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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1032

Part 1, Acts 1–2
Tamburlaine the Great begins with a prologue declaring that, unlike the silly wordplay of previous literature, this play will feature the ‘‘high astounding’’ words and actions of a conqueror. Act 1 then opens with the king of Persia, Mycetes, complaining to his brother Cosroe of a band of outlaws led by a ‘‘Scythian’’ shepherd named Tamburlaine. Scythians would technically have lived north and northeast of the Black Sea, but Marlowe uses the term interchangeably with ‘‘Tartar,’’ which signi- fies the area of East Asia controlled by Mongol tribes. Cosroe criticizes his brother for being a weak and foolish king, and Mycetes instructs his chief captain Theridamas to kill Tamburlaine and his band before they enter Persia. Then, two Persian lords inform Cosroe of widespread unrest and offer him the crown, which Cosroe accepts.

Act 1, scene 2 introduces Tamburlaine, who has captured the Egyptian princess Zenocrate and is declaring his love for her. Theridamas arrives with one thousand soldiers, compared to Tamburlaine’s five hundred, but Tamburlaine convinces Theridamas in a parlay to join his side. In act 2, Cosroe joins with Tamburlaine to overthrow his brother. When Mycetes hears of this, his lord Meander forms a plan to throw gold on the field in order to distract soldiers, whom he considers to be greedy thieves. Tamburlaine encounters Mycetes attempting to hide his crown in a hole; Tamburlaine tells Mycetes that he will not steal his crown yet, but take it when he wins the battle. After Tamburlaine and Cosroe conquer Mycetes’s army, Cosroe departs for Persepolis, the capitol. Tamburlaine decides to challenge Cosroe to a battle for the Persian crown. Tamburlaine triumphs and Cosroe dies, cursing Tamburlaine and Theridamas.

Part 1, Acts 3–5
In act 3, scene 1, the Turkish Emperor Bajazeth discusses with his subsidiary kings their siege of Constantinople, which was then held by Christians. He warns Tamburlaine not to enter Africa or ‘‘Graecia,’’ which included much of the Balkan peninsula, then under Turkish control. In the next scene, Tamburlaine overhears the Median, or Iranian, Lord Agydas urge Zenocrate to disdain Tamburlaine’s suit, but Zenocrate stresses that she wants to be his wife. Tamburlaine surprises them, and Agydas stabs himself to avoid torture. Act 3 concludes with Tamburlaine’s victory over the Turks and Tamburlaine making slaves of Bajazeth and his wife Zabina.

Zenocrate’s father, the ‘‘soldan,’’ or sultan of Egypt, opens act 4 by vowing to stop Tamburlaine’s advances upon Egypt with the help of the king of Arabia, who was Zenocrate’s betrothed before Tamburlaine kidnapped her. Tamburlaine and Zenocrate then humiliate and torture Bajazeth and Zabina. Tamburlaine vows to overtake Egypt despite his wife’s plea to pity her father. In act 5, the governor of Damascus, besieged by Tamburlaine’s army, sends a group of virgins to plead for mercy, but Tamburlaine has them slaughtered and hoisted on the city walls. When Tamburlaine goes to fight the soldan and the king of Arabia, Bajazeth and Zabina kill themselves by beating out their brains. Zenocrate finds them and is dismayed by their and her people’s blood on Tamburlaine’s hands. After the king of Arabia dies and Tamburlaine wins the battle, sparing the soldan’s life and actually giving him more territory than before, Tamburlaine crowns Zenocrate queen of Persia.

Part 2, Acts 1–3
Orcanes, the king of ‘‘Natolia,’’ or Anatolia, the region east of the Bosporus in present-day Turkey, and Sigismond of Hungary begin act 1 by swearing to uphold a truce, while Tamburlaine advances on Anatolia from Egypt. Bajazeth’s son Callapine, who is Tamburlaine’s prisoner in Egypt, then convinces his jailer Almeda to help him escape, promising him a kingdom. Meanwhile, Tamburlaine instructs his three sons on the arts of war; he harasses Calyphas, the son not inclined to fight, for being a coward. Tamburlaine meets Theridamas, Techelles, and Usumcasane, and they prepare to march on Natolia.

In act 2, Sigismond agrees to break his vow with Orcanes and attack the Natolian army while Orcanes is preparing to engage Tamburlaine. Orcanes wins the battle, however, attributing the victory partly to Christ, since Sigismond broke his vow to the Christian savior. Tamburlaine then discovers that Zenocrate is sick. Her physicians can do nothing to save her, and she dies. Act 3 begins with the crowning of Callapine as the Turkish emperor, and Callapine’s vow to avenge his father’s wrongs. Tamburlaine then burns down the town in which Zenocrate died, forbidding the world to rebuild it, and gives his sons a lesson in fortitude. Theridamas and Techelles march northward, where they sack Balsera, a town on the Natolian frontier. They capture its captain’s wife, Olympia, after she burns her son’s and husband’s bodies. Tamburlaine and Usumcasane then parlay with Callapine and his subsidiary kings, threatening each other and boasting.

Part 2, Acts 4–5
Act 4, scene 1 reveals Tamburlaine’s sons Amyras and Celebinus attempting to convince their brother Calyphas to fight, but Calyphas refuses. After Tamburlaine returns in triumph, he stabs Calyphas, calling him slothful and weak and ordering that the Turkish concubines bury him. In the next scene, Theridamas attempts to court Olympia, but she wishes to die and tricks him into stabbing her. Tamburlaine then rides in his chariot drawn by the former kings of ‘‘Soria,’’ or Syria, and ‘‘Trebizon,’’ or Trabzon, an area in the northeastern section of present-day Turkey, and tells his soldiers to rape the Turkish concubines.

Tamburlaine’s next conquest is of Babylon. Since the governor refuses to yield the city, Tamburlaine has him hung in chains and shot. He then orders the kings of Trebizon and Soria hung, bridles Orcanes and Jerusalem on his coach, orders all Babylonian men, women, and children drowned, and commands that sacred Islamic books be burnt. Afterwards, Tamburlaine feels ‘‘distempered,’’ and soon it becomes clear that Tamburlaine is deathly ill. En route to Persia, a messenger arrives to inform Tamburlaine that Callapine, who escaped from the battle in Natolia, has gathered a fresh army and means to attack. Tamburlaine scares them away, but he is too weak to pursue them. He retires to review his conquests and regret that he cannot conquer more. He then crowns his son Amyras, orders Zenocrate’s hearse to be brought in, and dies.

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