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Presumed portrayal of Christopher Marlowe

Tamburlaine the Great is a play in two parts by the English playwright Christopher Marlowe . It is loosely based on the life of the Central Asian military leader Timur (Temür ibn Taraghai Barlas, 1336–1405). When the drama was written in 1587 or 1588, it was considered a milestone in English literature of the Elizabethan era ; it marks a departure from the clumsy language and the simple plots in the plays of earlier playwrights towards a new interest in fresh and lively language, outstanding action and intellectual complexity. Together with the Spanish tragedy of Thomas Kyd could of it as the first public success Elizabethan theater be considered.

Marlowe, as the most prominent of a group of playwrights who later came to be known as the University Wits , influenced the writers during the reign of James I and the echo of the bombast and linguistic ambition as heard in Tamburlaine can be seen in notice all the plays of the time up to the closure of the London theaters (1642) . Although Tamburlaine is considered inferior to the great tragedies of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theater, its importance in the creation of new issues and in particular the demonstration of the potential that the blank verse has in the drama, still undisputed.


While the real Timur was of Turkish-Mongolian descent and belonged to the nobility, Marlowe portrays him as a Scythian shepherd who ascends to become emperor.

Part 1 begins in Persepolis . The Persian Emperor Mycetes sends troops to eliminate Tamburlaine, a Scythian shepherd and at the time a nomadic bandit. In the same scene, the Emperor's brother Cosroe plans to overthrow Mycestes and ascend the throne. The scene changes to Scythia, where Tamburlaine is shown courting, capturing and winning Zenocrate, the daughter of the Egyptian king. Confronted by Mycetes' soldiers, he first persuades the soldiers and then Cosroe to join him in a fight against Mycetes. Although he promised Cosroe the throne of Persia, Tamburlaine broke this promise and took over the leadership of the Persian Empire after defeating Mycetes.

Tamburlaine is now a powerful person and turns his attention to Bajazeth , the emperor of the Turks. He defeats Bajazeth and his side kings and takes him and his wife Zabina prisoner. The victorious Tamburlaine holds the defeated ruler in a cage and feeds him leftovers from his table. He lets Bajazeth go free now and then, but only to use him as a footstool. Upon hearing of Tamburlaine's next victory, Bajazeth kills himself by banging his head against the bars of the cage. When Zabina finds his corpse, she follows him to death.

After Tamburlaine conquered Africa and proclaimed himself emperor of the continent, he turned his gaze to Damascus. A goal that puts the Egyptian sultan, his future father-in-law, right in his path. Zenocrate asks her future husband to spare her father. He agrees and instead makes the Sultan a co-king. The piece ends with the wedding of Tamburlaine and Zenocrate, who is crowned Empress of Persia.

In part 2, Tamburlaine prepares his sons to attack neighboring kingdoms as conquerors. His eldest son, Calyphas, who prefers to stay by his mother's side and not risk death, suffers Tamburlaine's wrath. Meanwhile, Callapine, the son of Bajazeth, escapes from Tamburlaine's prison and gathers a group of minor kings at his side to avenge his father.

Callapine and Tamburlaine clash in battle, with Tamburlaine victorious. When Tamburlaine discovers that his son Calyphas stayed in his tent during the battle, he kills him in anger. Tamburlaine then forces the defeated kings to pull his chariot onto his next battlefield and sneers: “Holla ye pampered jades of Asia!” (Holla you spoiled Moravia of Asia!) And “What, can ye draw but twenty miles a day?” (What Can't you pull more than twenty miles a day?). Upon reaching Babylon , which defends itself against him, Tamburlaine commits further acts of excessive cruelty. When the city governor tries to save his life by revealing access to the city treasury, Tamburlaine lets him hang from the city wall and shoot him. He orders the inhabitants - men, women and children - to be tied up and thrown into a nearby lake. Finally, Tamburlaine scornfully burns a copy of the Koran and claims to be greater than God.

In the final act, he falls ill, but manages to defeat yet another enemy before he dies. Before that, he asks his sons to conquer the rest of the earth if he leaves life.


In both parts
  • Tamburlaine - in part 1 a Scythian shepherd; in part 2 King of Persia
  • Techelles - in part 1 a follower of Tamburlaines; in part 2 King of Fez
  • Usumcasane - in part 1 a follower of Tamburlaines; in part 2 King of Morocco
  • Theridanes - in part 1 a Persian nobleman, later a follower of Tamburlaines; in part 2 King of Algiers
  • Zenocrate - daughter of the Sultan of Egypt; in part 2 wife of Tamburlaine

Only in part 1
  • Mycetes - King of Persia
  • Cosroe - brother of Mycetes
  • Ceneus - a Persian nobleman
  • Ortygius - a Persian nobleman
  • Meander - a Persian nobleman
  • Menaphon - a Persian nobleman
  • Bajazeth - Emperor of Turkey
  • Zabina - wife of Bajazeth
  • Ebea - Zabinas' maid
  • King of Algiers
  • King of Fez
  • King of Morocco
  • Alcidamus - King of Arabia
  • Sultan of Egypt
  • Governor of Damascus
  • Agydas
  • Magnet
  • Capolia - an Egyptian
  • Touch
  • Virgin of Damascus 1
  • Virgin of Damascus 2

Only in part 2
  • Calyphas - son of Tamburlaine
  • Amyras - son of Tamburlaine
  • Celebinus - son of Tamburlaine
  • Orcanes - King of Natolia
  • King of Jerusalem
  • King of Soria
  • King of Trebizon
  • Gazellus - Viceroy of the "City of Byron"
  • Uribassa
  • Sigismund - King of Hungary
  • Frederick - Peer of Hungary
  • Baldwin - Peer of Hungary
  • Callapine - son of Bjazeth
  • Alameda - Guardian of Callapine
  • King of Amasia
  • Governor of Babylon
  • Captain ( company commander ) of Balsera
  • Olympia - wife of the Captain von Balsera
  • Another captain
  • Maximus
  • Peridicas


The piece with both parts was entered in the Stationers' Register on August 14, 1590 . Both parts were published together in a single book (octave format) and in broken script by the printer Richard Jones in the same year ; that text is commonly called O1. designated. A second edition was published by Jones in 1592; a third followed in 1597 which essentially represents the reprint of the text of the first edition. The pieces were then re-published in quarto book size by the bookseller Edward White, Part 1 in 1605 and Part 2 in 1606 (here too the reprint of the text from 1597).

Although no author was named in the first editions and the first clear assignments to Marlowe were clearly made after 1590, the researchers attribute Tamburlaine to him because of the similarities with his other works. It helped that many passages in Tamburlaine let texts of his other works shine through and there is a clear parallel between the character development in Tamburlaine and that of most of Marlowe's other characters. This evidence alone makes the scholars almost unanimous in assuming that Marlowe was the author of Tamburlaine.


The influence of Tamburlaines on the development of the theater in the 1590s cannot be overestimated. The play illustrated and in some cases created many of the hallmarks of highly Elizabethan drama: grandiose and often beautiful imagery (stage and imagination), hyperbolic expression, and strong characters consumed by overwhelming passions.

The first reports on the play, however, were still quite negative: On November 16, 1587, a serious accident occurred in the Rose Theater during the performance by the Admiral's Men : A cannon fired on the stage killed a child and a pregnant woman in the rows of the audience. The following year, in an attack on Marlowe , Robert Greene condemned the tamburlaine as atheist in his epistle . The fact that most theater-goers (and playwrights) received the play with enthusiasm, however, is shown by the subsequent rise of Asian tyrants and "rising heads" in the drama of the 1590s.

Marlowe's influence on many characters in Shakespeare's historical plays was noted by the poet Algernon Swinburne , among others . The literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt thinks it likely that Tamburlaine was one of the first London plays that Shakespeare saw. An experience that inspired his early period dramas , such as the three plays by Henry VI.

At the beginning of the 17th century , this hyperbolic language went out of fashion. Shakespeare, however, uses quotations from Tamburlaine and puts them in the second part of Henry IV. (II.4.155) in the mouth of his soldier Ancient Pistol , who already stands out with boastful tones. In his book Timber , Ben Jonson condemned the "Tamerlanes and Tamer-Chams" of the of the late age, which had nothing in them but the scenic strutting and the exaggerated shouting to grant them to the ignorant gawkers (“the Tamerlanes and Tamer-chams of the late age, which had nothing in them but the scenical strutting and furious vociferation to warrant them to the ignorant gapers ").

Later critics have not been able to disprove Jonson's position that the language and events in plays like Tamburlaine are unnatural and ultimately not convincing. Nevertheless, the piece was seen as the text above all others, "in which the whole restless temperament of the age is expressed"

The literary scholar Robert Huntington Fletcher (1875–1919) (Grinell College, Iowa ) notes that Marlowe “acquired a great deal of flexibility and beauty in avoiding a regular ending arrangement by trying a variety of pauses and periods To ensure accentuation and by giving his language poetic condensation and suggestiveness ”. In his poem on Shakespeare, Jonson mentions "Marlowe's mighty line," a phrase that critics have accepted as fitting, as does Jonson's claim that Shakespeare surpassed it. While Shakespeare is commonly seen to have a much wider range of emotions than his contemporary, Marlowe holds a prominent place as the first genius of blank verse in English drama.


The piece is often associated with Renaissance humanism , which idealizes human potential. Tamburlaine's pursuit of immense power raises profound religious questions when he assumes the role of "Scourge of God" (an epithet originally used for Attila the Hun). Some readers have linked this attitude to Marlowe's allegations of atheismis. Others have more concerned themselves with the alleged anti-Muslim part of the play than in one scene the main character burns the Koran.

Jeff Dailey states in his article "Christian Underscoring in Tamburlaine the Great, Part II" that Marlowe's work is a direct successor to traditional medieval morality and regardless of whether he was an atheist or not, it has religious and allegorical content here Representation adopted.

Performance history

The first part of Tamburlaine was performed by the Admiral's Men at the Rose Theater in late 1587 , about a year after Marlowe left Cambridge University . The star of the troupe Edward Alleyn took over the character of Tamburlaine and apparently it became one of his most distinctive roles. The play's popularity, large enough to induce Marlowe to produce the sequel, led to numerous productions over the next ten years.

The social stratification of the London audience of the early Jacobean period changed the view of the play. For the discerning audience of private theaters such as Blackfriars Theater and the Globe Theater (from the beginning of the 1610s), Tamburlaine's "most amazing modes of expression" were traditional relics of simpler theater times. Satirical playwrights occasionally parodied Marlowe's style, as John Marston said in Introduction to Antonio and Mellida (1599). While it can be considered likely that tamburlaine was performed over and over again in the major gambling houses like the Red Bull Theater , which catered to the traditional, simpler audience, there are no surviving records of a Renaissance performance after 1595.

Tamburlaine suffered far more from the change in taste than Marlowe's other pieces such as Doctor Faustus or The Jew of Malta , in which there were allusions to personal achievements. The English author Edward Phillips (1630–1696) mentions Tamburlaine in his Theatrum Poetarum from 1675, but is so unfamiliar with it that he ascribes it to the English poet Thomas Newton (1542–1607). The playwright Charles Saunders offers another sign of the increasing forgetting that fell victim to this formerly successful piece . After writing his own play on Tamburlaine in 1681, critics accused him of plagiarizing Marlowe's work, to which the latter replied: “I have never heard of a play on the same subject until my own play was performed, nor have I got it seen since, but was told that there was a cock pit play [simple theatrical work performed in cheap theaters] under the name Scythian Shepherd or Tamberlain the Great ; something that no bookseller in London or the few actors who [then] performed it could remember. "

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the tradition arose in Dublin that every birthday William III. perform the piece Tamburlaine. This was only ended in 1713 when the government banned the performance of the play because the prologue contained the then popular slogan "No Peace Without Spain", which referred to the War of the Spanish Succession .

In 1919 the Yale Dramatic Association staged a new performance of the tamburlaine, both parts being edited and combined. This revival in condensed form was presented again at the Old Vic Theater in September 1951 , with Donald Wolfit holding the title role. On the occasion of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario , Tamburlaine was taken in 1956 by Tyrone Guthrie in another double version, starring Donald Wolfit, William Shatner , Robert Christie and Louis Negin; it went on to Broadway , but it couldn't get caught there. I.a. the critic Eric Bentley panned the play. Even though Anthony Quayle , who replaced Donald Wolfit in the title role, was nominated for the Tony Award , as was Tyrone Guthrie for directing.

The 1976 Royal National Theater production saw Albert Finney in the title role of Tamburlaine; This also opened the new Olivier Theater on the South Bank. The director was here Peter Hall . This production is widely considered to be the most successful of the rare modern productions.

In 1993 the Royal Shakespeare Company staged an award-winning production with Antony Sher as Tamburlaine and Tracy Ann Oberman as Olympia. Jeff Dailey directed both parts of the play in full length at the American Theater of Actors in New York City . The first part was performed in 1997 and the second part in 2003.

Avery Brooks played the tambourine in a Shakespeare Theater Company production. The play ran from October 28, 2007 to January 6, 2008 and was directed by Michael Kahn .

A new production combining Part 1 and Part 2 ("trims Marlowe's two five-act acts to three hours of playing time [with a half-hour break]") directed by Michael Boyd was released on November 16, 2014 at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, New York listed. With John Douglas Thompson as Tamburlaine, Merritt Janson as Zenocrate / Callapine and another large cast, each with several roles.

A production by the Lazarus Theater Company was shown at the Tristan Bates Theater in London's West End between August 25 and September 12, 2015 .

From November 1, 2014 to January 14, 2015, Tamburlaine was performed at the Theater for a New Audience , where it won the 2015 Obie Award (for performance by actor John Douglas Thompson.)

In August 2018, the Royal Shakespeare Company brought Tamburlaine to the stage in Stratford-upon-Avon .

While the play has been regularly revived over the past century, the requirements for performance - the required large cast and a seasoned actor capable of such a challenging lead role - have prevented a wider range of performances.

Controversy 2005

In November 2005, a Tamburlaine production at the Barbican Arts Center in London was suspected of having reacted in advance to the sensitivities of Muslims by changing the part of the play in which the title character burns the Koran and insults the Islamic prophet Mohammed . The sequence was changed so that Tamburlaine instead stains all books with religious beliefs. However, the director denied the censorship of the play and said the change was a "purely artistic" decision to "focus the play from anti-Turkish pantomime to an existential epic".


There were two adaptations for BBC Radio 3 , each of which combined both parts into one broadcast. The first was directed by Michael Fox and aired on September 26, 1993; Contributors here were Michael Pennington as Tamburlaine, Samantha Bond as Zenocrate, Clive Rowe as Theridamas, Louis Hilyer as Techelks, Peter Guinness as Usumcasane, Rudolph Walker as Bajazeth / Orcanes and Timothy Walker as Mycetes / Calyphas. The second adaptation aired on September 16, 2012, starring Peter Kavanagh as director, starring Peter Con O'Neill as Tamburlaine, Susie Riddell as Zenocrate, Oliver Ford Davies as Mycetes, Kenneth Cranham as Cosroe, Shaun Prendergast as Techelles, Ewan Bailey as Theridamas and Edward de Souza as sultan.

Klingon Tamburlaine is an unofficial fan project that has been ported to the Star Trek universe. It was performed at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2019.


  • In May 1593 xenophobic posters in London, the so-called. Circulated Dutch Church Libels which with Tamburlaine were signed. In fact, Marlowe was also considered a suspected author, especially since the main suspect, Marlowe's guild colleague Thomas Kyd , accused him of authorship under torture.
  • From its opening in 2017 to its renaming in November 2019, a four-star hotel in Marlowe's place of study was called Cambridge Tamburlaine .

See also


  • David Bevington: From Mankind to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in Elizabethan Drama . Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1965
  • Edmund Kerchever Chambers : The Elizabethan Stage. 4 volumes, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1923
  • George L. Geckle: Tamburlaine and Edward II: Text and Performance . Humanities Press International, New Jersey 1988
  • Constance Brown Kuriyama: Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life , Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York 2002
  • JG Simms: War and Politics in Ireland, 1649-1730 . A&C Black, 1986.
  • Eugene Waith: The Herculean Hero in Marlowe, Chapman, Shakespeare, and Dryden . Columbia University Press, New York 1967
  • FP Wilson: Marlowe and the Early Shakespeare . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953

Web links

Commons : Tamburlaine  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Assumed after a fragmentary “Mag.” In the text
  2. Chambers, Volume 3, p. 421.
  3. ^ Edmund Kerchever Chambers The Elizabethan Stage. 4 volumes, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1923. Volume. 2, p. 135.
  4. ^ Robert Greene: Perimedes the Blacksmith. (PDF) Edward White, 1588, p. 37 , accessed on March 19, 2020 (English, edition with modern notation, copyright Nina Green May 2005): "... daring God out of heaven with that atheist Tamburlaine"
  5. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare WW Norton & Company, 2004, pp. 189-249
  6. Della Hilton, Who Was Kit Marlowe? , Tamburlaine in London , Taplinger Publishing Company, p. 42, "[...] Shall pack-horses / And hollow pampered jades of Asia, / Which cannot go but thirty miles a dag [...]?"
  7. Ben Jonson: Timber, or Discoveries made upon men and matter, as they have flowed out of his daily readings, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of the times, a commonplace book , London 1640, online
  8. ^ William Long: English Literature: Its History and Significance online in gutenberg.org
  9. ^ Robert Huntington Fletcher: A History of English Literature for Students . The Gorham Press, Boston 1916, p. 136 online at archive.org
  10. L. Dailey "Christian Underscoring in Tamburlaine the Great, Part II " , Journal of Religion and Theater , Volume 4, No. 2, Fall 2005. (At the Association for Theater in Higher Education), PDF 100 kB
  11. Quoted in Frederick S. Boas, Christopher Marlowe: A biographical and critical study Clarendon Press, Oxford 1953, p. 70
  12. Quoted in Boas, Christopher Marlowe , p. 300
  13. Boas, Christopher Marlowe , pp. Xiii
  14. ^ Tamburlaine the Great (Parts I and II) on the National Theater website ( Memento of February 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  15. Emily C. Bartels, Emma Smith: Christopher Marlowe in Context , Cambridge University Press, 2013 in Google Book Search USA
  16. Brooks, Page, Etc. Set for New Shakespeare Theater Season ( English ) broadwayworld.com. March 5, 2007. Accessed March 23, 2020.
  17. a b It's Best Not to Make Him Angry: Marlowe's 'Tamburlaine, Parts I and II,' in Brooklyn Ben Brantley in The New York Times on November 19, 2014
  18. ^ Lazarus Theater Company . Template: dead link /! ... nourl ( Page no longer available )
  19. Obie Awards, 2015 Winners .
  20. Overwiew: TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT by Christopher Marlowe Information of the Polonsky Shakespeare Center
  21. Dominic Cavendish: Tamburlaine, RSC: a very modern reading of Marlowe's violent play, review . In: The Daily Telegraph , August 25, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2020. 
  22. Farr, David "Tamburlaine wasn't censored" . The Guardian November 25, 2005
  23. ^ Tamburlaine the Great on the BBC, September 23, 1993
  24. Tamburlaine the Great on the BBC - Inforest only
  25. https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6010
  26. A libel, Fixte vpon the French Church Wall, in London. Ann o 1593 o ( Memento from September 8, 2001 in the Internet Archive )
  27. £ 50million Tamburlaine hotel sold to become the Clayton in Cambridge Independent on November 21, 2019