Tamburlaine the Great is a play in two parts by Christopher Marlowe. It is loosely based on the life of the Central Asian emperor, Timur.
After 1587 Marlowe was in London, writing for the theatres, occasionally getting into trouble with the authorities because of his violent and disreputable behaviour, and probably also engaging himself from time to time in government service. Marlowe won a dangerous reputation for “atheism,” but this could, in Elizabeth I’s time, indicate merely unorthodox religious opinions. In Robert Greene’s deathbed tract, Greenes groats-worth of witte, Marlowe is referred to as a “famous gracer of Tragedians” and is reproved for having said, like Greene himself, “There is no god” and for having studied “pestilent Machiuilian pollicie.” There is further evidence of his unorthodoxy, notably in the denunciation of him written by the spy Richard Baines and in the letter of Thomas Kyd to the lord keeper in 1593 after Marlowe’s death. Kyd alleged that certain papers “denying the deity of Jesus Christ” that were found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who had shared the room two years before. Both Baines and Kyd suggested on Marlowe’s part atheism in the stricter sense and a persistent delight in blasphemy. Whatever the case may be, on May 18, 1593, the Privy Council issued an order for Marlowe’s arrest; two days later the poet was ordered to give daily attendance on their lordships “until he shall be licensed to the contrary.” On May 30, however, Marlowe was killed by Ingram Frizer, in the dubious company of Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley, at a lodging house in Deptford, where they had spent most of the day and where, it was alleged, a fight broke out between them over the bill.
About the Author
J. S. Cunningham is Emeritus Professor of English Literature from Leicester University
Eithne Henson is a retired Lecturer of English Literature.
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Tamburlaine the Great