Monday, December 12, 2011

Marlowe's Faustus Meets the Emperor

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

Cursing God for Fun and Profit

I left Marlowe's "...Faustus" where a petulant Pope called in friars to curse the 'ghost' who had pranked him. While they were at it, friars cursed God, too: which may have played well on an Elizabethan stage, but is about as accurate as the Chick Publications version of reality:

(Chick Publications, via, used w/o permission)

It's likely enough that Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" was partly 'a play with a message.' Even so, I'm pretty sure that Christopher Marlowe had entertainment value in mind when he wrote it.

These days, we study aspects of Elizabethan theater as history and as cultural and artistic phenomena. That's appropriate, but England's Elizabethan period was as real and practical as our own.

Playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe had their 'serious' side. But I think it's a good idea to remember that their plays were the "Star Wars" and "Titanic" of their day.

It's also a little hard to shake the impression that Marlowe didn't mind showing the solidly anti-Catholic establishment of his day that he could dis the Pope as well as any Englishman.

Maybe Marlowe really believed that the Pope would have friars sing "maledicat Dominus." But as I've said before, if three hundred million people really believe in a stupid idea: it's still a stupid idea. Sincerity doesn't guarantee accuracy.

Words: Lots and Lots of Words

I'll skip over most of the next part of "...Faustus." Marlowe's CHORUS takes almost 130 words to say that Faustus visited Emperor Carolus the Fifth on his way home, and that his buddies missed him. Faust's buddies, that is.

CHORUS does have some good lines, though
"...Where such as bear his absence but with grief,
I mean his friends and near'st companions....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")

Comic Relief

I think the mildly bawdy banter of ROBIN the Ostler, RALPH, and VINTNER is comic relief.

Sure, I could get very serious about Robin using a conjuring book he filched from Faustus to summon Mephistopheles. But Mephistopheles popping in, setting squibs on their backs, and being peeved when the nitwit summons him - again? There's a serious side to dabbling in the demonic: but the scene reads like something out of "The Wrong Box."

One 'serious,' if frightfully obvious, observation: Robin's actions show how easy it is for folks to see the bait, but ignore the consequences, of succumbing to temptation.

The Emperor of Germany: Insufficiently British?

Right after Robin and company do their lowbrow hijinks, we get an English eyeful of what those European rulers are like. Maybe I'm being unfair, but Marlowe's German Emperor sounds a lot like un-American national leaders in some WWII-era movies.

And, as is the wont of characters in Elizabethan dramas, The German emperor delivers rather long speeches:
"...Enter EMPEROR,131 FAUSTUS, and a KNIGHT, with ATTENDANTS...."

"...EMPEROR. Then, Doctor Faustus, mark what I shall say.
As I was sometime solitary set

Within my closet, sundry thoughts arose
About the honour of mine ancestors,
How they had won133 by prowess such exploits,
Got such riches, subdu'd so many kingdoms,
As we that do succeed,134 or they that shall
Hereafter possess our throne, shall
(I fear me) ne'er attain to that degree
Of high renown and great authority:
Amongst which kings is Alexander the Great,
Chief spectacle of the world's pre-eminence,
The bright135 shining of whose glorious acts
Lightens the world with his reflecting beams,
As when I hear but motion made of him,
It grieves my soul I never saw the man:
If, therefore, thou, by cunning of thine art,
Canst raise this man from hollow vaults below,
Where lies entomb'd this famous conqueror,
And bring with him his beauteous paramour,
Both in their right shapes, gesture, and attire
They us'd to wear during their time of life,
Thou shalt both satisfy my just desire,
And give me cause to praise thee whilst I live....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Faustus arranges for the emperor to see Paris and his paramour, or a reasonable facsimile thereof; has Mephistopheles put horns on an unimpressed knight, then remove them; and generally seems determined to make friends with the emperor. This doesn't look much like the wannabe world ruler we saw earlier in the play. Maybe Faustus has some devious scheme in mind: or maybe he's just star-struck.

No Rant: Why?

I suppose I could launch a tirade about how awful Christopher Marlowe was, and how nobody should read his plays, and that everybody who isn't pretty much like me will go to Hell.

That's not gonna happen.

First, I've heard quite enough sanctimonious chauvinism. I don't like it, and don't think it makes sense. Besides, I don't want to sound like one of the sour saints I mentioned last week.

More importantly, I'm not supposed to judge others. (Romans 2:1-11 and Matthew 7:5)

I don't have to be stupid, either, and that's another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861)

Finally, top of the list, I'm supposed to love God, and love my neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31) I put a few more links about neighbors and all that under "Background," at the end of this post.

"Love" isn't "Approval," or "Agreement"

Loving God, loving my neighbors, and seeing everybody as my neighbor, doesn't mean that I have to pretend that theological nonsense is okay. Like I said, as a practicing Catholic, I don't have to be stupid. I've posted about love and approval before. And that's - you guessed it - another topic.

Other posts in this series:
Somewhat-related posts:Background:
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:


Brigid said...

Missing a word: "we study aspects Elizabethan theater"

I think an article might me appropriate here: "setting squibs on their backs"

Is there supposed to be a blank line before this? "From The Quarto of 1604, Christoper Marlowe, Edited by The Rev."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Aside from "squibs," fixed, and thanks. What's being used aren't any particular squibs - just 'squibs.' Good point, though.

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