Powerful Looks in <i>Tamburlaine</i>


  • Richard Snyder Washington State University




Several discussions of Tamburlaine have touched on the striking visual dimension of Marlowe's bombastic play—especially with regard to the theatricality of the titular conqueror himself, who, as David Thurn puts it, “steadfastly refuses to relinquish the power of sight.” At the same time, Tamburlaine has been put forth by scholars such as Joseph Khoury as a Machiavellian figure who embodies will-to-power without much impediment. While the larger-than-life Tamburlaine may seem in such readings a force unto himself, spinning victory out of an ultimately hollow rhetorical prowess and superior will, this article argues to the contrary that all major characters in the play, including Tamburlaine himself, operate within the same framework of princely glory as power. The play suggests, in other words, that looking the part and being the part of Machiavelli’s prince are not only directly entangled, but may be one in the same. Paying attention to the language of "looks" and looking within the play, the article thus situates Tamburlaine's visual rhetoric within this larger visual framework in order to argue that the secret of his success at conquest may be found not in a superior will but in the Machiavel's superior understanding of glory and how to manipulate it.