Christopher Marlowe

Read the synopsis for Christopher Marlowe's epic, blood-soaked tragedy, Tamburlaine.


Director Michael Boyd has edited the two parts of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great into one play. Read the summary below, but be warned, there are spoilers ahead!

A Scythian Shepherd

The Persian Emperor, Mycetes, wants to send his army to destroy the Scythian shepherd and bandit, Tamburlaine. The Emperor’s brother, Cosroe, agrees to help, but secretly plots the overthrow of Mycetes to take the throne for himself.

Meanwhile, in Scythia, Tamburlaine has captured and successfully wooed Zenocrate, the daughter of the Egyptian Soldan. Mycetes’ soldiers arrive to attack Tamburlaine – but he convinces them, as well as Cosroe, to join forces with him against Mycetes instead.

A Double-Crosser

Tamburlaine promises Cosroe the Persian crown, and together, they attack Mycetes. However, after the battle is won, Tamburlaine takes the crown for himself. They fight and Cosroe is killed. Tamburlaine now has complete control over the Persian empire.

The Cage

But Persia isn’t enough. Tamburlaine turns his attentions to Turkey and its Emperor, Bajazeth. He captures Bajazeth and his wife, Zabina, and makes them his slaves, keeping the defeated ruler in a cage. Upon hearing of Tamburlaine’s latest conquest, Bajazeth kills himself by bashing his head against the bars of the cage. When Zabina finds his body, she does likewise.

Vestal Virgins

Tamburlaine sets his eyes on Damascus. During the battle, the Governor sends a group of vestal virgins to Tamburlaine’s army, hoping to appease him. Tamburlaine declines his offer, and has the virgins slaughtered with their remains displayed on the City walls. Tamburlaine wins the battle.

Absolute Power

Zenocrate’s father, the Soldan of Egypt, vows to stop Tamburlaine with the help of the Arabian King. Tamburlaine’s army goes to battle once more, killing the King of Arabia. Zenocrate begs Tamburlaine to spare her father, and he complies, turning the Soldan into a tributary King. Tamburlaine declares himself Emperor of the entire continent and weds Zenocrate.

Years later

Sigismond, the King of Hungary, and Orcanes, the King of Natolia, sign a peace treaty. Sigimond swears a solemn oath to come to Orcanes’ aid should anyone move to invade his territory. Meanwhile, Tamburlaine and his followers advance towards Natolia. On seeing Tamburlaine’s forces, Sigismond goes back on his word – however Sigismond is defeated in battle and accepts his fate as divine punishment.

Death of the Persian Queen

Zenocrate becomes ill, and Tamburlaine leaves battle to return to her side. Overcome with grief upon her death, Tamburlaine burns down the City where she died, forbidding anyone to rebuild it.

A Vow of Revenge

Elsewhere, the son of Bajazeth, Callapine, breaks out of jail and musters a group of tributary Kings to challenge Tamburlaine, avenge his father’s death, and regain his Turkish crown. The armies meet in battle with Tamburlaine victorious once again.

A Cowardly Son

Tamburlaine teaches his three sons, Amyrus, Celebinus and Calyphas, about war. Two are cruel and eager to be on the battlefield, Calyphas, however, doesn’t have the same mentality as his father. When Tamburlaine discovers Calyphas has stayed in his tent during battle, he kills his son for being a coward.

Chariot of Kings

Tamburlaine builds a chariot drawn by the Kings he has conquered, and arrives in Babylon. There he hangs the Governor from the City walls, and orders every man, woman and child to be thrown in the lake and drowned.

Greater than God

Tamburlaine’s savagery knows no bounds. He burns a copy of the Qu’ran and declares himself better than any God. But conquerors cannot live forever. Tamburlaine falls ill, and names his son Amyrus as his successor – bidding his sons to conquer the remainder of the world as he dies.