Title: Tamburlaine the Great, Part the First.
Author: Christopher Marlowe.
Language Difficulty Rating: 4 (slightly difficult).
Setting: Scythia, Persia, Anatolia, Syria; late 14th to early 15th century.
One must wonder what Muse convinced young Christopher Marlowe to choose such a bizarre and exotic topic as the 14th century Mongol conqueror Timur for a play, in an era when drama was dominated by tales of religion, romance and myth. Regardless, the combination of an audaciously Napoleonic protagonist and a new, powerful blank verse, wielded in Marlowe’s hands like an old English broadsword, proved a block-buster, and in hindsight can be seen as the formal beginning of the era of great Elizabethan drama.
Our Story: Tamburlaine is a shepherd who has turned to banditry, but his dream is to become king of the world. Possessed of almost supernatural good luck, military skill, and oratorical ability, Tamburlaine defeats every army and overthrows every monarch he meets. Oh, and his extreme cruelty is legendary.
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Still-Familiar Words and Phrases that Appeared in English Literature for the First Time
in Tamburlaine, Part One (according to the OED):
astounding (as an adjective: e.g. “this is astounding!”)
the phrase ocean main
the phrase rue the day
scum (applied as an insulting term to people)
sled (applied to a snow-traveling vehicle)
top (as a verb, meaning to out-do someone: e.g. “he topped him.”)