Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 1 - Act II

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene i

In this short scene Cosroe receives a first-hand report on Tamburlaine's appearance and demeanor. He recognizes that this is “The face and personage of a wondrous man,” but thinks that he can manipulate Tamburlaine to meet his own ends. “In fair Persia noble Tamburlaine,” he says, “Shall be my regent and remain as king.” Cosroe's henchmen endorse his estimation of Tamburlaine, sounding quite like Techelles, Casane and Tamburlaine's other friends. In both cases, the followers not only defer to their leaders, they fawn upon them. Courtiers? Poets seeking patrons? The sycophants of any time? Are we seeing Marlowe's sarcasm here? Does Theridamas break this mold?

We can be convinced that while Cosroe is more competent than his brother Mycetes, he is at best an ordinary man and no match for Tamburlaine. Think of some examples of this in modern times, examples where someone assumed he could neutralize a possible threat. What about Stalin and Hitler (more precisely, Molotov and Ribbentrop as the faithful companions of their leaders)? Chamberlain and Hitler? Are there more contemporary examples?

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene ii

Meander talks a good game but is completely unrealistic since he is talking to an old fool (this will make sense in a while). The crisis quickly unfolds and Mycetes interjects a little joke straight from the playwright:

'tis a pretty toy to be a poet.
Well, well, Meander, thou art deeply read,
And having thee, I have a jewel sure.

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene iii

Theridamas can't seem to shake off his "turning." He brings it up, seeming to be trying to make it into a recommendation for Tamburlaine:

You see, my lord, what working words he hath;
But, when you see his actions top his speech,
Your speech will stay, or so extol his worth
As I shall be commended and excus'd
For turning my poor charge to his direction:

Even though in this scene it is Cosroe who outranks everyone, it is Tamburlaine who stands out. His speeches - pronouncements - are made with some impatience. As he leaves for battle he ominously says, 

We are enough to scar the enemy,
And more than needs to make an emperor.

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene iv

Mycetes at last has a perceptive few lines as he poignantly describes the horror of battle, We might think Marlowe had spoken to soldiers who stood in formation as cannons bombarded them (this is included in some collections of Marlowe's poetry):

Accurs'd be he that first invented war!
They knew not, ah, they knew not, simple men,
How those were hit by pelting cannon-shot
Stand staggering like a quivering aspen-leaf
Fearing the force of Boreas' boisterous blasts!

Marlowe visited that same subject in his poem, "Hero and Leander" (it is not known which was written first, play or poem). Speaking of how people rushed to see the beautiful Hero, Marlowe constructs a complicated passage that includes,

And as in the fury of a dreadful fight,
Poor soldiers stand with fear of death strooken,

Mycetes continues that speech, confusing his kingship with its symbol, his crown. This sounds like the sarcastic playwright enjoying himself:

In what a lamentable case were I,
If nature had not given me wisdom's lore!
For kings are clouts that every man shoots at,
Our crown the pin that thousands seek to cleave:
Therefore in policy I think it good
To hide it close; a goodly stratagem,
And far from any man that is a fool:
So shall not I be known; or if I be,
They cannot take away my crown from me.

Does this bring to mind its counterpoise, Shakespeare's Richard III on Bosworth Field calling out, "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse." That is soon followed by Richard's death and his crown being given to his replacement:

Lo, here, this long-usurped royalty
From the dead temples of this bloody wretch
Have I pluck'd off, to grace thy brows withal:
Wear it, enjoy it, and make much of it.

Mycetes falls back into his dull state as he hides his crown, and then loses it and himself to Tamburlaine in what sounds like schoolyard teasing. Crowns are an important symbol in this play, standing for power, as Tamburlaine well understands. He ends this scene with a blunt threat to the old emperor, who can do no more than "marvel much that he stole it not away." Are we seeing Marlowe return again and again to the unfairness of power belonging to people born into a nobility when it is ability that should determine who succeeds?

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene v

This scene starts with Tamburlaine proclaiming his own greatness to the clueless Cosroe, who is quite enamoured of his new status. "... now we will to fair Persepolis," Cosroe states, echoed by the loyal Menaphon who says in a rare use of rhyme, "Your majesty shall shortly have your wish,/ And ride in triumph through Persepolis." Marlowe makes use of repetition here, as Tamburlaine launches into a round with his friends playing on phrases already said. This is a technique found in plays of Shakespeare. In the midst of this there is a memorable speech by the dependable Theridamas whose role seems to be to speak thoughtfully,

A god is not so glorious as a king,
... To wear a crown enchased with pearl and gold,
Whose virtues with it carry life and death;
To ask and have, command and be obeyed; ...

Here, associated with "crown," is a motif that we see in several of Marlowe's plays: the desireability of earthly power over heavenly (or at least godly) status. Marlowe, in "Doctor Faustus," will explore this at length. In those days of monarchical rule the desireability of kingship had an immediate appeal. Elizabeth was always depicted in some form of regal dress, and her power, although mediated by the Common Law, did determine life and death. It was in 1587 that Elizabeth caused Mary, Queen of Scots, to be executed - no one though, would dare to mention that.

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene vi

The speech of Ortygius is full of alliteration,

... Or monster turned to a manly shape,
Or as what mold or mettle he be made,
What star or state soever govern him,
Let us put on our meet encountering minds ...

This is a technique that had been put to extravagant use by a contemporary poet and playwright, John Lyly, part of a whole complex called euphuism (after Lyly's popular book, "Euphues").

1 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene vii

Cosroe's defeat and melodramatic death provide a setting for a famous speech by Tamburlaine, for which Theridamas had laid the groundwork in Scene v:

Nature, that framed us of four elements
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds.
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world
And measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

In Tamburlaine's opinion, it is the study of ideas and of the world, not the study of god, that drives humans. He ends that speech with the earthly reward, "crown," as his most desired goal. There's a lot inside this speech. Humanism, the centerpiece of the Renaissance and taught at the universities, often clashed with sparks against the staid religious interests that were politically powerful. But the governments of Europe were monarchies or their equivalents (setting aside Switzerland, although it, too, had its power structure) and it certainly was better to wear a crown than to live in poverty. Marlowe would bring the ultimate, if incompletely understood, Renaissance figure Machiavelli to the stage at least briefly in his play Jew of Malta. In Doctor Faustus a central concern is with earthly power. Is it the nomad warrior Tamburlaine we are hearing, or is it Marlowe himself in this speech?

Tamburlaine's companions enthusiastically cheer him as Cosroe gasps forth his life, issuing curses. Tamburlaine ignores the dying emperor and confidently claims his diadem, won by the force of arms. We will see that his confidence is well founded.


updated 2014-03-20