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Volume 72, Issue 4, Fall 2020

Sunil Macwan
Pages 195-213

Populist Improvisation
A Reading of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Successfully creating polarizing narratives, several populist leaders have come to dominate the global political sphere in recent times. However, the coronavirus pandemic has raised serious questions over their ability to respond to its challenges effectively. Whether they will remain in power after the pandemic is an intriguing question. The key to understanding the dynamics of power among populist leaders lies in analyzing the tactics they employ for the appropriation of political power. In this context, reading Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great (1587) can play an important role. This essay, therefore, argues that through a unique characterization of Tamburlaine the Great, Marlowe critiques Queen Elizabeth’s aggressive political maneuvers of improvisation, which enabled her to reinforce her divine claim over the throne of England. Yet striking historical and literary references suggest that Queen Elizabeth and Marlowe’s Tamburlaine attempted to achieve improvisation through similar means but in the end encountered the transience and limits of their temporal powers, while facing the biological realities of barrenness and heredity – a fact that should serve as a warning to the current populist leaders across the world.

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