Summer/Fall 2011

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
  • Mycetes, the King of Persia, complains about a band of outlaws led by a shepherd named Tamburlaine. Mycetes sends his captain Theridamas to kill Tamburlaine and his men.
  • Cosroe, the King’s brother, reveals that a “plot is laid to crown me emperor of Asia.”
  • Tamburlaine captures the Egyptian princess Zenocrate and declares his love for her. Theridamas arrives with one thousand soldiers, but Tamburlaine convinces Theridamas to join his side. Cosroe seeks the help of Tamburlaine to overthrow King Mycetes.
  • On the battlefield, Tamburlaine meets King Mycetes, who is trying to hid his crown. Tamburlaine humors Mycetes and lets him keep his crown, but tell the King that he will soon take it in battle, warning him that “thou art no match for mighty Tamburlaine.”
  • Tamburlaine and Cosroe defeat Mycetes’s army, Tamburlaine gives Cosroe the Persian King’s crown, and Cosroe leaves to “ride in triumph through Persepolis.”
  • However, Tamburlaine decides it would be good to be King and ride in triumph. “I am strongly moved / That if I should desire the Persian crown / I could attain it with a wondrous ease.”
  • Tamburlaine challenges and kills Cosroe and takes the crown. “So, now it is more surer on my head / Than if the gods had held a parliament / And all pronounced me King of Persia.”
  • Hearing of Tamburlaine’s sudden rise, Emperor Bajazeth, ruler of the Turkish empire, warns Tamburlaine not to enter Africa.
  • World domination ensues.
Notes from the Director
Tarantino + Henry V + Scarface + Titus + Love = Tamburlaine

(Edited thoughts I sent the actor with the script months before rehearsals started)

  • Marlowe’s mighty line is a lot more “regular” than a lot of Shakespeare’s verse (particularly later plays like The Tempest).
  • BUT, many scholars and theatre peeps often criticize Marlowe’s verse as “more primitive” than Shakespeare’s, and they judge Marlowe’s characters as more “two-dimensional.”
  • While I understand those gross generalities, I don’t think they apply to this play. At all.
  • I think Tamburlaine the Great is just a great, great play. 
  • I don’t think the verse is rudimentary and I don’t think the characters and caricatures.
  • Marlowe may have paved the way for and inspired Shakespeare, but this play is not “less than” in any way. The play is full of nuance in the midst of its bombast.
  • The plot starts off looking like it’s going to be King Mycetes and the Persian Empire vs. Tamburlaine the upstart Scythian Shepherd Thug.
  • But the Shepherd Thug rises to become a double-crossing king-maker and then King of Persia.
  • Underneath these machinations and battles is the love story between Tamburlaine and Zenocrate…he clams her as a conquest, but they fall in love, and he wants to conquer more lands to make her queen of more realms.
  • On the path to world domination, Tamburlaine defeats the Turkish Emperor and keeps him in a cage. And though Shakespeare wrote one of the most memorable stage directions in The Winter’s Tale: “Exit, pursued by a bear,” Marlowe rivals Shakespeare by giving us this gem for the imprisoned Turk: “He brains himself against the cage” and then for his wife after she finds her husband dead: “She runs against the cage and brains herself.”
  • The carnage by the play’s end is plentiful. But at the heart of this Elizabethan Tarantino-esque journey is an early modern Scarface who is also part Henry V and part Titus Andronicus – and he gets a stronger love-interest at the center of it all.
  • I think it’s easy to play the doomed King Mycetes as a boob. But we won’t, because he’s a better character than that.
  • I think it’s easy to play Tamburlaine as a mustache-twirling evil tyrant. But we won’t, because he’s a better character than that.
  • We (and the audience) have to care about all of these characters and Marlowe’s masterful writing provides us with the material to make that happen.
  • If Tamburlaine is portrayed as nothing but a wicked fiend, not only do I think we would be missing great gobs of what Marlowe gives us, I think the play would be quite dull.
  • I think the language, the plot twists, and the plethora of wonderfully drawn characters all give us a well-supplied banquet to prepare, and we will create an incredibly rich feast for our audiences.

I can’t wait!!!
Best, Jim

P.S. Marlowe’s play about the warrior-shepherd was so popular that he wrote a sequel. We’re doing Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1. When this title is performed today, it’s almost always a conflation of Part 1 and Part 2. Rather than cut huge hunks out of both parts and squish them together, we’re doing the original play in all its gory glory.

Jim Warren

ASC Artistic Director, Co-founder