Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine Part 2 - Act IV

2 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene i

This Scene is devoted to Tamburlaine's three sons. Its humor belies the tragedy that will quickly follow. Of the three, it is Calyphas who seems utterly unaware of his father's uncompromising temper. We can see in the boy a young Falstaff as he chides his brothers for their martial risk-taking:

Take you the honor, I will take my ease;
My wisdom shall excuse my cowardice.
I go into the field before I need?
The bullets fly at random where they list;
And should I go and kill a thousand men,
I were as soon rewarded with a shot,
And sooner far than he that never fights;
And should I go and do nor harm nor good,
I might have harm, which all the good I have,
Joined with my father;s crown, would never cure.
I'll go to cards, Perdicas!

Here is a brief speech of Falstaff's in 1HIV.Viii. He is reluctantly upon the field of battle speaking with Prince Hal. Falstaff refers to Sir Walter Blunt, who has just been killed by Hotspur:

I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath. Give me life, which I can save, so; if not, honor comes unlooked for, and there's an end

2 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene ii

This is yet another climax worthy of Seneca. Tamburlaine is furious at Calyphas for his refusal to join in the battle against their enemy. He drags his son onto the stage and Theridamas, Techelles, Usumcasane, and another of his sons, Amyras, beg Tamburlaine to forgive him. Stabbing the boy, Tamburlaine says,

Blush, blush, fair city [Samarqand], at thine honour's foil, ...
By Mahomet, thy mighty friend, I swear,
In sending to my issue such a soul,
Created of the massy dregs of earth,
The scum and tartar of the elements,
Wherein was neither courage, strength, or wit,
But folly, sloth, and damned idleness,
Thou hast procur'd a greater enemy
Than he that darted mountains at thy head,
Shaking the burden mighty Atlas bears,
Whereat thou trembling hidd'st thee in the air,
Cloth'd with a pitchy cloud for being seen.--
And now, ye canker'd curs of Asia,
That will not see the strength of Tamburlaine,
Although it shine as brightly as the sun,
Now you shall feel the strength of Tamburlaine,
And, by the state of his supremacy,
Approve the difference 'twixt himself and you.

Cruel as this is, Marlowe's audience was ready to accept it; even expectant of something like it. Revenge tragedies were quite the thing in the late 1580s. Thomas Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy" was a boxoffice hit. Shakespeare wrote a forgettable "Titus Andronicus" about that time, and continued with "Hamlet" and "Othello" later. This Scene, however, is not yet over; it continues to build in a Hitlerian rush of devastation.

I expect we are to suppose here that Zenocrate's death has deprived Tamburlaine of any moderating influence. Reacting to the curses of his captive he goes on to say,

Villains, these terrors, and these tyrannies
(If tyrannies war's justice ye repute),
I execute, enjoin'd me from above,
To scourge the pride of such as Heaven abhors;
Nor am I made arch-monarch of the world,
Crown'd and invested by the hand of Jove,
For deeds of bounty or nobility;
But, since I exercise a greater name,
The scourge of God and terror of the world,
I must apply myself to fit those terms,
In war, in blood, in death, in cruelty,
And plague such peasants as resist in me
The power of Heaven's eternal majesty.
till by vision or by speech I hear
Immortal Jove say "Cease, my Tamburlaine,"
I will persist a terror to the world

2 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene iii

The play switches back to Olympia, captive of Theridamas. Are we to be given some respite from Tamburlaine's anger? Marlowe appears in control of the play again, backing off from that unsustainable intensity - but we will see Seneca's shadow again. This is a key Scene. We have been led to think of Theridamas as a bit different from his companions, perhaps not merely a mirror for Tamburlaine. But when he first met Olympia he sounded just like his leader, distracted by her beauty, speaking in terms of rapt adoration. What will he do now? How would you stage this Scene? Where is Olympia when Theridamas enters?

Theridamas expresses his frustration when he could not find her - waiting for him - in his tent. "Enraged, I ran about the fields for thee," he tells her, sounding like a frantic figure from one of Seneca's plays. He explains that his fear of losing her is past and says, "Tell me, Olympia, wilt thou grant my suit?" Olympia wants release from her grief; Theridamas wants to take her to bed. Despairing of any relief from this uncomprehending man, Olympia devises a plan to use his love for her (if that is what it is) combined with his martial nature to achieve her ultimate release, her death. She succeeds and Theridamas is left to emulate, but not equal, Tamburlaine yet again as he promises that her body "shall be tombed with all the pomp/ The treasure of my kingdom may afford." Zenocrate has died; Olympia has died. The play's symmetry is unbroken. But - questions are raised. How do we compare Tamburlaine and Theridamas? Or do we? Theridamas emulates (or imitates) his king and bang! he is hopelessly lost. Is this episode satire, and if so, who was the target? Is Marlowe saying in a play what could not be said otherwise? What might that be?

It would take up too much space to pursue in detail the parallels in Shakespeare's "Richard III" as Gloucester woos Lady Anne, which we mentioned when Olympia first appeared in the play. You might find it worth while to read Act I Scene ii of Shakespeare's play to explore them yourself. These two playwrights as it were took the same material and molded it in different ways. Both gave their bereft women rational courses of action. Olympia followed a Senecan path to immediate tragedy; Lady Anne saw herself without any male protector, friendless and penniless, destined to become a hanger-on in some relative's household. Both met with death (history reports a more benevolent Richard III, so take this all as theatrical and psychological constructs). There is another contrast. Theridamas is clueless; he doesn't have the vaguest idea of what Olympia might be feeling. Gloucester knew quite well what he was doing.

2 Tamburlaine: Act IV Scene iv

Having finished with outright tragedy, Marlowe gives his audience relief by returning to spectacle. With what must have been clapping and calling from the hundreds or thousands gathered to see Tamburlaine, Marlowe resumes his overtly erotic progress:

TAMBURLAINE: Hold ye, tall soldiers, take ye queens a-piece,--
I mean such queens as were kings' concubines;
Take them; divide them, and their jewels too,
And let them equally serve all your turns.
SOLDIERS: We thank your majesty.
TAMBURLAINE: Brawl not, I warn you, for your lechery;
For every man that so offends shall die.

What are we to make of this warrior emperor who will satisfy his soldiers and at the same time, make sure they stay under control? Is Marlowe aiming satire at the heartless wars waged in his times, wars that brought destruction to Europe (and to Ireland), sometimes commanded by generals who kept a tight hold on their troops? We have seen other passages in both parts of "Tamburlaine" that comment on the brutality of war, Is this one more?

Tamburlaine disposes of the women and then lays out his plans to march on Babylon. He provides yet another cosmography (geography) lesson and lyrically describes the ascendancy of himself and his city, Samarqand:

Then shall my native city Samarcanda,
And crystal waves of fresh Jaertis' stream,
The pride and beauty of her princely seat,
Be famous through the furthest continents;
For there my palace royal shall be plac'd,
Whose shining turrets shall dismay the heavens,
And cast the fame of Ilion's tower to hell:
Thorough the streets, with troops of conquer'd kings,
I'll ride in golden armour like the sun;
And in my helm a triple plume shall spring,
Spangled with diamonds, dancing in the air,
To note me emperor of the three-fold world;
Then in my coach, like Saturn's royal son
Mounted his shining chariot gilt with fire,
And drawn with princely eagles through the path
Pav'd with bright crystal and enchas'd with stars,
When all the gods stand gazing at his pomp,
So will I ride through Samarcanda-streets,
Until my soul, dissever'd from this flesh,
Shall mount the milk-white way, and meet him there.
To Babylon, my lords, to Babylon!

Here is Marlowe the poet sounding so very much like Shelley or Coleridge (rather, they, from the Romantic Movement in England, sounding like him).


Updated 2014-03-20