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'A warre ... commodious': Dramatizing Islamic Schism in and after Tamburlaine

2012, Grogan, Jane

The purpose of this essay is to show how the Tamburlaine plays, by dramatizing intra-Islamic conflict between an insistently Persian Tamburlaine and his Turkish enemies, and Tamburlaine’s extraordinary military successes and imperial gains, engage intensely and provocatively with religious schism and imperial sovereignty, two abiding and interlocked political concerns of late-Elizabethan London. And they do so in full consciousness of their domestic relevance and interest, I argue. Marlowe’s exploration of Tamburlaine’s imperial drive thus articulates and tests his contemporaries’ interest in classical Persian models of empire and in the contemporary Persian schismatic stance within the Islamic world. Finally, my essay considers the surprisingly muted legacy of Marlowe’s dramatization of Islamic schism on the early modern stage. The essay concludes by focussing on the single play of the era that responds most strongly and sensitively to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays: The Travailes of the Three English Brothers (1607). Here, once again, we find rehearsed their agenda to test English imperial fantasies mediated through the Persian model and facilitated in their dreaming by the schism dividing Persia from its more powerful Ottoman neighbours.