At War With God Theology In Christpher

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At War With God: Theology In Christpher Marlowe’s Essay, Research Paper In the fall of 1587, the historical drama of a little-known Cambridge graduate took London by storm. Although he was but twenty-three years of age, Christopher Marlowe seemed to have embodied the spirit of the Renaissance in his work Tamburlaine the Great. On the surface, the work simply retells the history of Timur the Lame, a figure familiar to the educated populous during the Renaissance. Below the surface, however, the work holds a much deeper meaning, standing almost as Marlowe’s commentary on the ideology of the Renaissance. Himself a rebel, Marlowe first refused to take the holy orders for which he had been educated, then rejected biblical moral principles (Baines, 1593, n. p.; Hutton, n. d..,

n. p.; Wraight, 1993, n. p.), and aligned himself with the controversial “free-thinkers” (Wraight, 1993, n. p.) who espoused a primitive form of Unitarianism, and finally embraced atheism (Kocher, 1940, pp. 159-166). At the time of his death, in fact, Marlowe faced multiple charges of heresy (Baines, 1593, n. p.), any one of which could have led to his execution. In many ways, Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great functions as a mirror, reflecting the author’s revolutionary theological suppositions. First, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine challenges the person of God. Throughout both the first and second parts of this work, Marlowe questions the identity of God. On thirteen occasions, Marlowe refers to “the gods” (Ed. Fehrenbach et al, 1982, pp. 442-443). None of “the

gods,” however, prove to be a match for the power of Tamburlaine. As Tamburlaine and his forces prepare to engage Mycetes, Tamburlaine assures his company, “Our quivering lances, shaking in the aire / And bullets like Jove’s dreadful thunderbolts / Enroll’d in flames and fiery smoldering mists / Shall threat the gods more than Cyclopian wars” (Marlowe, 1967, p. 31). Indeed, Tamburlaine’s succeeding conquest seems to lend credence to his boasts. Shortly after Tamburlaine’s boasts, his rival Cosroe describes Tamburlaine as one “That thus opposeth him against the gods / And scorns the powers that govern Persia,” then encourages his soldiers to defend their king and country from the corrupting influence of the “devilish shepherd” (Marlowe, 1967, p. 40). Cosroe

and his army, however, encounter swift defeat; and Tamburlaine once more seems capable of successfully opposing the gods. Marlowe also refers to Jehovah as God more than thirty times throughout the two works (Ed. Fehrenbach et al, 1982, p. 667). Nowhere does he portray Jehovah and Tamburlaine in direct confrontation, but he implies that Tamburlaine would emerge the victor were such a confrontation to occur. When Zenocrate pleads with Tamburlaine to spare her homeland Egypt, he replies, “Zenocrate, were Egypt Jove’s own land, / Yet would I with my sword make Jove to stoop” (Marlowe, 1967, p. 76). Later Tamburlaine remarks to Zenocrate’s father, the sultan of Egypt, “Jove, viewing me in arms, looks pale and wan, / Fearing my power shall pull him from his throne”

(Marlowe, 1967, p. 96). Ribner (1953) summarizes, saying that Marlowe fashions in Tamburlaine a created being wholly free from the control of his Creator. Whereas the Christian interpretations of history popular throughout the Tudor Renaissance depicted man as “working out God’s plan,” Marlowe reacts by establishing an earthly empire whose governor “defies and contradicts” God’s purposes, yet succeeds in spite of rebelling against the Almighty (pp. 84-85). Having attacked both classical paganism and orthodox Christianity, Marlowe refers to Mohammed as a deity. Mohammed likewise proves to be no match against the power of Tamburlaine; thus, Marlowe’s religious skepticism enlarges itself to question the Islamic faith as well. In vain Bajazeth and Zabina wait for