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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

VII. Tourneur and Webster

§ 1. Meagreness of biographical details

THE TWO dramatists who are to be considered in the present chapter have certain points in common. Both, at their best, display a peculiarly sombre genius. The tragedies of both belong to the same school; and both are utterly unknown to us, except by their writings. In point of date, Tourneur would seem slightly to precede Webster. And, for this reason, as well as for others which are more materials, it will be convenient to take him first.

Of Cyril Tourneur’s life, we know nothing beyond the dates at which his various plays and poems were published. They are as follows: The Transformed Metamorphosis, 1600; A Funeral Poem on Sir Francis Vere, 1609; A Griefe on the Death of Prince Henry, 1613; and his two dramas, The Revengers Tragoedie, 1607 and The Atheist’s Tragedie, 1611. It should be noted that two of these, the poem on Vere and The Revengers Tragoedie, have no name on the title-page, and that nothing more than tradition connects them with the name of Tourneur. There is a tepid reference to the author, “as not to be despised nor too much praised,” by an anonymous contemporary; and that is all.

On his poems, it is not necessary to dwell. None of them has any merit; and the most elaborate of them, The Metamorphosis, is written in that uncouth jargon which had been brought into fashion by Marston in his satires (1598), and which is assailed by Jonson in Poetaster. It is, moreover, an involved allegory, the key to which is lost, but which Churton Collins ingeniously interpreted as a cryptic reference to the fortunes of Essex.