The Connection Between Religion and Corruption in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Doctor Faustus

“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.

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