Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 2 - Act II

2 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene i

Marlowe provides us with a rationalized "real politik" as applicable to today as it was in his time. Sigismund's fellow rulers argue him into believing that an oath is not an oath. The core of the reasoning seems to be this,

... for with such infidels,
In whom no faith nor true religion rests,
We are not bound to those accomplishments
The holy laws of Christendom enjoin;
But, as the faith which they profanely plight
Is not by necessary policy
To be esteem'd assurance for ourselves,
So that we vow to them should not infringe
Our liberty of arms and victory.

Marlowe treated further of that in his difficult to classify play, The Jew of Malta, and so did Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. Marlowe takes this one step further in the next Scene.

2 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene ii

A messenger arrives at a meeting of the Muslim kings, informing them that the perfidious Christians are marching against them. Orcanes burns the treaty and says,

Can there be such deceit in Christians,
Or treason in the fleshly heart of man,
Whose shape is figure of the highest God?
Then, if there be a Christ, as Christians say,
But in their deeds deny him for their Christ,
If he be son to everliving Jove,
And hath the power of his outstretched arm,
If he be jealous of his name and honour
As is our holy prophet Mahomet,
Take here these papers as our sacrifice
And witness of thy servant's perjury!
Thou, Christ, that art esteem'd omnipotent,
If thou wilt prove thyself a perfect God,
Worthy the worship of all faithful hearts,
Be now reveng'd upon this traitor's soul ...

This has nothing to do with Tamburlaine. It has everything to do with a familiar theme, honor ... and more. Marlowe has been following a progression of sorts. He started with the perfect loyalty between Tamburlaine and his companions. Then he brought in Theridamas who had good reasons to switch his alliance, and once switched, adhered to the standards set by Tamburlaine's company. Next was the worldly Callapine and the simple Almeda, where loyalty was easily bought. And now, the matter of oaths, in part what we might call comparative religion. What Sigismund did was make a personal decision carried out within an ethical and pragmatic framework. The military threat of the Turkish forces was real. The Christians had been badly mauled and could not afford to just wait until the Turks came back for more. There was no real basis of trust, yet sacred oaths had been undertaken. Orcanes sees it as a matter of faith and honor, and calls upon Christ for revenge. But would he continue to see it that way? What would his successor do? Is this revenge a proper part of Christianity? He asks Christ to prove himself. Would that be the cry of a Christian? In this fabric woven of loyalties, faith and oaths Marlowe presents a lot to think about. No answers, just questions.

2 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene iii

The Christians are again defeated even though the Turkish force is reduced in size from what it had been. Sigismund sees his death as the price for his "accursed and hateful perjury." This is what Marlowe's audience would expect to happen to Tamburlaine as a punishment for his murderous ways - but as we will see, never does. Orcanes leaps into poetic hyperbole, agreeing with Sigismund that breaking his oath was wrong, although "Hungary" hopes for "a second life in endless mercy." Marlowe, the sceptic, is not about to leave this alone. He has Gazellus, Orcanes' Theridamas, say,

'Tis but the fortunes of the wars, my lord,
Whose power is often proved [taken for] a miracle.

2 Tamburlaine: Act II Scene iv

This is the zenith of the play, the axle around which everything revolves. Zenocrate dies. Tamburlaine's speeches are poetic flights, suited to the depth of his love. His first speech is almost a song, with light and fire, darkness and earth, creating images of his grieving heart. Marlowe's colors and qualities are like fireworks. What shall we do with them?

Black is the beauty of the brightest day;
The golden ball of heaven's eternal fire,
That danc'd with glory on the silver waves,
Now wants the fuel that inflam'd his beams;
And all with faintness, and for foul disgrace,
He binds his temples with a frowning cloud,
Ready to darken earth with endless night.
Zenocrate, that gave him light and life,
Whose eyes shot fire from their ivory brows,
And temper'd every soul with lively heat,
Now by the malice of the angry skies,
Whose jealousy admits no second mate,
Draws in the comfort of her latest breath,
All dazzled with the hellish mists of death.
Now walk the angels on the walls of heaven,
As sentinels to warn th' immortal souls
To entertain divine Zenocrate:
Apollo, Cynthia, and the ceaseless lamps
That gently look'd upon this loathsome earth,
Shine downwards now no more, but deck the heavens
To entertain divine Zenocrate:

Her words are moving and, I expect, there was many a tear in the audience,

But let me die, my love; yes, let me die;
With love and patience let your true love die:
Your grief and fury hurts my second life.
Yet let me kiss my lord before I die,
And let me die with kissing of my lord.

The poetry in this Scene sounds much like Marlowe's A Passionate Shepherd to his Love. If you haven't read this poem, do so! Returning to the play, Tamburlaine continues his grieving, including one of Marlowe's favorite themes, Helen of Troy. We will see this more fully developed in "Doctor Faustus":

Her sacred beauty hath enchanted heaven;
And, had she liv'd before the siege of Troy,
Helen, whose beauty summon'd Greece to arms,
And drew a thousand ships to Tenedos,
Had not been nam'd in Homer's Iliads,--
Her name had been in every line he wrote;

Tamburlaine's grief wells up and (briefly) threatens his grip on reality. Theridamas, good, solid, Theridamas, responds,

Ah, good my lord, be patient! she is dead,
And all this raging cannot make her live.
If words might serve, our voice hath rent the air;
If tears, our eyes have water'd all the earth;
If grief, our murder'd hearts have strain'd forth blood:
Nothing prevails, for she is dead, my lord.

Tamburlaine regrounds himself, returning to his destructive ways.

As I have conquer'd kingdoms with my sword.
This cursed town will I consume with fire,
Because this place bereft me of my love;
The houses, burnt, will look as if they mourn'd;
And here will I set up her statue,
And march about it with my mourning camp,
Drooping and pining for Zenocrate.


Updated 2014-03-20