Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Robert Greene
Editor: Jessica Slights
Peer Reviewed

Selimus (Modern)

From Robert Greene, Selimus (1594)

[Selimus is a fictional dramatization of the rise to power of Selim I who deposed his father and murdered his older brothers in order to become Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1512. Selimus became part of the repertoire of the Queen's Men acting company in 1588 and is one of a number of so-called "Turk plays" that offer an English perspective on the increasing military and economic dominance of the Ottomans in Europe around the turn of the seventeenth-century. While they vary considerably in quality, tone, and historical argument, these plays rely heavily on stereotypes of violent, power-hungry, and untrustworthy Turks. In the excerpt reproduced here, Selimus, Iago-like, talks aloud about his wicked plans to betray those who trust him most, and, in the process, reveals his own lack of faith, his contempt for virtue, and his ruthless ambition.]

1Now Selimus, consider who thou art.
Long hast though marched in disguised attire,
But now unmask thyself and play thy part,
And manifest the heat of thy desire;
5Nourish the coals of thine ambitious fire,
And think that then thy empire is most sure
When men for fear thy tyranny endure.
Think that to thee there is no worse reproach
Than filial duty in so high a place.
10Thou oughtst to set barrels of blood abroach,
And seek with sword whole kingdoms to displace.
Let Mahound's laws be locked up in their case,
And meaner men and of a baser spirit
In virtuous actions seek for glorious merit.
15I count it sacrilege for to be holy
Or reverence this threadbare name of good.
Leave to old men and babes that kind of folly;
Count it of equal value with the mud.
Make thou a passage for thy gushing flood
20By slaughter, treason, or what else thou can,
And scorn religion -- it disgraces man.
My father Bayazet is weak and old,
And hath not much above two years to live.
The Turkish crown of pearl and Ophir gold
25He means to his dear Acomat to give,
But ere his ship can to her haven drive,
I'll send abroad my tempests in such sort
That she shall sink before she get the port.
Alas, alas, his highness's agèd head
30Is not sufficient to support a crown.
Then Selimus, take thou it in his stead,
And if at this thy boldness he dare frown
Or but resist thy will, then pull him down —
For since he hath so short a time t'enjoy it,
35I'll make it shorter or I will destroy it.
Nor pass I what our holy votaries
Shall here object against my forward mind;
I reck not of their foolish ceremonies,
But mean to take my fortune as I find.
40Wisdom commands to follow tide and wind,
And catch front of swift Occasion
Before she be too quickly overgone.
Some man will say I am too impious
Thus to say siege against my father's life,
45And that I ought to follow virtuous
And godly sons, that virtue is a glass
Wherein I may my errant life behold
And frame myself by it in ancient mould.

. . . . .

Avaunt such glasses! Let them view in me
50The perfect picture of right tyranny.
Aye, like a lion's look — not worth a leek
When every dog deprives him of his prey —
These honest terms are far enough to seek.
When angry Fortune menaceth decay,
55My resolution treads a nearer way.
Give me the heart conspiring with the hand,
In such a cause my father to withstand.
Is he my father? Why, I am his son.
I owe no more to him than he to me.
60If he proceed as he hath now begun
And pass from me the Turkish signory
To Acomat, then Selimus is free.
And if he injure me that am his son,
Faith, all the love 'twixt him and me is done.