Indography pp 23-42 | Cite as

How to Make an Indian

Religion, Trade, and Translation in the Legends of Mõnçaide and Gaspar da Gama
  • Bindu Malieckal
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


In Christopher Marlowe’s famous play Tamburlaine the Great (1587/88), one finds an intriguing anomaly: the Scythian Tamburlaine’s ambition to rule the world extends from the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and the Indian subcontinent to the Americas, even though the play is set in the fourteenth century prior to Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Tamburlaine’s preoccupation with India may be seen in the context of early modern England’s interactions with the Mughals—an argument I have elaborated upon elsewhere1—but what accounts for Marlowe’s imagining of an empire that spans the world to join all of “India,” east and west? Certainly Marlowe did not model Tamburlaine’s empire on sixteenth-century England, which was far from becoming the colonial power where the sun “never set.” At the same time, however, the Portuguese Empire could claim true global domination. By 1570, Mozambique, Bahrain, Goa, the Maluku Islands, and Nagasaki had been annexed by Portugal. The Spanish Empire of the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age) was similarly wide-ranging, if not more so, but Elizabethans regarded the Spanish as rivals while Portugal was an ally until its annexation by Philip II of Spain in 1580.2 More importantly, Spain’s presence in India was negligible, whereas Portuguese fortifications and factories had been established along the length of the commodity-rich west coast of India by the early sixteenth century, from Diu, Daman, Bassein, and Goa to Cannanore, Calicut, and Cochin.3


Indian Ocean Sixteenth Century Fifteenth Century Early Modern Period Late Fifteenth 
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    For an elucidation of this parallel, see Bindu Malieckal, “As Good as Gold: India, Akbar the Great, and Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine Plays,” in The English Renaissance, Orientalism, and the Idea of Asia, ed. Walter S. H. Lim and Debra Johanyak (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 131–159.Google Scholar
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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Bindu Malieckal

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