‘Tamburlaine Must Die’ by Louise Welsh – The Other Elizabethan Playwright


‘Tamburlaine Must Die’ by Louise Welsh  (2004)  – 140 pages


‘Tamburlaine Must Die’ is the English playwright Christopher Marlowe’s own fictional account of his last days up until the day he was killed in an ale house in Deptford on May 30, 1593. He was 29 years old.

The novella starts at the home of Marlowe’s patron Thomas Walsingham who allows Marlowe to stay at his home outside London to work on his plays. Then Marlowe travels to London where events get quite hectic for him

The era of Queen Elizabeth I was a time when religious crimes such as heresy and blasphemy were treated as civil crimes with exceedingly harsh punishments including torture and death. Christopher Marlowe was not one who was shy or careful about what he said or even wrote especially during and after one of his trips to one of the many London ale-houses. He frequently was in trouble with the authorities.

Christopher Marlowe has an “adventurous nature”.

Now Marlowe is in trouble with the Privy Council of Queen Elizabeth. He is accused of committing heresy, of being an avowed atheist who caused others to convert to his beliefs, and of posting a scurrilous threatening bill on the door of the Dutch church signed “Tamburlaine” which happens to be the name of one of his plays.

I found some of the scenes in this novella quite well done, especially when Marlowe talks over his plight with the old gaoler in Newgate prison he knew from the first time Marlowe was locked up. Another scene has the following sharp dialogue:

You seem to find yourself in some small difficulty, Master Marlowe.”

It is a fact of my profession. Theatre is built on difficulties.”

The theatre of life also?”

It is so for all men.”

Perhaps,” he smiled, a brotherly smile, sympathetic yet with no illusions about my character, “but most men’s troubles are of a mundane nature. They lack money or have upset their wife. You are in danger of losing your life.”

However ‘Tamburlaine Must Die’ is too often too sensational and way over the top. We go from bloody incident to bloody incident with few quiet moments in between them. There is scarcely little about how Christopher Marlowe came to write those plays which are still performed over 400 years later – ‘Doctor Faustus’, ‘Tamburlaine’, and ‘Edward II’ among others.

It is difficult to keep track of all the side characters that are introduced too quickly and then are gone from the novella.

There is more sword play than word play in ‘Tamburlaine Must Die’.


Grade:   C




10 responses to this post.

  1. I found this wanting too, although I’ve now lined up The Reckoning, a biography of Marlowe, to read soon.

    Liked by 2 people


  2. By the sound of this, we are better off reading Marlowe than this book. I loved his stuff at university — so over the top!

    Liked by 1 person


  3. I loved this novella. I wasn’t expecting the full Marlowe back-story, maybe that’s why.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Annabel,
      There is some speculation that Christopher Marlowe wasn’t killed on May 30, 1593. He just faked his death to avoid going to prison and being tortured for heresy or espionage. Then he adopted a new pen name, William Shakespeare. It just so happened that William Shakespeare started writing plays soon after Marlowe’s supposed death. They were nearly the same age.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: