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

Tamburlaine the Great

by Christopher Marlowe

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"If All The Pens That Ever Poets Held"

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Last Updated on June 1, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264

Context: Tamburlaine, flushed with many conquests, almost at the zenith of his career in conquering the world he knew, besieges Damascus. This is the city of Zenocrate, the princess Tamburlaine loves. She asks that her father, its ruler, be dealt with kindly, but Tamburlaine refuses, though to refuse causes him sadness, so that he agrees not to put Zenocrate's father to death when the city falls. The ruler of Damascus sends four beautiful young virgins to Tamburlaine, hoping they can persuade him to accept the city's surrender without slaughter and destruction. The great conqueror, melancholy and dressed all in black, receives the four virgins, but he remains unmoved by their appeal; he has them taken out to be killed by a group of charging horsemen and their bodies hung up in sight of the defenders of the city. Even while giving his heartless orders, however, Tamburlaine thinks of his love for Zenocrate and how her pleas for her father, the Sultan of Egypt, cause him emotion:

. . .
What is beauty saith my sufferings then
If all the pens that ever poets held,
Had fed the feelings of their master's thoughts,
And every sweetnes that suspir'd their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes:
If all the heavenly Quintessence they still
From their immortall flowers of Poesy,
Wherein, as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit.
If these had made one Poems' period
And all combin'd in Beauty's worthiness,
Yet should ther hover in their restless heads,
One thought, one grace, one woonder, at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

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