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

Tamburlaine the Great

by Christopher Marlowe

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"Our Swords Shall Play The Orators For Us"

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Last Updated on June 1, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271

Context: Christopher Marlowe, next greatest Elizabethan dramatist after Shakespeare, was the first to make much use of blank verse on the London stage. Ben Jonson, in his poem to Shakespeare's memory, refers to "Marlowe's mighty line." With his first play, Tamburlaine, in two parts, he took the theatrical world by storm. The drama contains romantic figures speaking in passionate language. It is the story of the Scythian shepherd from Samerkand, usually called Tamerlane (1333–1405), or Timur Leng (Timur the Lame), who claimed descent from Jenghiz Khan. By the force of his personality, he inspired his army to fanatical efforts that conquered kingdoms and empires. While still only a shepherd leader, Tamburlaine stops the caravan of lovely Zenocrate, on her way to marry the Sultan. While wooing her by talking of his life and his ambitions, he receives word that a thousand Persian cavalrymen are riding to attack him. He discusses the situation with followers and officers:

A thousand horsemen!–We five hundred foot!–
An odds too great for us to stand against.
But are they rich?–And is their armor good?
Their pluméd helms are wrought with beaten gold,
Their swords enamelled, and about their necks
Hang massy chains of gold, down to the waist,
In every part exceeding brave and rich.
Then shall we fight courageously with them?
Or look you I should play the orator?
No; cowards and faint-hearted runaways
Look for orations when the foe is near:
Our swords shall play the orators for us.
Come! Let us meet them at the mountain top,
And with a sudden and a hot alarum,
Drive all their horses headlong down the hill.

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