Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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

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

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.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Elizabethan England
When Queen Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne of England in 1558, the nation was poorer and less powerful...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Blank Verse
In his prefatory tribute to the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, Ben Jonson cited (though in deference...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1400s: Tamerlane rules his vast territories by allowing his soldiers to keep the booty from the conquests and filling his treasury...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Tamburlaine is famous for arousing a mixed reaction in his audiences. What was your response to his character? Were you, like Theridamas,...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, first performed in 1594, concentrates on a forceful and eloquent main character who sells his soul to the...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Jonson, Ben, ‘‘To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us,’’ in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by William Shakespeare, edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. xiv–xvi.

Marlowe, Christopher, Tamburlaine the Great: Parts I and II, edited by J. W. Harper, Ernest Benn, 1971. Sales, Roger, Christopher Marlowe, St. Martin’s Press, 1991, pp. 51–83.

Further Reading
Battenhouse, Roy W., Marlowe’s ‘‘Tamburlaine’’: A Study in Renaissance Moral Philosophy, Vanderbilt University Press, 1964. This book provides an analysis of the play as a didactic and conventionally religious moral statement, in which Tamburlaine is meant to be a figure of evil.

Eliot, T. S., ‘‘Christopher Marlowe,’’ in Selected Essays, 1917–1932, Harcourt, Brace, 1932, pp. 100–07. Eliot’s discussion of Marlowe’s style is one of the most influential modern critical evaluations of the dramatist, and it includes an analysis of the verse in Tamburlaine the Great.

Manz, Beatrice Forbes, The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane, Cambridge University Press, 1989. Manz offers a useful historical account of the Mongol conqueror.

Ribner, Irving, ‘‘The Idea of History in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine,’’ in ELH, Vol. 20, 1954, pp. 251–66. Ribner discusses Marlowe’s classical sources in Tamburlaine the Great and argues that the play denies the role of providence in human history.

Rowse, A. L., Christopher Marlowe, A Biography, Macmillan, 1964. Rowse’s book is a colorful and controversial biography addressed to a wide audience.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Battenhouse, Roy W. Marlowe’s Tamburlaine: A Study in Renaissance Moral Philosophy. 1941. Reprint. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1964. Battenhouse contends that the play upholds traditional morality and the Christian worldview.

Friedenreich, Kenneth. Christopher Marlowe: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism Since 1950. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979. Eighty-three annotated citations to Tamburlaine point the reader to interpretive articles and books.

Knoll, Robert E. “Caesarism.” In Christopher Marlowe. New York: Twayne, 1969. A good starting place for the general reader. Knoll considers the hero appealing in his diabolic aspirations.

Kocher, Paul H. Christopher Marlowe: A Study of His Thought, Learning, and Character. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946. Argues that Marlowe’s view in Tamburlaine the Great is highly iconoclastic and unconventional.

Levin, Harry. “The Progress of Pomp.” In The Overreacher: A Study of Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952. One of the most influential books on Marlowe. Presents the Marlovian hero as a rebel and explores the use of language and irony in Tamburlaine the Great.

Ribner, Irving, ed. Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine Part One and Part Two: Text and Major Criticism. New York: Odyssey Press, 1974. The most comprehensive book on the plays. Features an authoritative text edited and glossed by Ribner. Also reprints eleven influential essays (one from Ellis-Fermor’s milestone 1927 book on Marlowe), and concludes with a useful bibliography. The final essay by Kenneth Friedenreich surveys the critical history of the plays.