Monday, October 10, 2011

The Strategy of Doctor Faustus - You Have Got to be Kidding

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

This blog's new schedule has me writing a "Featured Topic" post today: about Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus," since I've wrapped up my take on the Pope's trip to Germany

Doctor Faustus: Master of Missing the Obvious?

So far, I'm a bit exasperated with the title character. We're told that Doctor Faustus is terribly bright, has whizzed through everything Elizabethan academics had to offer, and wants to know more.

That's not what exasperates me.

It's the Doctor's astonishing capacity for missing obvious implications, not asking enough sensible questions: and, when he does, not paying attention to the answers.

Here's where I left Marlowe's Mephistopheles and Faustus:
"...MEPHIST. Ay, Faustus, and do greater things than these.

"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")
Today, an example of really bad business sense:

The Business Sense of Doctor Faustus

Marlowe's Doctor John Faustus may have a magnificent mind when it comes to reading the classics of his day. As a businessman, though? I think Faustus makes the most spectacular failure during the dot-com bubble seem a paragon of entrepreneurial acuity in comparison

Getting back to Marlowe's "...Faustus," the learned doctor has started reading that contract:
"...FAUSTUS. Then hear me read them. [Reads] ON THESE CONDITIONS
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
The rest of what Faustus says is in all caps: and is crazy-long to read as one block. My opinion. I'll break it out as a bulleted list, with my comments included. Faustus's lines are in ALL CAP ITALIC, with the first word or two bold. My snide remarks and sarcasm insightful comments aren't.

By the way, footnotes in the that's my source are in the same size and font as the text. It's not the formatting I'd use, but since it's in the original, I'm keeping their format 'as is.' Moving on:
    • Hubris, anyone? Satan and company are spirits
      • Fallen angels
        • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 329, 391-392
    • Faustus is almost certainly a human being1
      • A special sort of animal
        • With a soul
      • Not "a spirit"
        • Not the way angels are
          • Fallen or otherwise
    • Redefining "human being" seems a bit beyond what any of the parties involved in this contract can do
      • Which may have been Marlowe's point
      • Actually, they could 'redefine' anything, the way I could say "the sky is plaid"
        • But it wouldn't change reality
    • That's pretty straightforward
    • Daft
      • But straightforward
    • Looks like Faustus wants to define what a "servant" is
      • Perhaps a tad vaguely
    • Pronoun trouble
      • "He" could refer to either
        • Faustus
        • Mephistopheles
    • Other than that, this is more of Faustus defining Mephistopheles' job duties
    • This could contradict the "invisible" rule in "Fourthly"
      • But that's the least of Faustus' problems
        • Of which he seems oblivious
        • "BODY AND SOUL"
        • "FLESH"
        • "BLOOD"
        • "OR GOODS"
    • I've discussed benefit/cost ratios before2
      • Basically, getting small gains and a huge cost is daft
    • Another straightforward bit
Remember, Doctor John Faustus is supposed to be an amazingly brilliant man. So, why does he wait until after finalizing the contract, to ask some pertinent questions?

Fairly Good Question, Lousy Timing

We've got laws in America, for some business transactions, protecting folks with more enthusiasm than sense. The idea is that someone might take a look at what a loan or insurance contract actually says: AFTER singing it.

Marlowe's Faustus might have had buyer's remorse at this point. If he had as much sense as he did ambition and curiosity:
"...MEPHIST. Speak, Faustus, do you deliver this as your deed?

"FAUSTUS. Ay, take it, and the devil give thee good on't!

"MEPHIST. Now, Faustus, ask what thou wilt.

"FAUSTUS. First will I question with thee about hell.
Tell me, where is the place that men call hell?...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Considering where he's agreed to spend eternity, Faustus would have been well-advised to get this information before signing off on that agreement.

The Brilliant Strategy of Doctor Faustus

Turns out, John Faustus thinks he's tricked Mephistopheles. Let's look at the shrewd academician's reasoning, after Mephistopheles describes Hell:
"FAUSTUS. Come, I think hell's a fable.

"MEPHIST. Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.

"FAUSTUS. Why, think'st thou, then, that Faustus shall be damn'd?

"MEPHIST. Ay, of necessity, for here's the scroll
Wherein thou hast given thy soul to Lucifer.

"FAUSTUS. Ay, and body too: but what of that?
Think'st thou that Faustus is so fond93 to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain?
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives' tales....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
That's brilliant reasoning, in a way, Since Faustus doesn't believe that:
  • "After this life, there is any pain"
  • "Trifles and mere old wives' tales" should be taken seriously
Mephistopheles points out what seems to be a flaw in Faustus' view: Faustus is talking to a demon from Hell. The learned doctor may be too 'sophisticated' to let an awkward fact get in the way of his preferences.3

It does seem that Faustus doesn't quite realize who and what he's doing business with.

Hell, Satan, and Long-Term Planning

America's 'fire and brimstone' preachers were famous for painting vivid word-pictures of Satan's realm. "Infamous" might be a better word. I think many of them meant well, believed what they said, and thought people had to be scared silly if they were going to repent.

Repentance is a good idea. Scared silly? Not so much. My opinion.

Drawing on pretty much the same traditions, movies have shown entertainingly spectacular versions of Hell. Plus a few that make it look like an unusually tidy corporation. And that's another topic. Topics.

Witticisms about the "disagreeable people" in Heaven making Hell look acceptable notwithstanding: An eternity in Hell isn't the equivalent of having a vacation home overlooking Kilauea Volcano, with A-list celebrities and brilliant conversationalists for neighbors.

Getting Back to Hell

Come to think of it, Faustus asked Mephistopheles about Hell before.4 Maybe he didn't like the answer he got.

Picking up the dialog with Faustus' question:
"...FAUSTUS. First will I question with thee about hell.
Tell me, where is the place that men call hell?

"MEPHIST. Under the heavens.

"FAUSTUS. Ay, but whereabout?

"MEPHIST. Within the bowels of these90 elements,
Where we are tortur'd and remain for ever:
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there91 must we ever be:
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that are92 not heaven....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
"THESE elements?? Elizabethan English is pretty close to the language we speak today, but if Marlowe was writing this today, he'd have used "the" instead of "these." At least that's what footnote 25 says.

Mephistopheles: Remarkably Accurate

As he did before, Mephistopheles' description of Hell isn't all that far from what the Catholic Church says about the place.

Mephistopheles also gave Faustus more than he'd asked for, explaining that at the end, all creation would be either Heaven or Hell. Again, Marlowe has Mephistopheles repeating rather ordinary Catholic doctrine.5 Which doesn't prove that:
  • Marlowe was a closet Catholic
  • The Catholic Church is a Satanic plot
  • The first Queen Elizabeth was really Shakespeare
    • Sir Francis Bacon was a cover story to hide the fact
Say! I might have the start of a new angle for literary conspiracy theories here. Never mind.

Hell: Knowing the Enemy

I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to believe a few things about Hell and Satan. My focus is on God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: but I think it's prudent to know a little about the enemy. That's 'know' about, not 'obsess' about. For me, it's a little like studying a map to see where the quicksand is.

I've put a summary under "Background," toward the end of this post. Here's a summary of that summary:
  • Satan
    • Opposes God
    • Brought sin into the world
      • And death
      • Catechism, 2852
  • Hell
    • Really exists
    • Is the post-judgment option for those who refuse to love God
      • (My take on Catechism, 1033)
    • "God predestines no one to go to hell...."
    • Catholic teaching about Hell is
      • Not a threat
      • A warning
Remember: I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog." That's why the links are there.

'Where's the Brimstone?'

My experience with the Catholic Church, before and after my conversion, hasn't included a Catholic analog to the old-school 'fire and brimstone' preacher. The occasional homily points out that Satan's retirement plan is unacceptable, but we're more focused on God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: not a rogue angel.
"The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion...."
(Catechism, 1036)
That's pretty dry stuff. Particularly compared to folks like my imaginary 'Bombastic Bob, Preacher of the First Hallelulia Church of Snort-and-Stomp.' Little wonder, I think, that so many folks seem to believe that Christians in general are obsessed by some gigantic dude in red tights, living in a geologically-impossible flaming cavern at the center of Earth.

As I've said before: It's the colorful, noisy, ones who get noticed.

More posts in this series:Other related posts:
  • Satan
    • Opposes God
    • Brought sin into the world
      • And death
      • Catechism, 2852
    • "A murderer from the beginning"
    • Has been defeated
    • And fallen angels
  • Hell
    • Really exists
    • Is
      • The post-judgment option for those who refuse to love God
        • (My take on Catechism, 1033)
      • A "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God "
      • "...'The unquenchable fire' reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost..."
    • "God predestines no one to go to hell...."
    • Catholic teaching about Hell is
      • Not a threat
      • A warning
        • "The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion...."
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

1 The Chorus doesn't waste much time, in the opening of "...Faustus," saying that the title character was "...born, his parents base of stock, In Germany...." England and Germany haven't always been on the best of terms, but my guess is that Marlowe's Elizabethan audience recognized Germans as human beings. Even if they weren't English.

2 Let's see: 24 years of getting help being a big shot, balanced against an eternity of Hell? Doctor Faustus seems to have no business sense. At all:
3 'Sophisticated' ideas about Hell have been around for a few centuries, at least. That's part of what the first post in this series was about:
4 For whatever reason, Marlowe's Mephistopheles gave Faustus quite a bit of information about Hell: 5 'Not sure' isn't one of the options for allegiance at our final performance review:

No comments:

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

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.