Tamburlaine the Great

Tamburlaine the Great Summary and Analysis of Part Two: Act II Scenes 1-4


2.1. Frederick, one of Sigismund’s followers, urges the king to go back on his word and use Orcanes’ preoccupation with Tamburlaine as an opportunity to take revenge for past conflicts. Sigismund reminds him of the oath they took, on Christ’s name no less, to honor the truce. Baldwin, another follower, argues that such oaths have no meaning when taken with non-Christian infidels, but Sigismund still opposes the idea. Frederick chimes in again, calling him “superstitious” for his dogmatic adherence to his word. Sigismund ultimately decides to take their advice and launch an attack on Orcanes.

2.2. Orcanes makes plans to march to Natolia to confront Tamburlaine. A messenger enters to deliver the news that Sigismund has reneged on their truce and is approaching with his army. Orcanes is outraged that the Christian king would show such profound disrespect for the name of his own god. He rips up the treaty, and calls on Christ to punish Sigismund’s perjury. If there is a Christian god, he says, that god should intervene on behalf of Orcanes and his army. Despite having already sent most of his army to stop Tamburlaine’s advance, Orcanes has faith that his righteousness guarantees a victory.

2.3. Sigismund enters wounded from the battle, which Orcanes has won. Before dying he repents for the sin of betraying his oath. He accepts his fate as a just divine punishment, and begs God for forgiveness. Orcanes and his followers come upon his dead body without having witnessed Sigismund’s repentance. Orcanes decides to leave Sigismund’s corpse to the birds. He exits to a victory banquet prior to departing with his army to join with the forces of the kings of Soria, Tebizon, and Amasia in preparation for the confrontation with Tamburlaine.

2.4. Zenocrate has fallen ill, and Tamburlaine sits by her sickbed as physicians tend to her. Tamburlaine is devastated as the idea of losing Zenocrate, whom he still sees as making his life worth living. He even asks the gods to shorten his life so he doesn’t outlive his love. One physician assures him that she may yet survive her illness.

Zenocrate herself, however, seems to feel that her time has come. Tamburlaine again professes his resolve to die with her, but Zenocrate begs him not to do so. She entreats him to bear her death “[w]ith love and patience” (2.4.67). She bids goodbye to him and to her sons, and calls for music. Tamburlaine now rails against the gods that seem determined to take his love from him.

As the music begins, interrupting his speech, Zenocrate dies. Her death throws Tamburlaine into shock and rage. He calls on his followers to make war on the heavens and take her back, and vows to take on Jove himself; Theridamas is eventually able to calm him down. Tamburlaine decides to embalm Zenocrate’s body in order to try to keep her with him, and so that they can be buried together when he dies. He then orders the town she died in burned.


Marlowe has clearly designed the betrayal of Orcanes by Sigismund as a critique of organized religion. Some see this critique, which is more prominent in Part Two than Part One, as a condemnation of religion itself. But Marlow seems to have crafted Orcanes as a clear contrast to Sigismund, representing a commitment to the idea of religion rather than its earthly, institutional manifestation.

Where Sigismund’s followers act on the view of the church that infidels lie outside the realm of established morals, Orcanes adheres to the spirit rather than the letter of his faith. He demonstrates a remarkably flexible conception of religious belief, stating after his victory over Sigismund that “Yet in my thoughts shall Christ be honorèd, / Not doing Mahomet an injury” (2.3.33-34). Likewise, Sigismund demonstrates legitimate, heartfelt repentance. Significantly, he’s alone as he makes his confession, perhaps signaling Marlowe’s preference for concept of a direct, individual relationship between believer and god, rather than one mediated by the institution of the church.

Sigismund and Zenocrate provide parallel examples of accepting one’s mortality with grace. Even on her deathbed, Zenocrate attempts to act as a moderating influence on Tamburlaine, appealing that he “But let me die, my love; yet let me die; / With love and patience let your true love die” (2.4.66-68). Her request implies that part of the nature of love is the ability to part with the object of love with grace, which means accepting the limits of what you can control.

Yet Tamburlaine appears not to hear her, almost literally. When she dies as he’s giving a speech discoursing on her beauty, his next line is “What, is she dead?” as though he noticed a moment too late (2.4.96). And he responds to her death with the outrageous notion of launching an assault on the heavens to get her back, a reaction about as far away as possible from accepting her death with “love and patience.” Only when Theridamas interrupts does he stop raving: “Ah, good my lord, be patient. She is dead, / And all this raging cannot make her live” (2.4.119-120).

Zenocrate’s illness does prompt Tamburlaine to utter some of the first real poetry we’ve seen from him in this part of the play. The speech that opens the scene contains largely predictable, but occasionally quite sharp, imagery picturing his despair and of the vaults of heaven awaiting Zenocrate: ”Black is the beauty of the brightest day” and “The crystal springs whose taste illuminates / refinèd eyes with an eternal sight / like trièd silver runs through Paradise / To entertain divine Zenocrate” (2.4.1, 22-25). Yet the refrain repeated throughout “To entertain divine Zenocrate,” though given in words of praise, by the end acquires a strangely melancholic tone.

Yet he know longer knows quite what use to put his poetry to, as evidenced by his speechifying right up until Zenocrate’s death. His choice to embalm Zenocrate and keep her with him—which also seems to contradict her instruction “let me die”—can also be seen in relation to his use of language. The elaborate images with which he conveys his plan for preserving and ultimately entombing her body subtly suggests that he is—has been—embalming her as much with his words as anything else.