Tamburlaine the Great

Introduction

Tamburlaine the Great is a play in two parts by Christopher Marlowe. It is loosely based on the life of the Central Asian emperor, Timur (Tamerlane/Timur the Lame, d. 1405). Written in 1587 or 1588, the play is a milestone in Elizabethan public drama; it marks a turning away from the clumsy language and loose plotting of the earlier Tudor dramatists, and a new interest in fresh and vivid language, memorable action, and intellectual complexity. Along with Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, it may be considered the first popular success of London's public stage.

Marlowe, generally considered the best of that group of writers known as the University Wits, influenced playwrights well into the Jacobean period, and echoes of the bombast and ambition of Tamburlaine's language can be found in English plays all the way to the Puritan closing of the theatres in 1642. While Tamburlaine is considered inferior to the great tragedies of the late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean period, its significance in creating a stock of themes and, especially, in demonstrating the potential of blank verse in drama, is still acknowledged.

Whereas the real Timur was of Turkic-Mongolian ancestry and belonged to the nobility, for dramatic purposes Marlowe depicts him as a Scythian shepherd who rises to the rank of emperor.


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