‘And thence as far as Archipelago’: Mapping Marlowe’s ‘British shore’

Willy Maley, Patrick Murray


Tamburlaine 1 ends with Tamburlaine looking westward – and forward – to “Keeping in awe the Bay of Portingale,/ And all the ocean by the British shore” (3.3.258-9). Tamburlaine 2 opens with his reported reach “To Amazonia under Capricorn/ And thence as far as Archipelago” (1.1.74-5). Few editors link the “British shore” with the “Archipelago”, yet the extent of Tamburlaine’s conquered territories depends on how we gloss these terms, and how we view Marlowe’s coordinates more broadly.[i] Recent work on the “Atlantic Archipelago” invites us to look afresh at Marlowe’s complex depiction of space and place.[ii] Regardless of its origins as a word alluding to the strip of sea between Greece and Turkey, by as early as the mid-sixteenth century “Archipelago” could apply to any group of islands on the globe, as is evidenced by an account of the West Indies which refers to an expedition that “noumbered above seven and fortie Islands and called the place Archipelagus”.[iii] Likewise, when Martin Frobisher’s quest for a northwest passage to the orient took him to the Arctic – “Meta Incognita” – these unknown limits had to be mapped in familiar terms: “These broken landes and Ilandes, being very many in number, do seeme to make there an Archipelagus, which as they all differ in greatnesse, forme, and fashion one from another, so are they in goodnesse, couloure, and soyle muche vnlike”.[iv]


In what follows we explore a range of cartographical cruces in Marlowe’s work, including the dramatic depiction of archipelagic anxieties in Edward II and Tamburlaine. Ultimately, we question Garrett Sullivan’s narrow definition of Marlowe as a writer of the “new geography”, arguing that the playwright consciously located himself at the cusp of the old and the new, borrowing, manipulating and playing with paradigms from both supposedly discrete epistemological trends. An oft-quoted passage from Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism could stand sentry over this essay: “Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings”.[v]

[i] Recent editions gloss “Archipelago” as “the islands of the Aegean”: “The geography runs from the intersection of the meridian with the tropic of Cancer, south to Amazonia (in Africa, west of Mozambique), and north again to Archipelago, the islands of the Aegean”. J. S. Cunningham and Eithne Henson, eds. Tamburlaine the Great: Christopher Marlowe. Revels Student Editions. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. 141. See also David Fuller, ed. The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe: Volume V: Tamburlaine the Great, Parts 1 and 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. 231: “Archipellago: i.e., the islands of the Aegean, above north Africa”. According to D. K. Smith: “In bringing this ‘world of people’ to the battle, Tamburlaine can be seen to manipulate, not just the forces of his army, but the map”. D. K. Smith. “Conquering Geography: Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and the Cartographic Imagination”. In The Cartographic Imagination in Early Modern England: Re-Writing the World in Marlowe, Spenser, Raleigh and Marvell. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2008. 130. That manipulation, we submit, extends to the British shore. According to the OED, “Archipelago” has a complex etymology, from Italian for the “chief sea” – the Aegean – it morphed into any islanded seascape: “Hence (as this is studded with many isles): Any sea, or sheet of water, in which there are numerous islands; and transf. a group of islands”.

[ii] See most notably John Kerrigan, Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

[iii] Sebastian Münster, A treatyse of the newe India with other new founde landes and islandes, aswell eastwarde as westwarde, as they are knowen and found in these oure dayes, after the description of Sebastian Munster in his boke of universall cosmographie: wherin the diligent reader may see the good successe and rewarde of noble and honeste enterpryses, by the which not only worldly ryches are obtayned, but also God is glorified, [and] the Christian faythe enlarged. Translated out of Latin into Englishe. By Rycharde Eden. 1553, Hiiir-v.

[iv] George Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discouerie, for the finding of a passage to Cathaya. London, 1578, 60.

[v] Edward W. Said. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994, 7.


Marlowe; mapping; Tamburlaine; Edward II; Ireland

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