Doctor Faustus, I
Marlowe (1564-93) is born the same
year as Shakespeare. Both a poet and playwright, his plays include Doctor
Faustus, Tamburlaine, and Edward II.
Marlowe the Innovator
Tamburlaine is a two-part
play about the rise to power of a hero from humble origins, a shepherd who ends
up conquering Asia Minor.
- We see the "hero as over-reacher."
Tambulaine claims a godlike power to enforce his will upon the world: "I hold
the Fates bound fast in iron chains." Indeed, he
is limited only by his own mortality, the fact he cannot conquer death.
- Tamburlaine was both popular and poetically
ground breaking. Marlowe's use of flexible, unrhymed iambic pentameter (blank
verse) in his drama set a fashion that prevailed for the next 50 years
among English playwrights.
Doctor Faustus was
composed c. 1592. It shows us another over-reacher: a brilliant individual of
humble birth who this time challenges Christian orthodoxy.
- In so far as this play is about the fate
of a single individual's soul, it might well be associated with the morality
drama. But Faustus is no Everymanhe's presented from the first as a special
- Elements of older morality tradition do persist
in characters like the good and bad angels. The play offers both allegorical
representations of the conflicting forces within Faustus's psyche, their
projection outward as dramatized separate voices or interlocutors, AND Renaissance
soliloquies, in which a highly distinct self reflects upon its own
desires and actions.
Again, the Problem of Ends, Limits,
Faustus's opening soliloquy expresses
his desire to reach beyond the constraints of ordinary fields of knowledge,
but his attempt to transcend all limitations can only be articulated within
the constraints of his own language & his own imagination.
- his desire to cross metaphysical boundaries
is expressed in familiar terms of earthly colonizing;
- he declares that hell is a fable, or that
it can be redefined as a pagan Elysium, but will later ask Mephastophilis
where it is to be found.
Note this double dynamic in
Renaissance writings--the expansiveness which celebrates the scope of human
powers is often accompanied, or complicated, by a kind of retrenchment, an acknowledgment
- Pico della Mirandola acknowledges
a version of this duality when he has his God tell Adam that man may choose
to rise to something like perfection, get closer to the angels, or sink to
the level of a beast.
- Philip Sidney offers his own version of the
duality when he points out that the creating power of the poet is an example
of man's "erected wit" (his elevated and aspiring intelligence) at
its very best, but still concedes that humans are pulled in the opposite direction
by their "infected will"--the corrupt and baser desires which are part
of our fallen nature.
Indeed, Sidney praises the God-like
creative powers of the poet--but comes back down to earth to concede that the
Poet is not God; that the poet may be a creator but he is also a creation
of a greater Maker; that the poet's powers ultimately derive from God.
The Temptation of Faustus
Does Mephastophilis tempt Faustus?
Or does he damn himself? (Note his recasting of the very notion of transgression
in terms of "manly" heroic action in 1.3.95ff.)
NB: F. even comes up with terms
of the contract, the 24 year limit.
More pertinent questions:
- How does Hell manipulate Faustus's desires
and his fears?
- What kind of theology does Lucifer offer
- What is the relation of the main plot to
the scenes of "low comedy"? Do they offer comic/parodic commentary
on the main action?
- What is the relationship of Wagner and his
servant to Faustus and his "servant" Mephastophilis?
- What kind of appetites does Faustus want
to satisfy with his magic--and how different are they from those of the clowns
who have stolen the magic book?