Tamburlaine the Great

Tamburlaine the Great Summary and Analysis of Part Two: Act III Scenes 1-5


3.1. All of Tamburlaine’s enemies—Callapine, Orcanes, and the kings of Trebizon, Soria, and Jerusalem—have assembled and are planning their attack. Orcanes crowns Callapine emperor of Turkey, and Callapine rallies the assembled kings and lords to avenge Bajazeth. Each recounts the size and strength of the army he’s brought. Callapine promises Alameda that he’ll soon grant him the kingdom he promised, and the other kings approve.

3.2. Tamburlaine and his sons march in mourning, bearing the hearse of Zenocrate around the burning town. Tamburlaine has also erected a pillar commemorating her and forbidding anyone from rebuilding the town. Still enraged at her death, Tamburlaine again vows to keep her by him until his own demise to inspire him to courage.

Amyras, Calyphas, and Celebinus express their grief as well, but their father cuts them short and launches into a long discourse on how to properly lay a siege and build a fortress. Again Calyphas has doubts about engaging in the kind of combat Tamburlaine describes. Tamburlaine curses Calyphas' cowardly fear of death, and as a sort of demonstration cuts his own arm, claiming that wounds are as glorious as crowns. Calyphas is unimpressed, but his brothers each offer Tamburlaine their arms. The mere offer satisfies him, and all exit to prepare for battle with Callapine and his allies.

3.3. Tamburlaine has dispatched Techelles and Theridamas to take a fortress in Soria. Upon arriving they begin to make preparations for a siege, but first they approach the walls and offer the Captain of the fort the chance to surrender. He refuses, despite their threats, and the siege begins.

3.4. As Theridamas and Techelles take the fortress, the Captain and his wife Olympia attempt to escape with their son, but the Captain is wounded and dies. Olympia despairs and draws a dagger to commit suicide. Her son begs her to kill him first, and she does. Before she can turn the dagger on herself, however, Theridamas and Techelles arrive and stop her. Admiring her bravery, they offer to take her back to Tamburlaine, who, surely also impressed, will help match her with a king or viceroy. She refuses, instead pleading with them to let her die. When it becomes clear they won’t allow it, she agrees to come with them, still wishing only for death.

3.5. A messenger delivers to Callapine and his allies news of Tamburlaine’s location—nearby Aleppo—and reports on the huge size of his army. Unimpressed, Callapine asks the other kings to review the size of their combined forces. The results leave Callapine assured of victory, and he urges them to the battle. But just then Tamburlaine and Usumcasane arrive. They mock the kings, to which Orcanes replies by insulting Tamburlaine’s low birth.

Each side attempts to outdo the other in elaborate insults and threats. At one point Tamburlaine promises to use the defeated kings as horses to draw his chariot. Noticing Alameda, he curses him for his treachery, which prompts Callapine to crown Alameda a king on the spot. Theridamas and Techelles return from their expedition just in time to toss in a few boasts of their own before the battle.


Callapine’s rousing speech to the assembly of kings and lords who’ve come together to back him is reminiscent of Tamburlaine’s manner of addressing his followers in the first part of the play. Of course he never reaches the poetry characteristic of Tamburlaine’s best moments, but here at least is a bold ruler fully in command of his language, and evidently with justice on his side. Notably, he even invokes one of Tamburlaine’s favorite words—‘scourge’—saying, “That Jove, surcharged with pity of our wrongs, / Will pour it down in showers on our heads, / Scourging the pride of cursèd Tamburlaine” (3.1.35-37). Marlowe here invokes this key term to suggest that Tamburlaine may now be the proud tyrant that needs scourging, like Mycetes, Cosroe, and Bajazeth before him.

Tamburlaine’s mourning of Zenocrate in particular also contains a series of biblical references that further develop the theme of the “Scourge of God.” Of the burning town, Larissa, he declares,

So, burn the turrets of this cursèd town,

Flame to the highest region of the air,

And king heads of exhalations

That, being fiery meteors may presage

Death and destruction to th’ inhabitants!

Over my zenith hang a blazing star,

That may endure till heaven be dissolved.... (3.2.1-6).

The imagery of creating a new star via the burning town forms a perverse echo of the gospel story of the wise men and the birth of Jesus, whose risen star leads them to him. But while that star foretells the coming of the Son of God, this one presages “death and destruction.” The “pillar” he has placed in memory of her likewise invites comparison to the pillar erected by Jacob in Genesis 28:18 to commemorate his vision of a “ladder to heaven,” sometimes also taken as a metaphor for Jesus Christ.

It’s possible to see this as mere sacrilege, setting up Tamburlaine for divine punishment. Yet there’s also a sense in which Zenocrate has seemed to offer him a “ladder to heaven” throughout both parts of the play. She’s been his moral compass, and it’s plausible to think that her figurative ascent could produce a kind of guiding star, reminding Tamburlaine to look to the heavens for guidance as well.

Marlowe’s increased reliance in Part Two of Tamburlaine on biblical imagery taken from his long theological studies surely stems in part from the fact that, in contrast to Part One, Marlowe had no historical sources to go on for the narrative of Part Two. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Marlowe didn’t use what he had at hand to craft a coherent sequel—one in which what’s at stake is not so much Tamburlaine’s earthly deeds, but, perhaps, his soul. However, Tamburlaine doesn't yet seem to be making good use of the “ladder” offered him by the advice of Zenocrate. In fact, his slightly frantic, detailed exposition of the art of siege to his sons, following immediately on their grieving for Zenocrate, suggests that he’s instead simply burying the depth of his grief in more conquest and war.

This speech and the inundation of boasts, insults, and meticulous catalogs of the size of armies all wear on far too long in 3.5. One can see this either as a sign that Marlowe was at a loss to recreate the same sense of high drama in the second part of his play, or as a means of demonstrating the ultimate emptiness of earthly power and pomp. Either way, much of this dialogue is quite boring, no doubt about it.