Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 1 - Act IV

1 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene i

This Scene is very short (remember that the Act and Scene divisions were added by the printer; there were no breaks in the performances, it was just that various characters would enter or leave the stage). A messenger reports on Tamburlaine's forces and also on what will be repeated for theatrical effect several times: Tamburlaine's white, red, and finally black colors. Marlowe was familiar with the historical Tamburlaine's insistence on the surrender of towns and cities, and amplified this with the chilling sight of his "furniture." There had been mention of Tamburlaine's colors in a then-available psuedo-historical work, which Marlowe amplified. The Soldan is furious at Tamburlaine, saying,

Merciless villain, peasant ignorant
Of lawful arms or martial discipline.

There were "rules" of war sometimes followed by Europeans (if one ignores slaughter, rapine, destruction of crops and livestock, etc.), at least there were codes of chivalric behavior (which didn't have much to do with how peasants were treated). It would be 1625 before Hugo Grotius published On the Law of War and Peace, but St. Augustine had struggled, not particularly successfully, with the idea of a just war centuries before. There was, too, the matter of honor that was so much a part of the warrior class, extending back to Homeric times. A relative concept, to be sure, depending on whether you owned a big enough sword. All in all, this complaint of the Soldan must have sounded hollow. The real focus in the Soldan's speech seems to be on the word "slave," which appears twice. How could a mere peasant dare to insult vested authority? Do we have a glimpse of Marlowe here?

1 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene ii

This Scene must have been great theater and given the audience much to cheer and clap about. We will look at a few happenings in this welter of insults, verbal and visual. At line 74 Marlowe tosses in a rare rhyme:

Great Tamburlaine, great in my overthrow,
Ambitious pride shall make thee fall as low

This, of course, is another empty threat. At line 85 Tamburlaine launches not just another pronouncement, but sustained (through line 110) martial poetry. The subject quickly changes to the fate of besieged Damascus. (By the way, Marlowe knew that the historical Tamburlaine had besieged and then destroyed Damascus.) We see expanded the dreadful colors and revisit Zenocrate's appeal for pity that we first saw in Act I Scene ii. Tamburlaine's self-absorption is clear: "Not for the world, Zenocrate, if I have sworn." Honor, at least that kind portrayed by characters in Marlowe's and Shakepeare's plays, is at the core of matters of life and death. There was nothing new in this; it went back to Roman and Greek times, all the way back to Homer. How would you relate this in a modern setting?

1 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene iii

The first speech in this Scene is a repeat of what was said in Scene i. The whole Scene seems to be there for visual effect, There is one interesting thing to note. Line 50 is not in iambic pentameter: "Capolin, hast thou surveyed our powers?" There are five two-syllable feet, but they seem to be trochees, that is, the emphasis seems to be on the first, not the second syllable. That may be a matter of the actor's choice but I think it reads better as trochaic pentameter.

1 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene iv

As you read this Scene, picture it. There was some scenery in the Elizabethan theater, but words enlarged upon the action and created the surge of battle and the scaling of walls. Theridamas reenters the conversation with an interesting line, "... if his highness would let them be fed, it would do them good," referring to Bajazeth and his wife, who are being starved. This is prose, not blank verse, and it is ambiguous. How would you have an actor read it? Sympathetically? Sarcastically? Indeed, from line 32 through 63 there are prose parries and thrusts; a real departure from the blank verse almost everywhere else. Is this the interjection of a later editor, the result of poor memories of the people who contributed to the written text, or did Marlowe intend it this way? It would be nice to see this delivered.

This Scene from Zenocrate's speech at line 65 to the conclusion at line 137 is certainly intriguing. Zenocrate begs for mercy for her city. Tamburlaine replies with a sweeping statement, leaving her for a moment a bystander:

I will confute those blind geographers
That make a triple region in the world,
Excluding regions which I mean to trace,
And with this pen reduce them to a map,
Calling the provinces, cities, and towns,
After my name and thine, Zenocrate.
Here at Damascus will I make the point
That shall begin the perpendicular.

What a remarkable vision. Is this what Alexander thought when the world seemed small enough to conquer? He then continues, speaking directly to Zenocrate, asking her if he should give all that up just to save Damascus. She understands what moves him and replies,

Honor still wait on happy Tamburlaine;
Yet give me leave to plead for him [her father], my lord.

Tamburlaine responds in a chilling way,

Content thyself, his person shall be safe,
And all the friends of fair Zenocrate ... 

So, the city shall perish and all its people, except for the few that Zenocrate can save. This is a timeless window we are looking through; a self-absorbed despot whose concept of mercy seems to be granting favors to those within his emotional umbra.

The Scene continues with Tamburlaine's companions carefully showing him that he is in charge. Crowns are brought in but no one will touch them. Techelles says (in prose), "'Tis enough for us to see them, and for Tamburlaine only to enjoy them." Tamburlaine hands the crowns to his friends, telling them,

Deserve these titles I endow thee with
By valor and by maganimity.
Your births shall be no blemish to your fame,
For virue is the fount when honor springs.

There's Marlowe again, evidently unable to stray far from the idea that a man can make his own way in the world. It is more complicated than just that. The crowns were handed out by Tamburlaine, who considers himself a match for any man and even for any god. Yet he knows himself mortal; he is aware that he will die. For now, though, he is in charge of his fate. We'll see more of this in Part 2 of Tamburlaine and also in Doctor Faustus. Still with a word to say, Tamburlaine turns to Zenocrate and tells her,

I will not crown thee yet,
Until with greater honors I be graced.


updated 2014-03-20