Tamburlaine the Great

Tamburlaine the Great Literary Elements





Setting and Context

Present time (i.e. 16th century) in various places like Persepolis, Egypt, Scythia, Africa, Damascus and Babylon.

Narrator and Point of View

Because it is a drama, the narrator is present only through stage directions and all the other details are given through the dialogue of the characters in the play.

Tone and Mood

Frightening; violent; tragic; unsettling.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is Tamburlaine, a shepherd who became king, and the antagonists are the kings whom Tamburlaine fights in order to conquer their lands. Such characters are Cosroe, Mycetes, the king of Arabia, the governor of Babylon, Bajazeth, and Callapine.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between Tamburlaine and the other kings, and their conflict results from the desire to hold as much power as possible.


The scene in the second part, when Tamburlaine kills his son, could be considered the climax of the play. If Tamburlaine was initially presented as humane despite his flaws, he kills his humanity at the moment he kills his son. From that point on, Tamburlaine starts to lose his power, and the men self-proclaimed as being more powerful and important that the Gods eventually die.


Calyphas’ death foreshadows Tamburlaine’s death.


Calyphas stands out as a proponent of witty understatement when he sees the two armies ready to fight. When he says that ‘’there will be some hurt done’’, it is an understatement referring to the damage caused by Tamburlaine’s army.


Being a writer in the Renaissance period, Marlow recovers some of the ideas found in ancient mythology. It is only natural that some ideas and allusions towards mythology are present in the play. While in Shakespeare, some of the allusions are clearly stated, in Marlowe’s works, they are hidden and less predominant.
It can be said that Marlowe imagined Tamburlaine as being a titan. In the Ancient Greek mythology, titans preceded Olympian Gods, but were members of the second order of divine beings. The Titanomachy was the war between the Titans and new Gods that lasted 10 years, at the end of which the titans were defeated and locked away; thus a new generation of Gods took their place.
Tamburlaine can be considered a titan of his time. He managed to rise almost to a godlike position, feared and respected by all, only to be cast away from his high position by death. Unlike the Ancient Greek mythology, in which the younger Gods cast away the Titans, Tamburlaine had to lose his position because of the mentality of the time. Even if Marlowe sympathized with his character throughout the play, in the end he felt compelled to kill off Tamburlaine because the Christian mentality of the time could not permit a character consumed by pride and violence to remain in a position fit for a God, ruling over an empire.


In the first part of the play, Act III Scene II, Tamburlaine is presented through Zenocrate’s eyes in a romantic way, portraying him more like a savior than as the person who kidnapped her. This image is destroyed, however, when Tamburlaine orders that Agydas to be killed because he expressed doubts about Tamburlaine: at that moment, Tamburlaine's murderous nature is confirmed.


The way Marlowe describes the defeated kings is a paradox in the way it describes the kings who remained in their rightful place. While the kings who still had power were seen as representing power, the defeated ones were degraded to state resembling buffoons, used for entertainment and at the mercy of the conqueror. It is paradoxical that the very same people could represent such extremes of human nature based purely on political status.


A parallelism is created between the first part and the second part of the play, regarding the foes that Tamburlaine has to face. In the first part, Tamburlaine’s biggest foe is Zenocrate, a foe whom he conquers by making her fall in love with him. In the second part, however, the foe Tamburlaine has to face is death. Whether it is Zenocrate’s death or his own, Tamburlaine is hopeless in his battle against death.


In the first part: "My sword struck fire from his coat of steel" (Act IV, scene 2)

Use of Dramatic Devices

There are a few monologues that can be found in play, from which Tamburlaine’s true personality is revealed. He manifests proudness in excess, comparing himself frequently with the Gods and believing that nothing can affect him. His love for Zenocarte is also shown in the monologue linked to her death, a time when Tamburlaine shows compassion and pain—emotions not often attributable to him.