*Asia. Largest continent on Earth, stretching from the Black Sea in the west to the China Sea in the east, and from the Arctic Circle in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south. Tamburlaine the Great dramatizes the rise and fall of the historical conqueror Timur, who reclaimed much of Asia from the Mongols in the late fourteenth century. The location of some of the world’s most powerful dynasties, Asia represents the ultimate achievement for Tamburlaine, who is driven to conquer the world.
Royal courts Marlowe sets most of the action in Tamburlaine the Great in the imperial court of Persia, and in the courts of the king of Arabia, the king of Jerusalem, the governor of Damascus, the king of Hungary, and the governor of Babylon, among others. The courts are the scenes of political duplicity, at which characters boast about their strength and plot the overthrow of their enemies. They are also places where the specter of Tamburlaine continually gains substance, as his military conquests bring him closer to controlling all of Asia. Throughout the play, Marlowe uses court settings to reveal the human and political dimensions of his characters. He does not stage the many battle scenes in the play. Rather, he emphasizes the forces that shape his character’s decisions and the consequences of those decisions.
Tamburlaine’s camps. As he moves through Asia, conquering Persia, Damascus, Turkey, and North Africa, Tamburlaine is generally depicted throughout the play in his camps near the sites of his many military victories. Marlowe portrays Tamburlaine’s valor as a soldier and his vicious cruelty as a tyrant, not on battlefields, but rather in the personal settings of his military camps. There, Tamburlaine gives way to the mitigating influence of Zenocrate, the daughter of the Soldan of Egypt, with whom he is in love.
In the second part of Marlowe’s play, the death of Zenocrate removes the last restraints on Tamburlaine’s lust for blood and power. He then demonstrates his brutality by humiliating and murdering his enemies, who include his own son Calyphas, whom he kills. As with the imperial courts of the kings of Asia, Tamburlaine’s camp provides an intimate portrait of the forces that contribute to his rise and fall as the king of Persia.
When Queen Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne of England in 1558, the nation was poorer and less powerful than the continental powers France and Spain. England had been torn by internal religious strife between Protestants and Catholics, and was quite unstable. Elizabeth, an adept and shrewd monarch who surrounded herself with pragmatic advisors, presided over a period of increasing power and prosperity, making peace with France in 1560, defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588, and garnering relative peace with Catholics and Puritans. England was not without its problems, however. England enjoyed a sometimes precarious political stability. Elizabeth narrowly survived a number of assassination attempts that would have resulted in a fierce battle of succession since, despite pressure from Parliament, she never married or produced an heir.
In this environment of relative tolerance and stability, the flourishing of the arts in continental Europe spread to England, and the late sixteenth century became famous for an extraordinary flowering in literature known as the English ‘‘Renaissance.’’ Writer and statesman Sir Thomas More, and poets Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney, were among the key figures in developing ‘‘humanism’’ in English literature; this involved the revival of classical literature and an emphasis on individual humanity instead of strictly religious themes. Marlowe was perhaps the first major innovator in humanistic English drama, however, along with his friend Thomas Kyd. Marlowe was also very influential over Jonson and Shakespeare, whose writing came at what is generally considered the height of the English...
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