Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 2 - Act V

2 Tamburlaine: Act V Scene i

Somewhat ponderously the play continues. Having been through several climactic scenes we are about to encounter another. This one holds few surprises but it is nevertheless intriguing, Babylon is invested; its Governor refuses to capitulate in spite of the pleading of the citizens:

CITIZEN; My lord, if ever you did deed of ruth,
And now will work a refuge to our lives,
Offer submission, hang up flags of truce,
That Tamburlaine may pity our distress,
And use us like a loving conqueror.
SECOND CITIZEN. My lord, if ever you will win our hearts,
Yield up the town, and save our wives and children;
GOVERNOR: Villains, cowards, traitors to our state!
Fall to the earth, and pierce the pit of hell,
That legions of tormenting spirits may vex
Your slavish bosoms with continual pains!
I care not, nor the town will never yield
As long as any life is in my breast.

This is the same conundrum faced by the people of Damascus. with the same complexities. Once again, Marlowe gives us an opportunity to see what might well go unseen. The hapless Governor is brought to Tamburlaine, who decries the ways of this "villain," the same epithet the Governor had used against his own people:

Go, bind the villain; he shall hang in chains
Upon the ruins of this conquer'd town.--
Sirrah, the view of our vermilion tents
(Which threaten'd more than if the region
Next underneath the element of fire
Were full of comets and of blazing stars,
Whose flaming trains should reach down to the earth)
Could not affright you; no, nor I myself,
The wrathful messenger of mighty Jove,
That with his sword hath quail'd all earthly kings,
Could not persuade you to submission,

The Governor at first acts tough but in the face of Tamburlaine's threats soon crumbles. Hoping to save himself, he tells Tamburlaine where the city's treasure is hidden but - no surprise - finds himself no match for the warrior's fury. Tamburlaine then has the once-proud man hung in chains on the city walls and orders his soldiers to shoot their weapons at the helpless target. We're not yet finished - Seneca draws but a deep breath and continues. Tamburlaine orders:

Go now, and bind the burghers hand and foot,
And cast them headlong in the city's lake.
Tartars and Persians shall inhabit there;
And, to command the city, I will build
A citadel, that all Africa,
Which hath been subject to the Persian king,
Shall pay me tribute for in Babylon. ...

Then a quick exchange between the commander and his general,

TECHELLES.: What shall be done with their wives and children, my lord?
TAMBURLAINE: Techelles, drown them all, man, woman, and child;
     Leave not a Babylonian in the town.
TECHELLES: I will about it straight.--Come, soldiers.

No, not yet the end but we will take a break since Marlowe abruptly switches to another subject. Look back at this Scene and follow along with me. First, a few years after writing "Tamburlaine" Marlowe would write "The Massacre at Paris." Not at all well written (perhaps not entirely finished before his death), this play ia about the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in France, when Catholics murdered thousands of their Protestant countrymen and women. The causes of this horrible, wide spread series of actions was complicated and we won't try to explain them here. It was a combination of factional, political and religious conflict, and it was hardly unprovoked since Protestants had murdered Catholics, etc. It does seem to show that Marlowe had on his mind civil strife, war, cruelty, blind obedience ... call it what you want, he could not leave this human condition alone. Seneca, to modern tastes, is over the top, but perhaps just shines a blinding light at we might prefer to leave in darkness. Of St. Batholomew there is some uncertainty but he was one of the Apostles, and legend has it ended up flayed alive, hung up on the walls of a city in Armenia, having been too religiously enthusiastic for a local king to tolerate.

Second, the years since the Catholic queen Mary I began her rule (1553) and up to Marlowe's time had seen the state's power turned against Protestants (nearly three hundred burned at the stake from 1553 to 1558) and Catholics (the better part of two hundred burned at the stake during Elizabeth's reign). The state and religion were so closely interwoven that heresy was a crime against the state, and it was the state that carried out the executions. Mary I died of natural causes; Elizabeth took over peacefully after having spent years safely off stage. While the state was reasonably calm, there were radical Protestants - conveniently remembered as iconoclasts - who destroyed anything that reminded them of Catholicism. There were two books that could be found in most every Protestant church: the Bible, and the "Actes and Monument" of the rather unpleasant and unbending John Foxe, this being two volumes recounting of the martydoms of English Protestants and their predecessors from the fourteenth century to the death of Mary I. Marlowe's audiences were not so far removed from memories of the glorification of state sponsored terror that they (or at least many of them) could watch "Tamburlaine" without remembering Mary and Foxe and perhaps thinking of Elizabeth. Among the many victims of Mary's enthusiasm was Archbishop Cranmer, who had been subject to intense psychological pressure. He vacillated, trying to compromise, but Mary's Catholic churchmen advisors had never intended to let him off alive. He famously (and perhaps apocryphally) died not cringing like the Governor, but offering to the fire his right hand, as it had signed a document that he later repudiated.

The subject now changes abruptly. The actors on stage, however, remain substantially the same so technically a new Scene is not warranted. Tamburlaine dares Mahomet to perform a miracle to prove he exists,

Now, Casane, where's the Turkish Alcoran,
And all the heaps of superstitious books
Found in the temples of that Mahomet
Whom I have thought a god? they shall be burnt.
Well, soldiers, Mahomet remains in hell;
He cannot hear the voice of Tamburlaine:
Seek out another godhead to adore;
The God that sits in heaven, if any god,
For he is God alone, and none but he.

A few lines later,

THERIDAMAS: Ay, good my lord, let us in haste to Persia;
     And let this captain be remov'd the walls
     To some high hill about the city here.
TAMBURLAINE: Let it be so;--about it, soldiers;--
     But stay; I feel myself distemper'd suddenly.
TECHELLES: What is it dares distemper Tamburlaine?
TAMBURLAINE: Something, Techelles; but I know not what.--
     But, forth, ye vassals! whatsoe'er it be,
     Sickness or death can never conquer me.

If there was expectation among the audience that Tamburlaine had abjured Mahomet and sought the "God that sits in heaven," they are disappointed. Tamburlaine will soon demonstrate that he is like anyone, subject to sickness and death.

2 Tamburlaine: Act V Scene ii

The play is still not over. Callapine and the King of Amasia have a brief duet, probably a candidate for omission in shorter productions. We find here one more instance of the hyperbole that pervades the play

2 Tamburlaine: Act V Scene iii

Theridamas, Techelles and Usumcasane are handed fine, poetic speeches as they protest against the illness of their leader. their speeches form a kind of trio, the refrain being.

But, if he die, your glories are disgrac'd,
     Earth droops, and says that hell in heaven is plac'd!
So honour, heaven, (till heaven dissolved be,)
     His birth, his life, his health, and majesty!
For, if he die, thy glory is disgrac'd,
     Earth droops, and says that hell in heaven is plac'd!

Elizabethans expected that "bad people" would get their just desserts at the time of their death. No peaceful passing for them - pain, regrets, fear would be their portion. Tamburlaine starts out that way, but we'll see that Marlowe will disappoint them. Tamburlaine, sounding delirious, says,

What daring god torments my body thus,
And seeks to conquer mighty Tamburlaine?
Shall sickness prove me now to be a man,
That have been term'd the terror of the world?
Techelles and the rest, come, take your swords,
And threaten him whose hand afflicts my soul:
Come, let us march against the powers of heaven,
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signify the slaughter of the gods.
Theridamas, haste to the court of Jove;
Will him to send Apollo hither straight,
To cure me, or I'll fetch him down myself.
See, where my slave, the ugly monster Death,
Shaking and quivering, pale and wan for fear,
Stands aiming at me with his murdering dart,
Who flies away at every glance I give,
And, when I look away, comes stealing on!--
Villain, away, and hie thee to the field!
I and mine army come to load thy back
With souls of thousand mangled carcasses.--

Physicians enter, their speech empty words but, I expect, familiar to the audience. The remainder of this Scene is drawn out painfully. Tamburlaine is invigorated by the prospect of battle with Callapine, but after winning that war, collapses,

But I perceive my martial strength is spent:
In vain I strive and rail against those powers
That mean t' invest me in a higher throne,
As much too high for this disdainful earth.
Give me a map; then let me see how much
Is left for me to conquer all the world,
That these, my boys, may finish all my wants.

He becomes very commonplace as he sees his future embodied in the accomplishments of his sons. He gives a cosmography lesson, in case anyone has forgotten what he has said before, and once again turns to his sons,

And shall I die, and this unconquered?
Here, lovely boys; what death forbids my life,
That let your lives command in spite of death.

Tamburlaine makes his final speech, still hanging on to his title - or should it be read as "even the scourge of God"?

Farewell, my boys! my dearest friends, farewell!
My body feels, my soul doth weep to see
Your sweet desires depriv'd my company,
For Tamburlaine, the scourge of God, must die.

His son Amyras has the final speech of the play, fittingly brief and ending in a rhyme, although full of that Marlovian ambiguity. Does Amyras seriously doubt his ability to emulate his father's success? Is this a youth intimidated by his new role or merely being a good son? Are the fates at last to have their way?

Meet heaven and earth, and here let all things end,
For earth hath spent the pride of all her fruit,
And heaven consum'd his choicest living fire!
Let earth and heaven his timeless death deplore,
For both their worths will equal him no more!


Updated 2014-03-20