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Lament for Zenocrate -- Christopher Marlowe

 From Xian in China, the Silk Road winds its way across the steppes of Mongolia,
home of Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde...
(Poem #506) Lament for Zenocrate
 Black is the beauty of the brightest day,
 The golden belle of heaven's eternal fire,
 That danced with glory on the silver waves,
 Now wants the fuel that inflamed his beams:
 And all with faintness and for foul disgrace,
 He binds his temples with a frowning cloud,
 Ready to darken earth with endless night:
 Zenocrate that gave him light and life,
 Whose eyes shot fire from their ivory bowers,
 And tempered every soul with lively heat,
 Now by the malice of the angry skies,
 Whose jealousy admits no second mate,
 Draws in the comfort of her latest breath
 All dazzled with the hellish mists of death.
 Now walk the angels on the walls of heaven,
 As sentinels to warn th'immortal souls,
 To entertain divine Zenocrate.
 Apollo, Cynthia, and the ceaseless lamps
 That gently looked upon this loathsome earth,
 Shine downwards now no more, but deck the heavens
 To entertain divine Zenocrate.
 The crystal springs whose taste illuminates
 Refined eyes with an eternal sight,
 Like tried silver runs through Paradise
 To entertain divine Zenocrate.
 The Cherubins and holy Seraphins
 That sing and play before the King of Kings,
 Use all their voices and their instruments
 To entertain divine Zenocrate.
 And in this sweet and curious harmony,
 The God that tunes this music to our souls,
 Holds out his hand in highest majesty
 To entertain divine Zenocrate.
 Then let some holy trance convey my thoughts,
 Up to the palace of th'imperial heaven:
 That this my life may be as short to me
 As are the days of sweet Zenocrate.
-- Christopher Marlowe
 From Tamburlaine the Great, Part II.

 Marlowe's Tamburlaine fascinates me. He's a 'most bloody and insatiate' tyrant,
wanton in his cruelty and destructiveness, cold and ruthless in his pursuit of
power. And yet Marlowe gives him the most eloquent of tongues, capable of both
subtle meditations and vaunting flights of fancy... indeed, it's almost
impossible not to be swayed by Tamburlaine's rhetoric even as he puts cities to
the sword and declares himself 'the Scourge of God'.

 There's more about Marlowe's play in the notes that follow, but for now I'll be
content to merely analyse this particular speech of Tamburlaine's. It's an odd
blend of bombast and tenderness: lines such as
 "That this my life may be as short to me
  As are the days of sweet Zenocrate."
play a sorrowful counterpoint to the grandeur of
 "The golden belle of heaven's eternal fire,
  That danced with glory on the silver waves."

 The initial conceit foreshadows the Metaphysicals in the multiple levels of
meaning which Marlowe teases out of it: Zenocrate's beauty is such that the sun
himself falls in love with her; this arouses the jealousy of 'the angry skies',
which are the cause of her ailment [1]. The laboured breaths of the dying queen
are not enough to draw replenishment from the baleful air; the sun, meanwhile,
darkens the earth with endless night in his sorrow and his shame.

 From this point onwards, the images are piled on thick and fast, as Tamburlaine
describes how Heaven itself strives 'to entertain divine Zenocrate' [2]. Two
rhetorical tricks are noteworthy here: first, the progression from Apollo to the
Cherubim and Seraphim to the King of Kings is a wonderful example of how to
build up to a climax [3], and second, the refrain of 'to entertain divine
Zenocrate' adds structure and direction to each stirring phrase.

 All in all, a magnificent speech.


[1] Keep in mind the belief, widespread in Elizabethan times, that sickness and
health were governed by four humours - phlegm, blood, choler, bile -
corresponding to the four elements - earth, water, fire and air. Hence the
ability of the sky (air) to cause illness in a mortal. Furthermore, Empedocles
identifies Hera with the sky and Zeus with fire; given Hera's reputation as a
jealous consort, it's hardly surprising that Zenocrate should arouse her wrath.

[2] I like the double-meaning of the word 'divine' here.

[3] It's also a wonderful example of how to mix mythologies, but we'll let that
pass in this case <grin>.


baptized Feb. 26, 1564, Canterbury, Kent, Eng.
died May 30, 1593, Deptford, near London, Eng.

Marlowe was the second child and eldest son of John Marlowe, a Canterbury
shoemaker. Nothing is known of his first schooling, but on Jan. 14, 1579, he
entered the King's School, Canterbury, as a scholar. A year later he went to
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Obtaining his bachelor of arts degree in
1584, he continued in residence at Cambridge--which may imply that he was
intending to take Anglican orders. In 1587, however, the university hesitated
about granting him the master's degree; its doubts (arising from his frequent
absences from the university) were apparently set at rest when the Privy Council
sent a letter declaring that he had been employed "on matters touching the
benefit of his country"--apparently in Elizabeth I's secret service.

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.


Marlowe ... alone realized the tragic potential inherent in the popular style,
with its bombast and extravagance. His heroes are men of towering ambition who
speak blank verse of unprecedented (and occasionally monotonous) elevation,
their "high astounding terms" embodying the challenge that they pose to the
orthodox norms and limitations of the societies they disrupt. In Tamburlaine the
Great (two parts, published 1590) and Edward II (c. 1591; published 1594)
traditional political orders are overwhelmed by conquerors and politicians who
ignore the boasted legitimacy of weak kings; The Jew of Malta (c. 1589;
published 1633) studies the man of business whose financial acumen and trickery
give him unrestrained power; The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (c. 1593;
published 1604) shows the overthrow of a man whose learning and atheism threaten
even God. The main focus of all these plays is on the uselessness of society's
moral and religious sanctions against pragmatic, amoral will. They patently
address themselves to the anxieties of an age being transformed by new forces in
politics, commerce, and science; indeed, the sinister, ironic prologue to The
Jew of Malta is spoken by Machiavelli. In his own time Marlowe was damned as
atheist, homosexual, and libertine, and his plays remain disturbing because his
verse makes theatrical presence into the expression of power, enlisting the
spectators' sympathies on the side of his gigantic villain-heroes. His plays
thus present the spectator with dilemmas that can be neither resolved nor
ignored, and they articulate exactly the divided consciousness of their time.


In the earliest of his plays, the two-part Tamburlaine the Great (c. 1587;
published 1590), Marlowe's characteristic "mighty line" (as Ben Jonson called
it) established blank verse as the staple medium for later Elizabethan and
Jacobean dramatic writing. It appears that originally Marlowe intended to write
only the first part, concluding with Tamburlaine's marriage to Zenocrate and his
making "truce with all the world." But the popularity of the first part
encouraged Marlowe to continue the story to Tamburlaine's death. This gave him
some difficulty, as he had almost exhausted his historical sources in part I;
consequently the sequel has, at first glance, an appearance of padding. Yet the
effort demanded in writing the continuation made the young playwright look more
coldly and searchingly at the hero he had chosen, and thus part II makes
explicit certain notions that were below the surface and insufficiently
recognized by the dramatist in part I.

The play is based on the life and achievements of Timur (Timurlenk), the bloody
14th-century conqueror of Central Asia and India. Tamburlaine is a man avid for
power and luxury and the possession of beauty: at the beginning of part I he is
only an obscure Scythian shepherd, but he wins the crown of Persia by eloquence
and bravery and a readiness to discard loyalty. He then conquers Bajazeth,
emperor of Turkey, he puts the town of Damascus to the sword, and he conquers
the sultan of Egypt; but, at the pleas of the sultan's daughter Zenocrate, the
captive whom he loves, he spares him and makes truce. In part II Tamburlaine's
conquests are further extended; whenever he fights a battle, he must win, even
when his last illness is upon him. But Zenocrate dies, and their three sons
provide a manifestly imperfect means for ensuring the preservation of his wide
dominions; he kills Calyphas, one of these sons, when he refuses to follow his
father into battle. Always, too, there are more battles to fight: when for a
moment he has no immediate opponent on earth, he dreams of leading his army
against the powers of heaven, though at other times he glories in seeing himself
as "the scourge of God"; he burns the Qur'an, for he will have no intermediary
between God and himself, and there is a hint of doubt whether even God is to be
granted recognition. Certainly Marlowe feels sympathy with his hero, giving him
magnificent verse to speak, delighting in his dreams of power and of the
possession of beauty, as seen in the following of Tamburlaine's lines:

      Nature, that fram'd us of four elements
      Warring within our breasts for regiment,
      Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
      Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
      The wondrous architecture of the world,
      And measure every wandering planet's course,
      Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
      And always moving as the restless spheres,
      Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest,
      Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
      That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
      The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

But, especially in part II, there are other strains: the hero can be absurd in
his continual striving for more demonstrations of his power; his cruelty, which
is extreme, becomes sickening; his human weakness is increasingly underlined,
most notably in the onset of his fatal illness immediately after his arrogant
burning of the Qur'an. In this early play Marlowe already shows the ability to
view a tragic hero from more than one angle, achieving a simultaneous vision of
grandeur and impotence.


also spelled Timour, byname Timurlenk, (Turkish: 'Timur the Lame'), English
Tamerlane, or Tamburlaine,

b. 1336, Kesh, near Samarkand, Transoxania [now in Uzbekistan]
d. Feb. 19, 1405, Otrar, near Chimkent [now Shymkent,Kazakstan]

Turkic conqueror of Islamic faith, chiefly remembered for the barbarity of his
conquests from India and Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and for the cultural
achievements of his dynasty.

Timur began his rise as leader of a small nomad band and by guile and force of
arms established dominion over the lands between the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers
(Transoxania) by the 1360s. He then, for three decades, led his mounted archers
to subdue each state from Mongolia to the Mediterranean. He was the last of the
mighty conquerors of Central Asia to achieve such military successes as leader
of the nomad warrior lords, ruling both agricultural and pastoral peoples on an
imperial scale. The poverty, bloodshed, and desolation caused by his campaigns
gave rise to many legends, which in turn inspired such works as Christopher
Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great.

The name Timur Lenk signified Timur the Lame, a title of contempt used by his
Persian enemies, which became Tamburlaine, or Tamerlane, in Europe. Timur was
heir to a political, economic, and cultural heritage rooted in the pastoral
peoples and nomad traditions of Central Asia. He and his compatriots cultivated
the military arts and discipline of Genghis Khan and, as mounted archers and
swordsmen, scorned the settled peasants. Timur never took up a permanent abode.
He personally led his almost constantly campaigning forces, enduring extremes of
desert heat and lacerating cold. When not campaigning he moved with his army
according to season and grazing facilities. His court traveled with him,
including his household of one or more of his nine wives and concubines. He
strove to make his capital, Samarkand, the most splendid city in Asia, but when
he visited it he stayed only a few days and then moved back to the pavilions of
his encampment in the plains beyond the city.

Timur was, above all, master of the military techniques developed by Genghis
Khan, using every weapon in the military and diplomatic armory of the day. He
never missed an opportunity to exploit the weakness political, economic, or
military) of the adversary or to use intrigue, treachery, and alliance to serve
his purposes. The seeds of victory were sown among the ranks of the enemy by his
agents before an engagement. He conducted sophisticated negotiations with both
neighbouring and distant powers, which are recorded in diplomatic archives from
England to China. In battle, the nomadic tactics of mobility and surprise were
his major weapons ofattack.

 Timur's most lasting memorials are the Timurid architectural monuments of
Samarkand, covered in azure, turquoise, gold, and alabaster mosaics; these are
dominated by the great cathedral mosque, ruined by an earthquake but still
soaring to an immense fragment of dome. His mausoleum, the Gur-e Amir, is one of
the gems of Islamic art. Within the sepulchre he lies under a huge, broken slab
of jade. The tomb was opened in 1941, having remained intact for half a
millennium. The Soviet Archaeological Commission found the skeleton of a man
who, though lame in both right limbs, must have been of powerful physique and
tall for a Tatar.

Timur's sons and grandsons fought over the succession when the Chinese
expedition disbanded, but his dynasty survived in Central Asia for a century in
spite of fratricidal strife. Samarkand became a centre of scholarship and
science. It was here that Ulugh Beg, his grandson, set up an observatory and
drew up the astronomical tables that were later used by the English royal
astronomer in the 17th century. During the Timurid renaissance of the 15th
century, Herat, southeast of Samarkand, became the home of the brilliant school
of Persian miniaturists. At the beginning of the 16th century, when the dynasty
ended in Central Asia, his  descendant Babur established himself in Kabul and
then conquered Delhi, to found the Muslim line of Indian emperors known as the
Great Mughals.

        -- the above four sections from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica

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