Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 2 - Act I

Comparing Parts 1 and 2

Critics have raised the questions of whether Part 2 was written after Part 1 had achieved success or at more or less the same time, and even whether Marlowe had a Part 2 in mind when he wrote Part 1. Whatever the answer, it is worthwhile to compare the two plays. In my opinion, Part 2 is just not as good a play as its sibling. It feels like a collection of episodes strung together and lacks the forward motion of Part 1. That said, Part 2 contains some wonderful poetry and we will look at that closely.

2 Tamburlaine: Prologue

The Prologue tells us,

The general welcomes Tamburlaine receiv'd,
When he arrived last upon the stage,
Have made our poet pen his Second Part,
Where Death cuts off the progress of his pomp,
And murderous Fates throw all his triumphs down.
But what became of fair Zenocrate,
And with how many cities' sacrifice
He celebrated her sad funeral,
Himself in presence shall unfold at large.

So, Marlowe says that Part 2 was written in response to the success of the first part. I suppose we should take him at his word. Tamburlaine dies here (in bed) but while Marlowe tells us that his empire collapses, we do not actually see it happen. Marlowe declares that Zenocrate, although no longer on stage, will be central to the old warrior's thoughts and actions. Let's see how that works out.

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene i

If you were looking for a cosmography (in modern terms, geography) lesson, here it is. Amidst this there is a word no longer in use, argosies, that also appears in The Merchant of Venice. It means a trading ship. What is of more substantial interest is Orcanes' speech from line I.i.54 to 74, beginning with "Viceroy of Byron, wisely hast thou said." Here Marlowe is the martial poet, doing double-duty. He not only waxes poetic but brings the audience up-to-date on the state of the conflict between the Christians and the Moslems. There's quite a bit in that speech, including the statement,

Sclavonians, Almains, Rutters, Muffs, and Danes,
Fear [frighten] not Orcanes, but great Tamburlaine;
Nor he, but Fortune that hath made him great.
We have revolted Grecians, Albanese,
Sicilians, Jews, Arabians, Turks, and Moors,
Natolians, Sorians, black Egyptians,
Illyrians, Thracians, and Bithynians,
Enough to swallow forceless Sigismund,
Yet scarce enough t' encounter Tamburlaine.
He brings a world of people to the field, ...

Orcanes will not grant that Tamburlaine. on his own, has achieved greatness but that Fortune is responsible. This, as we have seen in Part 1, is not what Tamburlaine claims to be the case.

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene ii

 This presents a parallelism with Part 1, for here we see Gazellus saying to Orcanes and company,

We came from Turkey to confirm a league,
And not to dare each other to the field.
A friendly parle might become you both.

The result of this (in Part 1, the result was to switch Theridamas' loyalty) is a solemly sworn treaty of mutual assistance. Sigismund is very serious about this oath. Orcanes says,

But, Sigismund, confirm it with an oath,
And swear in sight of heaven and by thy Christ.

and Sigismund replies,

By Him that made the world and sav'd my soul,
The Son of God and issue of a maid,
Sweet Jesus Christ, I solemnly protest
And vow to keep this peace inviolable!

It sounds unconditional but Marlowe, the skeptic and ironist, will not let this get by untouched.

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene iii

We now switch the probably minimilist scenery to see Callapine, son of Bajazeth, in his captivity, along with his keeper, Almeda.  Marlowe presents his audience with no escape from this. No distracting activities, no peripheral conversations. Callapine presents Almeda with all the sensual, extravagant pleasures of wealth if only he breaks his promise to Tamburlaine. Almeda is a simple fellow (more proof of that soon), not at all sophisticated like Sigismund or Theridamas, and Callapine matches this with simple, graphic promises. In short order, although a bit slower than did Theridamas, Almeda reassigns his loyalty and helps Callapine escape. It was mentioned in the introduction that Mary Queen of Scots was under arrest during the 1580s and that several plots had been laid to free her. Might  some of the audience have remarked that none of Mary's English Protestant keepers had been suborned? Do you think there are any other parallels?

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene iv

This Scene reintroduces us to Tamburlaine and Zenocrate. It opens with Tamburlaine, the nomad, still in motion. He turns his attention to his sons, a reminder of his mortality. The playwright here takes liberties - Eastern rulers had many sons of many women, even though there may have been principal wives. In Tamburlaine's poetic speech, starting "When heaven shall cease ..." we can see two particularly intriguing passages. At about I.iv.18 he describes his disappointment with the looks of his sons. This is reminiscent of Shakespeare's First Part of King Henry IV, where in Act III Scene ii the king - at great length - expresses his disappointment with Prince Hal. Only a few lines further on, Tamburlaine says,

... Their hair as white as milk, and soft as down,
(Which should be like the quills of porcupines,
As black as jet, and hard as iron or steel,)
Bewrays they are too dainty for the wars;
Their fingers made to quaver on a lute,
Their arms to hang about a lady's neck,
Their legs to dance and caper in the air,
Would make me think them bastards, not my sons,

This brings to mind the wonderful opening soliloquy in Shakespeare's "Richard III" which reads in part,

... And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

The three sons have juvenile comments to make. It seems they are in their early teens so there is hope yet, but we must be at least a little doubtful that they will be able to follow in the footsteps of their father. Calyphas at least has a personality, although he is so Falstaff-like that the similarity can't be missed, and this ultimately gets him in deep trouble. When Tamburlaine urges his sons to strike dead an adversary, Calyphas says, "If any man will hold him, I will strike ..." to which Tamburlaine replies, "Hold him, and cleave him too, or I'll cleave thee." This sounds like any of the Falstaff-Prince Hal duets in Henry IV.

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene v

We come again to crowns. In this and the next scene Tamburlaine's companions are careful to demonstrate that their power stems from him and their loyalty is complete.

2 Tamburlaine: Act I Scene vi

In this Scene Marlowe the poet takes flight. We can here see a difference between Part 1 and Part 2. Namely, this play will be more concerned with poetry and individual episodes than was Part 1, which paid more attention to the story line.

In his speech beginning, "Thanks King of Fez ...," Tamburlaine opens the door to Ovid's Metamorphoses. Deucalion was a Noah-like figure, a son of Prometheus, who was warned of a great flood. Ovid was a pagan who wrote about amorous affairs as well as providing pre-Christian mythology in a very readable form. Parts of the Metamorphoses were available in English, and Marlowe had translated the Amores while at Cambridge. Needless to say, Ovid was not liked a bit by the religious authorities, and Marlowe's explicit use of that author's works was what we would expect from this in-your-face playwright. Marlowe ends that speech with a rhyme, an infrequent feature.

The rest of this short Scene is occupied with trying to get some rest for the ever-fighting men, and providing a tour of the world. The place names must have sounded quite marvellous to the audience.


Updated 2014-03-20