In the course of depicting the civilizing process Europe was undergoing from the Middle Ages onwards, Norbert Elias locates the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth centuries as the historical juncture (different in the particular history of each emerging nation-state) where the change in structure of society ‘finally gives the central authorities preponderance over all the centrifugal forces, and thus confers on the territories a greater stability’.
In his monumental project Elias demonstrates the dialectical relation between the private and collective body, assuming, from the very outset, that had a ‘civilized’ person of later ages been confronted with the customs of earlier periods, s/he would have been alarmed by their ‘barbaric’ nature. Christopher Marlowe, a notorious Elizabethan sensationalist, adopts a different, perhaps more creative strategy in his two
plays. Taking together tropes of emerging nationhood and civility, and confronting his audience, in a real-time dramatic mirror, with their barbaric past as still threateningly inherent within the political and social structure of the present, he constructs moments such as the following, in which Techelles, looking upon Tamburlaine for the first time, pronounces an oracular statement:
As princely lions when they rouse themselves, Stretching their paws and threat’ning herds of beasts, So in his armour looketh Tamburlaine: Methinks I see kings kneeling at his feet, And he, with frowning brows and fiery looks, Spurning their crowns from off their captive heads.