Throughout both ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Doctor Faustus,’ the authors draw upon the ideas of responsibility, free will, and blame. Marlowe, in ‘Doctor Faustus’, melds the conventional religious ideology of the Middle Ages with the comparatively new Renaissance and Reformation thought, thus creating an effective contrast and an element of ambiguity in who exactly causes the fall of the protagonist: is it Faustus’s pride, Mephistopheles or God? Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ by comparison, draws upon the radicalism of the English Republic and Old Testament fables to present the enigmatic question of who is at fault for the fall of man; some critics go so far as to suggest Milton believes God is to blame because he gave Adam and Eve free will. In the words of Milton’s, almost human, Satan: “Whom hast thou then or what to accuse, / But heaven’s free love dealt equally to all? / Be then his love accursed, since love or hate, / To me alike, it deals eternal woe.” This self-questioning embodies the enigmatic inference, morality and theology employed by Milton in his masterpiece. From the beginning, through his utilisation of the classical chorus, Marlowe takes inspiration from the earlier Medieval ‘Mummings’ and morality plays in his use of almost overly poetic, bardesque, imagery: “His waxen wings did mount above his reach,/And melting heavens conspired his overthrow.” An assertion such as this only adds to the ambiguity of blame in ‘Doctor Faustus’: the first line of the excerpt clearly indicates an active attempt by Faustus to “mount above his reach”; however, a contradiction then takes place, with an Old Testament image of a “conspiring” and vengeful God being drawn. Also, even in quotations as short as that above, the audience is confronted with a wholly contemporary idea: in the plays of the early and late Tudor period, theatre was used as a powerful propaganda tool against the ‘Machiavellian’ Papacy’s waning influence over English and religious affairs. In excerpts such as the above, Marlowe, contemporary references aside, engenders confusion: why does God “conspire” against Faustus? The playwright offers an explanation of sorts in sentiments such as: “Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold.” Greed such as this is highly reminiscent of Chaucer’s ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’, with the character of the Olde Man, an entity borrowed by Marlowe later in the play, resembling Faustus in this instance: “Thus seyde this olde man; And everich of thise riotoures ran/Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde/Of floryns fyne of gold ycoyned rounde.” However, although this similarity lessens the moral status of Marlowe’s protagonist, it is only a temporary lessening: “Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.” Such St. Antonian humility, through seemingly heartfelt assertion, again has the effect of incurring a sense of confusion within the audience: surely a man as learned as Faustus cannot be capable of such immoral behaviour, of devil affiliation and of self-destruction? In fact, it is exactly the ‘new-learning’ of Faustus which leads him into the pact with Mephistopheles: “What God can hurt thee, Faustus? Thou art safe” proves to be almost the exact sentiments and ‘delusions’ which Satan utters in his tempting of Eve in ‘Paradise Lost’, the latter of whom musing: “What fear I then, rather what know to fear/Under this ignorance of good and evil/ Of God or death, of law or penalty?” Therefore both authors, in these instances, present the fall of both Eve and Faustus as being born of ignorance, exacerbated by the figures of Satan and Mephistopheles accordingly: so-called ‘Aristotelian Epideictic’. Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, on the other hand, contains more entities to which the blame of death entering the world can be attributed: Adam, Eve, God and Satan. The most obvious scapegoat, however, comes in the form of the first woman, Eve: “Forth reaching to the fruit she plucked, she eat:/Earth felt the wound.” This one momentous act, both in the context of religion and literature, is, in the short term, undeniably the fault of the vanity and malleability of Eve. In terms of the long term, Milton offers clues to a ‘chain of events’, with God and Satan at the heart, which led to the fall, an idea which is given credence by the structure of the work: “Back to the thicket slunk/The guilty serpent.” This seemingly insignificant passing incrimination holds vast philosophical meaning: what does Milton mean by “guilty”? It is exactly this that adds to the potency of the poet’s work: the mere fact that he wished to convey such a difficult argument in such simplistic terms adds to its emphasis and importance. Excerpts like the one above, in the words of one critic, “show that Milton does not care about who exactly is to blame nor about whether the reader understands…only about how to present the riddle of conveying this complexity without answering it.” This being said, Milton does graft an element of fault upon Satan through his apostrophe: “O much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve,/Of thy presumed return! Event perverse!” This dramatic technique, originally designed to reveal hidden emotion to the audience, was common at the time, for example, in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’: “Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible/To feelings as to sight? Or art thou but/A dagger of the mind, a false creation/Proceeding from the heat oppresséd brain?” Thus, if the original intention of apostrophe is to be taken into account, most blame can readily be placed on Satan: an idea possessed by many critics of ‘Paradise Lost’, with good reason when extracts like the following are analysed: “[Satan] towards the new-created World/ . . . with purpose to assay/ . . . or worse,/ By some false guile pervert — and shall pervert;/ For Man will hearken to his glozing lies,/ And easily transgress . . . Sole pledge of his obedience.” The presentation of Lucifer as having such malicious intent, “purpose to assay”, is difficult to ignore. Certainly a case can be made that the aforementioned Is ‘to blame’ for what happens in the work. In the words of Martin Luther, whose theology is prevalent in the puritan elements of ‘Paradise Lost’: “For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.” This philosophical statement runs in a rich vein through Milton’s presentation of “the arch-Fiend”: “O Earth! How like to Heav’n if not preferred/More justly, set worthier of gods as built/With second thoughts reforming what was old!” This attribution of human jealousy to Satan renders him, if anything, more to blame, for he, like his victims, seemingly possesses the gift of freewill: an idea which inevitably draws the role of God into the fore. It was perceived by both John Milton and Christopher Marlowe that the word of God was law and, therefore, He conceivably can do no wrong: God is thus not presented as being wholly responsible in either works, because, ultimately, to do so would have been declared as heresy, or, in Milton’s case, non-Puritanism or ‘anti-Republicanism’. In the words of Nikolai Gogol: “It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry.”In conclusion, it is clear that the way the two authors allowed themselves to express and explore the idea of blame was very much restricted by the boundaries of contemporary ideals and theology. Despite the real attempt by both to toy with this most complex of ideas, neither reaches a conclusion about who to place the blame on. This ambiguity is intentional; sometimes the use of thoughtful techniques, references and inferences to explore a question is more important – and makes for a more successful work – than coming to a forced conclusion.
Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus presents a protagonist who sells his soul to the devil for god-like knowledge and power. The tension in Faustus surfaces from the protagonist’s self-damnation, for he is constantly reminded and aware of his numerous avenues to salvation. His fundamental tragedy is that he refuses his humanity. He convinces himself that, by refuting his personhood and selling his soul to the devil, he can become all knowing. Though he gains the magic promised him by the devil, he slowly becomes aware that he is now void of identity altogether. Faustus does not become less human because he has become a god; rather, he becomes less human only in that he denies his place in humanity. He removes himself from the community of man in favor of a commune of soullessness and debauchery. In fact, if conceit and foolishness are what bring about Faustus’ tragic fall, it is the forsaking of his own God-given human soul that enables the fruition of such conceit and foolishness in the first place. Without his humanity and faith to give his life meaning, Faustus is left without purpose for existence, turning to the pleasures of magic and art as substitutes for his lost personhood.In the Prologue, the Chorus explains that pride leads Faustus to discount his theology and turn to magic. Faustus’ life of fruitful scholarship has enriched him with knowledge: “Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes / In heavenly matters of theology” (18-9). Yet, Faustus finds no contentment with his studies. Though he might “heap up gold, / And be eternized for some wondrous cure” as a physician, such prospects fail to appeal to him (1.1.14-5). He says:Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.Wouldst thou make man to live eternally,Or, being dead, raise them to life again,Then this profession were to be esteemed. (1.1.23-6)His discontent is that he is only “a man,” bound by the laws of Earth and limited by his finite existence. His mistake, of course, is that he ignores his theology, which tells him that man’s most profound spiritual needs are answered only in Communion with God, be they knowledge of man’s origins or the miracle to, as Faustus says, “raise [the dead] to life again.” There exists, then, a division in Faustus. On the one side are the desires for knowledge present in all men. On the other side of the division lie the means by which he might gratify those desires: acceptance of his humanity and participation in God’s plan. The wall that separates these parts is constructed of his pride and foolishness.This dissection becomes more apparent when Faustus continues expressing his restlessness and desire:Ay, we must die an everlasting death.What doctrine you call this? Ché será, será,“What will be, shall be”? Divinity, adieu!These metaphysics of magiciansAnd necromantic books are heavenly,[…] Oh, what a world of profit and delight,Of power, of honor, of omnipotenceIs promised to the studious artisan!All things that move between the quiet polesShall be at my command. (1.1.48-59)This may be viewed as the exact moment Faustus refutes his faith and turns to the false promises of magic. He arrives at the conclusion that all men are fated to die by ignoring the most important tenet of his former faith–that the gift of Communion with God is everlasting life. Further, he speaks of commanding all things “that move between the quiet poles,” a hope borne from his belief that the “metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly.” If the books of magicians are “heavenly,” it is still impossible for those texts to be more heavenly than the gospels with which Faustus is aware. Moreover, had Faustus not denied his proper place among men, he would already be in possession of all “that move[s] between the quiet poles,” for God has granted man dominion over those earthly things. Again, it is denial of his personhood, of his place in relation to other men and God, that precedes his downfall. Once he denies God’s charity and chooses covenant with Mephistopheles instead, Faustus’ hunger for knowledge does not, as Faustus hoped, become satiated. He asks Mephistopheles a series of questions about hell and the universe, until eventually, frustrated with half-answers, he sighs, “Well, I am answered” (2.3.66). Faustus’ frustration becomes apparent:Faustus: “[…] Tell me who made the world.”Mephistopheles: “I will not.”“Sweet Mephistopheles, tell me.”“Move me not, for I will not tell thee.”“Villain, have I not bound thee to tell me anything?”“Ay, that is not against our kingdom, but thisis. Think thou on hell, Faustus, for thou art damned.”“Think, Faustus, upon God, that made the world.” (2.3.66-73)The reason, of course, that Mephistopheles cannot answer the most important questions of the universe is that the answers have meaning only with reference and respect to the human condition, as well as reverence for the purview of God. True answers to Faustus’ questions require Mephistopheles to admit that the truth lies with God, not in black magic. Faustus’ theology informs him of this fact, as he laments, “Think Faustus, upon God, that made the world.” Again, it is his pride that subdues his instinctive faith, preventing him from renouncing his devilish pact and restoring his place among men. However, this is not to say that Faustus does not have moments of doubt. On the contrary, Faustus’ instinctive faith surfaces many times throughout the span of the play. He hungers for something to compensate the loss of his spirit, and in Faustus’ most doubtful moments (moments of hope for the audience), Mephistopheles is there, offering trivial distractions and a momentary fix. As Faustus considers the Good Angel’s promise that it is “Never too late, if Faustus can repent,” Lucifer intercedes with a fanciful show of the Seven Deadly Sins (2.3.79). Though meant as a satirical distraction, their words are significant to understanding the importance of Faustus’ denunciation of his humanity:I am pride. I disdain to have any parents. […]I am covetousness, begotten of an old churl inan old leathern bag. […]I am Wrath. I had neither father nor mother. […]I am envy, begotten of a chimney sweeper and anoyster-wife. […]I am gluttony. My parents are all dead. […]I am Sloth. I was begotten on a sunny bank. (2.3.110-51)Though each sin exhibits its own individual characteristics, all of the sins share one critical attribute: each sin either has no parents or is illegitimate. They are all like Faustus in that they have been disinherited; they have either been cut off from or rebelled against their patronage. If Faustus is guilty of each of these sins at some point in the duration of his twenty-four-year covenant with the devil, then this passage suggests the cause of such sin. Faustus, in an attempt to be alone among men as a god, has found himself simply alone. Without faith in the human condition, Faustus is truly lost.Indeed, the scene with the Seven Deadly Sins marks a significant transition point in Faustus. The Sins represent the end result of lost personhood, and now, we are to see Faustus’ journey through such self-hell. Void of spiritual sustenance, he turns to sin to satisfy his hunger pains. Each event demonstrates the extent of Faustus’ loss. At the beginning of Act 3, Wagner says:Learnéd Faustus,To know the secrets of astronomyGraven in the book of Jove’s high firmament,Did mount himself to scale Olympus’ top,Being seated in a chariot burning brightDrawn by the strength of yoky dragons’ necks.He now is gone to prove cosmography,And, as I guess, will first arrive at RomeTo see the Pope and manner of his courtAnd take some part of holy Peter’s feastThat to this day is highly solemnized. (3.0.1-11)Though he has “scale[d] Olympus’ top,” the wonders of the universe fail to satisfy Faustus for very long; one must value one’s own place in the universe before the grandeur of that universe might ever be appreciated. Even before Faustus has sufficient time to rest, he wishes to go on another–probably pointless–journey. He and Mephistopheles go to “see the Pope and manner of his court / And take some part of holy Peter’s feast.” Faustus can only take “some” part of the feast because he has denied himself Communion with God. He turns, instead, to childish pranks to aggravate the Pope, who implores his Friars to “prepare a dirge to lay the fury of / this ghost” (3.1.75-6). Perhaps, for the first time since his introduction, we are now meant to see Faustus truly as a devil. He has completely forsaken his identity as a man, only to gain nothing and be left with his lesser demons and sins.It is telling that, even in moments of greatest effort, Faustus is unable to fulfill the most menial of his wishes. Nothing he can conjure is real or substantial. At the court of the Emperor, Faustus is asked to raise Alexander the Great and his paramour. Faustus replies:But if it like Your Grace, it is not in my ability to pre-sent before your eyes the true substantial bodies of those two deceased princes, which long since are consumed to dust. (4.1.45-7)He cannot raise the “substantial bodies” of the deceased princes, only their apparitions. After Faustus sells his conjured horse to the Courser, the Courser returns to Faustus:[…] I, like a venturous youth, ridhim into the deep pond at the town’s end. I was no soonerin the middle of the pond but my horse vanished away andI sat upon a bottle of hay. (4.1.146-9)The horse Faustus conjured is unreal and cannot even traverse water; the baptism was too much for Faustus’ regressing powers. The horse is unreal. Alexander is unreal. Even Faustus himself is becoming unreal, for the Horse-Courser pulls off one of Faustus’ legs. He has bargained away his real soul for something not very real at all.Faustus’ sin is at its peak in Act 5, as he foolishly tries to stave the void in his soul. The Old Man, strong in his conviction, once more attempts to save Faustus:Old Man: “Ah, stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps!I see an angel hovers o’er thy head,And with a vial full of precious graceOffers to pour the same into thy soul. Then call for mercy and avoid despair.”Faustus: “Ah, my sweet friend, I feel thy wordsTo comfort my distressed soul.Leave me awhile to ponder on my sins.” (5.1.52-9)Despite this apparent hesitation, Faustus is too far gone. The minute Mephistopheles reacts (“Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul.” 66), Faustus immediately rejects the notion of a “sweet friend” who might genuinely care to comfort his “distressed soul.” He begs Mephistopheles:Torment, sweet friend, that base and crooked ageThat durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer,With greatest torments that our hell affords. (5.1.75-7)Faustus wishes punishment for he who truly loves him; he is, at last, at the furthest possible point from salvation. He is now completely dominated by his soullessness, wishing only to avoid pain, having given up on hopes to gain knowledge and crying for Mephistopheles to grant him Helen in order to “glut the longing of [his] heart’s desire” (5.1.82).In the final scene, Faustus cries out, “Be changed into little waterdrops, / And fall into the ocean, ne’er be found” (5.2.115)! He, in his last moments, wishes to escape what he has become. He is not at all repentant, nor is he sorry. He simply wishes his identity vanished, a dramatically fitting conclusion for a man whose tragedy is rejecting his God-given identity in the first place. Rather than accept his humanity as a divine gift, he shrugged it as a burden. Faustus wished to be alone among men as a god. In the end, he was simply alone.Works CitedMarlowe, Christopher. “Doctor Faustus.” English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology. Eds. David Bevington, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 250-85.
Among the various definitions of tragedy, the one most commonly proffered is: a play that treats – at the most uncompromising level – human suffering, or pathos, with death being the usual conclusion. According to Aristotle’s Poetics, the purpose of tragedy is to show how humans are at the mercy of fate, and to cleanse the audience by provoking extreme emotions of pity and terror. The tragic actions on the dramatic stage cause the audience to experience these extreme feelings that eventually causes a catharsis or release of these emotions, to reduce these passions to a healthy, balanced proportion. However, the application of this definition to Renaissance tragedy is limited as it makes two over-reaching assumptions about the play, its protagonists and the audience. First, that the death of all protagonists contributing towards the drama is tragic to an equal degree, which prompts an equal level of catharsis in the audience. Does the self-purchased death of one simultaneously learned and overly ambitious Faustus solicit the same amount of catharsis and empathy as do the ‘unnecessary’ deaths of Cordelia, Gloucester, Lear, the Duke of Castile, Horatio, and Isabel among a host of other innocent characters whose corpses litter the sets of King Lear and The Spanish Tragedy? One is left with a terrifying uncertainty – although the iniquitous die, the good die along with them. Second, and perhaps most significant, that catharsis would pour forth in the audience if the play’s dÃ©nouement – meaningful or not – contains fatal twists, surprise deaths and wide-scale massacre. Or in other words, though the play may itself may have physically ended, the repercussions of the deaths, its implied message on human fate and deeper unresolved, psychological issues that had plagued the protagonists’ minds continue to trouble audiences long after they have left the theatres. The deaths of Lear and Cordelia in King Lear confront us like a raw, fresh wound when our every instinct calls for healing and reconciliation. This problem, moreover, is as much one of philosophic order as of dramatic effect. In what sort of universe, we ask ourselves, can wasteful death follow suffering and torture? If characters such as Lear, Gloucester, and Edmund all go through a process of awakening, why then do they die? Even Iago, despite all his evil machinations, lives on to bear the fruit of his crimes. In other Shakespearean tragedies, such as Othello and Hamlet, the play ends with the reconciliation of the tragic hero and society. When Othello pleads “Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, /Nor set down aught in malice,” like Hamlet and Cleopatra he seeks immortality in his reputation and in his story. It is a final attempt to reconcile himself with society and his misdeeds, moments before he stabs himself. In Romeo and Juliet, there is a feeling of hope in the final scene because the Houses of Montague and Capulet are finally at peace with each other, and will erect monuments in remembrance of the two lovers. Peace and understanding is gained from the tragedy. But in The Spanish Tragedy the only monument we see is that of a pile of dead bodies slumped behind a curtain. It is difficult at the end, for the audience to feel whether anything has been gained other than a sense of remorse and misery.In a Christian framework, even the worst deed can be forgiven through the redemptive power of Christ. Thus, however terrible Faustus’ pact with Lucifer may be, the possibility of redemption is always open to him. But each time the play offers moments in which Faustus can choose to repent, he decides to remain loyal to Lucifer rather than seek heaven. “Christ did call the thief upon the cross,” he comforts himself, referring to the New Testament story of the thief who was crucified alongside Jesus Christ, repented for his sins, and was promised a place in paradise. That he compares himself to this figure shows that Faustus assumes he can wait until the last moment and still escape hell. In other words, he wants to renounce Mephistopheles, but not just yet. One can easily anticipate that his willingness to delay will prove fatal. Only at the end of his life does Faustus desire to repent, and, in the final scene, he cries out to Christ to redeem him. But it is too late for him to repent. In creating this moment in which Faustus is still alive but incapable of being redeemed, Marlowe steps outside the Christian worldview in order to maximize the dramatic power of the final scene. Having inhabited a Christian world for the entire play, Faustus spends his final moments in a slightly different universe, where redemption is no longer possible and where certain sins can no longer be forgiven.The effect of inhabiting such an unforgiving universe before his death is however ameliorated in later versions of the text. The ending of the Doctor Faustus B text is vastly different to that of the A text. The latter simply ends with Faustus being dragged away by the devils, and a summarising epilogue. Nothing is revealed to the audience of what eventually becomes of his body. The B Text however is slightly more re-assuring. Despite his self-aggrandisement, wavering, “hair-splitting, and sophomoric misquotations of the Scriptures,” Faustus gets a sympathetic ear to listen to his agonized confession of his pact with Lucifer, and subsequently “a due burial” from the scholars. His scattered limbs are gathered by the scholars, who promise him a burial in accordance with Christian rights, “though Faustus’ end be such.” Unlike Don Andreas in The Spanish Tragedy, proper burial rites will buy Faustus a ride in Charon’s boat across the Styx to Hades. King Lear’s death, in comparison, breaks all dramatic conventions. It is perhaps one of the few tragedies in which the tragic hero dies irreconciled and indifferent to society. The last two acts of King Lear are constructed with a series of advances and repudiations of visions of hope. By choosing to set King Lear in a pre-Christian era, markedly before Christ’s redemption, Shakespeare does not allow one the comfort of knowing that all evil, however bad, can be overcome. Nature seems to be mocking Edgar’s confidence in justice, when he sees his brutally blinded father immediately after claiming that “the worst is not / So long as we can say ‘this is the worst.” In Hamlet, a play equally wrenched by a self-consuming family quarrel, Horatio bears witness to the ensuing tragedy. In the closing scene, he volunteers to go outside and narrate to the world the misfortunes that have befallen this once noble family. He will reveal all the “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts” as well as the “accidental judgements” and “casual slaughters” so that men may learn from their mistakes. Hamlet’s audience is thus awarded with some release after this gut-wrenching tragedy. The world will be informed that Hamlet was a just man. But what will the world think of Lear? Albeit a symbolic act, no one will tell his story, and in a way, purge oneself of further adversity. Hence, a strong sense of guilt and remorse, what in truth ought to have been the burden of the remaining characters, is instead passed onto the audience to bear.But that does not seem to be happening in King Lear, The Spanish Tragedy or Doctor Faustus. Not one steps forward to offer any words of closure or perhaps a glimpse of optimism. Kyd’s decision to literally give Revenge the last word in his play reflects the thematic message of the final scenes of The Spanish Tragedy: revenge does have the last word, crowding out mercy and all other human emotions, seeking its inexorable satisfaction in an overdose bloodshed and violence. The final scene implies that Hieronimo’s action serves as the fulfillment of justice, but the blood, waste, and carnage of the penultimate scene works against this presumption, seeming to deny the possibility of justice in a world where the machinations of class and power determine the course of men’s lives.In King Lear, Edgar simply offers, “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Though sensible, his comment is untimely for indeed had this maxim been observed by everyone and not just by Cordelia and Kent, perhaps the tragedy could have been averted. It is perhaps for these reasons that Tolstoy refers to the plot of King Lear to be “stupid, verbose, unnatural, unintelligible, bombastic, vulgar, tedious, and full of incredible events, ‘wild ravings’, ‘mirthless jokes’, anachronisms, irrelevancies, obscenities, worn-out stage conventions and other faults both moral and aesthetic. ” This could well have been a view shared by Nahum Tate which made him revert closer to Shakespeare’s sources, in terms of the dÃ©nouement.Texts such as Holinshed’s Chronicles, which Shakespeare had at his elbow when he wrote his history-plays, end in the reconciliation of a father whom submits his daughters to a ‘love-test’. Shakespeare’s choice therefore, to end the play in such ghoulish bloodshed can be seen as a clear attempt to point out the weakness of humankind, and the evil it is capable of. In King Lear, Shakespeare does not merely adapt his sources, he consciously makes a violent and shocking alteration to them. He converts the folk-tales of medieval literature into a more complex account, where everything is obfuscated and questionable, in a manner similar to the dÃ©nouement itself. (Hieronimo is at least partly aware, and quick to exploit the inability of audiences to comprehend such large-scale tragedies when he chooses to perform his play in a medley of foreign languages, the effect of which Balthazar rightly notes, “…this will be a mere confusion/ And hardly shall we be all understood.” )The deaths in Hamlet are curiously unrelated to the demands of the Ghost. And the latter, unlike tradition, does not return to haunt the stage at the end to revel in the deaths not in the dubiously-gained revenge. Hamlet’s decision not to kill Claudius is indeed a thoughtful mistake, a missed opportunity that would not only have ended the play in less than half the time, preventing the deaths of so many people, but would have also earned him his revenge rightfully. While Hieronimo proceeds to his last rendezvous in as an agent of death in a deliberate manner (“And princes, now behold Hieronimo, /Author and actor in this tragedy.”). Hamlet almost stumbles on his final best chance to kill Claudius as a consequence of a duel with Laertes and various plots of poison that he knew nothing of previously, so that his final act of killing is almost knee-jerk and prompted by self-defence rather than planned strategy. Unlike in Hamlet, in The Spanish Tragedy the choric Don Andreas is quick to take centre-stage and revel in the carnage. With only the promise of an afterlife presided over by Pluto and Proserpina, the dÃ©nouement has nakedly pagan overtones and no sign of completeness. Not only was Don Andreas able to destroy the lives of his enemies while they were living, but also after they are dead. In a frenzy of blood-lust, he demands and gets the authority to provide everlasting judgement for his rivals. Here, there is no end to the incessant pain – the revenge, and therefore the play, continues to perpetuity. Lorenzo has been confined eternally on Ixion’s wheel; Castile is to have his liver perpetually torn at by vultures, and Balthazar is to be hung about Chimaera’s neck.Hieronimo acknowledges the tragedian’s ‘faked endings’ when he notes:To die today, for fashioning our scene,The death of Ajax, or some Roman peer,And in a minute starting up again,Revive to please tomorrow’s audience. While a tragedy suggests a certain irreversible finality in the catastrophic events of the play – an irrevocability that is integral to the audience feeling the catharsis – at the end of the day, it is simply and subversively, a play. Dead actors rise up once more, wipe off the pig’s blood, and reappear on stage again the following day. In real terms, for the audience, it perhaps wasn’t such a ‘tragic end’ after all.Many critics have not just disapproved of the deaths of Lear and Cordelia, but have also expressed concerns with the implausibility in the plot. Among the host of ‘dramatic defects’ that Bradley points out in King Lear, the one that remains the most jarring of them all is Edmund’s long delay in telling of his ‘writ’ on the lives of Cordelia and Lear even after he is mortally wounded and has nothing to gain. Stemming from it is yet the biggest war on the senses. Albany’s most unbelievable forgetfulness (“Great thing of us forgot”) is widely seen by critics as the greatest injustice in the play. For the “loving son of Albany” (who is soon also to take up the rein of power in Britain) to overlook, albeit in the midst of Goneril and Regan’s deaths, the safety of the unwell King and Cordelia, is inexplicable. If we are to remind ourselves of Albany’s prior knowledge of Edmund’s diabolical capabilities and the latter’s arrest “on capital treason,” then to suggest that Albany did not suspect Lear and Cordelia’s lives to be in danger, makes his forgetfulness seem even more implausible. Renaissance dramatists explore the limits of human justice and leave us with doubts about any other form of justice. One may feel that the dÃ©nouements with their varying degrees of penalties are not quite fair, even though all sinners have been punished. Goneril, Regan, Balthazar, Lorenzo and their collaborators are as dead as Macbeth or Richard III, but so are Cordelia and Bel-imperia, and with them, innocence and hope for the future. No number of slain villains can alleviate the accumulated devastation. Perhaps Horatio’s fate ought to have been better than that of a low-life such as Pedringano, and perhaps Goneril and Regan ought to have remained alive in order to witness a happy reunion between Lear and Cordelia. In illustrating this unpredictable hand of justice, both human and divine, the dramatists illustrate the worst features of mankind at work, and in doing so, invite one to react and remain uncomfortable towards any suggestion of a resolution.BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bevington, D. and Rasmussen, E.: Introduction to the OUP edition of Christopher Marlowe: Doctor Faustus and Other Plays Bevington, D: Introduction to the MUP edition of The Spanish Tragedy Bradbrook, M.C.; Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy Bradley, A.C.; Shakespearean Tragedy Foakes, R.A.; Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare Edition of King Lear Mack, Maynard; Actors and Redactors (1965) Mangan, Michael; A preface to Shakespeare’s Tragedies Orwell, George; Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool (1950) Stampfer, J.C; The Catharsis of King Lear
The traditional Christian message Christopher Marlowe was working with during the time he wrote Doctor Faustus stated that one should avoid leading a life of temptation and sin, the origins of which were rooted in an enterprising proprietor of evil generally referred to as the Devil. But if one does succumb to these debasements, atonement is always possible so long as the person is alive. Faustus serves as a representative of the common man, or at least a type of common man: he is a knowledgeable seeker of knowledge; the knowledge at his disposal is not enough to satisfy him. Faustus is described as a character with ‘cunning of a self-conceit’ whose ‘waxen wings did mount above his reach’ [Prologue, Line 19]. Indeed, passionate Icarus is an ideal foil for the tragic Faustus. Icarus embodies the idea of inventiveness gone wrong, of humans who push the limits of human knowledge and attempt a compatibility with the godly that cannot be reached. Though warned by his father Daedalus not to fly too close to the sun because it would melt his wings, and not to fly too close to the sea because it would dampen them and make it difficult to fly, Icarus’s exhilaration with the feat of flying provoked him to cross boundaries he wasn’t meant to cross, melting his wings until he fell to his death. Seeking truth in the divine is not a sin, but it is a difficult and daunting task. Faustus gives up the task of understanding the divine and searches for an easier source of knowledge: the devil. Despite warnings from the Good Angel that the endeavor he shall set on is fruitless, Faustus follows the path of the Bad Angel and continues to have his earthly desires satisfied by evil. The presence of this dualism is a symbol for Faustus’s conscience, and implies an innate ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Marlowe’s point, therefore, is to place emphasis on the fact that the decision to be evil is indeed a decision; evil is a behavior that is lured out of us, and not planted within, by a devil. The tragedy of Doctor Faustus is the fact that the modern world is more concerned with who and what the devil is than who and what the divine is. Initially it is difficult to see why the reader should blame Faustus for contractually binding his soul to Lucifer. Faustus’s companion on his diabolic journey is a minion of Lucifer named Mephistopheles. When Faustus asks of him what the precise location of Hell is, Mephistopheles answers, ‘Within the bowels of these elements, where we are tortured and remain for ever. Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self place, but where we are is hell, and where hell is there must we ever be. And, to be short, when all the world dissolves, and every creature shall be purified, all places shall be hell that is not heaven’ [2.2 Line 119]. Here Marlowe presents the humanist’s concept of Hell, that is to say that Hell is any place that lacks divinity, and since only Heaven contains divinity, everything beneath it is Hell, including the world in which we live. Essentially, it is the very nature of the human condition to be as close to Hell as possible. Faustus is only doing what is natural in a moment of pain of discomfort: finding a distraction, as in Pascal’s idea of divertissement. If we are not able to think thoughts that give us our dignity, thoughts that grasp the divine as closely as possible, we may as well avert our attention to something more pleasant, which in this case is the sensory stimulation that the devils provide Faustus.The distractions Faustus experiences are not only in the shows Lucifer provides, but are also in the tricks Faustus plays once he is granted power upon entering the pact with Lucifer. Faustus’s initial lofty plans for his powers are a bit ridiculous (e.g. he wishes to redraw the globe, integrating Africa into Europe so that it will be easier to plunder), but they are almost heroic. His plans certainly don’t embody goodness, but they also don’t embody badness; they are seemingly neutral. His fault is that the only reason he wants to do anything is so that he can be known for doing it. Perhaps it is because of this weakness that once he acquires the limitless power from the pact, he resorts to trickery of kings and noblemen, among others, that will garner him more tangible results and more easily observed affects. It is quite ironic that after being granted so much power, instead of being heightened to the level Faustus desired to be elevated to upon binding his soul, he is reduced to a mediocrity. This can be interpreted as the consequence of refusing greatness as ordained by God and accepting greatness from a temptation. To seek knowledge in a muddy origin is unproductive; the only way to guarantee prosperity is to accept God.This is the message that is constantly reiterated to Faustus by the Good Angel throughout the play. Occasionally it seems that Faustus will yield to the advice of the Good Angel. For example, at a point when Faustus meditates in his study with Mephistopheles by his side, Faustus seems to come to a realization that the only good to be found is in Heaven, and that Mephistopheles has, in taking him on his downward spiral, deprived him of this good. Mephistopheles tells Faustus that Heaven is not as glorious as he perceives it to be, that is was made for merely man. But Faustus says, ‘If Heaven was made for man, ’twas made for me. I will renounce this magic and repent’ [2.3 Line 10]. Yet just as Faustus says this, the Bad Angel prevents him from doing so out of fear, telling him that the contract binds Faustus to a life of debauchery or he will otherwise be torn to pieces by the devils who sworn him into Hell. Despite the tidings of the Good Angel that if Faustus renounces Lucifer, he will be rescued from any promised torture, Faustus is forced to reclaim evil because the Bad Angel proceeds to offer him spectacles for the eyes and other forms of hedonistic divertissement. Faustus is too weak to denounce the evil within him; he is too weak to follow the path of good that is intrinsically in him.As if Faustus weren’t enough evidence for the dualism in humans that prompts free will, and is the causation and origin of evil, the devils themselves are described as having dualistic natures. What was Lucifer but a fallen angel? An example with more textual support is the very character of Mephistopheles. Though in an aforementioned excerpt he was portrayed as a kind of ‘Bad Angel’ to Faustus, a tempter more interested having his own minion in the Hellish world, Mephistopheles is also portrayed as a seeker of the divine. On another occasion Faustus was inquisitive about Hell, Mephistopheles responded to his questions as follows: ‘Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, that saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss? O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, which strikes a terror to my fainting soul.’ [1.3, Line 75] To describe Mephistopheles as a devil who rues his condition veritably seals the deal on what it is Marlowe intends to assert on the human condition. For a devil to have remorse about being in Hell states that devils also had an innate element of goodness to them. Good and evil are intrinsically a part of all of humans, but distraction and temptation can tamper with those weaker in ability to control their desire. The various incarnations of Lucifer are in their wretched states because they strayed towards the evil, which in its most extreme case is attempting to reach a level of power that is on par with God. It is established in Genesis that to reach a level of compatibility with God is only possible if it is done on God’s terms; Eve ate from the tree of knowledge against the request of God and as a result she and the rest of humanity suffered. We are allowed to strive for God, but we can only strive for Him under conditions pre-established by Him. By the end of the play, Faustus realizes this and calls upon God. He realizes that he will only find a tainted version of truth in the gifts he receives from the devils, and that Hell is only Hell because even if we obtain what we desire, we are only obtaining superficial pleasures, not a real truth. One can only obtain pure pleasure and untainted truth when one has accepted God. But when Faustus calls upon the Good Angel to help him reach God, the window of opportunity for access to the divine has shut, and the Good Angel tells him, ‘O Faustus, if thou hadst given ear to me, innumerable joys had followed thee. But thou didst love the world [5.2, Line 97].’ The world, we established, is in itself Hell. Faustus was too caught up in its distraction to cast it aside as an obstruction to the truth. The tragedy of Faustus is the inability of humans to free themselves from the obstacle that is the Bad Angel, or the evil within us. Marlowe’s presentation of Faustus is interesting because of his radical Platonic recognition of the hedonistic human as the only perpetuator of evil. Still more interesting is the fact that in his ending, Marlowe rejects the Christian orthodoxy that states repentance can occur at any time idea for a more dramatic ending and one that makes Faustus identify more with the idea of the tragic hero. Perhaps in this way, Marlowe is celebrating the human condition, or even pitying it, rather than condemning it. Works CitedMarlow, Christopher. Doctor Faustus and Other Plays. New York: Oxford University Press 1995.
“Religion hides many mischiefs from suspicion” (I, ii, 279-280) Religion, as Barabas describes in this quotation from The Jew of Malta, acts as a measure in defending one’s actions as moral or just. Christopher Marlowe presents this use of religion in Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta. The protagonists in both plays believe in an idea about the nature of religion similar to Marlowe’s own uncertainty. Marlowe’s study of divinity contradicts with his encouragement of atheism in his life and his double life as a spy. This struggle for religions’ role in society and politics appears in the characters of Dr. Faustus and Barabas. In Doctor Faustus and The Jew of Malta, the protagonists justify their corruption and actions against societal laws through religion. The character of Dr. Faustus exhibits a knowledge Francis Bacon describes as “proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law unto himself and to depend no more upon God’s commandments which was the form of temptation” (Bacon 7). Bacon believes that it is not the quantity of knowledge that destroys humans, but the unhealthy aim of challenging God. Faustus encounters Bacon’s destructive aim with his divine ambitions. He blames religious limitations that Bacon stresses for his lack of spiritual understanding. He refuses to recognize these limitations given by God, and therefore he forms an alliance with the evil spirit Lucifer. Faustus trades his soul for knowledge as well as the desire to “give law unto himself.” He supports this decision by the lack in reconciliation between intellectual ambition and religion. Faustus desires to “Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky, / Lord and commander of these elements” (i, 76-77). This reinforces his rejection of divine limitations as well as his problematic aims for knowledge.Like Marlowe, Faustus is a man aware of scholastic theology. He wants to go beyond human capabilities and pursue a divine, supernatural understanding of the universe. Lucifer and Mephastophilis represent another blame for Faustus’ downfall. Faustus uses this pact in order to explain his desire to know all answers to theological questions. “How am I glutted with conceit of this! / Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please. / Resolve me of all ambiguities” (i, 78-80). The diabolical characters mast the evilness of divine control, placing the decision to overpower God as an action these sprits bring upon the protagonist. Faustus excuses the use of to play God because the devil gives him this desire. Faustus uses magic to access information and creates his own universal laws. He flaunts his magic to gain control of his audience, impressing them with his conjurations of powerful figures in history. This magic oversteps human boundaries and proves that he attempts to become divine. The impression of other’s through his powers fades when his damnation reveals selfish intentions and pride over God. All humans must balance these intellectual expectations with their beliefs. Marlowe shows this common struggle in the contrast between the Scholars and Dr. Faustus. The Scholars represent participation in positive scholarly learning which respects the laws of society and nature without religious manipulation. When Faustus begins abusing his magic, the Scholars comment on his situation. Were he a stranger, and not allied to me, yet should I grieve for him.But come, let us go and inform the Rector, and see if he by his grave counsel can reclaim him (ii, 33-35). This comment resembles Bacon’s view towards scholasticism and religion:God has framed the mind of man as a mirror or glass capable of the image of the universal world and joyful to receive the impression thereof, as the eye delights to receive light, and not only delighted in beholding the variety of things and vicissitude of times, but raised also to find out and discern the ordinances and decrees which throughout all those changes are infallibly observed (Bacon 7). Bacon explains the necessity of healthy intellectual ambitions, and he also cautions about the abuse of learning to become divine. Marlowe addresses scholasticism in the same way with the Scholars. They understand the influence of God in their quest for knowledge, contrary to Faustus. The Scholars concern for Faustus shows the greatness in their understanding of the world. They observe the Faustus’ magic and predict the end result of his demise. This prophetic commentary and desire to save Faustus reappears towards the end of the play, at a time closer to Faustus’ death. “Yet Faustus, look up to heaven; / remember God’s mercies are infinite /…Yet Faustus, call on God” (xiii, 13-14, 27). Marlowe contrasts the Scholars aims at knowledge with Faustus’ in order to show the corrupt measures Faustus takes in the name of religion in order to advance his knowledge. Faustus rejects more than intellectual limitations brought about by religion. He uses the mixed messages and internal conflicts that arise in Protestantism to justify his continuation to follow Lucifer. Faustus goes through a superficial conflict to find the true nature of repentance. He contends with a Good and Bad Angel in a debate between the desire for repentance and his unavoidable damnation. His dilemma serves to prove that his motivations do not go against God entirely. This tricks the readers into believing that Faustus’ move towards salvation is honest, but the spirit Lucifer holds him back. However, it is his personal decision to remain connected to the devil, and he only wants to invoke the audience’s pity by blaming Lucifer. In addition, Faustus believes the confusion in Protestant theology offers reason for rejecting God’s grace. The Good Angel argues one aspect of Protestantism, presenting a merciful God who will save Faustus if he repents. The Bad Angel, on the other hand, believes that Faustus’ transition into a spiritual, magical power eliminates any chance at forgiveness. These dueling ideas culminate in Faustus seeming frustration as he confronts this dilemma between the Angels.My heart’s so hardened I cannot repent! Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven, But fearful echoes thunders in mine ears, ‘Faustus, thou art damned’; then swords and knives, Poison, guns, halter, and envenomed steel, Are laid before me to dispatch myself: And long ere this I should have slain myself, Had not sweet pleasure conquered deep despair… I am resolved! Faustus shall ne’er repent (v, 194-201, 208). This conflict with Protestant religion continues through the character of the Old Man: By which sweet path thou may’st attain the goal That shall conduct thee to celestial rest. Break heart, drop blood, and mingle it with tears, Tears falling from repentant heaviness Of thy most vile and loathsome filthiness, The stench whereof corrupts the inward soul With such flagitious crimes of heinous sins, As no commiseration may expel; But mercy, Faustus, of they savior sweet, Whose blood alone must wash away they guilt (xii, 28-37). The Old Man’s language provides two contradicting messages. He straddles on two different Protestant ideas about redemption. He begins by valuing God’s mercy and Faustus’ chance at forgiveness. He moves to violent language about the corruption Faustus embodies, arguing little hope in Faustus’ salvation. The contradiction continues when he acknowledges the involvement of human will in proactively seeking God’s grace, a commendation of Faustus’ apparent desire to repent, but he then states that mercy might not be possible. Faustus blames this theological confusion for his spiritual and physical death. He cannot repent while Christian messages compete and vary. The Scholars’ belief in prayer and repentance alongside the Old Man’s confusion about God’s wrath pushes Faustus further into the magical world and makes his attempt to conquer the divine more powerful. The only character he encounters with fortifying beliefs is Lucifer who never strays from his pact. The character Mephastophilis, however, represents what Faustus becomes after death. Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God, And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, Am not tormented with ten thousand hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss! O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, Which strike a terror to my fainting soul (iii, 77-83).Like Faustus, the character Mephastophilis refuses to accept God’s power. While mortal, he participates in the inner struggle common to mankind. The reader finds glimpses of remorse in his warnings to Faustus. He embarks on an evil, magical quest for knowledge. Mephastophilis’ refusal to repent transforms him into an unhappy spirit cast away from heaven. Faustus does not listen to the warning, and therefore will never be satisfied with his magical abilities but will rest eternally in the torments of hell. Cleanth Brooks argues that “Faustus does learn something in the course of the play and in learning it suffers change and becomes a different man” (Brooks 105). The way Faustus plays around with the nature of repentance in the text contradicts the idea that he changes in an intellectual way. He remains a hypocritical character, deceptively struggling with repentance only to use religious problems to justify transformation to a magical spirit. For example, Faustus fears repentance because of God’s possible rejection. However, he then uses repentance as a threat to Mephastophilis. This questions the sincerity of Faustus’ desire to pursue God and end his devotion to Lucifer. “When I behold the heavens, then I repent / And curse thee, wicked Mephastophilis, / Because thou hast deprived me of these joys” (v, 177-179). Faustus’ attempts at reconciliation with repentance are not believable struggles, only artificial words spoken in situations beneficial to his justification of gaining supernatural powers. Another irony occurs with Faustus’ dedication to Lucifer. Belzebub, To whom Faustus doth dedicate himself. This word damnation terrifies not him, For he confounds hell in Elysium: His ghost be with the old philosophers (iii, 57-61). Faustus claims loyalty to Lucifer; however he aims to be over all spirits, including the devil. The protagonist in The Jew of Malta also abuses religious ideas in order to reclaim and access power. The play opens with the self-characterization of Barabas as a Jew. His Jewish faith acts as a reason for his abundant wealth. It defines his status and societal ambition as “Blessings promis’d to the Jewes” (I, I, 102) yet “come not to be Kings” (I, I, 126). This proud declaration of Jewish heritage contradicts with a later message after he loses his property: My gold, my gold, and all my wealth is gone. You partiall heavens, have I deserv’d this plague? What will you this oppose me, lucklesse starres, To make me desperate in my poverty? (I, ii, 256-259). The association with the divine makes Barabas appear as a devout and aware member of the Jewish community. This shows in greater detail after the Government imposes its taxation policy on the Jews. David Bevington supports the falsity of Barabas’ religious justification: Readers are “suddenly faced with the irony of finding Barabas the sympathetic victim of Christian treachery…Barabas’ defense becomes, by a curious inversion, the pleading of a wronged, sensitive, and helpless person” (Bevington 36). Marlowe offers early clues to Barabas’ deceptive nature, casting doubt on the sincerity of his religious justifications for justice and power. His self-definition as a Jew juxtaposes with his selfish obsession over wealth. “Nay, let ’em combat, conquer, and kill all, / So they spare me, my daughter, and my wealth” (I, I, 149-150). He displays indifferent feelings for the state of Malta, and his only unvarying passion throughout the play rests in his wealth. The fact that he opens the play with evil thoughts makes his religious motivations for reclamation of power unbelievable. In addition, Barabas admits committing crimes against non-Christians. “As for my selfe, I walke abroad a nights / And kill sicke people groaning under walls: / Sometimes I goe about and poyson wells” (II, iii, 175-177). He hates “invalids, orphans, and helpless persons without distinction of sect or nationality” (Bevington 38). Furthermore, his abuse of the law, and evil upon others, is present before he claims Christian prejudice against Jews as justification for violence and revenge. Despite his earlier life of greed and crime, the play focuses primarily on Barabas’ problematic interaction with Christians. This begins with a confrontation between the Governor and Barabas which incites a vengeful wrath for the remainder of the play. This situation portrays Barabas as the sympathetic character mentioned earlier due to the cruelty the Governor, as a Christian, inflicts on the Jew. No, Jew, like infidels. For through our suffrance of your hateful lives, Who stand accursed in the sight of heaven, These taxes and afflictions are befal’ne, And therefore we are determined (I, ii, 63-65). This scene offers Barabas several religious reasons to avenge his power and pride. The Christian-influenced Government follows the idea that one’s religion defines their character; therefore they justify their taxation of the Jews by their historical treatment of Christians, mainly the persecution of Jesus. The hateful action against the Jews shows their political usage of faith. They accuse Barabas of coveting wealth, yet they exhibit thievery. How ironically the Governor is making the theft, not just of Barabas’ goods but also of scriptural sanctions, the ground of his religion, and how powerfully Barabas can hurl the charge in these Christians’ faces for their unrighteous dealings (Cutts 154).In addition, these Christians are guilty of another religious abuse: threatening baptism to the Jews as punishment. This places an even greater negativity towards the value of Christian religion at this point in the play. Barabas uses the Christian treatment of Jews as an excuse for his destructive actions. He sinks to the motivations of the Governor as Barabas exhibits the same malice towards them that he uses earlier to describe Christians in general. This initial injustice he experiences “provides an understandable motivation for the Jew’s hate and his subsequent deeds of revenge. He is put in a position of having to fight back, so that his misanthropic behavior is made plausible” (Bevington 37). The first act of destructive deception Barabas participates in occurs with the encouragement towards Abigail to feign interest in the convent life. He does this for his own personal gain because he has hidden money in his seized home and wants Abigail to retrieve the wealth. “But stay, what starre shines yonder in the East? / The Loadstarre of my life, if Abigall” (II, I, 41-42). This quote comments about the confusion surrounding religious sincerity in the play. Here, Barabas compares Abigail to an eastern star. The star symbol represents the arrival of Christ, or a savior figure. Abigail’s reclamation of her father’s wealth acts as Barabas’ salvation. The idea that his own progeny saves his world gives Barabas a haunting association with a divine power. This is ironic considering that, as a Jew, he does not follow the New Testament idea of the bright star connected to the arrival of Christ the savior. “We Jewes can faune like Spaniels when we please / And when we grin we bite, yet our looks / as innocent and harmlesse as a lambes” (II, iii, 20-22). Barabas uses trickery and deception to destroy other’s lives. He reaffirms that his actions are cursed by his Jewish faith. His destruction of Lodowicke and Mathias hurts not only the Christian Governor, but Abigail as well, and further develops Barabas as a man who claims to attack Christianity but proves to act out of selfish motivations for power and control. First be though voyd of these affections, Compassion, love, vaine hope, and heartless feare, Be mov’d at nothing see thou pity none, But to thy selfe smile when the Christians moane (II, iii, 170-174). The heartlessness of Barabas shines through when he places two suitors of Abigail, Lodowicke and Mathias, against each other. He grants each of these men his blessing in their courting of Abigail, deceiving them with his innocent and lamb-like looks. His bite lies in his crafty involvement in the situational murder of the men. He reaffirms the necessity of their deaths as retaliation against the Christian Governor’s unfair policies. Lodowicke and Mathias embody the attitude of love despite religious convictions or wealth. “‘Tis not they wealth, but her esteeme, / Yet crave I thy consent” (II, iii, 299-300). This concept is foreign to Barabas who lives only for his self-gain. “But I have sworne to frustrate both their hopes, / And be reveng’d upon the-Governor” (II, iii, 144-145).The process (of evil) does not logically unfold, but elaborates and intensifies by repeated example…Each succeeding incident becomes more ludicrous and more widely improbable then the one before, as the reign of the pure vice becomes increasingly separated from its original motive (Bevington 41). At the end of the play, Barabas loses the foundation of his argument that associates Christians with his necessary violence. He succeeds in murdering Lodowicke, Mathias, Abigail, two friars, and countless nuns, all innocent victims, uninvolved in the taxation conflict. The separation from the motive that Bevington describes culminates in the artificial alliance with Calymath, a Turkish invader. Now as for Calymath and his consorts, Here have I made a dainty Gallry, the floor whereof, this Cable being cut, doth fall asundr; so that it doth sinke Into a deepe pit past recovery (V, v, 32-36). Barabas befriends Calymath in order to overthrow the Governor and usurp control over Malta. However, he turns against Calymath, and places a deadly trap in his path. The plan fails as the Governor warns Calymath and Barabas falls victim to his own trap, burying himself in a fiery cauldron. Marlowe incorporates a wide variety of characters in The Jew of Malta. Although he focuses on the abuse of religion in Barabas, other characters display hypocritical beliefs. For example, the Friar’s response to Abigail’s upcoming death is absurd in relation to importance in Nun’s chastity: “I, and a Virgin too, that grieves me most” (III, vi, 41). All the characters exhibit base natures, regardless of their occupations, faith, or amount of power. Marlowe believes that religion has little priority in defining a person. Each person is the same, base human being. He equates the low and the high in order to eliminate stereotypical judgments based on morality and religion. He finds problems in societal hierarchy in the world. This is also evident in Doctor Faustus. Faustus tries to deny his natural limitations in order to prove to himself that he is above human and divine. Marlowe extinguishes the two protagonists in flames to warn against the dangers of seeking power. These plays help Marlowe reconcile his own fallibility in life, as he struggles for religions’ role in academia as well as in political and social life. Works CitedBacon, Francis. “The First Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Human.” Selected Philosophical Works. Ed. Rose-Mary Sargent. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.: Indianapolis, Indiana, 1999.Bevington , David . “The Jew of Malta.” Modern Critical Views: ChristopherMarlowe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 31-44.Brooks, Cleanth. “The Unity of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.” Modern Critical Views: Christopher Marlowe. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 97-108Cutts, John P. “The Jew of Malta.” The Left Hand of God: A Critical Interpretation of the Plays of Christopher Marlowe. Haddonfield House: Haddonfield, New Jersey, 1973. 149-160.Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed. Roma Gill. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.: New York, 1989.Marlowe, Christopher. “The Jew of Malta.” The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe. Ed. Roma Gill. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1995.
In Doctor Faustus, good and evil are presented as two polarized ideas: God and Heaven on one side, and Lucifer and Hell on the other. Contrasting representations of this division also appear, such as the old man and the Good Angel opposed to Mephistopheles and the Bad Angel. Initially, this struggle between good and evil is Faustus’ major internal conflict as he is deciding whether to make the blood bond. However, by the time Faustus views the seven deadly sins, evil persists as the dominant force and is the path that Faustus follows to his final damnation. The struggle between good and evil begins with Faustus’ divided conscience. The Good and Bad Angels represent the conflict between his devotion to knowledge and his longing for power. They most blatantly exemplify the traits of good versus evil when the Good Angel tells Faustus to “think of heaven and heavenly things” (2.1.20) while the Bad Angel tells Faustus to “think of honor and wealth” (2.1.21). However, at the end of the play, the Good Angel and the Bad Angel no longer appear. This absence represents Faustus’ commitment towards evil, symbolized through the blood bond. No longer does he reminisce about turning to God, nor does he lament the path he has chosen until the end. Rather, he resorts to a wasteful use of his powers through playing pranks and satisfying royalty, such as his tricks on the Pope and the conjuring of Alexander the Great.The most important part of the good versus evil conflict occurs at Faustus’ turning point from good to evil. The dilemma between which paths to follow has settled towards evil by the time the seven deadly sins are paraded in front of him. Before this event, Faustus has good intentions. For example, he promises that he will “fill the public schools with silk, wherewith the students shall be bravely clad” (1.1.90-91). He is persistent in his search for knowledge even though he is naÃ¯ve about the eternal torment that awaits him in hell. Faustus is even repulsed enough by the physical manifestation of evil that he asks Mephistopheles to change his appearance. He commands the devil to, “Go, and return an old Franciscan friar; That holy shape becomes a devil best” (1.3.25-6). Faustus cannot bear to see the reality of hell; rather, he misinterprets it to be less evil that it actually is and even nonexistent at times. This blissful innocence can be seen in his succinct reply that hell is a myth immediately after Mephistopheles’ terrifying description of hell. However, after making a blood bond with Mephistopheles, Faustus delights in the seven deadly sins, even when seeing them firsthand. He describes his anticipation to Lucifer: “That sight will be as pleasant to me as Paradise was to Adam the first day of his creation” (2.3.103-4). In comparison to his disgusted reaction towards Mephistopheles’ devil figure, his acceptance of evil has become evident here and will later free him from his initial claims of benevolent aspirations, demonstrated with his later pranks and frivolous feats. Three main factors contribute to this change of nature from good to evil after the presentation of the sins. One of these is that the forbidden, ultimate knowledge which he so desires at the beginning of the play is revealed to him as being elementary and redundant. In reply to Mephistopheles’ answers on astronomy, Faustus says, “Tush, these slender trifles Wagner can decide. Hath Mephistopheles no greater skill? … Tush, these are freshmen’s suppositions” (2.3.49-50, 55). The strongest blow may occur when he is denied the knowledge of the world’s origin. At this point, Faustus cries out in distress for his soul to be saved but is denied salvation. As a result, he realizes that his contract with the devil is irreversible.This awareness of damnation becomes the second main contributor towards his acceptance of evil. In the middle of Faustus’ plea to Christ, Lucifer appears and destroys any hope for repentance by stating that “Christ cannot save thy soul for he is just. There’s none but I have interest in the same” (2.3.81-82). After this crucial moment, Faustus believes that no matter how hard he tries to repent, he has already sinned once and is thus permanently damned to eternal hell. Believing he cannot be saved, he tries to drown his pending damnation through pranks. For example, after having fooled the horse dealer, he laments that he is simply a man destined to die soon. His only consolation is in “confound[ing] these passions with a quiet sleep” (4.1.135). All of the practical jokes and feats that he performs serve merely as distractions to purge his mind from thoughts of repenting, as he knows he has chosen the path of evil.One event that clearly shows his conformance with evil is his insistence for Helen near the end of the play. Remarkably, he openly acknowledges that he is guilty of one of the deadly sins, the only time that he does so. By demanding Mephistopheles to “let [him] crave of thee, to glut the longing of [his] heart’s desire” (5.1.80), he is clearly aware of the path he is taking, yet proceeds to commit the evil deed. Irrelevant now is whether he can be saved as he has willingly submitted to evil. Faustus tells Helen to “make [him] immortal with a kiss” (5.1.92) and exclaims how “her lips suck forth [his] soul” (5.1.93). The immortality that he is asking for is rather the eternal torment of hell, and it is possible that he sees how evil his soul has become. Furthermore, his first thought after his evil act is to ask Helen to give him his “soul” again. Thus, this realization of his irreversible damnation liberates him from any responsibilities to do good and encourages him to commit sin repeatedly. The third influence that plays a part in Faustus’ turning towards evil is from the overwhelming presence of evil compared to good. Oddly enough, God does not appear throughout the play, while Lucifer and Mephistopheles consistently arrive at critical moments of Faustus’ doubts. The presence of the devils is important as it prevents Faustus, who initially regrets his decision, from renouncing their contract. For example, as Faustus contemplates repentance, Mephistopheles appears and threatens to tear Faustus to pieces. There is no reply from God nor is there any other counter to this evil. The closest influence we have to rival the powerful impact of evil is that of the Good Angel and the Old Man. Both are helpless at affecting Faustus’ conscience. The Good Angel asks Faustus to repent, to which he responds by immediately “cast[ing] no more doubts” (2.1.26) in favor of signing the contract. The Old Man is condemned to torment “with [the] greatest torments that our hell affords” (5.1.77). Thus, calls for evil drastically outweigh any appeals for good, primarily because God does not exert any direct influence.Faustus is torn between good and evil as he decides to exchange eternal life for power. This conflict quickly changes after he makes the blood bond and mocks the seven deadly sins. Even when given the choice for good, Faustus continually accepts evil as he is convinced of his immutable damnation. Perhaps it is not really a conflict of choice for Faustus, but rather an inevitable demise towards evil.
In both plays, Twelfth Night and Doctor Faustus, there exists a high and a low (or comic) plot. This plot division serves as a parallel – the actions and characters in the low plot coincide with the actions and characters in the high plot. The presence of the mirroring primary and secondary plots in the plays serves to advance the theme of the stories.In Twelfth Night the primary, or “high” plot is the action between Olivia, Viola/ “Cesario”, Orsino, and eventually Sebastian and Antonio. The audience is reminded that the theme of the play is “mistaken identity”. We see it first in the high plot as Viola disguises herself as a man in order to become Orsino’s young page, “Cesario”. Feste, the clown in Olivia’s court allows for some comic relief, but also ironically mirrors the primary plot’s theme of disguised identity in act I, scene V, when Olivia orders him to be taken away after being unexplainably gone for a while. The clown quotes a Latin proverb, “The hood doesn’t make the monk,” that is, “Clothes don’t make the man.”In Act two of Twelfth Night, mistaken identity (that of Viola/Cesario) is mirrored in the secondary plot when Malvolio is the butt of a practical joke orchestrated by Maria. His being fooled by the members of Olivia’s house into thinking that Olivia is in love with him, again, parallels the love triangle between Olivia, Orsino, and Cesario that is our primary focus. Malvolio follows “Olivia’s” orders in the letter to wear yellow stockings and to “go cross-gartered” and to smile constantly, and he is fooled into believing that Olivia may actually have romantic feelings toward him. The joke raises the familiar themes of confusing fluidity of identity , the illusions and delusions of love, and the importance of clothing establishing one’s identity and position. Toby and the others laugh at Malvolio’s fantasy that Olivia could possibly have any real feelings toward him because he is not of “noble” blood. This, we will remember, is of great importance if love is to be possible, for Olivia first becomes interested in “Cesario” in act I.v after discovering that he/she is a gentleman. Malvolio’s fantasy involves changing his clothing: he imagines himself “in my branched velvet gown” (II.v. 47-48), which was the clothing of a wealthy nobleman, not that of a steward. The letter from Olivia also asks him to alter his clothing, wearing yellow stockings and crossed garters and to change his personality. Thus we see the direct parallels with the central plot where Viola’s disguises herself in men’s clothes.By Act III, the cases of mistaken identity and deception get more complicated. The first case is found in Malvolio’s supposed madness because he thinks he shares a secret understanding with Olivia, even though the strange things he does and says bewilder her. Another misunderstanding occurs in the primary plot as Cesario/Viola’s brother Sebastian and his friend Antonio arrive in Illyria and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are left very confused as “Cesario” is called “Sebastian” when Antonio is carried off by the police. Antonio, in turn, is believed to be insane, mirroring Malvolio’s being locked away in a little dark room for being mistakenly thought to be insane.Themes of madness and illusion are addressed in both the primary and secondary plots of Twelfth Night. The practical joke on Malvolio continues with Feste visiting him in the dark prison pretending to be a priest. Feste, the “priest”, pretends that the room is not actually dark, but is full of windows and light, and that thus Malvolio must be insane if he cannot see the light. Elsewhere, in the high plot, Sebastian is very confused, but delighted, by this adoring woman, Olivia, who is apparently in love with him. At one point, Sebastian asks, “are all the people mad”.. “Or am I mad…?”In the final Act, the primary and secondary plots follow one another sequentially as they have throughout the former acts of the play. The concepts of misunderstanding, mistaken identity, and insanity are all resolved.In Doctor Faustus, the function of a plot division works in much the same way as it does in Twelfth Night, that is the plot divisions parallel one another for the purpose of carrying along important themes of the play. Not only does Marlow use the plot division for advancing themes, but more importantly to remind and inform the audience of things that are noteworthy. Differently, though, the important antireligious theme in Dr. Faustus is advanced without a distinct parallel between the high and low plot. This conflict with religion can be seen in the high plot when Faustus, Cornelius and Valdes appear as an “unholy trinity,” or after Faustus signs the deed and says, “Consummatum est,” or “It is finished” – words of blasphemy as they were Christ’s final words on the cross. Another advance of the anti-religious theme exists as Faustus wavers between the good and bad angels. There are no clear-cut parallels between these instances of such an important theme. True, there are similarities, but there is not such an obvious resistance to God found in the low plot as there is in the high plot. If this were more like Twelfth Night, the clown would have lingered in indecision, mirroring Faustus’ situation with his good and bad angels, or Wagner would have said something in denial and rejection of God. This is how the two plays differ – Twelfth Night’s major themes found in the high plot always seem to be paralleled directly with the theme in the low plot.Other themes in Dr. Faustus follow a more distinct route of parallelism. In scene III, for example, Faustus conjures Mephistophilis, whom Faustus informs that he would be willing to sell his soul to Satan in exchange for Mephistophilis’ services for the next twenty-seven years. As in Shakespeare’s play, the secondary plot parallels the high plot, in this case, as Faustus’ servant, Wagner, convinces the clown to agree to serve him for seven years in scene IV. The clown’s decision to sell his soul to the Devil for a shoulder of mutton makes the parallel between scene III and IV even clearer. The clown’s response is that he would have to have the mutton “well roasted and a good sauce to it (IV.12)” if he were to “pay so dear.” The suggestion that his soul is a very dear price to pay serves as a reminder to the audience that Faustus has just agreed to sell his soul to Lucifer.Another important connection between the high and low plots happens when Robin the Ostler find one of Faustus’ “conjuring books,” and he and Ralph decide to try it out. Scenes VIII and IX illustrate the negative consequences of using magic as Mephistophilis turned Robin and Ralph into apes as punishment for trying to use Faustus’ book to conjure without having made any kind of “deal” to entitle them to do so. Faustus’ deal with the Devil is alluded in the low plot when Ralph asks Robin what book he has and he responds, “What book! Why, the most intolerable book for conjuring that e’er was invented by any brimstone devil (VIII.19-20). This might suggest that Robin is onto the deal Faustus has made with the devil, but more importantly, it just serves a reminder to the audience that the book actually was invented by a devil, thereby adding a bit of dramatic irony. Ralph makes another allusion to Faustus’ situation when Robin tempts him with the kitchen maid, Nan Spit: “On that condition I’ll feed thy devil with horsebread long as he lives, of free cost (VIII.30-31).” Here Ralph seems to offer a smaller version of the exchange Faustus has made.In conclusion, in Twelfth Night and Doctor Faustus themes are moved along by the existence of parallels between the primary and secondary plots. While this occurs more prevalently in Shakespeare’s play, Marlow more strongly relies on the actions in his high/primary plot to carry along the most important theme of the play, and uses parallels between the high and low plots simply to clarify and remind the audience of smaller themes.
The most compelling characters in modern literature and plays are the ones whose motivations tend to be complex, thus demand a deeper analysis of which part of their conscious their decisions arise from – the impulsive Id, the balancing Ego, or the idealized Superego. The central characters of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest when studied parallel to each other seem to share similar traits, yet both meet contrastingly differing ends. This outcome is solely decided by the choices they make in face of their respective struggles and whichever side of their conscious emerges victorious.
In Freudian theory, the Id is the part of human conscious which contains all the base desires and ambitions. It operates on a pleasure principle that if let free, completely assumes control of the mind and cause the characters to make choices that seek delight without any rationale. While Faustus’ motivations are clearly seen to be led by his Id for nearly the entirety of the play, The Tempest’s Prospero makes decisions that seem sensible, muddying the boundaries that lie between the Id and the Ego.
Faustus, who by profession begins as a doctor in Wittenberg, dismisses academic disciplines and eschews religion as means of achieving the satisfaction he seeks, drunk on his arrogance of knowing everything they offer. He turns to magic and occult to achieve his ambitious and rather grandiose goals. When Faustus obtains the authority over the devil Mephistopheles in exchange for his soul, he seems to have continuous doubts over his decision to forsake heaven, but his Id wipes out all reason that do not serve fulfillment of his desires. As seen from the lines, “The god thou serv’st is thine own apetite” (Marlowe, page 62) and “I am resolv’d Faustus shall not repent” (page 68), he is so empowered by his own lofty goals, he turns away divinity. In contrast, perhaps the most defining motive powered by Id Prospero carries is the ambition for retribution against his brother. He wrecks the ship of the King and his men to further his plot of revenge, to draw deepest apologies for their wrongdoings and restore his dukedom.
On the other side of the seesaw of human consciousness sits the Superego. Representing the moral conscience and the idealized self a person conjures of themselves, it is an oft unrealized part in reality. Just as John Faustus’ id becomes his instrument of personal destruction, Prospero’s superego blinds him to the fact that he can commit any wrong.
Faustus envisions illusions of grandeur due to his superego, using his powers to rearrange Europe and become the emperor of Germany (Marlowe, page 60, 106-113), acquire eternal knowledge and omnipotence. There are touches of superego in the instances when Lucifer and Mephistopheles dissuade him from the path of God, from repentance and marriage and appeal to his id instead (page 69-70) until it is too late to seek God’s grace anymore. Prospero carries such an idealized version of himself, it acquires him a godlike ego. He does not seem to realize that his pursuit of knowledge and occult causes him to grow irresponsible and give up the control of government to his brother. “The love people bore me” (Shakespeare, Scene I, Act ii) paints Prospero as one who thinks he was wronged without reason. Prospero raises his daughter, Miranda, with his own rigid morality and keeps her firmly under his own influence, barely allowing her to develop her own free will. In the end, it is his Superego that intervenes with guilt over his actions. He changes his mind about exacting revenge when confronted with a similar attempt on his life by Caliban, instead choosing to forsake his powers and return to society and live a life of comfort. He beseeches forgiveness for his sins, and ultimately achieves some semblance of redemption. Both Prospero and Faustus turn to occult and magic to achieve greatness and cause their downfall. But while Prospero gives up his magic at the chance for a peaceful life without regret, Faustus fails to do so despite repeated chances given to him during the play.
Rationale balances itself in the middle of impulsive desire and self-idealized pride and chooses to call itself Ego. The Ego weighs the desires of id and acts according to the side the scales tip on: in a way that best mitigates personal distress. While Prospero cultivates an Ego that is so empowering that he manipulates almost the entire circumstance for his benefit, Faustus’ ego breaks itself down almost completely and sways his decisions towards the temptations of id and sells his soul to Lucifer against better judgement.
Unlike Faustus, Prospero’s Ego alleviates him to a godlike position on the island he touches on, by virtue of being cultured and educated and thus possessing power. He controls all the elements in his play, having learnt from his folly of underestimating human nature for treachery, and thus leaves zero room for anyone to go against his wishes or plans. He orchestrates the love between Ferdinand and Miranda (Shakespeare, Scene 1 Act ii) to achieve an end that serves a higher overarching purpose. Caliban, an unfortunate individual who resided on the island before Prospero, is regarded by him as a brute, who he decides to bestow his knowledge on. To Caliban, Prospero is a cruel god who has wrestled away the control of the land that is rightfully his. It is important to realize that Prospero seems to not grasp the irony in the parallels drawn, between Antonio usurping him merely because he was more capable and Prospero doing the same to Caliban.
Authors like Marlowe and Shakespeare tend to weave in the surprising complexities of human nature into their primary characters. Be it delving into the ugly, visceral side of humanity like anger or covetousness or its beautiful capacity for repentance and love; all of it serves an underlying purpose. They leave enough space for the audience to either consider it as a simple entertainment if they wish it or analyze the deeper themes of morality, divinity or human character and draw their own conclusions. And undoubtedly, evidence suggests that the interplay between Id, Ego and Superego colours each and every choice Faustus and Prospero make. By forsaking ego and divinity in his pursuit for power, Faustus’ mental degradation and tragic end comes of his own doing. In contrast, as a result of forsaking the very thing that caused Prospero to be cast from his kingdom and repenting on his sins, he sets off for a life of luxury and acceptance with his daughter.
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest present similar definitions of “power” through the differing circumstances of their protagonists. Power, in these plays, can be thought of as “control of the unknown.” If one character has control of something another character has no understanding of, the first character can gain power over the second. While Faustus and Prospero are both presented as highly educated and powerful magicians, Prospero is generally able to exert power over all The Tempest’s characters because he is constantly aware of what is happening, while the play’s other characters are unaware of what is occurring. Faustus, on the other hand, fails not because he is overly ambitious or proud, but because he believes himself to be in control while he is actually under Mephostophilis’ power, kept unaware of what is being done to him. Looked at together, the plays seem to offer an argument for prudence and caution when faced with the opportunity to gain power, rather than arguing against ambition as might be assumed in the case of Faustus.
While the plays’ plots show it is not quite so simple, both protagonists equate knowledge with power, and so pursue learning on their quest to become more powerful. Prospero, when telling his daughter the history of how they arrived on their island, says he grew distant from his position as Duke of Milan because he was “rapt in secret studies” (1.2.176), and did not resist his usurpation because his library “Was dukedom enough” (1.2.212). Though he may be downplaying how much he values his actual dukedom to make sure Miranda remains ignorant of his ambitions, this does reveal his devotion to his studies. He does not explicitly state why he values knowledge so much, however. This is explained later by other characters. Faustus also professes a love of knowledge, but is more explicit about why, frequently equating it not only to power, but also to magic. He says that through studying his books, a “world of profit and delight / of power, of honor, of omnipotence / is promised to the studious artisan!” (1.1.51-3), explicitly showing that his purpose in studying is to gain power, specifically magical power as suggested by “omnipotence.”
Possessing knowledge, however, is only part of what is required to gain power. First, the characters have to use their knowledge in a way that takes advantage of someone who does not possess the same knowledge. Prospero is cautious and never states exactly why he is so concerned with his studies, but Caliban reveals this information when he is planning with Stephano and Trinculo to overthrow Prospero. He tells them to take control of the magician’s books because without them “He’s but a sot” and “hath not / One spirit to command” (3.2.1488-9). This reveals that Prospero, much like Faustus, uses the knowledge from his books in order to gain power. This is displayed in his relationship with Ariel. Prospero does not do much magic in the play, instead commanding his servant spirit Ariel to perform magical tasks. However, in order to command a spirit that has powers such as commanding storms, Prospero must have some sort of power of his own. When Ariel briefly complains to Prospero and asks for freedom, Prospero recounts the story of how he freed the spirit from a trap he was put in by a witch, and threatens him, saying “If thou more murmur’st, I will rend an oak / And peg thee in his knotty entrails till / Thou hast howl’d away twelve winters” (1.2.432-4). While Ariel has powers Prospero does not, the powers Prospero does possess allows him to wield Ariel like a tool. The play does not expand upon the nature of Prospero’s power over the spirit, but it is clear that Prospero has the knowledge required to free Ariel and to imprison him again, while Ariel, although very powerful, does not have this knowledge. This puts Prospero in a position of power over Ariel.
Faustus’ relationship with Mephostophilis appears similar to Prospero’s relationship with Ariel, in that Faustus does little magic himself, but commands the demon to perform magical tasks. However, Marlowe’s play, unlike Shakespeare’s, actually shows the magician’s process of summoning and attempting to control his spirit. In this process, Faustus, unlike Prospero, finds himself unwittingly under the control of the spirit. Faustus’ main problem is that he becomes extremely excited by the prospect of being a powerful magician. “’Tis magic,” Faustus says to his friends Valdes and Cornelius, “magic that hath ravished me,” already convinced of his own magical power despite the fact that he has not yet performed any magic (1.1.109). When Mephostophilis appears, presumably as a result of an elaborate ritual, Faustus says “Such is the force of magic and my spells,” showing that the demon’s appearance has further confirmed his existing belief in his power (1.3.30).
This, rather than the moment he accepts the demon’s bargain, is the moment in which Faustus dooms himself. He is too blinded by excitement and the idea of the power he thinks he has to appropriately process what the demon says to him. “I came now hither of mine own accord,” Mephostophilis tells Faustus, “For when we hear one rack the name of God… We fly in hope to get his glorious soul” (1.3.43-8). The demon lets the audience know that Faustus, despite his elaborate ritual, did absolutely no magic. The demon came simply because Faustus blasphemed, and saw it as an opportunity to steal a soul. This means that the knowledge Faustus possessed either did not function properly, or is untrue. Therefore, Faustus has no power over Mephostophilis, because he does not have control over any knowledge the demon does not.
Prospero has a similar moment in the backstory of The Tempest when his brother plans to usurp his dukedom. Rather than resisting his plans and grabbing for more immediate power, he shows prudence and chooses not to resist. Letting himself lose power allows him to come back later, regain his status, and put his daughter in a position of power. If he had chosen to resist his brother at the time, this end may not have been possible. He may have put himself at a greater disadvantage or in greater danger by resisting his brother. Faustus, rather than taking the new information he is presented with into account like Prospero did, effectively ignores Mephostophilis’ statement. He takes the path Prospero chose not to, and decides to grab for immediate power, instead of updating his knowledge in the face of a force that can overpower him and figuring out what else he can do to gain power. When Mephostophilis tells Faustus about the torment of eternal separation from the joys of Heaven, Faustus tells the demon to “Learn… of Faustus manly fortitude, / And scorn those joys…” (1.3.84-5). Even after Mephostophilis has refuted the idea that Faustus has done any magic, Faustus not only ignores the demon and continues to believe in his own power, but also believes that he is superior to the demon. Faustus implies that Mephostophilis is somehow weak for feeling the pain of damnation, and that he is capable of resisting such pain. Since nothing Mephostophilis does dissuades Faustus from believing in his own power, the magician unknowingly allows himself to be manipulated by the demon, thinking he has power over Mephostophilis when the demon does what he commands, as Prospero does when he commands Ariel.
Unlike the relationship between Ariel and Prospero, however, the demon is the one with control over Faustus. Mephostophilis, as an entity trying to gain power over Faustus, seems to be giving Faustus a strangely large amount of information about hell and damnation, which could alter what the magician chooses to do. He probably feels justified in doing so, though, as he may be aware of the amount to which Faustus is blinded by his own illusions of power. The demon helps these illusions grow every time he obeys the magician’s commands. The demon does, however, withhold important information that allows him to maintain control over Faustus’ soul when the magician starts to doubt the wisdom of his choice. Several times in the play, Faustus expresses concern over the fate of his soul, and is visited by a Good Angel and an Evil Angel. Initially, the Evil Angel tempts him into studying magic by telling him he can be “as Jove is in the sky, / Lord and commander of these elements,” contributing to his excitement about gaining power (1.1.75-6). Once Faustus makes his deal with Mephostophilis, though, the Angel’s statements become more ambiguous. When Faustus asks “prayer, repentance, what of these?”, the Evil Angel responds “illusions, fruits of lunacy, / That make men foolish” after the Good Angel tells Faustus these are “means to bring thee unto heaven” (1.5.16-9). The Evil Angel could be directly contradicting the Good Angel, confirming the current idea of Predestination and saying Faustus is doomed to Hell no matter what he does, implying that it is a “foolish illusion” to believe that repentance can bring Faustus to Heaven. However, there is nothing in the Evil Angel’s comment that directly states that salvation is impossible. His claim that prayer and repentance are “fruits of lunacy” could also be another way of feeding Faustus’ desire for power, suggesting that the only way to save himself is to abandon the earthy power, which would be “foolish” for one that values power. Faustus, still blinded by power despite his worries, always ends up listening to the Evil Angel’s suggestions, possibly confusing the ideas that “salvation is impossible” and “salvation takes away your power and potential” for one another. If any character in the play has the knowledge of whether or not Predestination is true, it is Mephostophilis, who, as a powerful demon, would likely have knowledge of who enters Hell and why. The demon purposefully withholds such information from Faustus. It could be the key to freeing Faustus from the demon’s bargain, like Prospero’s secret knowledge that could free Ariel, but Mephostophilis chooses instead to keep Faustus ignorant as to whether or not he can save himself, and Faustus, clinging to his desire for power, chooses to interpret the Angel’s ambiguous comments as “salvation is impossible” to sustain this desire. Because of this, Faustus more closely resembles Ariel than Prospero, despite the fact that both protagonists are ostensibly powerful magicians who control spirits, because Faustus is enslaved to Mephostophilis due to his lack of knowledge.
When looked at together, these plays seem to be offering an argument for caution and prudence for people who want to maintain their positions of power. Seen in the context of The Tempest, Faustus does not fall simply due to his ambition or hunger for forbidden knowledge. Faustus is no more ambitious than Prospero, and both seem equally driven to learn, but despite these similar traits, Prospero ends the play regaining his power while Faustus is sent to Hell. This is not because Faustus is ambitious, but because he allowed his ambitions to blind him to their consequences, while Prospero is able to look at his ambitions from a longer term perspective. This allows Prospero to calculate ways to gain power without losing anything he cannot regain. One can only speculate, though, what would have happened if Ariel had been more powerful and tricked Prospero into freeing him in order to gain power over the magician. Prospero may have shown the caution he did when threatened by his brother, but the prospect of power may have been too hard to resist, despite any risks. This also recommends exercising caution in the face of manipulation.
A play can have power over its audience, whether it simply captivates them with its plot or makes them question their beliefs with its commentary. Though while the actors are the ones directly exercising this power over the audience, it is the writer or director that has power over everything. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest are meta-theatrical plays in that their characters parallel this power structure of the theater; the plays’ main characters can all be classified as either being the audience, an actor, or a director, and it is the character representing the director in each play who has power over the characters which represent the audience, through the characters who the director uses as actors. The plays differ, though, in terms of how the director maintains power over the audience; in Doctor Faustus, Mephistopheles is the true director, but convinces Faustus that he is a director to keep him unaware of his role as the audience. On the other hand, Prospero in The Tempest flaunts his theatricality and keeps his audience aware that they are an audience viewing a performance, which more closely resembles real theater in which the audience is aware of the fact that they are spectators. These different approaches to power dynamics among characters are indicative of the writers’ different approaches to theater itself.
A real audience in a real theater is aware of the fact that they are spectators so are not, therefore, completely susceptible to the power of the play; they are aware that what they are seeing is a performance, so they are capable of resisting the play’s influence. So in Doctor Faustus, Mephistopheles, through performance, allows Faustus to believe that he is the director so he does not realize he is actually the audience, the one under Mephistopheles’ power. This way, unaware of the performative nature of the demon he believes he controls, Faustus is unable to resist the Mephistopheles’ power. Faustus assumes that he is in control right away once he summons the demon. “I charge thee to return and change thy shape / Thou art too ugly to attend on me. / Go, and return an old Franciscan friar; / That holy shape becomes a devil best,” Faustus immediately tells Mephistopheles once he appears (Marlowe 1.3.24-5). Not only is Faustus assuming that he is in charge and has power over Mephistopheles, but he is also making aesthetic decisions as a director would in a play; he is effectively ordering the demon, as if he is an actor in a play Faustus is putting on, to change costume.
Though Mephistopheles quickly clarifies that he came of his own accord and not because of any power Faustus believes he has, Faustus persists in his delusion of power, which Mephistopheles then begins to exploit. In the next act, when Faustus expresses worry over signing a pact with the demon, Mephistopheles gives an aside, saying “I’ll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind” (2.1.82). A group of devils enters and dances, to which Faustus responds “What means this show?” Mephistopheles replies “Nothing, Faustus, but to delight thy mind withal / And to show thee what magic can perform” (2.1.83-5). Marlowe seems to have deliberately used theatrical imagery through words such as “show” and “perform” to emphasize the connection between theater and the relationship between Faustus and the demon. In this scene, the relationship is reversed; Mephistopheles summons devils, his actors, and directs them to dance. Faustus, here, is the audience. Nonetheless, Mephistopheles explains this to Faustus in a way that keeps Faustus ignorant of this dynamic. By saying this is to show him “what magic can perform,” the demon connects this performance to the magic power Faustus believes he has. He gives Faustus a taste of what his supposed power can do, which only makes Faustus’ sense of his own power grow. When Faustus asks “But may I raise up spirits when I please,” the demon responds with “Ay, Faustus, and do greater things than these,” further implying Faustus’ role as a director here, suggesting Faustus can direct “greater things” than the spectacle he has just been audience to, while de-emphasizing his own role in directing the previous spectacle (2.1.86-7). So every time Faustus orders Mephistopheles to do anything, Faustus assumes he is the director and that the demon is the actor, which increases his belief in his own power, when the truth is that Mephistopheles is putting on this show of obedience with Faustus as his audience to keep Faustus from leaving their pact.
Even by the end of the play, Faustus is unaware of his manipulation at the hands of Mephistopheles, still unaware that he is Mephistopheles’ audience rather than his director. When, for instance, he orders Mephistopheles to summon a likeness of Helen of Troy, he consumes the demon in her likeness like a piece of media rather than controlling its actions like a director. “Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips / And all is dross that is not Helena,” he says, praising her beauty upon beholding her (5.1.95-6). He is enjoying yet another spectacle that the demon has produced for him. After being distracted by the demon away from his original goal of gaining knowledge, the way he orders Mephistopheles around seems less like a director controlling an actor in a play, and more like a modern day consumer flipping through TV shows and deciding which one to watch. He is making decisions, but only in regards to what sort of spectacle he wants to consume, to be an audience for. Mephistopheles tells him before summoning Helen “Faustus, this, or what else thou shalt desire / Shall be performed in twinkling of an eye” (5.1.89-90). Faustus may interpret “perform” as execution of his will, but Mephistopheles is rather putting on a performance that Faustus’ inability to detect damns him.
However, as demonstrated by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, simply being aware of the fact that one is part of an audience is not always enough to understand what is happening, or enough to give the audience any power. Prospero makes no effort to conceal the fact that the shipwrecked noblemen trapped on his island are the audience to a spectacle; this, though, does not lend any clarity to the situation or give them any advantage. For instance, when the nobles are searching the island for Ferdinand, the king’s son who has gone missing, they come across, according to the stage directions, “several strange Shapes, bringing in a banquet; they dance about it with gentle actions of salutation; and, inviting the King, & c. to eat, they depart” (Shakespeare 3.3). This vision is reminiscent Mephistopheles’ dancing demons, but the effect on the noblemen is different; while it makes Faustus feel empowered, this makes the lords feel lost and powerless. Sebastian refers to the sight as “A living drollery,” referring to it as something amusing before focusing on the strange, supernatural nature of what he just saw; this suggests that the spirits were the embodiment or personification of entertainment, or of theater (3.3). Prospero’s captive spirit Ariel promptly enters in the form of a harpy to threaten the lords, after which the “Shapes” re-enter to dance again and remove the banquet. King Alonso reacts to these events by telling his fellows “The winds did sing it to me, and the thunder, / That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced / The name of Prosper” (3.3). He puts everything in context of a performance, to which he is the audience; he listened to the singing and the organ which delivered to him the message that his enemy Prospero is on the island.
Prospero, in fact, tells Ariel “Bravely the figure of this harpy hast thou / Perform’d, my Ariel,” explicitly confirming the performative nature of his own magic; Prospero is the director while Ariel is the actor, and here the director praises the actor for a show well performed. Prospero says “My high charms work / And these mine enemies are all knit up / In their distractions; they now are in my power,” meaning that he finds his performance to have been successful; the show he put on distracted his enemies and made them vulnerable to his influence, just as a playwright or director might hope to use a play to have sway over the audience’s thoughts. Prospero does nothing to keep his audience unaware of their role as an audience, unlike Mephistopheles who makes Faustus believe he is the director by appealing to his own sense of power. But while Faustus could have gained power by realizing his true role – he would have been able to realize that the demon was manipulating him and act accordingly – the nobles’ awareness of their position grants them no power, and in fact renders them more powerless through distraction and intimidation.
At the very end of the play, in fact, Prospero directly calls attention to his own role as the plot’s director by asking the play’s audience for applause. “But release me from my bands / With the help of your good hands,” he says to the audience as part of his final monologue. The final words he speaks are “As you from crimes would pardon’d be / Let your indulgence set me free” which, being the end of the play, is the moment right before the audience would applaud anyway (Epilogue). Prospero, then switches from manipulating the figurative audience of the noblemen to breaking the fourth wall between himself and the literal audience watching his character being represented by an actor; he takes advantage of the nature of the theater to seemingly exercise power over the audience to receive the applause he needs; the audience is aware of the fact that they are an audience and as such, applause is customary. Especially at the end of the play, there is no reason for him conceal his nature as the director of the play’s plot; now that he has everything he had been working to achieve, no harm will come from revealing his methods.
The playwrights’ differing approaches to power dynamics in their plays parallels their own views of theater. Marlowe represents Mephistopheles as a crafty and deceptive director figure manipulating an audience unaware of its own role or of what is being done to it; this can represent Marlowe himself, who wrote a deceptively simple play whose complexities the audience may not initially be aware of. Marlowe chose to use a medieval folktale to write a seemingly anachronistic “morality play” with an apparently Christian message. His play, however, can be interpreted as actually being critical of contemporary theology such as the Calvinist theory of predestination. While not trying to literally damn his audience as Mephistopheles does to Faustus, he does use the deceptively simple nature of his play to prompt his audience into questioning some of their beliefs about religion. Shakespeare, on the other hand, does not seem to have much to hide; by calling more explicit attention to the nature of performance within his play, commenting on theater itself may have been his original goal. Since this is one of his final plays, he seems to be reflecting on his own role as a playwright before directly saying goodbye to his audience at the end and asking for a final round of applause which will set him free.
Marlowe, Christopher. “Doctor Faustus.” Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, edited by Michael Cordner, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998, 138-183.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest.” The Tech, 1993. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, http://shakespeare.mit.edu/tempest/full.html