we have any record is The Nobleman, entered on the Stationers Register (Feb. 15, 1612) as "A Tragecomedye called The Nobleman written by Cyrill Tourneur," the MS. of which was destroyed by John Warburton (officer of arms) cook Arraignment of London (1613), stated in a letter of that date from Robert Daborne to Philip Henslowe that Daborne had commissioned Cyril Tourneur to write one act of this play The Character of Robert, earl of Salisburye, Lord High Treasurer of England, "ritten by Mr Sevill Tumour" may be reasonably assigned to Tourneur; it was found in a MS in possession of Lord Mostyn (Hist. MSS. Commission, 4th Report, appendix, p. 361)
Category:English Renaissance dramatists
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