Authors: Cyril Tourneur

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works


The Revenger’s Tragedy, pr. 1606-1607 (authorship uncertain)

The Atheist’s Tragedy: Or, The Honest Man’s Revenge, pr. c. 1607

The Plays of Cyril Tourneur, pb. 1978


The Transformed Metamorphosis, 1600


The Works of Cyril Tourneur, 1929, 1963 (Allardyce Nicoll, editor)


Cyril Tourneur (TUR-nur), about whom little is known, was perhaps the son of Captain Richard Turnor, a follower of Sir Thomas Cecil. The young Tourneur, probably born about 1575, was a follower of the Cecils also, and he served the Vere family and the earl of Essex at different times during his career. Much of that career was spent in military or diplomatic service. He probably served with the English forces in the Netherlands in the early years of the seventeenth century.{$I[AN]9810000317}{$I[A]Tourneur, Cyril}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Tourneur, Cyril}{$I[tim]1575;Tourneur, Cyril}

A verse satire, The Transformed Metamorphosis, was published in 1600, and The Revenger’s Tragedy, which has traditionally been ascribed to Tourneur but is now generally attributed to Thomas Middleton, was published in 1607. Another surviving play, The Atheist’s Tragedy, was published in 1611 and is certainly Tourneur’s work. The Stationers’ Register contains an entry in 1612 of The Nobleman, a tragicomedy by Cyril Tourneur, but this play and The Arraignment of London, for which he wrote one of the acts for Henslowe’s company, have both been lost. Four other literary works are often ascribed, again with considerable uncertainty, to Tourneur: A Grief on the Death of Prince Henry (1913), a pamphlet titled Laugh and Lie Down (1605), the elegy “On the Death of a Child but One Year Old,” and the poem “Of Lady Anne Cecil . . . .”

Tourneur was a government courier in 1613 and a campaign soldier again in 1614. Imprisoned by the Privy Council in 1617, he was released on Sir Edward Cecil’s bond. In 1625 he accompanied Sir Edward on a naval expedition against Spain. As lord marshall of the fleet, Sir Edward appointed Tourneur secretary to the Council of War and secretary to the Marshall’s Court, but the first appointment was not approved. The expedition failed; Sir Edward’s flagship, the Royal Anna, was badly damaged, with many of the crew killed or wounded, among them Tourneur. The ship reached port in Kinsale, Ireland, where Tourneur was put ashore. He died there of his wounds on February 28, 1626.

Unlike many of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, Tourneur seems to have devoted most of his life to his active military career and relatively little of it to writing for the stage. T. M. Parrott considers him “a poet expressing himself in dramatic form rather than a professional playwright.” The morbid splendor of the surviving play traditionally attributed to Tourneur has attracted much critical interest.

BibliographyCamoin, François A. The Revenge Convention in Tourneur, Webster, and Middleton. Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1972. Stresses the complexity of moral views among Jacobean playwrights, which led to the questioning nature of their works. Emphasizes the different techniques of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights writing revenge plays.Jacobson, Daniel J. The Language of “The Revenger’s Tragedy.” Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache and Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1974. Jacobson investigates such aspects of Tourneur’s language as antithesis, irony, and paradox.Murray, Peter. A Study of Cyril Tourneur. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964. This full-length study of Tourneur provides a definitive discussion of the authorship question for The Revenger’s Tragedy. Tourneur’s two plays are analyzed in detail for their art and thought. Murray also gives considerable attention to The Transformed Metamorphosis but little or no attention to other minor works.Schuman, Samuel. Cyril Tourneur. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A basic biography covering the life and providing critical analysis of the works of Tourneur. Includes an index.White, Martin. Middleton and Tourneur. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. White compares and contrasts the works of Thomas Middleton and Tourneur. Includes a bibliography and an index.
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