Cyril Tourneur (died 28 February 1626) was an English soldier, diplomat and dramatist who wrote The Atheist's Tragedy (published 1611); another (and better-known) play, The Revenger's Tragedy (1607), formerly believed to be by him, is now more generally attributed to Thomas Middleton.
Cyril Tourneur was the son, or possibly the grandson, of Edward Tournor of Canons, Great Parndon (Essex), and his second wife, Frances Baker. He served in his youth Sir Francis Vere and Sir Edward Cecil. His literary activities seem to be concentrated in the period 1600-1613. In 1613 and 1614 he was employed in military and diplomatic service in the Low Countries. In 1625 he was appointed to be secretary to the council of war for the Cádiz Expedition. This appointment was cancelled, but Tourneur sailed in Cecil's company to Cádiz. On the return voyage from the disastrous expedition, he was put ashore at Kinsale with other sick men and died in Ireland on 28 February 1626.
A difficult allegorical poem called The Transformed Metamorphosis (1600) is Tourneur's earliest extant work; an elegy on the death of Prince Henry, son of James I of England, is the latest (1613). Tourneur's other non-dramatic works include a prose pamphlet, Laugh and Lie Down (1605), some contributions to Sir Thomas Overbury's Book of Characters and an epicede on Sir Francis Vere. This poem conveys the poet's ideal conception of a perfect knight or happy warrior.
Tourneur's primary dramatic work is The Atheist's Tragedy, or The Honest Man's Revenge which was published in 1611. A case has been made by Johan Gerritsen that Tourneur is the author of the first act of The Honest Man's Fortune (1613), a play from the Beaumont & Fletcher canon usually attributed to John Fletcher, Philip Massinger and Nathan Field. In addition there is a lost play, The Nobleman, and the lost Arraignment of London written with Robert Daborne. The Revenger's Tragedy (1607), which was once attributed to Tourneur, has now been securely reassigned to Thomas Middleton.
Tourneur's current reputation however rests on The Atheist's Tragedy. It confidently reproduces themes and conventions which are characteristic of medieval morality plays and of Elizabethan memento mori emblems. More interestingly perhaps, it uses these conventions in the context of Calvin's Protestant theology. This and Tourneur's other uncontested works, show him to be "a traditional Christian moralist, with a consistent didactic bent."
As regards The Revenger's Tragedy, formerly attributed to Tourneur, "there now ... appears to be an overwhelming case for the authorship of Thomas Middleton". The play was published anonymously, and Tourneur was only described as the author in a 1650s booklist. External and internal evidence strongly suggests that the true author was the more distinguished Middleton. In the Stationers' Register of 1607, The Revenger's Tragedy and A Trick to Catch the Old One can be found in the same double entry. In every other double entry of this register, the plays prove to be by the same author, and we are certain that A Trick was written by Middleton. It is also known from contemporary records that Middleton composed another play called The Viper and her Brood, of which nothing survives. Some scholars think that Viper and The Revenger's Tragedy are in fact one and the same play.
Modern stagings of The Atheist's Tragedy remain few and far between.
Works of Tourneur
- The Atheists Tragedie; or, The Honest Mans Revenge (1611)
- A Funeral 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 Transformed Metamorphosis (1600), an obscure satire
- The Nobleman, a lost play 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's 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