By Charles Matthews

Sunday, May 16, 2010

8. "The Complete Plays," by Christopher Marlowe, pp. 90-106

Tamburlaine the Great, Part One, Act 2
Cosroe has joined forces with Theridamas and "Valiant Tamburlaine, the man of fame, / The man that in the forehead of his fortune / Bears figures of renown and miracle." Menaphon, too, is taken with Tamburlaine:
Of statures tall, and straightly fashionèd,
Like his desire, lift upwards and divine;
So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit,
Such breadth of shoulders might mainly bear
Old Atlas' burden. 'Twixt his manly pitch,
A pearl more worth than all the world is placed,
Wherein by curious sovereignty of art,
Are fixed his piercing instruments of sight,
Whose fiery circles bear encompassèd
A heaven of heavenly bodies in their spheres
That guides his steps and actions to the throne
Where honour sits invested royally;
Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion,
Thirsting with sovereignty, with love of arms,
And in their smoothness amity and life
In every part proportioned like the man
Should make the world subdued to Tamburlaine. 
Cosroe is determined that "In fair Persia noble Tamburlaine / Shall be my regent and remain as king." Meanwhile, he notes, "the witless king / ... now is marching near to Parthia, / And with unwilling soldiers faintly armed, / To seek revenge on me and Tamburlaine."

And so he is. Mycetes proclaims, "my heart is swoll'n with wrath / On this same thievish villain Tamburlaine, / And of that false Cosroe, my traitorous brother." And Meander promises the troops that "He that can take or slaughter Tamburlaine / Shall rule the province of Albania. / Who brings that traitor's head, Theridamas', / Shall have a government in Media, / Beside the spoil of him and all his train." As for Cosroe, "His highness' pleasure is that he should live / And be reclaimed with princely lenity."

A spy enters with word that "the army of the Scythians ... far exceeds the king's," but Meander is sure that they're a disorganized rabble, and makes an allusion to the army that rose up when Cadmus sowed the dragon's teeth and slaughtered itself. This impresses Mycetes, who seems unfamiliar with the story, and comments, "'tis a pretty toy to be a poet. / Well, well, Meander, thou art deeply read, / And having thee I have a jewel sure." Meander goes on to plot to scatter gold on the battlefield and distract Tamburlaine's soldiers.

Meanwhile, Tamburlaine assures Cosroe that "fates and oracles of heaven have sworn / To royalize the deeds of Tamburlaine," and Theridamas tells him that Tamburlaine's "actions top his speech." Cosroe tells Tamburlaine that when he is "solely emperor of Asia," he'll reward Tamburlaine. And they go off to fight Mycetes' troops.

The battle takes place, and Mycetes enters, looking for a place to hide his crown and cursing "he that first invented war!" He's sure that if he's not wearing the crown nobody will recognize him, but Tamburlaine has pursued him and addresses him mockingly as "the witty king of Persia." Tamburlaine snatches the crown and there's a comic argument over it before Tamburlaine gives it back:
Here, take it for a while. I lend it thee
Till I may see thee hemmed with armèd men.
Then shalt thou see me pull it from thy head.
Thou art no match for mighty Tamburlaine. 
Mycetes is startled to realize who he's been quarreling with: "O gods, is this Tamburlaine the thief? / I marvel much he stole it not away." He runs off to the battle and isn't seen again.

The victors enter, and Tamburlaine gives Cosroe Mycetes' crown: "Think thee invested now as royally, / Even by the mighty hand of Tamburlaine." Cosroe gives the crown back to him, proclaiming, "Thee do I make my regent of Persia." And Meander kneels to Cosroe, vowing to serve him. Cosroe thanks him, and orders that word be sent to "neighbour kings / And let them know the Persian king is changed / From one that knew not what a king should do / To one that can command what 'longs thereto." He bids them all "To follow me to fair Persepolis. / Then wll we march to all those Indian mines / My witless brother to the Christians lost, / And ransom them with fame and usury," adding, "I long to sit upon my brother's throne." Menaphon assures Cosroe, "Your majesty shall shortly have your wish, / And ride in triumph through Persepolis."

That last sounds pretty good to Tamburlaine who, as soon as Cosroe and his followers have left, says to his men,
"And ride in triumph through Persepolis"!
Is it not brave to be a king, Techelles?
Usumcasane and Theridamas,
Is it not passing brave to be a king,
And ride in triumph through Persepolis? 
Techelles and Usumcasane agree that it is, and Theridamas goes even further:
A god is not so glorious as a king. 
I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven 
Cannot compare with kingly joys in earth: 
To wear a crown enchased with pearl and gold, 
Whose virtues carry with it life and death; 
To ask, and have; command, and be obeyed; 
When looks breed love, with looks to gain the prize, 
Such power attractive shines in princes' eyes. 
But when Tamburlaine asks if Theridamas wants to be a king, he replies, "Nay, though I praise it, I can live without it." Tamburlaine then announces, "if I should desire the Persian crown / I could attain it with wondrous ease." And Theridamas agrees that their soldiers up to the task of helping him. Which sets Tamburlaine to thinking that there's no reason to stop there: "And if I prosper, all shall be as sure / As if the Turk, the Pope, Afric, and Greece / Came creeping to us with their crowns apace." So they agree to set off after Cosroe.

Cosroe is enraged by Tamburlaine's presumption, of course, and blusters out his defiance before he's defeated. Wounded in battle, he denounces "Barbarous and bloody Tamburlaine" and "Treacherous and false Theridamas." Tamburlaine, however, sees his ambition as perfectly natural:
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 wand'ring 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 the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown. 
Cosroe denounces them as "The strangest men that ever nature made!" and dies cursing Theridamas and Tamburlaine. The latter takes the crown, proclaiming it "more surer on my head / Than if the gods had held a parliament / And all pronounced me King of Persia."

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