Tamburlaine the Great by Christopher Marlowe

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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, ‘‘Won with [his] words?’’ To what degree did you find him cruel and barbarous, and at which points did you find him cruelest? Is Tamburlaine a hero and a protagonist? Why or why not? Discuss the reactions you think Tamburlaine is meant to inspire. How are these reactions important to Marlowe’s goals in the play?

Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus (1594) is also about a power-hungry character who inspires ambivalent reactions in the audience. Read this play and compare it with Tamburlaine the Great. How are the moral themes of the plays similar? How do they differ? What does Dr. Faustus imply about one human’s relationship to the universe? How does this differ from the implications of Tamburlaine the Great? How do the plays differ in style and form? Which one sheds more light on today’s society, and which one would you rather see performed today? Explain your choices.

Identify the key scenes in Tamburlaine the Great, including the most eloquent scene, the most daring scene, the scene with the most important turning point, and the scene most crucial to establishing Marlowe’s major themes. Support your choices with examples and quotes, and explain your decisions. Then, perform one of these scenes with your classmates. Think about the best way to portray the scene according to the point it is trying to make, and think about which characters are most important to the scene and how to emphasize their importance. What is the best way to deliver what Ben Jonson called ‘‘Marlowe’s mighty line?’’ How can you approach your performance of the play to best express what you consider to be its meaning? Use your answers to improve your performance.

Tamburlaine the Great departs substantially from the actual history of the Mongol warlord, Tamerlane. Read a prominent history book about Tamerlane and discuss how this changes your view of the conqueror. How does the contemporary view of Tamerlane differ from Marlow’s portrayal? How might Marlowe’s play be different if it treated Tamburlaine as he is depicted in modern histories? Support your answer with examples and discuss, more broadly, the goals of history texts and how they differ from those of historical fiction.