Tamburlaine the Great Questions and Answers
by Christopher Marlowe

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Discuss Tamburlaine the Great as a Marlowian tragic hero.

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Marlowe's tragic heroes are often seen as "overreachers." The perfect example is Faustus whose "waxen wings did mount above his reach" in a metaphor that compares him with Icarus. It is characteristic of the Marlovian hero to fly too close to the sun.

Faustus says that with the help of Mephistopheles he will "be great emperor of the world." He never comes close or even makes any effort to achieve this goal, but one Marlovian hero who does is Tamburlaine, the Scythian shepherd who conquers Persia and then goes on the a long sequence of other victories.

Tamburlaine the Great is an unusual play. It is very long, divided into two parts, each of which takes several hours to perform but has almost no plot: Tamburlaine kills some people, kills more people, kills a lot more people, then dies.

Tamburlaine's overreaching is simply that he is a mortal. He is never conquered in battle. His tragedy is everyone's tragedy. In the meantime. He commits extraordinary hubris. He is regularly compared to a god and calls himself "the scourge of God". Theridamas, his most loyal follower, says that he is "greater than Mahomet" (whom Marlowe seems to regard as the Muslim God). Later, he burns copies of the Koran and challenges Mahomet to come and stop him.

There is nothing outstandingly tragic about Tamburlaine. Marlowe refuses to have his greatest warrior beaten or punished, however great his pride. He never "falls" in the way that the heroes of classical tragedy do. He does not quite conquer the world because he has not enough time. His death is the universal tragedy we all suffer so that Tamburlaine, continually exceptional in life, is an everyman figure in death.

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