The image of the Turk in Tamburlaine, Part One
The point I have been seeking to make is that in England’s “double-sided” relationship with Islam and Turks, commercial and political interests were interlocked with and impinged upon what were ostensibly issues of religious difference. The conditional activation and suspension of religious prejudice that resulted is also apparent in and essential to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays.
At the center of this interpretation is Tamburlaine, alternatively defending and attacking Christendom, swearing by Muhammad at one moment and defying him the next. More than one critic therefore finds the plays “morally ambiguous.” Yet, when examined against the shifting allegiances of the political world invoked by the plays, the shifting representation of Tamburlaine is better understood as conditional than ambiguous. Marlowe’s contradictory representation of his title character is, in fact, no more ambiguous than his queen and country’s curious relationship with Islam and the Ottoman Empire. Tamburlaine’s religious identity simply shifts with the plays’ shifting circumstances.
The two Tamburlaine plays only become “ambiguous” when their events are dislodged from the world in which Marlowe steadfastly places them The result is a drama that, like its central character, insists on its place within a global frame of reference. It bears recalling, though, that the frame of reference invoked belongs to Ortelius and Marlowe, not to the historical Tamerlane. Accordingly, the logic that allows Tamburlaine to be at one moment the redeemer and the next the bane of Christians belongs to the world of Marlowe and Ortelius, the world of Elizabeth and Murad.
We have seen how Elizabethans could either mute or amplify religious difference depending upon audience and circumstances. The dreadful Turkish Islam of histories, travelers’ accounts, and sermons could be entirely defanged in the interests of politics and trade. Similarly, in Marlowe’s hands, Tamburlaine’s religious identity, as well as the events resulting in his unlikely rise to power, is crucially shaped by European interests.
Before Tamburlaine first appears on stage in Part One, the audience has been introduced to the principal characters of an impending civil war in Persia. Recent events are altogether apparent in the presentation of a weak Persian court, threatened by both internal divisions and the imminent invasion of Turks and Tartars. Political upheaval in Persia in the late 1570s had drawn both Turkish and Uzbeki invasions through the 1580s. To much of Europe, the massing of Turkish forces on the Persian front meant a diminished Turkish naval presence in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, it also signaled further Turkish designs on the still-important overland route to the Indies.46 European merchants and statesmen therefore anxiously watched the decade-long conflict.
Marlowe’s Persian unrest likewise has important repercussions for Europe. On one side stands the unsure and ineffective King Mycetes, whose inability to unify the nobility jeopardizes all of Persia, the proven counterbalance to Turkish expansionism. Opposed to him, Prince Cosroe is persuaded of how easily he may defeat his brother and then go on to “subdue the pride of Christendom” (I.i.132). Furthermore, Cosroe imagines an absolute control over the East, and seethes over the fact that while his brother Mycetes has reigned,
Men from the farthest equinoctial line, Have swarmed in troops into the Eastern India: Lading their ships with gold and precious stones. (119–21)
The consequences of the Persian conflict and Cosroe’s plans become clear only after we identify his “men from the farthest equinoctial line.” Spoken in Persia, Cosroe’s reference would seem to mean the farthest point along the equator, or those “late-discovered isles” (I.i.166), the Americas. Yet this already improbable explanation is thoroughly discredited when Cosroe announces his plans to “march to all those Indian mines, / My witless brother to the Christians lost” (II.v.41– 42, emphasis mine). Who are these fortune-hoarding Christians? In the Medieval “T-O” maps that Tamburlaine describes, “making a triple region in the world,” Europe and Persia are in an antipodal relationship.47 Cosroe’s antipodes—his “farthest equinoctial line”—is therefore located in Europe, and his swarming men are Europeans. This being the case, the ascent of Cosroe puts in dire jeopardy the dream of Englishmen lading their ships with Indian treasures.
Enter Tamburlaine. Though his original was responsible for the brutal conquest and despoiling of Delhi in 1398, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine enters the play with no designs on India. Instead, Tamburlaine champions European mercantile interests, first by eliminating the threat of a weak Persia, and then by seizing the Persian crown and redirecting its course from uncontested mastery of India. For Marlowe’s audience, the contest for control of the Caspian had contemporary relevance. In the 1580s the Caspian had become “the new focus of Turkish ambition,” providing as it did a route to the inland shores of Persia and Turkestan, and thus access to internal routes of Asia, including the silk route.48 There was even talk of Turkish plans to dig a canal connecting the Don and the Volga, and thus the Black and Caspian Seas. The Ottomans had already gained control of most spice routes with the annexation of Arab territories between 1516 and 1550. How their control of the Caspian might affect Europe’s growing trade to the East remained uncertain and a cause for anxiety among groups like the English Muscovy Company, whose ships sought profit plying the Caspian. To Europe, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine therefore represents continued and protected access to the wealth of the East.
The Ottoman Sultan Bajazeth enters the play an ardent confirmation of Europe’s anti-Turkish, anti-Islamic fears and stereotypes. In his first speech of the play, he reminds his subject kings and bassoes of their great power. With characteristic bombast, he announces his awareness of Tamburlaine’s presence, but holds the Scythian’s challenge a mere “bickering” (III.i.4). Contained within Bajazeth’s confidence are the components of Europe’s fear of Ottoman power. He holds his army “invincible” (7) and boasts that,
As many circumcised Turks we have, And warlike bands of Christians renied, As hath the ocean or the Terrene sea Small drops of water, when the moon begins To join in one her semi-circled horns. (8–12)
In Bajazeth’s hyperbolic accounting of his forces, he employs a simile suggestive in more ways than one. The grounds of the simile, suggesting an army as numerous as the drops of ocean water at high tide, confirm European fears of immense Ottoman armies. In addition, the vehicle depends upon the figure of a crescent moon, the icon of Islam. A further indication of Bajazeth’s specific religious difference occurs in the tenor of his simile, where the image of circumcised and converted men raises the most basic Christian fears of Islam. Most importantly, Bajazeth’s vast army is encamped before Christian Constantinople, with no plans to end his siege until “the Grecians yield, / Or breathless lie before the city walls” (III.i.14–15). Thus, when some forty lines later Bajazeth refers to “holy Mahomet” (54), his Muslim identity is already firmly in place with Marlowe’s audience. Bajazeth’s Islamism and his threat to European Christendom are steadily broadcast throughout the play. His subject kings remind him of how their lances “glided through the bowels of the Greeks,” and Bajazeth himself recalls how his forces “lately made all Europe quake for fear” (III.iii.135).
The immediate amplification of Bajazeth’s Muslim identity distinctly contrasts and helps to explain Marlowe’s treatment of Tamburlaine’s religion. As Elizabethan diplomacy overlooked Turkish Islam while establishing relations with the Porte, so is Tamburlaine’s Islam silenced as he emerges as the protector of Europe, who seeks, in Bajazeth’s words, to “rouse us from our dreadful siege / Of the famous Grecian Constantinople” (III.i.5–6 ). Historians argue the degree to which Tamerlane followed Islam, but wholly agree that he was, indeed, a Muslim.49 Marlowe’s play seeks to distance Tamburlaine from Islam, figuring him in contrast to Bajazeth who claims Muhammad as a kinsman and swears “by the holy Alcoran . . . that Tamburlaine shall be made a chaste and lustless eunuch” (III.iii.76–77 ).
Throughout acts four and five of Part One, each amplification of Bajazeth’s Islamism is followed by a muting of Tamburlaine’s religious difference. Thus, when Bajazeth calls upon “holy priests of heavenly Mahomet” (IV.ii.2) to poison Tamburlaine, the conqueror insists upon his safety from such curses as the scourge of the ambiguously nominated, “chiefest god” (8). Yet if Tamburlaine never clearly identifies himself with any particular religion, a defeated Bajazeth recognizes and gives voice to Part One’s conflation of Tamburlaine and European Christendom.
He realizes that
Now will the Christian miscreants be glad, Ringing with joy their superstitious bells, And making bonfires for my overthrow. (III.iii.235–37 )
Historically, Tamerlane postponed conflict with the Turks. His clash with the Ottomans was finally occasioned by irreconcilable claims to Anatolia, or western Turkey. In Marlowe’s treatment, European repercussions which were historically incidental become the conflict’s cause. Tamburlaine shows no interest in accepting Bajazeth’s initial offer of peace. Rather than seeking to spare the lives of opposing Muslims, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine defies Bajazeth and his faith, seeking to “rouse the Turk out of Europe” (III.iii.38). Quite simply, Tamburlaine’s primary objectives are projections of Christian Europe’s Mediterranean anxieties; above all, he seeks to resecure Europe’s trade to the East. Thus, as he outlines his plans, Tamburlaine enumerates several of Europe’s chief concerns with the trade, and proposes to eradicate their causes:
I will first subdue the Turk, and then enlarge Those Christian captives which you keep as slaves, Burdening their bodies with your heavy chains, And feeding them with thin and slender fare, That naked row about the terrene Sea, And when they chance to breathe and rest a space, Are punish’d with bastones so grievously That they lie panting on the galley’s side, And strive for life at every stroke they give. These are the cruel pirates of Argier, That damned train, the scum of Africa, Inhabited with straggling runagates, That make quick havoc of the Christian blood. (III.iii. 46–58)
Tamburlaine’s demonstrative pity for Christian galley slaves is notable in contrast to his own treatment of prisoners. Tamburlaine’s captives, who repeatedly affirm their Islamism with appeals to Muhammad, are treated to heavy chains, slender fare, and grievous beatings like those he remonstrates against here. Equally anachronistic is Tamburlaine’s attention to safety on the Mediterranean. This concern is emphasized by the play’s assertion of Turkish suzerainty over Barbary in the identity of Bajazeth’s contributory kings, Argier, Fez, and Morocco. In spite of the fact that Tamerlane’s militarism was almost never naval, Marlowe suggests that in defeating the combined Turkish forces, Tamburlaine will control the Mediterranean water routes. Furthermore, in the “pirates of Argier” and the renegades of Africa, with their connotations of vice and apostasy, Tamburlaine chooses for his foes two of European Christendom’s great seagoing bogeymen.
When Tamburlaine later announces his global aspirations, they too are curiously focused on Christian maritime trafficking. This point is overlooked by Emily Bartels in her argument that Tamburlaine, Cosroe, Bajazeth, and Callapine are comparable in their “projects for subduing half the world regardless of lives lost or tactics used.”50 When, for example, Tamburlaine predicts that Indian kings will “offer their mines (to sue for peace) . . .
And dig for treasure to appease my wrath” (III.iii.264–65), he has already distinguished himself from Cosroe, Bajazeth, and Callapine by establishing his plans to neutralize the forces interfering with European trade. He promises that
The galleys and those pilling brigandines, That yearly sail to the Venetian gulf, And hover in the straits for Christians’ wrack, Shall lie at anchor in the Isle Asant. . . . (IV.i.246– 49)
If Part One of Tamburlaine ended with the defeat of Bajazeth, the play might be considered an unqualified example of how rhetorics of legitimation are employed. Tamburlaine would remain, unhistorically, the protector of Christendom, while Bajazeth would be contrastingly figured as the Turkish Antichrist. As it is, the manifestation of Tamburlaine’s savagery, marked by a contrasting humanization of Bajazeth and Zabina, closes the play with an implied sense of misgiving. It has been a commonplace of Tamburlaine criticism that Bajazeth’s defeat, captivity, and abuse at the hands of Tamburlaine would have been agreeable to Marlowe’s audience.51 This may be true up to a point, but the affective power of Bajazeth’s final lamentation and Zabina’s mournful hysteria should not be overlooked. In Bajazeth’s last speech we have no ranting tyrant but a broken man of ample nobility. It is hard to believe Marlowe’s audience would have felt no compassion for the vanquished Sultan as he confides in Zabina his remorseful final wish,
That in the shortened sequel of my life, I may pour forth my soul into thine arms, With words of love: whose moaning intercourse Hath hitherto been stayed, with wrath and hate Of our expressless banned inflictions. (V.ii.214–18)
These are certainly not the words of a cruel or lascivious man and hardly enjoin the violence with which they are followed. Marlowe’s treatment of Bajazeth disallows an understanding of Turks as necessarily barbaric. Zabina is no less pitiable in her unfailing desire to prolong her husband’s life in spite of their suffering. She is driven to madness by the sight of “his skull all riven in twain, his brains dashed out” (V.ii.242– 43). Could Marlowe’s audience have been delighted with the same sight? Could they have been unmoved when, upon finding her husband brained against his cage, Zabina wails in despair?
As the audience grows less and less comfortable with Tamburlaine’s brutality, Zenocrate gives voice to its anxieties and activates a degree of religious difference, creating a buffer between the audience and Tamburlaine. She too is distressed by the slaughter of “heavenly virgins and unspotted maids” (V.ii.261), the sight of “streets strowed with dissevered joints of men” (258) and finally the “bloody spectacle” (275) of Bajazeth and Zabina. In her anguish, she turns to the heavens to seek a pardon for Tamburlaine, but oddly, her addressee is “mighty Jove and holy Mahomet” (299). This is the same Zenocrate who earlier defies the power of Muhammad while soliciting the “gods and powers that govern Persia” (III.iii.189). Zenocrate’s shift strategically distances Tamburlaine from Christianity as his brutality becomes more conspicuous. This implied reversal is borne out when, quite uncharacteristically, Tamburlaine refrains from wrangling over the defeated Soldan’s attribution of Tamburlaine’s victory to “God and Mahomet” (V.ii.415). As Tamerlane’s Islamism becomes visible in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, his shaping by ideology becomes more apparent: when he is Europe’s protector, Tamburlaine is distanced from Islam. When Europe is secure, Tamburlaine’s brutality and Islamism emerge together as if congenitally linked. The play’s pattern of conditional representation thus reproduces the conditional activation and suspension of Turkish religious difference apparent in Elizabethan-Ottoman affairs.
The image of the Turk in Tamburlaine, Part Two
The relationship between the first Tamburlaine play and its sequel has been subject to a great deal of debate. Yet the question has never been approached from the crux of the central character’s religious identity. Tamburlaine enters the second play a Muslim, and over the course of the play Marlowe undoes the muting of religious difference that allows for Tamburlaine’s Euro-Christian absorption in Part One. Then, having allowed his protagonist religious difference, he refuses to allow him easy categorization in a “self-other” paradigm. The result is not only a worthy sequel, but a work of art more ideologically complex and mature than its predecessor. Whereas Part One only briefly confronts the audience with its conditional embrace of a Muslim conqueror, the second play sets up that embrace as a premise before proceeding to anatomize it.
The Second Part of Tamburlaine the Great begins with a conflict that seems to replicate the early dynamic of Part One. Tamburlaine is again offstage, and Europeans are again threatened with Turkish conquest and the prospect of “Turkey blades . . . gliding through all their throats” (I.i.33). Envisioning his victory, the Natolian king, Orcanes, imagines the Danube and Aegean glutted with the corpses of fallen European soldiers that
Shall meet those Christians fleeting with the tide, Beating in heaps against their argosies, And make fair Europe mounted on her bull, Trapped with the wealth and riches of the world, Alight and wear a mourning weed. (I.i.35– 41)
Orcanes’ Ovidian allusion suggests that Europe’s mercantile crossings of the Mediterranean are threatened by the Turkish onslaught. Yet the Turkish threat is greater than a simple interruption of European trafficking. The very freedom of Christians is ventured as a stake in the conflict when the imprisoned heir to the Turkish Empire bribes his jailer with promises, sworn “by the hand of Mahomet” (I.iii.65), of a “thousand galleys manned with Christian slaves” (33). As in the first play, Tamburlaine appears to protect Europe and its mercantile interests. He plans to assault the central Turkish realm of Natolia, “and for that cause,” Orcanes decides, “the Christians shall have peace” (I.i.57 ). Before he even makes his first entrance, Tamburlaine thus defends Europe and indirectly motivates the treaty with which I began. This, however, is where the similarities between the two plays end.
If Tamburlaine’s religious difference is generally missing from the first play, it is foregrounded in the second. Though he vows, in his first appearance, to defeat the Turks, he now swears “by sacred Mahomet”—a gesture of religious identification entirely absent from the first play. Furthermore, Tamburlaine is now a father of three sons whose contrasting violence and voluptuousness recall standard anti-Turkish stereotypes. When his generals report their conquests, we learn that Tamburlaine’s armies are no longer concerned with protecting Christian European interests. Instead, they actually seem to place Europe and its traffic in jeopardy. Usumcasane has seized control of two of Europe’s most important mercantile footholds, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands. Techelles has forcefully taken the triple mitre of “the mighty Christian priest, / Call’d John the Great” (I.iv.60–61), thus squelching Europe’s myth-bred hopes of joining Prester John’s armies in a two-sided assault on Islam. Finally, Theridimas has actually “left the confines and bounds of Afric / And made a voyage into Europe” (80–81) where he has subdued and fired several Black Sea communities. Although Ethel Seaton attributes Theridimas’s departure from the African continent to Marlowe’s seeking variety, it seems more likely that Marlowe sought to disallow the kind of European identification with Tamburlaine found in many of Marlowe’s sources and correspondingly encouraged by the first play.52 At the same time, Marlowe does not allow a simple demonization of Tamburlaine. Tamburlaine retains the power of stirring language and continues to captivate even as he repels the audience. His passionate lamentation over Zenocrate’s death acts as his disquisition on beauty does in the first play. In each case, Tamburlaine’s remarkable poetry arrests any immediate condemnation of his offenses.
Unlike the first play, which figured Tamburlaine as the protector of Europe, the second ahistorically admits European characters to represent their own interests. These characters would seem to suggest a reason for Marlowe’s religious distancing of Tamburlaine. The European army imported across time and into Tamburlaine’s “history” seems apt to bring the scourge to his end. But this is not the case. Instead, the Europeans behave despicably and are quickly routed from the play. On the grounds that an oath made in Christ’s name may be dispensed when it is offered to “such infidels, / In whom no faith nor true religion rests” (II.i.33–34), the Christian leaders grossly betray their newly made allegiance. Faced with such specious reasoning, the audience is likely to join Orcanes as he takes up the role of God’s scourge licensed to denounce and punish his sinful foes as “traitors, villains, and damned Christians . . . that care so little for their prophet Christ” (II.ii.29, 35).
Following the Turks’ stunning victory, Europe exits from the play. No European characters appear from this point on, nor are the stakes of the ensuing conflicts repeatedly figured, like those of Part One, as potentially troublesome to European mercantile interests. Without obvious European interests at stake, the audience is asked to choose between Tamburlaine and the Turks, recognizing that either choice marks a compromise. It is as if Marlowe, having suggested the artificial foundations of religious difference, challenges his audience to approach the play’s conflicts without recourse to simple partitioning or the notion of an Islamic conqueror as a divine scourge.
On one side is the Islamic Tamburlaine; on the other, the Turkish forces reunited under Callapine at the opening of Act 3. If, in their conflict with the Hungarians, the Turks seemed more Christian than the Christians, they are now reintroduced under the banner of Islam. In oaths, threats, and their very organization, Marlowe produces a Turkish force that is unmistakably Islamic. The admirable Orcanes arranges the troops in “the figure of the semi-circled moon” (III.ii.65), imagining the horns of the Islamic crescent goring the power of Tamburlaine. He and his comrades recognize Callapine as “successive heir to the late mighty emperor Bajazeth, by the aid of God and his friend Mahomet ” (III.i.1–3, emphasis mine). Though they occasionally refer to God as Jove, they imagine Jove accompanied by Muhammad (III.v.56 ), and swear to transform the battlefield into “the Persians’ sepulchre, and sacrifice / Mountains of breathless men to Mahomet” (54–55).
In the first play, Tamburlaine’s responses to Turkish threats tend to distinguish him from Islam. In the second it is more difficult to demarcate the two until, finally, Tamburlaine and those about him appear to out”Turk” the Ottomans. European histories of the Ottoman Empire often figured filicide as a characteristic of Turkish cruelty (as in Suleiman’s notorious murder of his son Mustapha). Marlowe proffers a sympathetic counterexample in the Muslim widow Olympia’s desire to spare her son from Tamburlaine’s cruelties. Olympia’s desperate act—described by Techelles as “bravely done”—both prefigures and serves as foil to Tamburlaine’s cruel murder of his eldest son, Calyphas.
Tamburlaine’s sons represent the extremes of Europe’s anti-Turkish stereotypes. Two are bloodthirsty warriors, prepared to swim seas of blood, the third a dissolute sybarite who will not “care for blood when wine will quench his thirst” (IV.i.30). Unlike his father and brothers, Calyphas has no taste for war. When they go to battle he remains behind, fantasizing about “a naked lady in a net of gold” (66–67) and wagering over “who shall kiss the fairest of the Turks’ concubines first” (62). Upon finding Calyphas absent from the ranks of his victorious troops, Tamburlaine deems him a “coward,” “villain,” and “traitor to my name and majesty” (87–88). Swearing “by Mahomet, thy mighty friend” (119), he goes on to slaughter his son despite the pleas of his generals and younger sons. Afterwards, Tamburlaine’s Turkish prisoners are the first to respond with horror. The Turks are shocked and appalled, suggesting that Tamburlaine’s cruelties exceed any enacted by the Turks. The King of Jerusalem finds Tamburlaine a “damned monster, nay a fiend of hell” (166), and Orcanes plainly indicates that Tamburlaine “showest the difference ‘twixt ourselves and thee / In this thy barbarous damned tyranny” (136–37). The Natolian king’s designation of difference places the audience in a peculiar position in relation to the figures on stage. On the one hand, they may continue to side with Tamburlaine against the Turks. If, on the other hand, they find themselves unable to endorse Tamburlaine’s brutality, they are in sympathy with the Turks, whose misfortunes they are accustomed to celebrating. In this case, the audience is asked to share a sense of difference with the Turk and recognize Tamburlaine’s previously muted difference. In short, the first play’s divisive rhetoric of legitimation is entirely absent in the second, leaving characters to act as individuals rather than types.
The Tamburlaine of Part Two, like that of Part One, is never without response to those who condemn him. The difference between the first play and the second lies in his credibility. Tamburlaine’s answer for Orcanes is one the audience has grown accustomed to at this point, having heard some version of it four times already. He insists that “these terrors and these tyrannies . . . I execute, enjoin’d me from above, / To scourge the pride of such as Heaven abhors” (IV.i.146– 47 ). But Tamburlaine’s repeated recital of this explanation throughout Part Two begins to ring of pretext, as if he is trying to convince his auditors of his divine sanctioning at every opportunity. Orcanes seems to recognize his foe’s rhetoric of legitimation when he refers to Tamburlaine not as the scourge of Jove, but rather as “he that calls himself the scourge of Jove” (III.v.21, emphasis mine). Tamburlaine practically admits as much himself when he claims that “since I exercise a greater name, / The scourge of God and terror of the world, / I must apply myself to fit those terms” (IV.i.151–53).
As the play progresses Tamburlaine will describe himself as a divine scourge five more times before his death. Like a salesman desperately pitching defective merchandise, he becomes less convincing with each unsubstantiated assertion. Indeed, his loss of credibility is marked by the inclusion of several scenes that seem to rewrite similar ones from the first play as failures.53 Tamburlaine’s alliance with Theridimas and conciliation of the Soldan are rewritten as Almeda’s betrayal and Callapine’s unflagging opposition. His seduction of Zenocrate is likewise rewritten as Theridimas’s failed seduction of Olympia.
Emily Bartels has pointed out that Tamburlaine is repeatedly identified in the second play as the King of Persia, despite the fact that his Persian conquest was only the first of many. One important effect of this identification is a disabling of Europe’s simplistic identification of Persian and Turk as good and bad Muslims (left intact in the first play)—an understanding that often went so far as to transmute the Persians into opponents of Islam.54 At the siege of Babylon Tamburlaine indiscriminately doles out atrocities and continues to identify himself with Persia. One Babylonian citizen is hopeful that “Tamburlaine may pity our distress,” since the city’s inhabitants include Christians “Whose state he ever pitied and relieved” (V.i.32). The Babylonian citizen and his Christian neighbors unfortunately find themselves in the wrong play. Tamburlaine calls for the death of every inhabitant of the city. He has the governor of the city hung in chains, drowns all its citizens, and, in what is perhaps the most hotly debated moment of the play, orders the Qu’ran burned, challenging the wrath of the prophet:
In vain, I see, men worship Mahomet. My sword hath sent millions of Turks to hell, Slew all his priests, his kinsmen, and his friends, And yet I live untouch’d by Mahomet, There is a God, full of revenging wrath, From whom the thunder and the lightning breaks, Whose scourge I am, and him will I obey. Now Mahomet, if thou have any power, Come down thyself and work a miracle. (V.i.177–85)
Tamburlaine’s command is regularly analyzed in conjunction with what occurs sixteen lines later, when he remarks that he feels himself “distempered suddenly” (216 ). The cause of Tamburlaine’s sudden illness has been the subject of great debate.55 Its proximity to his act of blasphemy invites the possibility of divine punishment. Tamburlaine’s doctor suggests a more mundane, humoral explanation, one predicted earlier in the play by the King of Soria. No explanation seems certain given the lapse of time between Tamburlaine’s blashphemy and his illness. Given the uncertainty in which this episode is wrapped, Stephen Greenblatt proposes that “the effect is not to celebrate the transcendent power of Mohammed but to challenge the habit of mind that looks to heaven for rewards and punishments, that imagines evil as ‘the scourge of God.'”56 But what happens if we consider Tamburlaine’s command in conjunction with what occurs just before it, only two lines previously? Although the “revenging wrath” and thunderhurling of Tamburlaine’s God differentiate him from Christian notions of a merciful supreme being, Tamburlaine’s burning of the Qu’ran is, as Greenblatt puts it, an “action which the Elizabethan churchmen themselves might have applauded.”57 Yet Tamburlaine is made to perform this, his most antiIslamic act, when he is at the height of his repellent viciousness: he has just issued the order to “drown them all, man, woman, and child” (V.i.168). The effect is to equate virulent anti-Islamicism with the sort of cruelty and violence early modern Europeans associated with Islam. Tamburlaine thus continues to elude the grasp of both simplistic stereotyping and rhetorics of legitimation, typifying the aspiring mind of European selfhood even while he seems so threateningly Other. For the audience of the second play, it is impossible to assimilate Tamburlaine, impossible to fully distance Tamburlaine by attributing his actions to Islam, and impossible to see Christianity as an exemplary negation of Islam.
The play’s refusal to accept the lines of division generally perpetuated by its predecessor remains subtly in place through the end of the play. As Tamburlaine sickens, the Ottomans continue to rebuild their forces under the youthful Sultan Callapine, who implores “sacred Mahomet” to be revenged on Tamburlaine and is encouraged by the King of Amasia, who sees “great Mahomet . . . Marching about the air with armed men, / To join with you” (V.ii.31–35).
On the face of it, the Christian audience seems to be faced with its enemy. Yet, the enemy of the Turks confronts death lamenting his failure to achieve universal monarchy. As he pores over a map, Part Two’s fading Tamburlaine envisions the world in terms of mercantile commodities, lamenting his failure to “cut a channel” (V.iii.135) connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and to seize “all the golden mines, / Inestimable drugs and precious stones” (151–52) of the New World. Both Bartels and Greenblatt understand Tamburlaine’s interest in trade as reflective of English mercantile affairs. Greenblatt sees a reflection of the “acquisitive energies of English merchants, entrepreneurs and adventurers,” while a slightly more cautious Bartels sees a “model” to teach “supremacy” to the English.58 In fact, the plans Tamburlaine discusses are reflections, but not of the English. Turkish plans for a Suez Canal had been discussed since the days of Suleiman. Such a canal would enable trips to the Indies in half the time of any of the current European sea routes. In effect, the Turks hoped thereby to dominate trade to India by both land and sea. By assigning this aspiration to Tamburlaine, Marlowe completes his undoing of Part One. Notwithstanding his opposition to Turkish Islam, the protector of European trade becomes Europe’s greatest threat.