Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, The
The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus 1593(?)
In his The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, Marlowe used the structure of the medieval morality play to reinterpret the nearly century-old legend of Faust, a man who sacrifices his immortal soul in exchange for knowledge and power. Marlowe presented a mythic, archetypal tale of human pride, sin, and fall from grace that has appealed to readers and audiences through the humanist aspirations of the Renaissance, the spiritual explorations of Romanticism, and the skepticism of modernity.
Marlowe was a well-educated man who was frequently embroiled in religious and political controversy. He studied theology at Cambridge, but in 1587 the university refused to grant his Master of Arts degree, accusing him of visiting a Jesuit seminary in Rheims, France. Marlowe received his degree only after Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council informed the university that he had been at Rheims to spy on exiled English Catholics who were believed to be plotting against the English monarchy. In 1593 officials discovered a blasphemous document in the home of Marlowe's friend and fellow dramatist Thomas Kyd. Facing imprisonment, Kyd claimed the papers belonged to Marlowe. Another acquaintance, Richard Baines, then accused Marlowe of making shockingly blasphemous and atheistic statements when he was a student. A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest, but before it could be served, he was killed, stabbed to death at age 29. Historians have debunked the popular story that Marlowe was killed in a dispute over "the reckoning," the bill for a night of food and drink at a tavern. In fact, he died in a private house in the company of men who had also been engaged as spies by the Privy Council. These men claimed that Marlowe attacked first, without provocation, and the stabbing was ruled self-defense. Modern reexaminations of the circumstances of Marlowe's death do not support the claim of self-defense, and a variety of theories have arisen to explain why someone might have ordered Marlowe's assassination.Scholars do not agree on how to interpret the charges of Marlowe's blasphemy and atheism. The reliability of both Kyd and Baines remains a prominent issue. Whether or not Marlowe actually espoused religious heresy may never be known for certain. Nevertheless, commentators do suggest that Marlowe's extensive education in theology, his participation in the bitter conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism, and his exposure to atheistic doctrines made him uniquely prepared to dramatize the story of a man who rejects Christianity and makes a pact with the devil.
The text of Doctor Faustus survives, as Harry Levin wrote, in a "mangled and encrusted form." Marlowe probably wrote the play between 1588 and 1589, following the success of both the first and second parts of his drama Tamburlaine. Doctor Faustus was performed throughout the 1590s before the first edition, now known as the A-text, was published in 1604. A second version, known as the B-text, was published in 1616. These two versions of the play differ substantially. The A-text has speeches that are not in the B-text; the B-text has almost 700 lines that are not in the A-text. Lines that appear in both versions have many verbal differences, both small and large.
Changes may have been made to both versions during theatrical productions by directors or actors transcribing the play text. Further complicating textual matters, the original publisher of the A-text paid two writers named Samuel Rowley and William Bride to make revisions to Doctor Faustus. Because the A-text is know to have been revised, many scholars maintain that the B-text is probably closest to Marlowe's original version. Some critics have treated the texts as two distinct but related literary works, finding political and ideological differences between the two versions.
Furthering complicating the textual history of Doctor Faustus is the probability that a collaborator wrote the comic scenes in Doctor Faustus—scenes that have long been considered different in style and awkwardly inserted into the rest of the play. Elizabethan playwrights regularly collaborated on projects, and they often divided their work by scenes. Word-frequency tests provide strong indications that the comic and tragic scenes were written by different authors, while contradictions within the play indicate that the comic writer did not know all the details of the tragic scenes.
Plot and Major Themes
The character of Faustus, already a renowned scholar and an accomplished physician when the play opens, aspires to vast wealth, physical pleasures, and the power to restore life to the dead. When he realizes that living a good Christian life will not bring him what he desires, he employs magic to invoke the devil. Mephistophilis, an agent of Lucifer, appears and at first advises Faust not to forego the promise of heaven to pursue his goals. Mephistophilis cites his own bitter fate as one "who saw the face of God / And tasted the eternal joys of heaven" before his exile and fall into damnation. Faustus, however, rejects the warnings and willingly exchanges his soul for the supernatural power and knowledge offered in exchange.
The play spans the next twenty-four years of Faustus's life. In the comic scenes most likely written by a collaborator or inserted after Marlowe's death, Faustus visits the Vatican and mocks the Pope, performs magic for continental royalty, and takes revenge on a horse dealer. These scenes are often considered unworthy of the rest of the text as they seem to reduce the longing of a brilliant man to gain forbidden knowledge to an adolescent delight in flouting authority and associating with the rich and powerful. Throughout his life, Faustus is attended by a Good Angel, who begs him to repent while it is still possible, and a Bad Angel, who assures him that he is past salvation and might as well make the best of his bargain. At one point Faustus seems on the point of repentance, but he chooses instead to commit the sin of invoking and carnally embracing Helen of Troy. In the final scene, he confesses to some scholars that he purchased his amazing powers at the expense of eternal damnation, and retires to an inner room to await the appearance of Lucifer and Mephistophilis to claim his soul.
The greatest controversies surrounding Doctor Faustus have turned on the question of orthodoxy: whether the play serves Protestant theology or subverts it. One school of critical thought holds that reformation theology provides dramatic unity of the play. Douglas Cole argues that Doctor Faustus is "thoroughly Christian in conception and import"; pointing out that Faustus sins knowingly, does not repent, and suffers eternal damnation--a plot that in no way contraverts Christian doctrine. Other commentators emphasize the humanism of the play, interpreting the character of Faustus as a Promethean image representing the aspirations of the Renaissance. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the protagonist does revolt against the limitations of sin and death, and by extension, against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. In a biographically based interpretation, Harry Levin suggests that Marlowe himself, like Faustus, was an "impenitent and wilful miscreant" committed to subverting Christian values. The subversive nature of the play is a common theme of late twentieth century criticism. Many critics now see the drama as raising questions without offering affirmations of either a religious or a humanist nature.
SOURCE: "The Tragedy of Knowledge: Marlowe's Treatment of Faustus," in Quarterly Review of Literature, Vol. II, No. 4, 1945, pp. 316-32.
[In the following essay, Heilman examines the tragic ramifications of Faustus's quest for knowledge.
One of the most attentive of the guests at the Conference of Science, Philosophy, and Religion some years ago was a distinguished Old World thinker who united in one rare mind the achievements of scientist, philosopher, and theologian. Ironically, however, he was the least evident of visitors. Despite his international fame, few of the conferees felt his presence; despite his intellectual venturesomeness, he was but a withdrawing, shadowy figure. Busy delegates looked right through him. Yet they might have had an illuminating word with the eminent Dr. John Faustus, sometime lecturer in the University of Wittenberg.
That Dr. Faustus was present is not of itself surprising, since by nature he was rather a gypsy scholar: in one incarnation or another he had appeared all over the Western world since New Testament times. Why he was present is another matter. It may be imagined that like his master Lucifer he had become bitter and cynical and hence was seeking more converts to his way of life. Or his presence may simply have been part of the torment which he undergoes because in early life he had arrived at a disastrous solution to a philosophical...
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SOURCE: "Doctor Faustus: A Case of Conscience," in PMLA, Vol. LXVII, No. 2, March, 1952, pp. 219-39.
[In the following essay, Campbell characterizes the nature of Faustus's sin as that of despair. She finds parallels in the action of Doctor Faustus with the historical account of a sixteenth-century Italian lawyer named Francesco Spiera, who was charged with heresy and forced to recant his sincerely held religious views.]
[Anyone attempting to write about Doctor Faustus is bound to feel like invoking Sir Edmund Chambers to write another essay of protest, this one on "The Disintegration of Doctor Faustus." So thorough has been the work of the disintegrators that the study of Marlowe's greatest play has come to revolve almost altogether about bibliographical problems. The sections of the play which form the basis for the arguments of this paper are, however, for the most part those which have the authority of both the 1604 and 1616 editions of the play and are those which in general have been conceded to be Marlowe's. I propose, therefore, to disregard bibliographical problems in the main and to accept the edition of Frederick S. Boas in the English Arden series as the basis for my study.]
It is now generally agreed that the prose History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus, commonly referred...
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SOURCE: "Magic and Poetry in Doctor Faustus," in The Critical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring, 1964, pp. 56-67.
[In the following essay, Palmer maintains that Marlowe's portrayal of magic in Doctor Faustus heightenis the tragic intensity of the drama.]
Magic is not only the subject of Doctor Faustus, it is the means by which the dramatic illusion generates power and conviction. As in Tamburlaine, Marlowe evidently conceives the stage as an area liberated from the limitations which nature imposes on the world around; the restraining conditions of probability here seem to be in abeyance, and Marlowe's stage affords scope to realise the gigantic fantasies of his heroes. In Doctor Faustus the stage assumes the properties of a magic circle, within which dramatic spectacle is transformed into enchanted vision, and poetry is endowed with the power of conjuring spirits. We do wrong to feel, as many critics have done, a kind of embarrassment, or even intellectual superiority towards the necromantic elements in the play, for it is precisely through the business of magic that Marlowe effects the heightening and tension necessary to the tragic experience. Few would claim that the play maintains its tragic intensity throughout, or that a sense of structure was one of Marlowe's strengths as a playwright. The farcical episodes which occupy the middle of the action do not have a very...
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SOURCE: "Five-Act Structure in Doctor Faustus," in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 4, Summer, 1964, pp. 77-91. Reprinted in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988, pp. 13-25.
[In the following essay, Hunter analyzess the reluctance of Romantic critics to treat Doctor Faustus as a theatrical work and argues for the dramatic unity of the play.]
The original and substantive texts of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (the Quartos of 1604 and 1616) present the play completely without the punctuation of act division or scene enumeration. This is common enough in the play-texts of the period. Indeed it is much the commonest form in plays written for the public theatres. Shakespeare's Henry V and Pericles are without divisions in their quarto texts, but we know that they were written with a five-act structure in mind—the choruses tell us that.
What is exceptional in the textual history of Doctor Faustus is not the lack of division in the original texts; it is rather the reluctance of modern editors to impose an act-structure on the modern texts. This is curious, but it seems possible to discern why the reluctance exists and a survey of the modern editions of Faustus throws some interesting light on critical attitudes to the subject matter of the play.
Marlowe (like other Elizabethan...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as an Inverted Saint's Life," in Studies in Philology, Vol. LXIII, No. 4, July, 1966, pp. 565-77.
[In the following essay, Snyder interprets Doctor Faustus as an inverted hagiography, reversing the traditional seven stages toward sainthood and showing Faustus moving away from sanctity rather than to beatitutude.]
Critics have long recognized that Doctor Faustus is both a tragedy and a morality play. Because Faustus despairs, tragedy wins out in the end; but along the way semi-allegorical characters periodically wrestle over the soul of Faustus, reminding us of the contrasting medieval pattern of fall and redemption. Mr. Clifford Davidson1 sees significance in Faustus' Wittenberg background and relates his hardened heart to the Lutheran emphasis on the bondage of the will. Such an emphasis, with its concomitant insistence that fallen man has no power to initiate his own repentance, is surely present in the play, underlying the sense of tragic inevitability. On the other hand, the speeches of the Good and Evil Angels, the Old Man, and Faustus himself convince us dramatically, if not theologically, that repentance is a constant possibility. This plays against the overly deterministic first element and helps to restore the balance of initiative between hero and opposing force important to the tragic effect. Contributing to and sustaining this...
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SOURCE: "New Wine and the Old Bottles: Doctor Faustus," in The Dramatist and the Received Idea: Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare, Cambridge University Press, 1968. Reprinted in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988, pp. 27-45.
[In the following excerpt, Sanders suggests that Faustus represents more than an aspiring Renaissance humanist; he argues that Marlowe meant his audience to "detect a serious moral weakness" in his actions.]
Just as, in the treatment of the supernatural order, Marlowe seems to waver between a rather leaden-footed literalism and real imaginative insight, so in the characterisation of the sin for which Faustus is ultimately damned, he seems uncertain of his ground. At times it is seen homiletically as mere presumptuous pride, "a devilish exercise." At times (as it acquires a real dramatic weight and body) it is seen, less simply, as a legitimate aspiration somehow tainted at its source. And at times it is simply endorsed with a kind of naïve enthusiasm which is very like the wide-eyed wonderment of the Faustbook.
It is this uncertainty, I think, that has encouraged critics like Professor Ellis-Fermor to see Faustus's sin as a harmless variety of humanist aspiration (for her, Marlowe the humanist is obliged to damn his hero only because he has been guilty of intellectual apostasy in...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe and God: The Tragic Theology of Dr. Faustus," in PMLA, Vol. 83, No. 5, October, 1968, pp. 1378-85.
[In the following essay, Ornstein suggests that Doctor Faustus is informed by Marlowe's personal vision of a harsh and unforgiving diety, and that the play is "Marlowe's testament of despair."]
Apart from Shakespearean drama, few Elizabethan plays have been so frequently and thoroughly studied in recent decades as Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. Yet it remains as problematical a work of art today as it was thirty years ago. Interpretations based on the biographical evidence of Marlowe's atheism are now in disrepute, because scholarly investigations of Elizabethan thought and dramatic traditions would convince us of the orthodoxy of Marlowe's artistic theme and moral attitude. But if earlier "biographical" studies of Dr. Faustus were partial and unsatisfactory, they were at least in touch with the poetic splendor of its lines and the metaphysical terror of its final scene. In more recent "corrective" studies the element of fire in Marlowe's tragic thought is quite put out; only the ironies of Faustus' overreaching ambitions and the choric homiletic pieties remain.
Much more knowledgeable about Marlowe's art and Elizabethan culture than were earlier readers, we see Dr. Faustus differently. Indeed, we study a text different from that used by earlier...
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SOURCE: "The Theology of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus," in Renaissance Drama, New Series Vol. III, 1970, pp. 51-78.
[In the following essay, Hattaway examines the Christian iconography in Doctor Faustus and concludes that the drama moves "inevitably towards orthodoxy rather than iconoclasm."]
Oh men most braine-sick and miserable, that endevour to be worse than they can!
Montaigne, Essays, II.xii
Ever since Eliot described The Jew of Malta as a "tragic farce," critics have been trying hard to define the particular conjunctions of contradictory impulses in Marlowe's works. It is difficult now to regard Doctor Faustus simply as a great soul struggling to free himself from the fetters of his age, an interpretation incidentally that dates only from about the time of Byron's Manfred, nor do most of us want to follow the severely moralistic interpretations of the play that destroy it as a tragedy. Yet the more one reads the writings of Marlowe's contemporaries, the more one is forced to the opinion that his audiences adopted a more stringent attitude towards his heroes than most modern critics have done and that the plays work in large part by irony, by invoking traditional ideas or icons and using them as formative principles of meaning. If we know some orthodox...
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SOURCE: "The Unity of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus," in his A Shaping Joy: Studies in the Writer's Craft, Methuen & Co., 1971, pp. 367-80.
[In the following essay first given as a lecture in 1965, Brooks argues that the middle of Doctor Faustus supports, rather than disrupts, the unity of the drama, and he defends the poetry in Faustus's final soliloquy as an expression of the individuality that "is at once his glory and his damnation."]
In his Poetics, Aristotle observed that a tragedy should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The statement makes a point that seems obvious, and many a reader of our time must have dismissed it as one of more tedious remarks of the Stagirite, or indeed put it down to one of the duller notes taken by the student whom some suppose to have heard Aristotle's lectures and preserved the substance of them for us. Yet the play without a middle does occur, and in at least three signal instances that I can think of in English literature, we have a play that lacks a proper middle or at least a play that seems to lack a middle. Milton's Samson Agonistes is one of them; Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, another; and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the third. Milton presents us with Samson, in the hands of his enemies, blind, grinding at the mill with other slaves, yet in only a little while he has Samson pull down the temple roof upon his...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe: The Arts of Illusion," in The Yale Review, Vol. LXI, No. 4, June, 1972, pp. 530-543.
[In the following essay, Giamatti reads Doctor Faustus as an examination of the Renaissance conviction that human beings could "remake or change or transform" themselves, and as an exporation of the question of whether this would tend to be done good or for evil purposes.]
George Sabellicus was pleased to call himself, a contemporary tells us in 1507, "the younger Faust, the chief of necromancers, astrologer, the second magus, palmist, diviner with water and fire, second in the art of divination by water." But even this billing did not smooth the way, for Dr. Faust, as Sabellicus came to be called, was constantly forced to move on. City after city, nervously or defiantly, expelled him. It had always been so for the man called to the arts of illusion.
From antiquity through the seventeenth century, if no farther, the mummer, the mime, the juggler, the actor, the mountebank, the magician, even the scientist as astrologer or alchemist—all were suspect for their solitary or their irregular lives. But even more, they were profoundly distrusted for their varying and various capacities for irreverence. By irreverence, I mean not only their blasphemous conditions and conversation; I mean essentially their abilities to imitate and to transform, their gifts for changing shape and...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe and the Will to Absolute Play," in his Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, The University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 193-221.
[In the following excerpt, Greenblatt explores the act of strenuous, aggressive self-fashioning on the part of protagoniss in Marlowe's plays. He contends that Faustus, like Tamburlaine and Edward II, wilfully reshapes himself in opposition to authority.]
On 26 June 1586 a small fleet, financed by the Earl of Cumberland, set out from Gravesend for the South Seas. It sailed down the West African coast, sighting Sierra Leone in October, and at this point we may let one of those on board, the merchant John Sarracoll, tell his own story:
The fourth of November we went on shore to a town of the Negroes, … which we found to be but lately built: it was of about two hundred houses, and walled about with mighty great trees, and stakes so thick, that a rat could hardly get in or out. But as it chanced, we came directly upon a port which was not shut up, where we entered with such fierceness, that the people fled all out of the town, which we found to be finely built after their fashion, and the streets of it so intricate that it was difficult for us to find the way out that we came in at. We found their houses and streets so finely and cleanly kept that it was an admiration to us all, for that neither in the houses...
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SOURCE: "Doctor Faustus: Master of Self-Delusion," in Heavenly Necromancers: The Magician in English Renaissance Drama, University of Missouri Press, 1984. Reprinted in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988, pp. 77-92.
[In the following excerpt, Traister explores the historical and literary associations of magic in Doctor Faustus. She concludes that the imagery of magic undercuts the humanistic message of the play and results in a very pessimistic view of humankind's ability to effectively deal with forbidden knowledge.]
Ambiguity and irony—key words in almost every discussion of Faustus—are frequently used to explain the play's various dichotomies. For underlying almost all explication of Faustus is a sense that the play's words and actions do not match: Faustus's rhetoric and his deeds are incommensurate, and the play's beginning and end frame a number of prosaic and dull scenes in which Faustus seems totally unlike the scholar of the play's opening.
Among the reams of Faustus criticism are some treatments of Marlowe's use of magic. But most of this work has sought sources for the magical techniques and terminology Marlowe uses and possible models for Faustus himself. Very little has been said about the importance of magic to the play's theme and structure, though the ambiguity and uncertainty...
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SOURCE: "Faustus's Rhetoric of Aspiration," in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus and Tamburlaine: Theological and Theatrical Perspectives, Verlag Peter Lang GmbH, 1984. Reprinted in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988, pp. 93-103.
[In the following excerpt, Birringer examines Doctor Faustus in terms of the protagonist's struggle against the limits of language, of theology, and of his personality.]
The theatrical presentations of the Scenes on which Faustus and Macbeth are going to act out their fatal transgressions quite distinctively create a sense of atmosphere that shapes the audience's perception of the emotions at work in the play-in-performance. Those emotions not only operate in the dramatic universe itself, but also on the spectator-as-participant. In terms of this "structure of feeling" … the atmospheric effects in Macbeth interpenetrate the fragmentary, visual presentation of individual characters. The element of the fantastical, the insubstantial, and the unreal pervade the fabric of the play, and the nature of the human events, actions, and experiences is to be conceived in correspondence with the atmosphere of paradox and unreality.
The collage of swift changes in the presentation of the internal and external events is an important structural device; the inside of Macbeth's mind and the paradoxical...
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SOURCE: "Doctor Faustus: Subversion Through Transgression," in his Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, University of Chicago Press, 1984. Reprinted in Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus," edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1988, pp. 105-14.
[In the following excerpt, Dollimore examines Marlowe's "subversion through transgression" of traditional religious values and behaviors in Doctor Faustus.]
One problem in particular has exercised critics of Doctor Faustus: its structure, inherited from the morality form, apparently negates what the play experientially affirms—the heroic aspiration of "Renaissance man." Behind this discrepancy some have discerned a tension between, on the one hand, the moral and theological imperatives of a severe Christian orthodoxy and, on the other, an affirmation of Faustus as "the epitome of Renaissance aspiration … all the divine discontent, the unwearied and unsatisfied striving after knowledge that marked the age in which Marlowe wrote" (Doctor Faustus, ed. Roma Gill).
Critical opinion has tended to see the tension resolved one way or another—that is, to read the play as ultimately vindicating either Faustus or the morality structure. But such resolution is what Doctor Faustus as interrogative text resists. It seems always to represent...
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SOURCE: "God's Mercy Is Infinite: Faustus's Last Soliloquy," in English Studies, Vol. 64, No. 4, August, 1984, pp. 302-11.
[In the essay below, Pittock argues that Faust is not doomed to damnation until a point during the course of his final soliloquy, underscoring the extraordinarily momentous nature of this scene in the tragedy. In the course of his discussion, Pittock counters commentators who have judged Faustus's final speech nonfunction in advancing the drama. because, they believe, Faustus lost his chance of salvation much earlier in the play.]
In the course of a discussion of Dr Faustus in The Dramatist and the Received Idea (Cambridge, 1968), Wilbur Sanders expressed some dissatisfaction with what, for others, is Marlowe's supreme achievement: Faustus's last speech. For Sanders it is 'histrionic' (239), and he alleges that its 'oscillation between extremes—heaven and hell God and Lucifer ("Yet will I call on him. 0 spare me Lucifer")—is part of the homiletic over-simplification that dogs the play' (240). He even goes so far as to ask '… can one be entirely happy about "See see where Christ's blood streams in the firmament"?' (239).
Sanders's strictures are only justifiable if Faustus's speech is thematically otiose; if, that is, all Faustus can do is to complain about a fate which is now inevitable. And that Faustus is irretrievably damned he begins his...
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SOURCE: "Panurge and the Faustian Dilemma," in Stanford Literature Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall, 1985, pp. 147-63.
[In the following essay, Ryan compares the respective attitudes of the protagonists of Rabelais's comic romance Tiers Livre with Marlowe's Faust toward the possibility of spiritual salvation.]
As Christopher Marlowe's Tragical History of Dr. Faustus begins, the protagonist is discovered in his study lamenting his failure, through ordinary means, to satisfy the boundless desires of his intellect and will and so turning as a last resort to magic. The insatiable hunger of this dramatic character for impossibly attainable knowledge, power, and self-gratification has entered our modern mythology as the Faustian dilemma.
What can a creature, limited in capacity yet infinitely aspiring, do to exceed the limitations of our nature and achieve things inaccessible to ordinary mortals? And does making the effort to seize the absolute, "to gain a deity," inevitably lead to disillusionment, despair, and damnation? The attempt to go beyond the legitimately human has become depicted in literature and art through commerce with the occult or the demonic after a rejection of all that has been, or might be, gained through traversing the normal paths to knowledge and dominance. Often, as in Marlowe's play, these acceptable approaches have been symbolized by the four...
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SOURCE: "Heavenly Helen," in Etudes de Lettres, Vol. 4, 1987, 11-21.
[In the excerpt below, Forsyth examines the depiction of Helen in Doctor Faustus as an ambiguous, destabilizing character, comparing this presentation with her appearance in several classical texts.]
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed.
Dr. Faustus, 2.1.120
Mélange curieux d'éléments divers, l'image traditionnelle de la belle Héléne est pleine de contradictions. Le dramaturge anglais Christopher Marlowe exploite cette tradition ambiguë dans sa pièce Dr. Faustus, afin de pousser plus loin encore les paradoxes de la beauté à la fois séduisante et destructrice—beauté des femmes, mais aussi des mots. C'est 1'évocation de l'ombre d'Hélène vers la fin de la pièce qui rend inévitable la damnation de Faustus, mais dans sa passion pour ce qui est absent ce héros de Marlowe devient en même temps le représentant (un peu parodique) de l'esprit de la Renaissance.
The doubling of Helen began early in the literary tradition. Euripides makes her stay in Egypt and sends a simulacrum to Troy with Paris to start the Trojan War. Gorgias writes an encomium filled with paradoxes about destructive beauty. This traditional ambivalence Marlowe used for his own purposes, and I want to suggest in this essay that he...
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SOURCE: "'Within the massy entrailes of the earth': Faustus's Relation to Women," in "A Poet and a filthy Play-maker": New Essays on Christopher Marlowe, edited by Kenneth Friedenreich, Roma Gill, and Constance B. Kuriyama, pp. 203-219, AMS Press, Inc., 1988.
[In the following essay, Stockholder explores the erotic element of Faustus's magic and offers a psychological discussion of imagery pertaining to Faustus's desires for and simultaneous fear of women."]
All images or portrayals of extrahuman figures, gods and devils, ghosts and witches, are necessarily extensions and exaggerations of human characteristics, for human characteristics are all that we know. To isolate a human characteristic and portray it as belonging to a devil, or an angel, is to express an attitude toward that characteristic; to tell, or to dramatize, a story involving supernatural happenings necessarily involves allegorizing human affairs, whether or not the author believes in the literal truth of the supernatural happenings. The imaginations of secular humanists find resonant meaningfulness in such works as the Divine Comedy because those works express powerful evaluations through their heightened portrayals of facets of our common humanity. Accordingly, in discussing the role of women in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus I am going to naturalize all supernatural events. That is, I will regard supernatural elements as...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe: Dr. Faustus," in his Christian Fantasy from 1200 to the Present, University of Notre Dame Press, 1992, pp. 73-92.
[In the following essay, Manlove explores some contrasts between Marlovian dramatic characters Tamburlaine and Faustus, focusing on the pursuit that each undertakes of materialistic and earthly rather than spiritual attainments.]
Our soules, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous Architecture of the world:
And measure every wandring plannets course:
Still climing after knowledge infinite,
And alwaies mooving as the restles Spheares,
Wils us to weare our selves and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect blisse and sole felicitie.…
(Tamburlaine Part 1, II.vii.21-8)
These remarks might just have been made by Dante, whose Commedia was partly the product of a desire to fathom the furthest limits of reality, while at the same time being the expression of a scientific urge to know and to chart the unexplored. Dante, however, was both more and less ambitious, in that he was exploring a more than natural universe, one-in which his imagination was to be directed and educated by realities beyond it. Tamburlaine's universe has much less of the divine in it. His ruling principle is nature, not...
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SOURCE: "Introduction," in their Doctor Faustus A- and B-Texts (1604, 1616): Christopher Marlowe and His Collaborator and Revisers, Manchester University Press, 1993, pp. 1-15, 42-48, 62-77.
[In the following excerpt from the introduction to their edition of Doctor Faustus, Bevington and Rasmussen survey the controversies surrounding the A- and B-texts, as well as assessing the evidence for the date, the sources, the staging, and the authorship of the play.]
Among the myriad uncertainties about Doctor Faustus, the first is the question of when it was written and initially performed. Two dates vie for our attention, one c. 1588-9 and one c. 1592. The matter is of consequence to our view of Marlowe's career as a dramatist, for, despite their general proximity, these dates nearly span the productive career of this precocious and seemingly doomed young artist. Did Marlowe write Doctor Faustus shortly after his great success with the two parts of Tamburlaine, the second of them performed probably on 10 November 1587, or is the play perhaps his last and greatest creation before his sudden death at a Deptford tavern in May of 1593?
The case for the earlier date, generally now in critical favour, rests on a number of considerations. The anonymous play called The Taming of a Shrew, widely regarded as an earlier...
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SOURCE: "Demonizing Magic: Patterns of Power in Doctor Faustus," in Spectacles of Strangeness: Imperialism, Alienation, and Marlowe, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, pp. 111-42.
[In the following excerpt, Bartels examines the relation between magic, politics, and Protestantism in Doctor Faustus.]
The European Subject
The prologue to The Tragical! History of Doctor Faustus sets the forthcoming material apart from what has come before on the Marlovian stage—from "the pomp of proud audacious deeds," from marches of war and sports of love that "overturn'd" "courts of kings" in Carthage and beyond (prologue 4-5).1 Though Edward II may be implicated in the latter, the turn marked here is primarily from the broad, cross-cultural landscapes of imperialist competition to "only this" (Prologue 7), the "fortunes" of a man born of "parents base of stock" (Prologue 11), schooled in Germany, and sitting, as the play opens, in his study. While his fortunes include an Icarian rise to things "above his reach" (Prologue 21) and a fall to "devilish exercise" (Prologue 23), they are notably circumscribed, spatially within Europe, temporally within a period of twenty-four years, and textually by a legendary tradition of Faust tales. The center of the drama, too, is not the exterior space of public display but an interior scrutiny of self and soul, of...
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SOURCE: "Marlowe's Myth" and "Source, Design, Genre," in his Doctor Faustus: Divine in Show, Twayne Publishers, 1994, pp. 8-11, 23-31.
[In the following excerpt, McAlindon explores Marlowe's reshaping of traditional elements of the Faustus myth]
Of the six surviving plays written by Marlowe, Doctor Faustus is by far the most famous, yet it is by no means the most finished and satisfactory. It is indeed depressingly uneven, so that scholars have long surmised that much of it (and not just the additions paid for by Philip Henslowe in 1602) was written by a collaborator or collaborators of greatly inferior capacities. Yet, the overall conception of the tragedy is superb, and those parts of it that are unquestionably by Marlowe show him at his greatest as a poetic dramatist. Nowhere else does he communicate so much with such economy; nowhere else is his emotional intensity or his dramatic irony so piercing.
Doctor Faustus is a remarkable and fascinating play for a number of other reasons. In the first place, it is the only major play on a religious theme produced for the stage in that profoundly religious epoch; perhaps only a "proud, audacious" genius such as Marlowe would undertake such a theme at a time when religion was so dangerously sensitive an issue. That Marlowe, the notorious scorner of established religious beliefs, should not only undertake to dramatize the story...
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SOURCE: "Doctor Faustus: Tragedy in the Allegorical Tradition," in his Christopher Marlowe and the Renaissance of Tragedy, Praeger Publishers, 1995, pp. 122-147.
[In the following essay, Cole considers the relationship between Doctor Faustus and Marlowe's likely source, the English Faustbook..]
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is not only Marlowe's best-known play but also the most often produced non-Shakespearean Elizabethan drama in English professional theatre of the last century.33 In textbooks and anthologies of drama, it stands conventionally as the most notable "bridge-piece" between the theatrical modes of medieval drama and the more modern developments associated with the Renaissance stage. The play's subject and theme have also earned for it a pivotal place in literary and cultural history, marking as it does an important threshold between images of medieval and modern man. Finally, it represents one of several artistic achievements in the Western tradition that have explored and re-explored the symbolic implications of the Faust legend, a legend that has assumed, largely because of versions such as those created by Marlowe and Goethe, the resonant proportions of myth.
Yet only the privilege of hindsight allows such a mapping of this play's significance. Not many Englishmen of the early eighteenth century, for example, would have or could...
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SOURCE: "Skepticism and Solipsism in Dr. Faustus," in Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, edited by David M. Bergeron, Vol. XXXVI, University of Kansas, 1997, pp. 1-22.
[In the following essay, Hamlin disputes the modern critical tendency to interpret Doctor Faustus as either supportive or subversive with regard to the societal and especially religious orthodoxy of Marlowe's time. Hamlin declares that commentators are wrong to focus their analysis of the play on whtether it is "orthodox or heterodox, Christian or Diabolonian, homiletic or iconoclastic … liberal humanist or predestinarian," instead contending that this play explores these positions without conclusively supporting any of them.]
Twentieth-century criticism of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has produced not only a substantial number of polarized and mutually-exclusive interpretations but also a broad array of intermediate views and divided responses. Readings of the play have been variously characterized as either orthodox or heterodox, Christian or Diabolonian, homiletic or iconoclastic and, more recently, liberal humanist or predestinarian; but a survey of the criticism since George Santayana and T. S. Eliot in fact suggests that an impressive number of the play's readers have attested in one way or another—sometimes, apparently, without conscious awareness—to its ambiguous or equivocal nature and...
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Bluestone, Max. "Libido Speculandi: Doctrine and Dramaturgy in Contemporary Interpretations of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus." In Selected Papers from English Institute: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan Drama, edited by Norman Rabkin, pp. 33-88. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Surveys modern interpretations of Doctor Faustus and concludes that ambiguities in the play have created a critical tradition that "tends toward antithesis and dispute."
Ribner, Irving. "Marlowe and the Critics." Tulane Drama Review 8, No. 4 (Summer 1964): 211-24.
Traces scholarly reaction to Marlowe's works from 1774 to 1962.
Nichol, Charles. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, 413 p.
Exhaustively researched and engrossing account of Marlowe's life, focusing on his experiences as a spy for Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council. The author speculates on the nature of Marlowe's involvement in the kind of political maneuvering, common in the Elizabethan court, that might have led to his assassination.
Rowse, A. L. Christopher Marlowe: A Biography. London: NEED PUB, 1964, 219 p.
Summarizes and assesses what is known about Marlowe's early life, education, literary career, and death....
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