Tamburlaine the Great

Tamburlaine the Great Quotes and Analysis

I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains, / And with my hand turn Fortune’s wheel about, / And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere / Than Tamburlaine be slain or overcome.

Part One Act One scene two, ll. 173-176

These four lines are the most succinct expression of the extent of Tamburlaine’s ambition. At this point he has only a measly 500 foot-soldiers behind him and no significant victories under his belt. He faces likely destruction at the hands of Theridamas’s superior forces. Yet the force of this words and the vision they invoke allows him to reverse his seemingly certain defeat into a total victory. The rhetoric here is hyperbolic, simple, and direct. Marlowe’s imagery forms a sly inversion of the myth of Prometheus, chained to a rock and doomed to an eternity of torture for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind. Marlowe thus takes an archetypical image of divine punishment of human pride and turns it on its head, with the Fates in chains and man in charge.

Nature, that framed us of four elements / Warring within our breasts for regiment, / Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds. / Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend / The wondrous architecture of the world / And measure every wandering planet’s course, / Still climbing after knowledge infinite, / And always moving as the restless spheres, / Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest, / Until we reach that ripest fruit of all, / That perfect bliss and sole felicity, / The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

Part One Act Two scene seven, ll. 18-29

This quote is perhaps the most famous part of the play. It contains an entire theory of human nature, framed in awe-inspiring phrases such as the imagery of “the wondrous architecture of the world.” The words “Still climbing after knowledge infinite” contain a possible allusion to the myth of Sisyphus, whose punishment of eternally rolling a boulder up a hill has often been taken as a allegory for the human condition. This is a forceful and grand statement of Renaissance humanism, a mode of thought that idealized the potential of human beings. Here Tamburlaine recasts the endless striving inherent in human nature as a gift, a notion that’s fundamentally at odds with his too-neat resolution settling on the permanent satisfaction promised by “an earthly crown.”

Villains, these terrors and these tyrannies— / If tyrannies war’s justice ye repute— / I execute, enjoined me from above, / To scourge the pride of such as heaven abhors; / Nor am I made arch-monarch of the world, crowned and invested by the hand of Jove, / For deeds of bounty or nobility; / But, since I exercise a greater name, / The scourge of God and terror of the world, / I must apply myself to fit those terms, / In war, in blood, in death, in cruelty, / And plague such peasants as resist in me / The power of Heaven’s eternal majesty.

Part Two Act Four scene one, ll. 145-157

This is Tamburlaine’s forceful response to the captive king’s criticisms of his cruelty. Here Tamburlaine unites the laws that govern his nature with divine agency his the role of “scourge of God.” This justifies his actions, whatever they may be. The speech is exceptionally poetic, with inverted word order—in the second line, for example—and elaborate patterns of alliteration—terrors...tyrannies...execute...enjoined—and ends on the triple rhyme of ‘cruelty', ‘me', and ‘majesty', which drives home his fusion of these concepts.

But let me die, my love; yet let me die; / With love and patience let your true love die. / Your grief and fury hurts my second life. / Yet let me kiss my lord before I die, / And let me die with kissing of my lord.

Part Two Act Two scene four, ll. 66-71

These are some of Zenocrate’s final words to Tamburlaine, imploring him to take her death with grace as a way to honor her memory. Her repeated use of the word “die” seems almost to be an attempt to get him used to the idea of her death before it occurs. The final two lines are an example of the high-rhetorical poetic device of chiasmus, which is when words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order. Her love for Tamburlaine, expressed as her desire to kiss him, thus verbally encompasses her death.

Those that are proud of fickle empery / And place their chiefest good in earthly pomp, / Behold the Turk and his great emperess! / Ah, Tamburlaine my love, sweet Tamburlaine, / That fights for sceptres and for slippery crowns, / Behold the Turk and his great emperess! / Thou, that in conduct of thy happy stars, / Sleep'st every / night with conquest on thy brows, / And yet wouldst shun the wavering turns of war, / In fear and feeling of the like distress, / Behold the Turk and his great empress! / Ah, mighty Jove and holy Mahomet, / Pardon my love! O, pardon his contempt / Of earthly fortune and respect of pity, / And let not conquest, ruthlessly pursued, / Be equally against his life incensed / In this great Turk and hapless emperess!

Part One Act Five scene two, ll. 289-305

Upon discovering the bodies of Zabina and Bajazeth, Zenocrate proceeds to interpret their end as a kind of allegory for the fate of those who “place their chiefest good in earthly pomp.” She prays for Tamburlaine, and seems to strengthen her resolve to exert a moderating influence on his violence and ambition. The force of her conviction is emphasized by the off-rhymed couplet of the last two lines ending with ‘incensed’ and ‘emperess’.

Here Jove, receive his fainting soul again, / A Form not meet to give that subject essence, / Whose matter is the flesh of Tamburlaine, / Wherein an incorporeal spirit moves, / Made of the mould whereof thy self consists, / Which makes me valiant, proud, ambitious, / Ready to levy power against thy throne, / That I might move the turning Spheres of heaven, / For earth and al this aery region / Cannot contain the state of Tamburlaine.

Part Two Act Four scene two, ll. 110-119

Before he kills Calyphas, Tamburlaine justifies his action by defining his son as, essentially, an extension of himself. He speaks as though Calyphas’s body were in fact made of flesh that belongs to him, and he’s judged that the soul that inhabits that flesh is unworthy of it. His philosophy is that, insofar as Calyphas’s spirit is unfit, Tamburlaine himself is in some sense diminished, since part of his essence is contained in Calyphas.

I know, sir, what it is to kill a man; / It works remorse of conscience in me. / I take no pleasure to me murderous, / Nor care for blood when wine will quench my thirst...Take you the honor, I will take my ease; / My wisdom shall excuse my cowardice. / I go into the field before I need? / The bullets fly at random where they list; / And should I go and kill a thousand men, / I were as soon rewarded with a shot, / And sooner far than he that never fights; / And should I go and do nor harm nor good, / I might have harm, which all the good I have, / Joined with my father’s crown, would never cure. / I'll go to cards, Perdicas!

Part Two Act Four Scene one, ll. 27-58

As Calyphas explains to his brothers why he won’t enter battle, he displays remarkable wit with his plays on the words ‘good’, ‘harm’, and step-by-step argumentation for the wisdom of staying home. He carefully addresses and opposes the essential features of Tamburlaine’s worldview: that fate, not luck, governs the outcome of battles; that glory justifies violence; and that conquest is an end in itself, not a means to comfort or safety. Calyphas values enjoyment and his ease, and he recognizes, quite rightly, that a crown is no insurance against one’s own mortality.

Of stature tall, and straightly fashioned, / Like his desire, lift upwards and divine; / So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit, / Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear / Old Atlas' burden; 'twixt his manly pitch...Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion, / Thirsting with sovereignty and love of arms; / His lofty brows in folds do figure death, / And in their smoothness amity and life; / About them hangs a knot of amber hair, / Wrapped in curls, as fierce Achilles' was, / On which the breath of heaven delights to play, / Making it dance with wanton majesty; / His arms and fingers long and sinewy, / Betokening valour and excess of strength;-- / In every part proportion'd like the man / Should make the world subdued to Tamburlaine.

Part One Act Two scene one, ll. 7-30

Menaphon’s report to Cosroe on Tamburlaine describes his appearance as a conjunction of Classical and Renaissance notions of beauty. He’s both delicate and powerful; he’s pale and passionate as well as brawny and manly. Menaphon compares Tamburlaine to the planets, various forces of nature, and to Atlas and Achilles. But, significantly, it is Tamburlaine’s status as an exemplary man with which Menaphon concludes his description.

What is beauty, saith my sufferings then? / If all the pens that ever poets held / Had fed the feeling of their masters' thoughts, / And / every sweetness that inspirèd their hearts, / Their minds, and muses on admired themes; / If all the heavenly quintessence they still / From their immortal flowers of poesy, / Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive / The highest reaches of a human wit; / If these had made one poem's period, / And all combinèd in beauty's worthiness, / Yet should their hover in their restless heads / One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least, / Which into words no virtue can digest.... / And every warrior that is rapt with love / Of fame, of valour, and of victory, / Must needs have beauty beat on his conceits: / I thus conceiving, and subduing both.... / Shall give the world to note, for all my birth, / That virtue solely is the sum of glory, / And fashions men with true nobility.

Part One Act Five scene two, ll. 97-129

This soliloquy is unique in the play because it is the only extended depiction of Tamburlaine consulting with himself. In it, he recognizes the limitations of the human capacity for knowledge that he’d praised so highly before, and establishes a new connection between the concepts of “virtue” and “glory.” The phrase is ambiguous: he could mean either that virtue is identical to glory—thus he who wins glory is necessarily virtuous—or that only the virtuous can truly possess glory. That he then ends the soliloquy with a couplet linking “glory” and “nobility” suggests that this third term is the synthesis of the three: virtue enables one to achieve glory, and in the process one achieves nobility.

And now, my lords and loving followers, / That purchased kingdoms by your martial deeds, Cast off your armor, put on scarlet robes, / Mount up your royal places of estate, / Environed with troops of noblemen, / And there make laws to rule your provinces: / Hang up your weapons on Alcides' post; / For Tamburlaine takes truce with all the world.

Part One Act Five scene two, ll. 459-466

In this speech we see the beginnings of a transformation—never to be consummated—of Tamburlaine from warrior to statesmen. He instructs his followers to “make laws” and “put on scarlet robes.” Alcides is a name for Heracles, who’s said to have rescued Prometheus. If we take this allusion seriously, it implies that this transition from conquering to governing represents Tamburlaine’s rescue from Prometheus’ fate.