Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another "...Doctor Faustus" Post: But the End is In Sight

New post about Marlowe's
"The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" each Monday

Yet another post about Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." Again, I've put a 'what I've written so far' link list near the end of this post.1

After four posts about Marlowe's "...Faustus." I'm not quite a third of the way through the play: which means that, at this rate, I'll have an even dozen when I'm done. That's a lot of posts.

On the other hand, 12 is a nifty number: 12 hours in a day, 12 apostles, 12 eggs in a carton. All of which I might think is meaningful: but don't.2

Where was I? Marlowe. Faustus. Posts popping up like mushrooms. Right.

Why Focus on Faustus?

I'm spending this much time on Marlowe's "...Faustus" because "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" is:
  • A cool story
  • Still part of English-speaking cultures
    • As a dramatic template for
      • Tales of horror
      • Fables of faith
      • 'Mad scientist' B movies
    • After four centuries
      • Durable!
  • Something I hadn't read in decades
Faust? Mad scientist?! I made that connection a few days ago. (September 20, 2011)

Marlowe, Henry VIII, and Theology for Fun and Profit

Another reason I'm so interested in Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" is that it was written not long after Henry VIII decided that England's church should be English. And set up his own copy of the Catholic Church. With 'improvements.'

Re-reading "...Faustus," I think I'm looking at a lastingly-popular drama: written by someone who
  • May have been more interested in keeping his head
    • Than in the latest official national theology
  • Knew about drama
    • And people
Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" may be anti-Catholic, or have been intended as a pro-English, anti-Rome drama. But so far there's quite a lot of solid Catholic thinking in the dialog.

Which is interesting: to me, anyway.

I put links to maybe more than you may want to read, about England's Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and brute-force social engineering, under "Background" in yesterday's post.

Marlowe's "...Faustus:" In a Catholic's Blog?!

All this discussion of an Elizabethan play that prominently features a devil dressed up as a Franciscan friar may seem - odd - in a Catholic's blog. Particularly since I don't rant about Marlowe's heathen ways. I don't think I'm ranting, anyway: and that's almost another topic.

So far, it looks like Marlowe may have confused what 'everybody knows' about the Catholic Church with the real thing. Which is how I wrapped up yesterday's post:
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen, Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)
Besides, there's a whole lot of ways to be Catholic. And that is another topic.3

Evil Angel's Closing Argument: And Faustus Gets Delusional

Here's where I left Marlowe's "...Faustus" yesterday:
"...GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, think of heaven and heavenly things.

"EVIL ANGEL. No, Faustus; think of honour and of76 wealth.
"[Exeunt ANGELS.]..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Marlowe's Faustus takes a break from reality at this point:
"...FAUSTUS. Of wealth!
Why, the signiory of Embden shall be mine.
When Mephistophilis shall stand by me,
What god can hurt thee, Faustus? thou art safe
Cast no more doubts. - Come, Mephistophilis,
And bring glad tidings from great Lucifer;—
Is't not midnight? - come, Mephistophilis,
Veni, veni, Mephistophile!...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus") [emphasis mine]

Brilliant: But No Head for Business

Maybe Doctor Faustus is like the proverbial 'absent-minded professor:' a whiz kid in his field, but not so much with practical details. In the play, it hasn't been all that long since Faustus, referring to himself in the third person - - - and I'm not going to let the 'editorial we' and pretentious writing distract me.

Like I was going to say, Faustus had recently defined the terms of Mephistopheles' service:
"...Seeing Faustus hath incurr'd eternal death
By desperate thoughts against Jove's59 deity,
Say, he surrenders up to him his soul,
So he will spare him four and twenty60 years,
Letting him live in all voluptuousness;
Having thee ever to attend on me....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Benefit/cost ratios, anyone? Faustus is trading 24 years - just shy of two and a half decades - of high living for what promises to be a really unpleasant eternity.

Maybe Faustus is bad with math.

Or has no business sense. At all.

Hubris on a Titanic Scale?

Granted, it would be three centuries before the "practically unsinkable" Titanic sank.4 Even so, someone with the sort of education Doctor Faustus had should have known about hubris. "Overbearing pride or presumption"5 or "arrogant, excessive self-pride or self-confidence, ... a lack of some important perception or insight due to pride in one's abilities"6 shows up in stories that predate Marlowe and his Doctor Faustus by millennia:
"What god can hurt thee, Faustus?" I don't know if that's hubris, or lack of foresight worthy of Wile E. Coyote. Either way, not paying attention to what happens after those 24 years are up is just plain daft.

Mephistopheles, Doctor Faustus, and a Simple Contract

Next, Mephistopheles tells Doctor Faustus that the 'high living for eternal death' deal is okay, provided Faustus observes a few formalities. At this point, Faustus asks a sensible question, but still doesn't get the 'big picture' aspects of his plan:
"...MEPHIST. But, Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
And write a deed of gift with thine own blood;
For that security craves great Lucifer.
If thou deny it, I will back to hell.

"FAUSTUS. Stay, Mephistophilis, and tell me, what good will my soul do thy lord?

"MEPHIST. Enlarge his kingdom.

"FAUSTUS. Is that the reason why79 he tempts us thus?

"MEPHIST. Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.80..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Faustus asked a reasonable question, "what good will my soul
do thy lord?" Mephistopheles' response, that Satan wants souls to "enlarge his kingdom," is - again - consistent with what the Catholic Church says.7

If Faustus had started thinking about the implications of his deal with the ruler of Hell: as I said before, Marlowe's play might have been very different.

Mephistopheles, Motive, and Misery

There's more Latin here: Mephistopheles' "Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris." I ran it through Google's Translate, and got "Allies to have had the wretched consolation of suffering." I think 'Misery loves company' might be a reasonable paraphrase.

Faustus, Blood, and Too Many 'Aliens' Movies

Faustus stabs his arm to get blood for the contract's signature, but his blood congeals. It's like his body is trying to stop Faustus. Mephistopheles helpfully fetches a Renaissance equivalent of a hot pack, to get things flowing: and Faustus does the old 'signed in blood' thing.

Melodramatic? Over-the-top? Ridiculous? In detail, maybe. It's certainly not the sort of thing many would be likely to take seriously these days. We're more into explosions and high-speed chases, when it comes to drama.

Although Elizabethan England had quite a lot in common with contemporary America,8 there were differences, too. I think one reason that the balky blood of Doctor Faustus may seem silly today is that this culture has seen pretty much the same story told and re-told for something like four hundred years.

Look what happened to the 'shock' movie Alien (1979).9 And that's yet another topic.

Faustus, Mephistopheles, and a Floor Show

Marlowe's Faustus isn't the only one who talks to himself in the play. Mephistopheles says "O, what will not I do to obtain his soul?" as an aside.

Maybe it's just me, but I get the impression that Mephistopheles' patience is wearing a tad thin at that point.

Skipping lightly over the 'deep meaning' and 'trenchant metaphor' of Faustus' blood not cooperating with his self-destructive decision, let's get right to what Mephistopheles does after the contract is signed:
"...MEPHIST. I'll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind.
[Aside, and then exit.]

"Re-enter MEPHISTOPHILIS with DEVILS, who give crowns
and rich apparel to FAUSTUS, dance, and then depart.

"FAUSTUS. Speak, Mephistophilis, what means this show?

"MEPHIST. Nothing, Faustus, but to delight thy mind withal,
And to shew thee what magic can perform.

"FAUSTUS. But may I raise up spirits when I please?

"MEPHIST. Ay, Faustus, and do greater things than these.

"Here, Mephistophilis, receive this scroll,

"FAUSTUS. Then there's enough for a thousand souls.
Here, Mephistophilis, receive this scroll,
A deed of gift of body and of soul:
But yet conditionally that thou perform
All articles prescrib'd between us both.

"MEPHIST. Faustus, I swear by hell and Lucifer
To effect all promises between us made!...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
As I recall, this agreement doesn't end well for Doctor Faustus.

More posts in this series:Background:
  • Angels who rebelled against God
  • The fallen angels "...try to associate man in their revolt against God."
    • Catechism, 414
  • Satan
    • Opposes God
    • Brought sin into the world
      • And death
      • Catechism, 2852
    • Has been defeated
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

1 Another link list of 'Fasutus' posts and headings. I'm still keeping keep track of what I've already said about Marlowe's Faustus, or trying to:
2 I might think that having 12 posts about something was just simply fraught with significance. Particularly since if I assign an integer value to each letter of the Latin alphabet, a=1, b=2, and so on, and add up the letters of my Christian name, Brian, I get the number 45.

Which, divided by 12, is 3.75! And the 75th verse of the third book of the Bible is Leviticus 4:25: which is all about a priest putting blood of the sin offering on the horns of the altar of holocausts!!

I do not take that sort of thing seriously: at all.

But a remarkable number of folks seem to. Particularly when a radio preacher is savvy enough to use names out of the Bible, particularly Revelation.

But not The Book of Wisdom. That got edited out of Protestant Bibles. (see "Book of Wisdom," Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)) It's true, by the way: Solomon didn't write The Book of Wisdom. The author wasn't an American, either, and didn't conform to post-Renaissance Western literary customs.

I've written about a radio preacher, and getting a grip, before:
3 I've written about tolerance, real and imagined, diversity, and the Catholic Church before:
4 The Titanic's owners - and the press - provided succeeding generations with an excellent example of hubris. And why it's a bad idea:
5 Source for this definition of hubris: Princeton's WordNet

6 Source for this definition of hubris: Dr. L. Kip Wheeler, English Dept., Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee

7 Satan isn't a nice person. And not helpful. At all. Part of what the Church says about:
  • Angels who rebelled against God
  • the fallen angels "...try to associate man in their revolt against God."
    • Catechism, 414
  • Satan
    • Opposes God
    • Brought sin into the world
      • And death
      • Catechism, 2852
    • Has been defeated
Even on strictly selfish grounds, Satan and the rest of the fallen angels are losers: and all they can offer is a share in their loss. Siding with them is, in the long term, stupid.

I think this is an important reminder, about who's who:
"The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God's reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but 'we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.'275"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 395)
8 I've discussed Elizabethan England, whalebone, and hip huggers before:9 Recently, another tale of horror, suspense, and all that got re-told a few too many times, I think:


Brigid said...

Where's the rest of the sentence? "In the play, it hasn't been all that long since Faustus, referring to himself in the third person - and I'm not going to let the 'editorial we' and pretentious writing distract me."

More unsuperscripted footnotes: "reason why79 he tempts us... habuisse doloris.80"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


I interrupted myself - and have since apologized. ;)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.