illustration of main character Tamburlaine standing in armor with sword and shield

Tamburlaine the Great

by Christopher Marlowe

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Who are the overreachers in Marlowe's plays, particularly Tamburlaine the Great?

Christopher Marlowe's protagonists are all overreachers who refuse to accept the limits of society. Doctor Faustus does not accept any limit placed on knowledge and is willing to make a pact with a devil, while Tamburlaine refuses to accept any limits to his power.

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Christopher Marlowe was one of the University Wits, who exemplified Renaissance Humanism—the belief in the power and potential of the individual. Tamburlaine's character stands as a testament to this greed for power. He actually proclaims himself to be the "scourge of God."

Tamburlaine the Great was actually based on the Asian emperor Timur. Tamburlaine, in his quest for power, is willing to go to any lengths. He is a bandit who takes over the throne of Persia through devious manipulation. His bloodlust and ferocity help him capture all of Africa.

Tamburlaine tries his best to instill this violence and thirst for blood and vengeance in his three sons. However, one of his sons, Calyphas, does not buy into this agenda. Tamburlaine is unable to brook any opposition and kills Calyphas.

The overreacher Tamburlaine pays a price for his ambition. He burns the Quran and declares himself far superior to any God, but in his final years, as he falls ill, he is forced to realize that he cannot conquer death. Just as Faustus is dragged down to hell, we see Tamburlaine crying out,

Ah, friends, what shall I do? I cannot stand.
Come carry me to war against the gods,
That thus envy the health of Tamburlaine.

Tamburlaine the Great is forced to accept defeat—"For Tamburlaine the Scourge of God must die." Marlowe's characters, with their overweening ambition, must pay the price.

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