Summary of Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe

Tamburlaine” is a two-part play written by Christopher Marlowe in the late 16th century, and it is considered one of the earliest and most influential works of Elizabethan drama. The play tells the story of the rise and fall of the central character, Tamburlaine, a shepherd who becomes a powerful and conquering emperor. Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine” is known for its grandiloquent language, exploration of power, and the tragic trajectory of its protagonist.

Part 1: The Rise of Tamburlaine

The play begins with Tamburlaine, a shepherd, expressing his desire for greatness and conquest. He rejects a life of humble shepherding and decides to carve out a destiny filled with power and glory. Tamburlaine’s journey towards conquest begins when he captures the Persian king, Mycetes, and overthrows him. Tamburlaine, now the ruler, embarks on a series of military campaigns to expand his empire.

Tamburlaine’s rise to power is marked by his unyielding ambition and his fearless approach to warfare. He defeats various kings and leaders, including Cosroe and Bajazeth, and establishes himself as a formidable and ruthless conqueror. The character of Tamburlaine is portrayed as a charismatic and almost mythical figure, whose relentless pursuit of power leads him to conquer vast territories.

One of the notable features of “Tamburlaine” is the use of blank verse, a type of unrhymed iambic pentameter. Marlowe’s poetic language, characterized by its eloquence and grandiosity, contributes to the play’s dramatic impact. Tamburlaine’s speeches, in particular, showcase Marlowe’s skill in crafting powerful and memorable lines.

Part 2: The Zenith of Power and Tragic Downfall

In the second part of the play, Tamburlaine continues his conquests, now targeting the Turkish Empire. He defeats the Turkish emperor, Bajazeth, and his wife, Zabina. Bajazeth, now Tamburlaine’s captive, is kept in a cage and subjected to humiliation. This part of the play delves into the consequences of unbridled ambition and the dehumanizing effects of absolute power.

As Tamburlaine’s empire expands, he faces opposition from various quarters, including the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund. The play explores themes of political intrigue, betrayal, and the inevitability of power’s corrupting influence. Tamburlaine’s ruthless pursuit of dominance leads to a tragic climax where he faces his own mortality and the consequences of his actions.

The death of Tamburlaine marks the conclusion of the play, and it is a somber and reflective moment. The once-mighty conqueror succumbs to illness, emphasizing the transient nature of power and the futility of earthly pursuits. The play ends with a reflection on Tamburlaine’s legacy and the impact of his actions on the world.

Themes and Analysis

“Tamburlaine” explores several central themes, including the nature of power, the consequences of ambition, and the inevitable downfall of those who seek absolute control. Tamburlaine’s character serves as a vehicle for Marlowe to examine the psychological and moral complexities of rulership.

The play critiques the unchecked ambition of Tamburlaine, portraying him as a tragic figure who, despite his military prowess, cannot escape the tragic fate that befalls those who aspire to limitless power. Tamburlaine’s relentless pursuit of conquest and his disregard for the lives of others reflect Marlowe’s exploration of the darker aspects of human nature.

The use of language in “Tamburlaine” is noteworthy. Marlowe’s poetic style, marked by its eloquence and grandeur, elevates the play and contributes to the larger-than-life portrayal of Tamburlaine. The blank verse allows for a heightened sense of drama, emphasizing the gravity of the characters’ actions and the unfolding events.

Additionally, the play incorporates elements of historical drama, drawing on accounts of the historical Timur, also known as Tamerlane, as inspiration for Tamburlaine’s character. While Marlowe takes creative liberties with historical facts, the play captures the essence of the era’s fascination with exploration, conquest, and the rise of powerful rulers.

In conclusion, “Tamburlaine” by Christopher Marlowe is a compelling and influential work in Elizabethan drama. The play’s exploration of power, ambition, and the tragic consequences of unrestrained pursuit of dominance makes it a timeless piece of literature. Tamburlaine’s journey from a humble shepherd to a mighty emperor, and ultimately to his tragic demise, serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of unchecked ambition and the ephemeral nature of power. Marlowe’s poetic language, dramatic prowess, and exploration of complex themes contribute to the enduring significance of “Tamburlaine” in the canon of English literature.