A synopsis of the play by Christopher Marlowe

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 35.

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THE Scythian Shepherd, Tamburlaine, moved by an ambition far beyond the circumstances of his humble birth, had made himself leader of a gang of brigands that prey successfully on the rich merchant trains that cross Persia. In one of their raids the brigands capture the party escorting Zenocrate, daughter of the Sultan of Egypt, to her nuptials with the King of Arabia. Tamburlaine promptly falls in love with her and resolves, whether she will or no, to make her his empress when that happy time shall come.

Meanwhile, Mycetes, the not too bright King of Persia, has heard that Tamburlaine might have designs on the throne of Persia. He therefore sends one of his lords, Theridamas, with a thousand horsemen to take Tamburlaine prisoner. Such is the Scythian's eloquence, however, that Theridamas and his cavalry join Tamburlaine's ranks. Hearing this, Mycetes' brother, Cosroe, decides that the help of so powerful a man as Tamburlaine might make his own chances of seizing his brother's crown more sure. Accordingly he promises Tamburlaine preferment if he will help to unseat Mycetes. Tamburlaine and his followers do so, then turn on Cosroe and dispatch him, taking Persia for themselves.

By this time Zenocrate is as much in love with Tamburlaine as he with her. The Persian crown, alone, he decides, is all too little to offer her great beauty. His insatiable ambition impels him next to try his fortunes against the all-powerful Bajazeth, emperor of Turkey. After this conquest Tamburlaine is drunk with success. It becomes his custom on the first day of a seige to have his camp and all his accoutrements in purest white as an indication prompt surrender will save all bloodshed. Failing to receive the city's submission, the second day sees Tamburlaine's camp decked out in crimson as a sign that the resisting forces will be put to the sword. The third day all is deepest black spelling death for every living being in the hapless city.

In spite of Zenocrate's pleas, Tamburlaine now marches against her native Egypt, which her father, the Sultan, and her former betrothed of Arabia, prepare to defend. The Arabian is killed, but, true to his promise, Tamburlaine spares the Sultan and makes him one of his tributary kings. With such a valiant start toward conquering the known world Tamburlaine feels that his crown is now worth Zenocrate's acceptance and the play closes with the wedding rites.

Part II of Tamburlaine, evidently written at a later date due to the immense popularity of Part I, details Tamburlaine's subsequent victories and inglorious death from illness.

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