Monday, January 9, 2012

Marolwe's Faustus: Waffling His Way to Hell

More posts about Marlowe's
"The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus"

"Waffling his way to Hell?" No, I'm not implying that waffles are satanic. Marlowe's Faustus is annoyingly indecisive, and I figured that "waffling" sounded better than something like "vacillating." Definition time:
  • Waffle
    • (Noun) Pancake batter baked in a waffle iron
    • (Verb) Pause or hold back in uncertainty or unwillingness
    (Princeton's WordNet)
Moving on.

This is my last post about Marlowe's "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus," at least for a while. I wrapped up last week's post where Faustus asked Mephistopheles for another look at Helen of Troy. Or a reasonable facsimile thereof, anyway.

I'm not quite sure what Christopher Marlowe had in mind with Doctor John Faustus and Helen of Troy. Seen through contemporary eyes, Doctor Faustus seems to have finally gone stark, raving, mad.

On the other hand, this is Elizabethan England, when tales of gallant knights and fair damsels were part of the daily culture. Four hundred years from now, folks may wonder what some of the 20th century's more earnestly 'relevant' movies were about. I've posted about that, a little, in another blog:Time to wade back into "...Faustus."

Faustus, Helen, and Getting a Grip

"...FAUSTUS. Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless163 towers of Ilium-
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.-
[Kisses her.]
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
As I've said before, English has changed a bit over the centuries. Back in Marlowe's day, "topless" didn't mean what it does in today's America:
"[ topless— i.e. not exceeded in height by any.] "
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Footnote 163)
Anyway, Faustus goes on - and on - about Helena. This sort of thing must have been much more popular in Elizabethan England, and I've posted about "... the great Faustian helicopter chase " before.

This excerpt should be enough to indicate what sort of speech Faustus delivered:
"...I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;...

"...Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
After that oration, OLD MAN has a comparatively short speech:
"...OLD MAN. Accursed Faustus, miserable man,
That from thy soul exclud'st the grace of heaven,
And fly'st the throne of his tribunal-seat!

"Enter DEVILS.

"Satan begins to sift me with his pride:
As in this furnace God shall try my faith,
My faith, vile hell, shall triumph over thee.
Ambitious fiends, see how the heavens smile
At your repulse, and laugh your state to scorn!
Hence, hell! for hence I fly unto my God.
[Exeunt,-on one side, DEVILS, on the other, OLD MAN.]
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")

Despair: A Really Bad Idea

The academic buddies of Faustus have some pretty good advice for the daft doctor:
"...SECOND SCHOLAR. Yet, Faustus, look up to heaven; remember God's
mercies are infinite....

"...THIRD SCHOLAR. Yet, Faustus, call on God...."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Here's part of what Faustus said after SECOND SCHOLAR cited God's infinite mercies:
"...FAUSTUS. But Faustus' offence can ne'er be pardoned: the serpent
that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
There's more in that speech, about the "wonders" Faustus says he performed: Which seem to have consisted primarily of pranking the Pope and putting on a floor show for the German Emperor.

Marlowe probably wasn't a closet Catholic: but his play has more Catholic ideas in it than many Elizabethan citizens may have realized. What Faustus is displaying here is despair.

Despair or presumption are what happens when we abandon a reasoned view of hope. Time for more definitions:
"HOPE: The theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it (1817).

"DESPAIR: The abandonment of hope in salvation and the forgiveness of sins (2091).

"PRESUMPTION: An act or attitude opposed to the theological virtue of hope. Presumption can take the form of trust in self without recognizing that salvation comes from God, or of an over-confidence in divine mercy (2092)."
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
I've put a little more about hope, despair, and presumption, under "Background," near the end of this post.

Words, Prayer, and a Decision

The scholars offer to pray for Faustus. What Faustus says next is a curious mix:
"...FAUSTUS. Ay, pray for me, pray for me; and what noise soever
ye hear,171 come not unto me, for nothing can rescue me.

"SECOND SCHOLAR. Pray thou, and we will pray that God may have
mercy upon thee....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
"...Ay, pray for me..." might seem like a plea for help: but the sentence ends with "...for nothing can rescue me...." Like I said, Faustus seems to have chosen despair. Granted, he's under a great deal of stress, and I've been over that before, too. (December 26, 2011)

After a short exchange, the actor playing Faustus gets one of those long Elizabethan-style soliloquies. It runs over 460 words, not counting stage directions. It's a remarkable piece of oratory, but I'll just give the high (low?) points.

Faustus: Firmly Indecisive to the End

What strikes me most in this soliloquy is the Faust's steadfast indecision. He bemoans his fate, then says in quick succession:
  • "I'll leap up to my God"
  • "Ah, my Christ"
  • "O, spare me, Lucifer"
'Two out of three' isn't going to cut it in this case. Later Faustus tries to bargain with God ("Impose some end to my incessant pain"), wishes he was an animal, and curses:
  • His parents
  • Himself
  • Lucifer
This does not sound like a man who seriously wants to receive mercy. Not to me, anyway. Here's an excerpt:
"...FAUSTUS. Ah, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn'd perpetually!
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come...

"...The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
O, I'll leap up to my God!-Who pulls me down?-
See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!-
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!
Yet will I call on him: O, spare me, Lucifer!-...

"...Ah, half the hour is past! 'twill all be past anon
O God,
If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
Yet for Christ's sake, whose blood hath ransom'd me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain...

"...Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd
Unto some brutish beast!174 all beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements;
But mine must live still to be plagu'd in hell.
Curs'd be the parents that engender'd me!
No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer
That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven.
[The clock strikes twelve.]
O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Now Marlowe invokes some of the special effects available in Elizabethan theaters. I'm pretty sure it wasn't up to the standard we're used to in movies like "Spawn," but it's still good theater:
"...[Thunder and lightning.]
O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!

"Enter DEVILS.

"My God, my god, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
I'll burn my books!—Ah, Mephistophilis!
[Exeunt DEVILS with FAUSTUS.] 175...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Good theater isn't necessarily good theology. As far as I can tell, nobody's dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven. Or Hell. Refusing Heaven is a choice. A daft one, but a choice:


I get the impression that some folks see "mercy" as saying "that's all right," no matter what. Which reminds me of the goofier excesses of the 'self esteem' fad, and that's another topic.

The Catholic Church has quite a bit to say about mercy: and justice. Including this:
" 'God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.'116 To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'117"
(Catechism, 1847)
"Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the 'virtue of religion.' Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. 'You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.'68 'Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.'69"
(Catechism, 1807)
CHORUS gets the last lines in "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus:
"...Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Four centuries later, some folks had taken the notion that some things are "more than heavenly power permits," and given it a Luddite twist. And that sort of 'if God had meant man to fly, He'd have given us wings' attitude is yet another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:Background:
"When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment.

"The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:

"By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice—for the Lord is faithful to his promises—and to his mercy.

"There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit)."
(Catechism, 2090-2092)
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

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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.