Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 1 - Act III

1 Tamburlaine: Act III Scene i

One more emperor enters the play in Act III, this one - Bajazeth - with real roots in history (although Marlowe adds "details" that appear nowhere else). Bajazeth is long-winded, his speeches though never mounting to the proclamations of Tamburlaine. This emperor, like Cosroe, is surrounded by yes-men. He has laid seige to Christian-held Constantinople, but this will soon be interrupted.

1 Tamburlaine: Act III Scene ii

Zenocrate returns to the stage and we get to know her better. It was, and for centuries had been, a practice-of-state to solidify alliances through arranged marriages. Marlowe takes this one better by having Zenocrate balance her captivity against the respectful treatment she was receiving from Tamburlaine. Agydas, a Median lord who had the misfortune to have accompanied her on her journey to her intended husband, shows more principle than almost anyone else in the play - and pays the ultimate price. He sounds like a stern father, much in the mold expected by Elizabethans. Zenocrate takes upon herself positive arguments for her dedication to Tamburlaine; she is not merely submissive. She romanticizes Tamburlaine to such an extent that he is hard to recognize. She appears honestly in love with him and blind to anything that might be a fault:

The entertainment we have had of him
Is far from villainy or servitude,
And might in noble minds be counted princely,
. . . higher would I rear my estimate
Than Juno, sister to the highest god,
If I were matched with mighty Tamburlaine.

The last fragment of her speech brings to mind Tamburlaine's speech begionning at I.ii.82, wherein he says,

Zenocrate, lovelier than the love of Jove,
Brighter than is the silver Rhodope,

We are taken once more to Marlowe's poem, "Hero and Leander." In it he says, "It lies not in our power to love or hate,/ For will in us is overruled by fate."

Agydas' blunt criticisms (see 1HIV III.i for some similar language) are overheard by Tamburlaine, who having no sense of humor at all orders his henchmen to murder this too forthright man. Agydas, being an honorable fellow, takes his own life, and on the basis of this his designated executioners give him an honorable funeral. At the end of this scene Zenocrate's infatuation with Tamburlaine is solidly in place, the old-fashioned Agydas is dead, Tamburlaine's murderous nature is reconfirmed (as if it had to be), his companions have efficiently expressed their unconditional loyalty, and Marlowe's view of women marches along (we'll soon see more of it).

Agydas' speech beginning at line 66 is quite a poetic achievement:

Betrayed by fortune and suspicious love,
Threat'ned with frowning wrath and jealousy,
Surprised with fear of hideous revenge,
I stand aghast; but most astonied
To see his choler shut in secret thoughts,
And wrapped in silence of his angry soul...

The first six lines are a beautiful flight of rhythm and sound, resembling Marlowe's poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Marlowe uses many of the Elizabethan poet's tools, such as alliteration and imagery, to make this small part a plum for an actor. Imagine standing on a stage in front of two or three thousand people, declaiming that speech.

1 Tamburlaine: Act III Scene iii

This Scene is not the stuff of great plays. It mixes together just about all the (surviving) characters in a jumbled but no doubt visually impressive manner. The first part of this scene, from line 23 and through more or less line 42, is echoed in 1HIV IV.i where Hotspur welcomes a fight against a stronger enemy.

At line 40 Tamburlaine has an intriguing speech. He says that he is "termed the scourge and wrath of God." This was the way that much earlier Atilla the Hun (active from about 430 to 450 CE) had been described. The Bible has its Assyrian tyrant who appears in the Book of Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah. Indeed, it was a way that the Christian world looked upon the menacing forces that threatened to destroy its civilization, as a punishment for not behaving as God demanded But Tamburlaine goes on to say that once he defeats the Turks he will free the Christian galley slaves who suffered so much. There is historic basis for that and for the Christians of that time admiring the Scythian warrior. Did Marlowe use this to somewhat casually transform the wrath of God into the blessing of God?

There is still available a sort of travelogue written by ambassadors sent to Tamburlaine by the "king of Castile." This recounts an exchange of gifts, including "women, which [Tamburlaine] also sent in accordance with his custom." We are not further informed of their disposition.

Bajazeth soon takes over and says,

Now shalt thou feel the force of Turkish arms,
Let thousands die! Their slaughtered carcasses
Shall serve for walls and bullwarks to the rest ...

Whatever fearful images Marlowe raised in his audiences he foretold well the "war of attrition" that would be World War I, the frontal charges of the Russians against the Germans in World War II, and all the terrible carnage of modern warfare. Bajazeth speaks as a twentieth-century despot but at least mounts a horse and charges into battle.

There is much posturing here, with Bajazeth and Tamburlaine in competition to pledge their loves to their ladies. Was Marlowe making fun of romantic plays and poems? In the play it seems to be an extraneous decoration added to get reactions from the audience; we still see this in television, movies and theater. Nevertheless, there is something intriguing going on. Bajazeth and Tamburlaine hand their crowns to their ladies while they are off to the fight. Tamburlaine says as he speaks to Zenocrate: "Till then [until he returns victorious], take thou my crown, vaunt of my worth." Crowns are handed back and forth in this play, physical symbols of power and worth, gestures of trust and loyalty. Thinking back to Mycetes in Act II Scene iv, as well as the several other instances involving crowns, what can you make of Marlowe's intentions, if any? Keep in mind that irony was part and parcel of his literary personality.

Tamburlaine has another martial pronouncement, this one meriting some added attention:

Our conquering swords shall marshal us the way
We use to march upon the slaughtered foe,
Trampling their bowels with our horses' hoofs,
Brave horses bred on the white Tartarian hills.
My camp is like to Julius Caesar's host,
That never fought but had the victory;
Nor in Pharsalia was there such hot war
As these, my followers, willingly would have.
Legions of spirits, fleeting in the air,
Direct our bullets and our weapons' points,
And make your strokes to wound the senseless air;
And when she sees our bloody colours spread,
Then Victory begins to take her flight,

The scene changes from male martial posturing to focus on the females, Zenocrate, Zabina, and their maids. Their arguing and insults are called flytings (this will be found in "Piers Plowman." Prologue 42), a suitably descriptive word, especially as, being Elizabethan women, their power is expressed through language. They threaten one another with being put to work for the common soldiers (with the implication of sexual mistreatment) and emptying chamberpots. You might want to visit Shakespeare's "Richard III" Act I Scene iii for another example of flytings, although these involve men as well as women.

In short order the battle is over and - as you might by now predict - crowns are its issue, but not only those taken from the bodies of their dead opponents. Zabina is forced to give her crown to Zenocrate. Several things now happen that are worth attention. Bajazeth, talking to his wife, says

Now will the Christian miscreants be glad,
Ringing with joy their superstitious bells
And making bonfires for my overthrow.
But ere I die, those foul idolaters
Shall make me bonfires with their filthy bones ...

Here we see the Muslim criticizing the Christians in the same way the Protestants criticized the Catholics. Marlowe's audience might have responded knowingly to this since anti-Catholic sentiment had been rampant (and offically based) in England ever since Elizabeth had become queen in 1558. On the other hand, all through Part 1 the Mahometans seem more tolerant, or respectful of this other religion than could be said for contemporary Christians, be they Catholic or Protestant.

There are now two important shifts. First, beginning at line 244, Tamburlaine lays out his world-conquering plans. Recall that the sixteenth century was one of exploration and discovery of new (at least new to Europeans) lands, peoples, and treasures. The first modern atlas (presumably so-called because it was so heavy to lift) was published by Ortelius in 1570. This new body of knowledge was called cosmography, and was bringing about profound changes in Europeean civilization. Marlowe sometimes uses the language of classicism, some of which can be found in his translation of Lucan, as well as contemporary terminology and discoveries. At other times, he uses knowledge that would have come from Ortelius. The second shift occurs at line 263, where Tamburlaine speaks of what he will accomplish "ere I die." Zenocrate spoke of dying already, in Act III Scene ii, when she pledges to "live and die with Tamburlaine." Others, too, have spoken of dying, including Mycetes, Cosroe, and Bajazeth. However, Tamburlaine, after daring men and the gods to injure him, seems to rather casually accept the inevitability of his death, which will be delayed until "Tamburlaine Part 2."


updated 2014-03-20