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The Damnation of Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s Tragical History of Dr. Faustus
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1 The Damnation of Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s Tragical History “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ,”1 warned Paul. Faustus, “[e]xcelling all whose sweet delight disputes/ In th’ heavenly matters of theology,”2 refused to heed the warning, choosing “curséd necromancy… before his chiefest bliss.”3 Pursuing vanity,4 he consistently chose to do evil despite his obviously ensuing damnation. Throughout the play he declines to his necessary end in “that vast perpetual torture-house/ [Where] are the furies, tossing damnéd souls/ On burning forks, their bodies boil[ing] in lead.”5 Faustus, in his first speech, asks the same question Solomon did thousands of years ago: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” He follows the son of David to the same conclusion: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”6 Since “[T]o dispute is logic’s chiefest end… [and the] universal body of the law/ [Is] / [N]othing but external trash… [and since physic leaves] Faustus [yet] a man/ [Unable] to make men to live eternally/ Or, being dead, raise them to life again… divinity is best.”7 There is nothing “under the sun” that has any lasting meaning— “the fashion of this world passeth away.”8 Coming to this realization, Faustus resolves to look to the One that can raise 1Colossians 2:8 2Faustus, Act 1, Prologue, lines 18-19 3Ibid., lines 25-27 4Ecclesiastes 1:1, etc. 5Faustus, 5:2:113-114 (Act 5, Scene 2, lines 113-114) 6Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 71:1:8,33-35, 23-25,37 81 Corinthians 7:31 2 the dead to life again, and begins to read his Bible. He discovers the first part of the gospel; “If we say that we have no sin/ We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us,”9 that is, “ There is none righteous, no, not one… For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”10 He further reads that “The reward of sin is death.”11 This is his high point in the play; having recognized that he deserves eternal death and cannot save himself, all he needed to do was call on Christ to receive his imputed righteousness. However, instead of following the example of much of his Protestant audience and discovering that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,”12 Faustus abandons righteousness altogether. He simply needed to finish the verse he quoted: “…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”13 Instead, declaring “Divinity, adieu!”14 he turns to the occult, seeking “a world of profit and delight/ Of power, of honor, of omnipotence…”15 Although the “studious artisan,” like the physician, cannot “make men live eternally/ Or, being dead, raise them to life again,”16 he forgets that control over “Emperors and kings… the wind or  the clouds,” and “dominion that/… Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man,”17 is vanity. His attempts to “gain a deity” lead inevitably to Hell, for “Stipendium peccati mors est,”18 as the Bible he had just been reading declares. Having made the decision to turn from God to the occult, Faustus has already begun his decline— he has chosen the temporal over the eternal19 and jeopardized his soul. Before the appearance of either magicians or devils, “[d]ivinity is best” has become “[d]ivinity is 91:1:41-42 10Romans 3:10,23 111:1:40 12Romans 4:5 13Romans 6:23b (Faustus quotes Romans 6:23a at 1:1:39) 141:1:48 151:1:53-54 161:1:24-25 171:1:57-61 181:1:39, Romans 6:23a 19Romans 1 3 basest… unpleasant, harsh, contemptible and vile,”20 while magic, abominable in the sight of God, has taken its place. He hopes for the things of the world, thinking that his “books, [his] wit, and [his] experience/ Shall make all nations to canonize [him].”21 Unfortunately for Faustus, Protestants don’t canonize, Roman priests end up cursing him, and the one who “ma[kes] war with the saints… [to whom] power was given  over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations”22 treats his servants very badly. Despite his warnings, Faustus determines “This night I’ll conjure though I die therefore.”23 His later declaration that “wicked Mephistophilis… has deprived [him] of [Heaven’s] joys” rings hollow, for, as the devil declares, “’Twas thine own seeking, Faustus, thank thyself.”24 After conjuring up Mephistopheles, having “rack[ed] the name of God/ Abjure[d] the Scriptures and his Saviour Christ,”25 Faustus declares “[t]his word ‘damnation’ terrifies not me/ For I confound hell in Elysium”26— a rather difficult position for one whose prayer to the “prince of hell,”27 non-existent in classical mythology, has just called up a frightful looking dragon. When Mephistophilis, a devil straight from hell, assures him of the existence of everlasting torment and abjures him to “leave these frivolous demands/ Which strike a terror to my fainting soul[,]”28 Faustus’ illogic is clear. When he “surrenders up to [the devil] his soul/ So he will spare him four and twenty years,/ Letting him live in all voluptuousness,/ Having [Mephistophilis] ever to attend on [him]/… And always be obedient to [his] will,”29 utterly unable to confound hell in Elysium, he abandons eternity for “four and twenty years” of meaninglessness. “[W]hile [magicians and devils] promise [him] liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: 201:1:37,109-110 211:1:120-122 22Revelation 13:7 231:1:167 242:2:2-4 251:3:50-51 261:3:61-62 271:3:57 281:3:86 291:3:94-101 4 for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.”30 The “pliant  Mephistophilis,/ Full of obedience and humility”31 will soon threaten to rend Faustus in pieces for considering repentance. Already the necromancy Faustus has bought for so high a price displays its vanity, for Mephistophilis appeared “now hither of [his] own accord… in hope to get [Faustus’] glorious soul,”32 not because of the “force of magic and [his] spells.”33 Wagner’s domination of the Clown in Scene 4 parallels Faustus’ enslavement to Satan; the Clown takes Wagner’s pay,34 is unable to return it,35 and finally rejoices in the ability to abandon his form in image of God36 for vanity as “a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or a rat.”37 Faustus contemplates repentance as Act 2 begins,38 but he cannot leave Belzebub; he turns again from “heaven and heavenly things” to wealth.39 True “illusions, fruits of lunacy” are not in the service of God, as the bad angel declares,40 but lie in hopes like “[w]hen Mephistophilis shall stand by me/ What power can hurt me? Faustus, thou art safe…”41 Rather, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”42 While the devil grants vanity in return for Faustus’ soul, God who “spared not his own Son…freely give[s] all things”43 to those who trust him. Faustus’ choices “liken [him] unto a foolish man, which build his house upon the sand” rather than on Christ. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”44 302 Peter 2:19 311:3:30-31 321:3:46,52 331:3:33 341:4:25-26 351:4:27-35 36Genesis 1:26-27 371:4:42 382:1:8-9 392:1:21-23 402:1:20-21 412:1:24-25 42Romans 8:31 43Romans 8:32 44Matthew 7:24-27 5 Instead of turning away from sin, Faustus falls further into it— despite the fact that he’s told “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.”45 His actions display the irrationality of sin. He alienates God, “by [whom] all things consist”46 and without whose continual mercy he would perish instantaneously. The devil plainly tells him that he shall go to Hell, and Satan only wants company for his misery. His blood congeals in a futile attempt to prevent his signing away his soul. Even his arm writes “Homo, fuge!”47 on itself. Faustus “see[s] it plain… [y]et shall not Faustus fly.”48 Choosing temporal vanity over meaningful eternity damns him. He is impressed when Mephistophilis brings in devils, who can give crowns and rich apparel to Faustus and dance. Asking “What means this show?” he is told it means “Nothing”— the value of all “magic” and “delight of the mind.”49 The rest of the play unravels the sinful vanity Faustus has purchased for his soul. Greater torments in Hell and utter meaninglessness in life are the “greater things than these”50 Faustus receives in return for his confession of Lucifer as lord. In contrast, Christ grants “[Heavenly] life, and [temporal life] more abundantly,”51 the “greater things than these”52 Nathanael received after confessing Jesus as Lord at the beginning of their years together. Mephistophilis quickly changes the subject, offering Faustus women to slake his lust for flesh, books to slake his lust for knowledge, and some power over the elements53 after he is forced to acknowledge his inability to infringe on God’s sovereignty.54 Faustus affirms his decision not to repent,55 “sweet pleasure conquer[ing] deep 452:1:42 46Colossians 1:17 472:1:77,81 482:1:80-81 492:1:83-87 502:1:88 51John 10:10 52John 1:50 532:1:151-175 54“I prithee, Faustus, talk not of a wife.” (2:1:144) 552:2:17,32 6 despair,”56 since he has “made blind Homer sing to [him]/ Of Alexander’s love and Oenon’s death,/ And  he that build the walls of Thebes/ With ravishing sound of his melodious harp” made music for him.57 But since Faustus has chosen Hell for only a short period of time, he seeks noble and scholarly, though secular, pursuits. This lead him to a confrontation with natural revelation, threatening Satan’s grip when he cries “Think, Faustus, upon God that made the world!… go accurséd spirit, to ugly hell… O Christ, my Saviour! my Saviour!/ Help to save distresséd Faustus’ soul.”58 Mephistophilis has to leave while Faustus calls upon God. Only when he is finished can he return, bringing Lucifer and Belzebub with him— and even these arch-demons cannot “fetch his soul.”59 They can only beg Faustus to think no more on God. Illogically falling again, Faustus obliges them. With an abrupt about-face he tells the demons he will not think of God “henceforth. Pardon me in this,/ And Faustus vows never to look to heaven,/ Never to name God or pray to him,/ To burn his Scriptures, slay his ministers,/ And make my spirits pull his churches down.”60 Had he reversed his vow, declaring to do the same things to Satan’s minions, he would have “show[ed] himself an obedient servant, [who would be] highly gratified  for it.”61 Instead, Faustus falls even farther into the Pit with his new oath. As he forsook divinity for high secular pursuits, he now begins to abandon worthy secular work for the fruit of the Seven Deadly Sins. He “[t]alks not of Paradise or Creation,”62 nor engages in further scholarly disputation. His pursuit of selfish experience and self-gratification parallels Robin’s switch after stealing one of Faustus’ conjuring books from honest work as a hostler at an inn to drinking “white wine, red wine, claret wine, sack, muscdine, malmesey, and wippincrust, hold-belly-hold, and  not pay[ing] one penny for it”63 at a tavern. 562:2:25 572:2:26-29 582:2:35-85 592:2:91 602:2:97-101 612:2:102-103 622:2:109-110 632:3:26-29 7 Having traveled “within the compass of eight days/ [Over] the face of heaven, of earth, [and] of hell/ So high [the] dragons soar[ing] into the air/ That, looking down, the earth appeared to [be]/ No bigger than [a] hand in quantity,”64 Faustus descended from “view[ing] the kingdoms of the world”65 to “cross the Pope/ Or dash the pride of this solemnity,/ To make his monks and abbots stand like apes/ And point like antics at his triple crown,/ To beat the beads about the friars’ pates/ Or clap huge horns upon the cardinals’ heads,/ Or any villainy [he could] devise.”66 Rather than seeking discoveries in the arts or sciences, Faustus pursues schoolboy pranks, snatching the Pope’s meat and boxing him on the ear,67 making Friars fall asleep, and creating other nuisances. Furthermore, rescuing Bruno sows the seed for new religious warfare to blacken the name of Christ. Marlowe’s English audience would recognize the Pope as an antichrist, leader of the evil world system of Babylon the Great,68 and Faustus uses Biblical imagery to enforce that link. From his seat atop seven hills,69 the Pope passes judgment as “gods,”70 do, as “that man of sin… the son of perdition… [who] as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”71 He claims the power to “Depose… regal government,”72 while in Revelation the “woman… [is] that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”73 While Mephistophilis fears to mention God and strives to keep him from Faustus’ mind, he has no qualms placing his companion in the Pope’s “privy chamber,”74 and God’s power over the devil contrasts with the pontiff’s inability to curtail anyone with his frantic genuflecting. However, Bruno does not come from God either since Popery was evil 643:1:70-73 653:1:74 663:1:81-87 673:2:70-91 68Revelation 17:5 693:1:33, Revelation 17:9 703:1:99 712 Thessalonians 2:3-4 723:1:144 73Revelation 17:18. 743:1:28 8 no matter who practiced it, and Faustus’ service to him is service to the world75— like Robin and Dick, the Pontiff and Bruno are “an ape… [and] a dog.”76 Bruno was “upon the devil’s back late enough,/ And if he be so far in love with him/ [He might as well] post home to Rome with him again.”77 Having finished examining “rarest things and royal courts of kings,”78 Faustus takes up residence as court conjurer for the German monarch, summoning up “Great Alexander and his paramour”79 for entertainment during his next phase of decline. With scholarly pursuits finished, Faustus uses the ability he deeded his soul for to put horns on Benvolio80 and command devils to “hurl [a man] in some lake of mud and dirt;/ Take [an]other [and] drag him through the woods/ Amongst the prickling thorns and sharpest briars,/ Whilst with  gentle Mephistophilis/ [A third] flies unto some steepy rock/ That rolling down may break the villain’s bones.”81 Alternatively, he spends his time cozening carters of hay.82 Absorbed with his power, Faustus has become a master magician and therefore degenerated so far that he whiles away his exceedingly short years with utter vanity. Paul instructed his “beloved brethren [to] be  stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”83 Since stipendium peccati mors est,84 the longer Faustus persists in rebellion the further he sinks into triviality. Having reconciled himself to his role as “a consulter with 75 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17) 763:3:43-45 774:1:35-37 784:2, Prologue 794:1:29 804:2:53,70-76 814:3:85-90 824:6:20-27 831 Corinthians 15:58 841:1:39 (Romans 6:23a) 9 familiar spirits,  a wizard,  a necromancer… an abomination unto the LORD,”85 he happily continues to work out his damnation and exults in his coming “alive again” after losing his head. In contrast with the resurrection Christ offers to eternal life in Heaven,86 which Faustus coveted before he turned to wizardry, his magical return to life is “limited/ For four and twenty years to breathe on earth,”87 a prelude to eternity in the lake of fire. When Faustus leaves the Emperor for the court of the Duke, his actions have fallen to the level of the clowns he toys with and strikes dumb. The disputing, physic, and law he mastered in his earlier studies88 have come to naught because he abandoned the foundation of divinity, and “all is vanity… under the sun.”89 The Duke describes Faustus like a jester: “His artful sport drives all sad thought away.”90 Without the “sure foundation”91 of Christ, Faustus is like the magic horse which “vanished away… [becoming] a bottle of hay.”92 The Christian can know that Christ’s righteousness covers his sins forever,93 but Faustus can silence his accuser’s charges, driving them into exile94 or making them dumb,95 for a mere four and twenty years; then “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.”96 As Faustus’ days draw to their close, Wagner declares “I think my master means to die shortly… And yet I wonder, for if death were nigh/ He would not banquet and carouse and swill/ Among the students as even now he doth,/ Who are at supper with such belly-cheer/ As Wagner ne’er beheld in all his life.”97 Faustus’ dominion indeed 85Deuteronomy 18:11-12 861:1:25-26 874:3:70-71 881:1:1-37 89Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 904:7:114 91Isaiah 28:16, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:6 924:6:38-39 93Romans 3:25, 1 John 5:13, John 5:24 944:4:11-28 954:7:101-109 96Luke 12:2 975:1:1-9 10 “Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man.”98— for man can neither save himself nor make anything he does worthwhile. His intellect, formerly pursuing science, physic, and law within the framework of divinity,99 has now debased itself to slothful gluttony and lust, the final Deadly Sins.100 The transient knowledge and political power he sought have passed even before his four and twenty years, and he resides again in the university chambers he sold his soul to surpass. In this desperate situation, with death approaching, an old man councils Faustus to “leave this damnéd art,/ This magic, that will charm thy soul to hell/ And quite bereave thee of salvation… Yet, yet thou hast an amiable soul/ If sin by custom grow not into nature;/ Then, Faustus, will repentance come too late;/ Then art thou banished from the sight of heaven.”101 The man tells him “an angel hovers o’er thy head/ And with a vial full of precious grace/ Offers to pour the same into thy soul:/ Then call for mercy and avoid despair.”102 However, Faustus is like them in whom “is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For… [thine] ears are dull of hearing, and [thine] eyes [ye] have closed; lest at any time [ye] should see with [thine] eyes and hear with [thine] ears, and should understand with [thine] heart, and should be converted, and [Christ] should heal [ye].”103 Having submitted to Satan for so long, when the “pliant  Mephistophilis,/ Full of obedience and humility”104 snarls “Revolt [against God], or I’ll in piecemeal tear thy flesh,”105 Faustus meekly replies: “I do repent I e’er offended him./ Sweet Mephistophilis, entreat thy lord/ To pardon my unjust presumption.”106 Unfortunately, asking Mephistophilis to forgive presumption rather than the good angel, Faustus must pay with his 981:1:61 991:1:37 1002:2:104-161 1015:1:36-44 1025:1:59-62 103Matthew 13:14-15 1041:3:31-32 1055:1:75 1065:1:76-78 11 “blood…/ [For] [t]he former vow [he] made to Lucifer.”107 For the final time he leaves off calling God and His people and works “sweet friend[s]”108 to telling Mephistophilis, “Torment, sweet friend, that base and aged man/ That durst dissuade me from thy Lucifer…”109 Faustus has made his final choice for sin, asking his “good servant” to “glut the longing of my heart’s desire… [Give me] [t]hat heavenly Helen which I saw of late,/ Whose sweet embracings may extinguish clear/ These thoughts that do dissuade me from my vow… to Lucifer.”110 When Faustus asks a phantom to “make [him] immortal with a kiss,” having lost any desire for a wife and the God necessary to make one,111 his demonic paramour “suck[s] forth [his] soul”112 and he tells his vain, rotted apparition that “thou art fairer than the evening air/ Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars.”113 Had he taken the old man’s advice, he would have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ’s payment for sin and might have told the Bridegroom at the Lamb’s marriage supper that114 “[t]hou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.”115 “[W]hen lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”116 Faustus followed sin to Hell. Unable to find faith, in his last hours the “Fond worldling[’s] heartblood dries with grief,/ His conscience kills it, and his laboring brain/ Begets a world of idle fantasies/ To overreach the devil, but all in vain.”117 Belzebub and Lucifer come up to watch the final stages of Faustus’ “demean[ing] himself”118 into damnation. “[F]or the vain pleasure of four and twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and 1075:1:79-80 1085:1:64 1095:1:82-83 1105:1:88-94 1112:1:140-150 1125:1:100 1135:1:110-117 114Revelation 19, Matthew 22:1-14 115Psalm 45:2 116James 1:15 1175:2:10-15 1185:2:10 12 felicity,”119 and desperately now, when it is too late, he sees the blood of Christ120 and discovers the answer to the problem of the sinful nature Jerome’s Bible uncovered in his study121 twenty-four years before: “God hath set forth [Jesus] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins… that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”122 But now Faustus, unable to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved,123 must helplessly “name [his] Christ/ [And] call on him—  [S]pare me, Lucifer!”124 Before Faustus told Mephistophilis he would “confound hell in Elysium,”125 but now he groans “Ah, Pythagoras’ metempsychosis— were that true[!]”126 and devils carry him off, crying “[A]h, Mephistophilis!”127 Faustus discovers that secular work is vanity and concludes that “divinity is best,”128 yet he irrationally sells his soul to the devil for temporal benefits. The consequences of his rebellion unfold over the course of the play. “Professing [himself] to be wise, [he] became [a] fool… God gave [him] over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient… knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, [he] not only [did] the same, but [had] pleasure in them that do them.”129 Faustus’ debasement grew greater over time as he abode in death. At first, pursuing noble scholarly pursuits, natural revelation almost drove him to Christ, but his repression of repentance led him to rejoice in the seven deadly sins, and science, art, and power, all the justifications he gave for selling his soul, crumbled away. Finally, utterly enslaved to sin, devils led him off to perish in hell fire, and Marlowe’s chorus 1195:2:60-62 1205:2:141-142 1211:1:38-47 122Romans 3:25-26 123Romans 10:9-13, Ephesians 2:8-9 1245:2:143-144 1251:3:62 1265:2:169 1275:2:185 1281:1:37 129Romans 1:22,28,32 13 concludes The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by reminding the audience that “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”130 130Galatians 6:7
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