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Tamburlaine the Great Part One : A Study as a Heroic Play

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Tamburlaine the Great Part One : A Study as a Heroic Play
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  Tamburlaine the Great Part One  : A Study as a Heroic Play Dilsad Hossain Molla   University of Calcutta   Kolkata, India.   ‘Heroic Drama', sometimes called heroic romance, is a genre of English drama that flourished in Restoration Period; though instances continued to be written in the early eighteenth century. Characterized by highly stylized poetic dialogue, larger than life heroes and idealized heroines, and sensationalistic action often played out in exotic locales, the genre was uniquely suited to the tumultuous era after the return of Charles the -II to the English throne following the regicide of Charles the -I and the ensuing civil war. As John Dryden himself defined it in his Preface to The Conquest of Granada   : “ An heroic play ought to be an imitation, in little, of an heroic poem; and consequently... love and valour ought to be the subject of it”.  What chiefly justifies the text's generic identification as a heroic play is obviously its distinctive elements that consist a Scythian shepherd's lust for ruling the world by his “aspiring minds” and “astounding terms”. Tamburlaine Part One  has a Prologue which mocks “ the  jigging veins of rhyming mother wits”, thereby insulting –  lumping together formal drama's rhymed verse with the farcical song -and- dance acts, or jigs, performed as end-pieces by clowns such as Tarlton. This( the play) is clearly a challenge, almost a manifesto: away with the old, here comes the new(and considerably better). No more doggerel rhy mes or clownage, but real poetry: “ high astounding terms” which the auditors will hear and respond to with necessary awe. Marlowe, thus, from the very beginning of the play speaks out in a revolutionary voice.  Marlowe's Tamburlaine  has no scene utilizing stage-heavens or hell, there are no supernatural characters, nor are there presenters to guide the audience in interpreting the events or to provide moral guidance. The audience instead must draw its own conclusions from the speech and action and visual spectacle. The hero, moreover, is himself an active and self conscious deviser of pageants illustrating his role, and Marlowe places great importance on Tamburlaine's will to create his own role. As J.H.Parray in his  The Age of Reconnaissance  has maintained, Tamburlaine is an ‘imitation’ of the great Mongol Khan Timur the Lame whose predecessor Chingis( Ghengis) Khan had used his swift and devastating cavalry to win an empire embracing China and nearly all of Asia. Whatsoever, like other Marlovian heroes, Tamburlaine, who has been portrayed with Renaissance zeal, asserts that he will make all the maps of the world obsolete by discovering new regions, and his new map of the world will have his conquest Damascus at its meridian. He himself proclaims that, he is the “scourge of God” who holds his “Fates bound fast in iron chains” and turns his “Fortune’s wheel about”. His appearance do menace “heaven and dare the gods”, his fiery eyes are fixed upon the earth as if he “devised some stratagem”. He, the ‘might y- barbarous’ conqueror who fights “more for honour than for gold”, asserts that he will make all the maps of the world obsolete by discovering new regions, and his new map of the world will be his conquered. To express his princely wrath and attitude, Marl owe uses epic similes as in Act 1,Scene2: “As princely lions when they rouse themselves/ Stretching their paws and threat'ning herds of beasts/ So in his armour looketh Tamburlaine...”. Tamburlaine's speech, like that of his looks, is “great and thund'ring”; its ‘working’ effect is such that a disarmed Theridamas is moved to exclaim: “Not Hermes, prolocutor to the gods/ Could use persuasions more pathetical”; and by extension he, who is privy to the divine communication, joins the ranks of a heavenly elite. Tamburlaine, thus  through his characteristics, invokes Machiavellian perspective so early in the play, and it exposes the audience to issues of ‘ragion del stato', rule as art, not inherited mystery. Machiavelli, who had himself meditated on the career of Tamburlaine, concedes in The Prince  that fortune is of great importance to princes; but he ascribes equal importance to the possession of free will, and notes that it favours impetuosity, especially in young men, who are more ardent and audacious. Tamburlaine, through out the plays, has often been portrayed as a 'demi god' for his desire for becoming the supreme military power and for his lust of governing the whole world. Therefore, in the text, he has so often been identified with the mythological figures of Jove, Mars, Phaethon and Hercules. By alluding to Jove, Tamburlaine attributes to himself the heroic qualities of Jove who gains power by dethroning his father king Saturn and some extent justifies his usurpation of Cosroe's crown. Moreover, prominent scholar like Eugene M. Waith has seen in Tamburlaine a model of the ‘ Herculean hero' that includes both aspiration and cruelty, godlike power and inhuman consistency of purpose; a figure of amoral force that Marlowe inherited from classical sources. The projected plot of   Tamburlaine the Great Part One  presents a hero whose victory is conspicuous. Tamburlaine's such ‘heroic life' has been come to a perfection by Zenocrate. As Jonna Gibbs writes “ Tamburlaine appropriates women... as sign of his magnanimity and of his projected invincibility”. Besides that, the “warring elements”, “ aspiring minds”, “wand'ring planets”, and “ restless spheres” evoke a world of constant conflict instead of the relative stasis favoured by Elizabethan cosmological and social theory —  through which Marlowe continually ‘dares’ his audiences, challenging them to follow his speculative dramatic paths, creating aspiring, restless hero who pushes beyond prescribed limits.  This over valuating ambition aspires Tamburlaine to identify himself as a human being with supernatural solicitation as he has ascertained towards Theridamas in Act -I, Sc-II: “ 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 T han Tamburlaine be slain or overcome.”  His astounding terms latter become more audacious when he declares “I am the scourge and wrath of God”.  Tamburlaine alludes to the Titanic wars, but sees himself pitted against the elder tyrant. His satisfaction with an earthly crown does not lower his ambition to a mundane level, but rather lifts to superhuman heights. His desire equals him with that of Phaethon, Croeton and even of Lucifer himself. It is to sit in the seat of the gods and to have power over life and death ; because to Tamburlaine's way of thinking kings already possess this power on earth as Usumascasane replies with significant stress to Tamburlaine : “ To be a King, is half to be a God”; and Theridamas adds “ A God is no glorious as a King:/ I think the pleasure they enjoy in heaven / Can not compare with kingly joys in earth..,” remind the audience, from critical parlance, perhaps of Satan in  Paradise Lost  , who being hubristic proclaims “ Better to reign in Hell,/ than serve in Heaven” and rebels against God. As Mahmood copiously pointed out “The god like power to spare or slay is therefore the summit of Tamburlaine's desire —  a misdirected desire, because it makes the royal prerogative an end in itself rather than the means to justice.”  Tamburlaine claims himself to be an unchangeable Superman who from the beginning to end displays essential human energy that remains unaffected by his success. Nothing can move him from the course of action for which his nature calls; the conquest of the world  the ruthless destruction of all opposing kings. In Tamburlaine's death, there is none of the Christian recognition of sin and repetance, the self awareness and self understanding which the readers find in closing scenes of Richard-II and Edward -II.  Thus, as Stephen Greenblatt has mentioned in his influential study, through out the plays Marlowe aspires to “spurn and subvert his culture's metaphysical and ethical certainties”. The ‘recklessly courageous ’plot and prologue, ‘mighty -barbarous' behaviour, ‘god - gifted princely’ figure and attitude, and ‘astounding terms' , the narrative of the “ thirst of reign and sweetness of crown”  employed in Blank Verse, achieve this purpose precisely. Hence, it is a perfect specimen of heroic play under evolution; it is ‘heroic’ both in kind and degree. List of Sources Consulted: The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe edited by Patrick Cheney. Tamburlaine, Parts One and Two edited by Anthony B. Dawson. Tamburlaine the Great Part One and Two edited by Shakti Batra. History of English Literature by Legouis and Cazamian.

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Oct 13, 2019

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