Tamburlaine the Great

Tamburlaine the Great Summary and Analysis of Part One: Act II Scenes 4-7


2.4. As the battle begins, Mycetes attempts to hide his crown so that he can’t be identified—or so that, if he is, no one can take it from him. But Tamburlaine catches Mycetes in the act and rebukes his cowardice. He also wittily mocks Mycetes’ clumsy speech, and when the Persian king hands him the crown so he can inspect it, Tamburlaine decides to keep it. He promises return the crown only if Mycetes bests him in battle. He exits, and Mycetes follows him into the fray.

2.5. Once he's defeated Mycetes, Tamburlaine gives Cosroe the crown. Mycetes himself is nowhere to be seen—presumably he died during the battle. Meander is there, however, and pledges loyalty to Cosroe, as does a large portion of the Persian army. Cosroe makes Tamburlaine regent of Persia, as promised, and lieutenant of his armies. Cosroe departs for Persepolis with his army to celebrate his victory, accompanied by Ortygius, Meander, and Menaphon.

Alone with his loyal followers—Techelles, Theridamas, and Usumcasane—Tamburlaine is struck with jealousy for Cosroe’s newly won kingship. To be a king, he declares, is more glorious than to be a god. He asks his followers if they, too, want to be kings, and they say they do. He promises them large kingdoms in his future empire; though far outnumbered, they resolve to attack Cosroe. Tamburlaine sends Techelles as a messenger to tell Cosroe to turn around and do battle with them.

2.6. In front of the Persian lords, Cosroe rages against Tamburlaine’s “giantly presumption” (2.6.2). Meander and Ortygius concur: Tamburlaine’s ambition seems the work of the devil, the man himself a kind of monster, bent only on slaughter, fame, and power. They resolve to meet him, trusting in their righteousness to defeat him, “In love of honor and defense of right” (2.6.21).

2.7. Cosroe, wounded from the battle, rebukes Tamburlaine for his treachery. In response, Tamburlaine cites the precedent of Jove, who went so far as to depose his own father for “thirst of reign and sweetness of a crown” (2.7.12).

Tamburlaine then gives another grand, poetic speech, in which he claims that such aspiration is a natural, and glorious, element of human nature. As he dies, Cosroe expresses his bafflement at the character of Tamburlaine, and his followers’ fierce loyalty. Tamburlaine declares himself king of Persia.


The battle with Mycetes is Tamburlaine’s first major military victory, but the scene with Mycetes also frames it as, like his conversion of Theridamas, a victory of his words and mind. At once he insults both Mycetes martial cowardice and his verbal incompetence, outwitting him in conversation just as he’s about to outfight him on the battlefield: “Are you the witty king of Persia?” he asks ironically (2.4.23). And in the ensuing exchange he both makes a fool of Mycetes and takes his crown, albeit temporarily; thus in their conversation Mycetes is neither witty, nor, in a sense, the king of Persia.

After Tamburlaine has seized the crown, Mycetes says (in prose, a sign of his ineloquence) “Such another word, and I will have thee executed. Come, give it to me” (2.4.31-32). “Tamburlaine. No; I took it prisoner / Mycetes. You lie; I gave it to you / Tamburlaine. Then ‘tis mine. / Mycetes. No; I mean I let you keep it. / Tamburlaine. Well, I mean you shall have it again. / Here, take it for a while; I lend it thee” (2.4.32-37). Tamburlaine here baffles and mocks Mycetes by playing on the literal meanings of his words, a technique that Shakespeare used to great effect in many of his plays. Additionally, Marlowe further suggests that this scene represents the “real” defeat of Mycetes by leaving his disappearance totally out of the text's discussion.

Even after meeting him and witnessing his prowess in battle, Cosroe still fails to comprehend Tamburlaine. After the battle, Tamburlaine quite literally crowns Cosroe, saying, “Think thee invested now as royally, / Even by the mighty hand of Tamburlaine” (2.5.2-3). Cosroe therefore still hasn’t earned his crown, and Tamburlaine, at least symbolically, possesses a greater claim to sovereignty as the source of Cosroe’s own.

Once he has his crown, however, Cosroe immediately transitions to treating Tamburlaine as a regular subordinate. He is thus a kind of double-usurper: first of Mycetes, and then of Tamburlaine, who has won the crown with his deeds and therefore has a right to it (Roy Battenhouse, 193). It’s no surprise that Tamburlaine isn’t satisfied. Such is his thirst for rule that he declares “A god is not so glorious as a king. / I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven / Can not compare with kingly joys in earth” (2.5.57-59). The rest of his speech, with its references to the “pearl and gold” of a crown, is uncharacteristically unconvincing. Marlowe thus uses bathos to suggest the inadequacy of the earthly expressions of Tamburlaine’s ambition with its real, immeasurably sweeping nature.

Cosroe, Meander, and Ortygius’ rhetoric about the “base” nature of “this devilish shepherd” in contrast to their own nobility echoes the false confidence of Mycetes. But just as they claim the god’s backing for their right to rule, when chastised for his treachery by a dying Cosroe after the battle Tamburlaine claims the precedent of Jove himself. Cosroe thus represents a view of the gods as the forces that ordain the laws by which people live. Tamburlaine, in contrast, sees them as models for his own nature, and thus implicitly for human nature in general. For Cosroe, the fact of his rule and of his status as a noble are signs of the favor of the gods. For Tamburlaine, it’s the intrinsic composition of his human nature that makes him godlike. His speech to Cosroe, in contrast to the one in 2.5, soars far above earthly aspirations to elaborate a theory of human nature in general. Once again, however, he ends on a bathetic note: “Until we reach the ripest fruit of all...The sweet fruition of an earthly crown” (2.7.27-29). In this speech Marlowe represents Tamburlaine, despite all his gifts, running up against the limits of humanity in general. For fleeting moments in the poetry of lines like “Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend / The wondrous architecture of the world / And measure every wandering plant’s course” we have what seems an adequate image for the furthest reaches of human desire. Yet when Tamburlaine attempts to fix that desire to a particular object, the result is necessarily unsatisfying.