Christopher Marlowe

The First Part of


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A Median Lord. He is captured along with Zenocrate and begs Tamburlaine to take their treasure but allow them to go free. But, witnessing Tamburlaine's victory in swaying Theridamas to join the Scythian shepherd's army, Agydas–speaking for the Median retinue, and perhaps more resigned to his fate than swayed–throws his lot in with Tamburlaine. He is surprised to learn that, sometime after Tamburlaine's rape of Zenocrate, she has fallen in love with her captor. He tries to dissuade her. Tamburlaine overhears him and sends Techelles and Usumcasane to kill him. Agydas, guessing their mission, stabs himself rather than fall to them, thus impressing his would-be executioners. Usumcasane calls his ending "manly" and goes to Tamburlaine to "crave his triple-worthy burial."


Mentioned only once by name. He is the Syrian king betrothed to Zenocrate. It is to him she is traveling from Media when Tamburlaine captures her and her retinue. He is usually referred to as THE KING of ARABIA.


Zenocrate's handmaid. While Zabina and her maid Ebea scoff at Zenocrate, Annipe suggest that when Tamburlaine has defeated the Turks, Zabina and Ebea should be made to do the work that Anippe's chambermaid disdains. After the Turks are defeated, Zabina becomes her slave. She threatens to have Zabina whipped for chastising Tamburlaine. Later, she confirms to Zenocrate that both Bajazeth and Zabina have killed themselves and blames Tamburlaine's ruthless cruelty–which has also allowed the slaughter of Damascus.


One attendant has a speaking part. In V he informs Tamburlaine that Bajazeth has been fed today and, with other non-speaking attendants, brings in the Turk in his cage.


The Turkish emperor. He enters in III.i in great pomp and scoffs, along with his contributory kings of Fez, Morocco, and Argiers, at Tamburlaine's threat to drive his armies from the siege of Constantinople. He encounters Tamburlaine in parley and is haughty, referring to himself as Mahomet's kinsman and Tamburlaine as a slave. When he is defeated and captured at Bithynia, he swears his garrisons in Africa and Greece will redeem him. In IV.i Tamburlaine first uses him as a footstool after first removing him from the cage where he is kept and starved. Outside Damascus he joins with his wife, Zabina, in cursing Tamburlaine as he prepares to meet the combined forces of Egypt and Arabia. He despairs his fate and, sending Zabina away to fetch him water, dashes his brains out upon the bars of his cage. At play's end, Tamburlaine promises to give him an honorable burial.


Bajazeth's guard. He is sent to warn Tamburlaine to stay in Asia. He tells Tamburlaine that the Turks outnumber him: 10,000 janizaries on Mauritanian steeds and 200,000 foot soldiers.


An Egyptian. He tells the Soldan that Tamburlaine has attacked Egypt when she was unprepared. Later, he gives the Soldan a tally of the combined Egyptian and Arabian power: 150,000 horse, 200,000 foot.


"Ghost characters." Slaves of Bajazeth. Tamburlaine promises to free them when he has conquered the Turks.


Nickname of Usumcasane. Used only once by Tamburlaine early in the play. Apparently a term of affection for his loyal friend.


A Persian Lord loyal to Cosroe. He supports the usurpation of Mycetes and reports that the soldiers and gentlemen of Persia threaten civil wars unless Cosroe seizes the throne. He is present when Cosroe promises to name Tamburlaine regent of Persia once Mycetes is slain.


Brother of the Persian king Mycetes. He is spokesperson for the king, having, by the king's own estimation, a "better wit." He intentionally insults the king, whom he views a weakling and dotard, and earns his wrath. He advises the king to make Menaphon pro-rex of Africa to win the Babylonians' hearts even as he plots to usurp the Persian throne. With the aid of Ortygius, Ceneus, and the soldiers and gentlemen of Persia, he claims the imperial crown and names himself Emperor of Asia and Persia, Great lord of Media and Albania, Mesopotamia and Parthia, East India and "the late-discover'd isles," and Chief lord of the Euxine Sea and Caspian Lake. He plans to join up with Theridamas' army, which has gone to wipe out the upstart Tamburlaine, and so consolidate his power. Impressed by Tamburlaine's success, however, he decides to name him regent of Persia once Mycetes is slain. When Tamburlaine helps him defeat Mycetes, he makes good on the promise. He forgives and employs Meander and gives orders that Mycetes' lords and captains are to be persuaded to join him rather than executed. He goes off to ride in triumph through Persepolis, but Tamburlaine surprises him by attacking him in this moment of victory. Tamburlaine kills him in the ensuing battle. He dies calling for vengeance on Tamburlaine and Theridamas.


Only mentioned. Father of Cambises. Menaphon advises Cosroe to drive the Europeans from Greece as Cyrus once did.


Only mentioned. A Pythagorean and friend of Pythias. Mycetes terms Meander "a Damon" for his wise council.


Only mentioned. Former king of Persia defeated by Alexander the Great at Gaugamela. Ceneus says that Persians will celebrate more at Cosroe's usurping the throne than did Alexander's Macedonians at the defeat of Darius.


Zabina's maid. When her mistress asks whether Zenocrate will make a proper laundress–once Tamburlaine is defeated by the Turks–Ebea scoffs that Zenocrate thinks herself too fine but that she will sweat her pride out of her.


Governor of the besieged town. He first appears in V.i. Tamburlaine's colors having changed to remorseless black while the Governor awaited aid from the Soldan of Egypt, he loses heart and attempts to soften the conqueror by sending out the town's virgins to pray for clemency.


"Ghost characters." Bajazeth has ten thousand of these mounted Turkish infantrymen, and the Basso informs Tamburlaine that his Tartar forces cannot withstand them.


Zenocrate's betrothed first love. His name is mentioned only once in passing, it is Alcidamus. It is to him that Zenocrate is venturing from Media when Tamburlaine captures her and her train. He joins with the Soldan of Egypt to break Tamburlaine's siege of Damascus. He is wounded there, fights his way to Zenocrate, and dies in her arms professing his love. At the closing moments of the play, Tamburlaine promises he will have an honorable burial.


He enters in III.i and with Bajazeth scoffs at Tamburlaine's threat to rout the Turkish siege of Constantinople. In parley later with Tamburlaine, he says actions speak louder than words and reminds them how the Turks defeated the Greeks. He is killed offstage in the ensuing battle. Later, Tamburlaine gives his crown and kingdom to Theridamas.


In III.i, he joins Bajazeth in scoffing at Tamburlaine's threat to rout the Turkish siege of Constantinople. He advises that a basso be sent to warn Tamburlaine to say in Asia. In parley later with Tamburlaine, he advises Bajazeth not to talk to the base "Persian." He is killed offstage in the ensuing battle. Later, Tamburlaine gives his crown and kingdom to Techelles.


In III.i, he joins Bajazeth in scoffing at Tamburlaine's threat to rout the Turkish siege of Constantinople. In parley later with Tamburlaine, he wonders aloud how the noble Moors can abide Tamburlaine's indignities. He is killed offstage in the ensuing battle. Later, Tamburlaine gives his crown and kingdom to Usumcasane.


A Median lord. He along with others, including Zenocrate, is captured when Tamburlaine attacks their retinue.


A Persian lord. He advises king Mycetes. He works to keep peace between the unstable king and the king's brother, Cosroe. He takes charge of the armies of Mycetes when Cosroe joins Tamburlaine. He sets a price on Tamburlaine's head (the province of Albania) and on Theridamas' (the government of Media), but instructs that Cosroe is to be forgiven. Believing the Scythian hoard to be no better than a band of thieves, he plans to throw gold upon the battlefield and have them slaughtered as they scramble to collect it up. When Meander loses the battle, Cosroe forgives him and makes him his advisor. He expresses his disgust when Tamburlaine proves treacherous to Cosroe.


A Persian lord and confidant of Cosroe. Mycetes orders him into Scythia to support Theridamas in routing the upstart Tamburlaine. Cosroe advises instead that he be made pro-rex of Africa and so win the Babylonians' hearts. He advises Cosroe to regain Persia's honor by driving the Europeans from Greece as Cyrus once did. He brings Cosroe a good report of Tamburlaine's virtues and hears Cosroe proclaim Tamburlaine regent of Persia once Mycetes is slain.


Two messengers figure in the play.
  • The first messenger reports to Tamburlaine that Mycetes' force is in the field and ready to charge.
  • The second messenger reports to the Soldan of Egypt that Tamburlaine has 300,000 mounted men in armor and 500,000 foot soldiers. This messenger, in IV.i first refers to Tamburlaine's colors:
    • white to signify amity and mildness to the enemy for two days;
    • red to signify death to all enemy combatants;
    • black to signify complete annihilation of the enemy–men, women, and children.


King of Persia. He is a dotard, perhaps suffering from senility, whom Cosroe openly perceives as weak. Annoyed by Tamburlaine's upstart army of 500 in Scythia, he sends Theridamas with 1,000 horse to apprehend him. He becomes enraged when Cosroe openly insults him and goes off to join Theridamas and Tamburlaine in opposing him. In the battle against them, he demonstrates his cowardice by hiding his crown in a "simple hole" so he will not be recognized and taken. However, Tamburlaine accosts him in the act and promises to have the crown for himself. Mycetes is defeated offstage, and Cosroe gives the crown and regency of Persia to Tamburlaine.


A Persian lord loyal to Cosroe. He supports the usurpation of Mycetes and brings Cosroe the crown. He negotiates with Cosroe and wins the promise that Tamburlaine will be named regent of Persia once Mycetes is slain. He expresses his disdain of Tamburlaine when the Scythian proves treacherous to Cosroe.


Only mentioned. The prince of Troy. Mycetes bids Theridamas to return "smiling home" from his encounter with Tamburlaine "as did Sir Paris with the Grecian dame." The trouble of that Trojan homecoming foreshadows the trouble Mycetes is about to have with Tamburlaine.


He arrives late in V to tell Zenocrate that the Egyptian and Arabian forces have arrived outside Damascus to battle Tamburlaine. He likens them to Turnus from Virgil's Aeneid and Tamburlaine to Æneus.


The Prologue promises to lead the audience from "clownage" on the stage. Referring to the playhouse as "this tragic glass," he invites the audience to "the stately tent of war." He ends by inviting applause "as you please."


Father of Zenocrate. He is first seen in IV.i preparing to meet Tamburlaine's army, though he has been caught unawares by their advance. Incensed by the theft of his daughter, he is unwilling to think of Tamburlaine as anything other than a barbarian thief. He joins with the king of Arabia to break Tamburlaine'' siege of Damascus. He is defeated at Damascus but spared for Zenocrate's sake. Tamburlaine frees and enriches him. The Soldan, pleased to discover that Zenocrate has been treated with honor, embraces Tamburlaine's offer. At the coronation of Zenocrate that ends the play, Tamburlaine promises him yearly tribute from the Egyptians, Moors, Asia, and Barbary to Western India.


There is one soldier with a speaking part. He brings Tamburlaine news of the 1,000 horsemen of Theridamas that have come from Mycetes to rout Tamburlaine's force.


"Ghost characters." In praising his wife's superiority and grandeur, Bajazeth speaks of the three sons she has borne him. He compares them favorably to Hercules and predicts that they will grow into mighty warriors.


A Persian and spy for Mycetes. He reports the arrival and superior strength of Tamburlaine's forces, recently combined with Theridamas and Cosroe.


"Ghost characters." The Basso informs Tamburlaine that these horses, 10,000 strong, were brought from Tripoli for Bajazeth's janizaries. The news heartens Techelles, who looks forward to capturing those steeds for Tamburlaine's army.


"Ghost characters." The 1,000 horse of Persia to be led by Theridamas are referred to as "mild white steeds" by Mycetes. These horses become part of Tamburlaine's strength when Theridamas joins forces with him.


A Scythian shepherd become a leader of raiders. There was a prophecy at his birth that he should rule Persia and conquer the world. This prophecy is often recalled in the course of the play. He is first seen wooing the Egyptian captive princess Zenocrate, whom he has waylaid on her way from Media to meet her betrothed, the King of Arabia. He falls in love with her immediately and swears she is more precious to him than the Persian crown for which he aims. At parley with Theridamas, he convinces the Persian to join him and bring his 1,000 horsemen. Shortly thereafter the Persian Cosroe, brother to the king, also joins Tamburlaine. In the battle with Mycetes, he finds the Persian king attempting to hide his crown and promises to have it from him. When the battle is won, Cosroe gives him the crown and regency of Persia. Tamburlaine then surprises Cosroe in his moment of triumph by attacking him and his 20,000 men in order to win the kingship itself. He kills Cosroe in battle and proclaims himself king of Persia. Before meeting the Turkish emperor, Bajazeth, in battle, he seats his betrothed Zenocrate beside the Turkish empress, Zabina, and promises to return victorious. When he defeats Bajazeth, he swears he will not ransom him. He puts him in a cage and uses him for his footstool. He lays siege to Damascus where he displays a series of colors to indicate his level of malice:
  • white flags, plumes, and tents indicate amity and mildness towards his enemy;
  • red trappings portend the death of all combatants, and finally,
  • black presages utter annihilation of all men, women, and children.
By V, he is in black. When the virgins of Damascus come to plead for the city, he has them slain and their bodies hung on the city walls. He defeats Damascus, then meets and defeats the combined forces of Egypt and Arabia, killing the Arabian king and capturing the Soldan of Egypt. For Zenocrate's sake, he frees and enriches the Soldan, her father, crowns her queen of Persia, and promises her the rites of marriage at play's end.


The name most often used to describe the soldiers of Tamburlaine.


A follower of Tamburlaine. He is in awe of his lord as the play opens. After helping Tamburlaine place Cosroe on the throne of Persia, he immediately assists Tamburlaine in usurping him. When later Agydas attempts to dissuade Zenocrate from loving Tamburlaine, Techelles and Usumcasane are sent to kill him. They witness Agydas' suicide and agree that he made a good end. In parley with Bajazeth and his contributory kings, he reacts to the Turks' pomp by advising Tamburlaine not to prolong their lives with talk. He helps defeat the Turks and reenters wearing the crown of one of the contributory kings. Tamburlaine later crowns him king of Fez. Outside Damascus, he is charged with slaying the Damascus virgins and hoisting them up onto the city walls, which he does. He later reports the fall of the city and the approach of the combined Egyptian and Arabian forces. After the Egyptian and Arabian defeat, he says he is ready to crown Zenocrate queen of Persia himself and looks forward to her marriage to Tamburlaine. At play's end, during the coronation, Tamburlaine sends him to his kingdom to rule.


A Persian lord. His king, Mycetes, sends Theridamas with 1,000 horse to apprehend the upstart Tamburlaine. Once Cosroe usurps Mycetes' crown, he intends to join with Theridamas' army to consolidate his power. Theridamas, however, set upon Tamburlaine's 500 foot soldiers, and in parley recognizes the Scythian's strength and charisma and joins forces with Tamburlaine. Together with Tamburlaine, he fights to aid Cosroe to the Persian crown. He then assists Tamburlaine to usurp Cosroe immediately thereafter. In parley later with the Turkish emperor Bajazeth, he reacts to the Turk's pomp by desiring to defeat them and take away their wealth and power. He helps defeat the Turk and takes Bajazeth's crown from the empress Zabina for Tamburlaine. He himself wears the crown of one of the Turk's contributory kings. Tamburlaine later crowns him king of Argier. Outside Damascus, he calls for the Soldan of Egypt to be spared for Zenocrate's sake. At play's end, during the coronation, he is first to hail Zenocrate queen of Persia, and Tamburlaine sends him off to his kingdom to rule.


A follower of Tamburlaine. He expresses his absolute loyalty as the play begins. After helping Tamburlaine place Cosroe on the Persian throne, he immediately assists Tamburlaine in usurping him. When later Agydas attempts to dissuade Zenocrate from loving Tamburlaine, Usumcasane and Techelles are sent to kill him, but they only witness Agydas' suicide. He calls the act "manly" and goes to beg Tamburlaine to give Agydas a "triple-worthy burial." He helps defeat the Turks and returns wearing the crown of one of the Turk's contributory kings. Tamburlaine later crowns him king of Morocco. After the fall of Damascus and defeat of the combined Egyptian and Arabian forces, he personally brings in Zenocrate's crown when Tamburlaine proclaims her queen of Persia. At play's end, during the coronation, Tamburlaine sends him to his kingdom to rule.


Four virgins of Damascus with laurel branches figure in the play:
  • The first virgin scolds the Governor of Damascus because he waited until Tamburlaine flew his remorseless black colors before taking action. Apparently the women had earlier, when Tamburlaine flew the white of amity, advised the Governor to surrender. She goes to Tamburlaine and pleads for clemency, but is summarily denied.
  • The second virgin resolves before the Governor to do her best to sway Tamburlaine, but is in fact mute in the meeting with him.
  • The third and fourth virgins are non-speaking roles.
Tamburlaine orders Techelles to take the virgins and put them to death, which he does offstage. Their corpses are then reportedly hoisted up on Damascus's walls.


Only mentioned. King of Persia, son of Darius, invader of Greece who lost at the battle of Salamis. Tamburlaine compares his army favorably to the hosts of Xerxes.


Empress of the Turks, wife of Bajazeth. Bajazeth places her on his throne, his crown upon her head, and tells her to wait here while he goes to defeat Tamburlaine. The show is to impress Tamburlaine, and he boasts of her glory as wife and mother of their three magnificent sons. Tamburlaine places Zenocrate beside her, and the two women quarrel as the two armies clash. When the Turks are defeated, she curses Mahomet and is led away in Zenocrate's charge. She become slave to Zenocrate's handmaid, Anippe, but continues to curse Tamburlaine until Anippe threatens to have her whipped. She is made to feed Bajazeth, who is confined to a cage, from the scraps of Tamburlaine's table. Outside Damascus, she joins with Bajazeth in cursing Tamburlaine as he prepares to meet the combined forces of Egypt and Arabia. They both despair, and she doubts Mahomet's power. She goes to fetch water for her caged husband, but upon returning finds that he has dashed out his brains upon the bars of his cage. She runs mad at the sight and runs against the cage, braining herself as well. At play's end, Tamburlaine promises to give her an honorable burial.


Daughter of the Soldan of Egypt and beloved of Tamburlaine. Tamburlaine captured her as she traveled with safe conduct from Media to meet her betrothed love, the King of Arabia. Though pleading for her safety, she recognizes Tamburlaine's lordly bearing from the first. When the Median retinue are awestruck and agree to join Tamburlaine, she reluctantly agrees to remain as well. Later, we learn that Tamburlaine has raped her, and, after a period of despising him, she falls in love with her captor. When Bajazeth seats his wife, Zabina, on his throne, his crown upon her head, and bids her await his victorious return, Tamburlaine places Zenocrate beside the Turkish empress, his crown upon her head, and promises to bring the defeated Turks back to lay at her feet. In this scene we learn that she is betrothed to Tamburlaine. As the battle takes place offstage, the two women quarrel. When the Turks fall, she gives Zabina as a slave to her handmaid, Anippe. Outside Damascus, she asks Tamburlaine to show mercy on her people, the Egyptians, but he denies her. He later promises to spare her father and friends. She grieves the deaths in Damascus and comes upon the suicides of Bajazeth and Zabina. She fears for Tamburlaine that Fortune will bring him low as she did the Turkish emperor. As the battle between Tamburlaine and the Egyptian and Arabian forces engages, she likens herself to Lavinia from Virgil's Aeneid, caught between Turnus (her father and former love) and Æneus (Tamburlaine). The king of Arabia is wounded and, having fought his way to her, dies in her arms professing his love. She rejoices, however, to see her father alive and both freed and enriched. The play ends with her coronation and the promise that Tamburlaine will perform a marriage rite with her.


The Prologue invites us to "View but [Tamburlaine's] picture in this tragic glass" of theatre.

I.i: Cosroe scolds his brother Mycetes, king of Persia, for being fickle-brained and incompetent. Mycetes has his right-hand man Meander dispatch Theridamas to conquer the bandit Tamburlaine. Theridamas goes with one thousand men on horse to vanquish the five hundred infantry soldiers of Tamburlaine. Cosroe insists that Mycetes is committing too many men to fight Tamburlaine when the Babylonians are a greater threat. Mycetes will not listen. He is a jellyfish. As soon as Mycetes leaves Ortygius enters with the Persian crown. Ortygius, Ceneus and others crown Cosroe king of Persia. The coup has ousted Mycetes.

I.ii: Tamburlaine has taken the Egyptian princess Zenocrate captive. She calls him a shepherd but sees greatness in him. She and her followers sue to be released, but Tamburlaine swears he does not want their ransom but rather the princess herself. His men, we learn, are loyal to Tamburlaine and fight lustily to conquer the world for future, not present gain. Tamburlaine speaks eloquently of the future empire he will build. It has been prophesied that he will be ever victorious, and the prophecy is often referred to in the text. He has two right-hand men—Usumcasane and Techelles. Techelles enters with news of Theridamas's approach. Tamburlaine calls a parley and convinces the Persian general to join with him for future glory—each of his generals will be made kings. Everyone, including the Egyptian band Tamburlaine has captured, is captivated by his charisma and yield to him.

II.i: Cosroe has seen the advantage of joining with Tamburlaine and marching against Mycetes's ousted forces. Menaphon describes Tamburlaine as a man among men—a demi-god.

II.ii: Mycetes prepares for war. His hatred is stirred against both Tamburlaine and his brother Cosroe. The person who kills Tamburlaine is promised the province of Albania; he who kills the "traitor" Theridamas will rule Media; the person who brings Cosroe before Mycetes will give him "princely lenity." Meander's plan is, as Tamburlaine's men are mercenary thieves, Mycetes's men will toss gold before them and kill Tamburlaine's men as they stoop to retrieve the treasure.

II.iii: Tamburlaine speaks again of his oracular strength and invincibility in battle. Theridamas attests that he speaks highly, but his actions in war are higher still. A messenger enters with news that Mycetes's army is poised to charge.

II.iv: Mycetes sneaks behind the battlefield to hide his crown in a hole to keep himself from being recognized or his crown stolen from him. There he meets Tamburlaine, who handles the crown and promises to have it for himself before he returns it to Mycetes and identifies himself. After he leaves, Mycetes wonders why the arch thief did not steal his crown when he had it in he hands.

II.v: The battle is ended, Cosroe and Tamburlaine's forces have triumphed. Meander is accepted into Cosroe's counsel. Cosroe is crowned king of Persia and hastens on to Persepolis to be paraded and to sit on the throne. Once he leaves with twenty thousand men, Tamburlaine and his men decide that Tamburlaine is best to wear the Persian crown. Tamburlaine sends Techelles to warn Cosroe that he means to engage him with one thousand of his men. Cosroe cannot believe the arrogance of Tamburlaine and swears to destroy Tamburlaine's one thousand men with his twenty thousand.

II.vii: The battle is engaged; Cosroe enters wounded. He dies cursing both Theridamas and Tamburlaine. Tamburlaine crowns himself king of Persia.

III.i: Bajazeth, emperor of the Turks, enters with his three contributory kings: Fez, Morocco, and Argier. Tamburlaine has assailed the Turks, and Bajazeth promises to crush him. He tells Tamburlaine that he has three days to retreat. The Turks are planning a blockade of Constantinople to win that city.

III.ii: Agydas, Zenocrate's counselor from Egypt tells Zenocrate that she is wrong to fall in love with Tamburlaine (which she confesses she has) because she is just a toy to him, and he has already lost interest in her. Tamburlaine overhears this counsel and wordlessly enters. He takes Zenocrate away from Agydas. When Techelles and Usumcasane enter with daggers drawn, Agydas kills himself. Techelles and Usumcasane view this as a noble deed and determine to give Agydas a noble burial.

III.iii: Tamburlaine is given Bajazeth's ultimatum by a bassoe. When he learns of Fez, Morocco, and Argier he promises Techelles, Usumcasane, and Theridamas that those crowns will be theirs. Tamburlaine, responding to Theridamas's praise says it "will and shall best fitteth Tamburlaine."

Bajazeth enters. He and Tamburlaine engage in boasting of what they will do to one another once the battle is won. Bajazeth promises to make Tamburlaine and his generals "draw the chariot of my empress." He bids his empress Zabina to sit where she can see the battle. Tamburlaine bids Zenocrate to sit beside Zabina. Zabina calls Zenocrate a "base concubine" (since Tamburlaine has not married Zenocrate). Zenocrate promises to make Zabina her servant's slave.

Tamburlaine wins the battle. The three kings are slain and Bajazeth is captured. Theridamas takes the diadem from Zabina's head and crowns Zenocrate the new empress of the Turks. The deposed emperor and wife curse Tamburlaine, Zenocrate, and Mahomet.

IV.i: Outside of the Sultan of Egypt's palace in Damascus, Tamburlaine's army is trumpeting. The army is now three hundred thousand strong on horse in armor and five hundred thousand foot soldiers with more engines of war than men.

The messenger brings news of Tamburaline's military style:

  • On the first day of a siege he lies pavillioned in white tents, wears a white plume, and flies a white flag. On this day he is willing to be merciful to his enemy and show them every courtesy if they surrender.
  • On the second day the tents, plume, and flag are changed to red—"Then must his kindled wrath be quench'd with blood."
  • On the third day all is black, and Tamburlaine rides a black horse. At that point in the siege he becomes merciless and will show mercy to no man, woman, or child of the besieged town.
The Sultan (Zenocrate's father) is angered by Tamburlaine's treatment of his town and daughter and refuses to surrender.

IV.ii: Tamburlaine calls for his footstool. Bajazeth is brought out in a cage and made to bend down to accommodate Tamburlaine's assent into his throne. Zabina curses him for his audacity. Zenocrate begs Tamburlaine to be merciful to her father, the Sultan of Egypt. Tamburlaine says he will show mercy only if surrender is tendered while his white flag of amity flies.

IV.iii: The Sultan has joined forces with the king of Arabia, who was the betrothed of Zenocrate before Tamburlaine stole her. Their combined power is about half of Tamburlaine's.

IV.iv: Tamburlaine is wearing scarlet. He orders a banquet, which Bajazeth and Zabina curse them in the eating of. The Turks are starving themselves. Again Zenocrate begs Tamburlaine to show mercy to the Sultan of Egypt. Tamburlaine relents and promises that the Sultan's person will be held safe in the battle.

The second course of the banquet is the three crowns of Fez, Morocco, and Argiers. These are given to Tamburlaine's three generals. Theridamas is made king of Argiers; Techelles of Fez; and Usumcasane of Morocco. Zenocrate Tamburlaine refrains from crowning yet "Until with greater honors I be grac'd."

V.i: The governor of Damascus, seeing certain destruction, calls together four fair virgins to go speak terms of peace with Tamburlaine. He hopes that they will "bring us pardon in your cheerful looks."

V.ii: Tamburlaine is in black. The virgins plead to allow their city to surrender to Tamburlaine's mercy. Instead Tamburlaine orders the virgins slaughtered and sent up the walls of Damascus on pikes. Techelles carries out the order. Damascus falls.

Techelles announces that The Sultan and Arabia are marching on Tamburlaine's army. Tamburlaine rides out to meet them. Bajazeth and Zabina call for his defeat and curse him as he leaves. While Tamburlaine is away, Bajazeth sends Zabina to bring him water and, while she is out of sight, he dashes his brains out on the bars of the cage. When Zabina returns she also dashes her brains out on the bars of the cage after first running lunatic.

Zenocrate enters. She doesn't know which army to pray for, her father's and former lover's or her present lover's. She discovers the dead Turks and weeps for their fallen honors. She determines she must pray for Tamburlaine's victory.

Arabia enters wounded. With the last sight of his fair Zenocrate he dies. Tamburlaine enters with the captured Sultan. Zenocrate is happy to find both well. He enriches the Sultan's realm and makes him more powerful. When he sees the dead emperor and empress and the dead king of Arabia he says "such are objects fit for Tamburlaine." He chooses now to invest Zenocrate as queen of Persia—which now includes all of Tamburlaine's conquered lands. The play ends with Tamburlaine promising to solemnize the marriage rites.


Vaunting ambition is the theme of the play and several characters manifest it—Tamburlaine, his generals, the kings and Emperors he encounters. They are all both ambitious and prideful.

Tamburlaine is heroic out of all proportion to the other characters, but he seems cruel at times and driven by his own self will. He is awesome in demeanor, but not particularly sympathetic. Although it is not difficult to see Zenocrate's reason for loving him, he is also wholly unlovable—as when he is slaughtering virgins ruthlessly. He is a complex and an interesting series of contradictions.

Mycetes is a dithering old fool. Cosroe's opinion of him seems justified. So does his overthrow.

Cosroe seems no more ambitious than many characters—and far less than Tamburlaine. He seems to be interested in the well being of Persia, and it seems somewhat of a shame that Tamburlaine makes him his second victim of ambition.

Theridamas is a good soldier. Although he seems at first to be a traitor to Persia, he makes a loyal general to Tamburlaine. He might be second only to Tamburlaine in golden tongued oration.

Techelles and Usumcasane are loyal right-hand men to Tamburlaine, though hardly distinguishable at first. They are both overshadowed when Theridamas becomes one of their number.

Bajazeth and Zabina are as contradictory as Tamburlaine. They are wholly despicable as mean-spirited losers, but Bajazeth's barbaric treatment by Tamburlaine and Zenocrate's weeping upon their deaths is troubling and makes them almost sympathetic against one's will.

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Notes of Interest:

Tamburlaine's fate is determined by a prophecy which is referred to time and again in the play (at I.i.41; I.ii.92; II.iii.7; III.iii.42; IV.ii.33; V.ii.297). On two occasions, in addition, Tamburlaine's "charmed skin" (which seems to be as impenetrable as Macbeth will believe of his own) is mentioned (at I.ii.179 and V.ii.158).

Three days is important. It is the time that Bajazeth first gives Tamburlaine to withdraw his troops from Turkish soil; it is later the time Tamburlaine has chosen to lay siege to citadels like Damascus. In addition, three is the number of boys Zabina gave Bajazeth, and (as will be seen in 2 Tamburlaine) three is the number of boys Zenocrate will give Tamburlaine.

The Marlovian colors—white (or silver), red, and black—are patent in Tam I. Most striking is the Tamburlaine colors at siege: White for amity, Red for war-like siege, and Black for merciless siege.

This play well depicts "Marlowe's mighty line." The iambic pentameter blank verse flows smoothly, makes brilliant use of enjambment and caesura, and raises to heroic heights throughout. It is by far the most splendid use of English language of its time. So effective is it that its power may be felt even in today's debased language of commerce and civil service jargon.

Plays to be compared:

Marlowe's 2 Tamburlaine the Great (for the sequel);

Chronicle plays in general (for the genre).

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