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Marlowe and God: The Tragic Theology of Dr.

Faustus
Author(s): Robert Ornstein
Source: PMLA, Vol. 83, No. 5 (Oct., 1968), pp. 1378-1385
Published by: Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1261310
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MARLOWE AND GOD: THE TRAGIC THEOLOGY
OF DR. FAUSTUS
BY ROBERT ORNSTEIN

APART from Shakespearean drama, few action of Dr. Faustus as does the 1616 text,
Elizabethan plays have been so frequentlywhich is markedly superior only in the represen-
and thoroughly studied in recent decades as tation
Mar-of the comic sequences.3 To the main ac-
lowe's Dr. Faustus. Yet it remains as problem-tion as portrayed in the 1604 Quarto, the 1616
atical a work of art today as it was thirty Quarto
yearsadds only the puzzling Pope Bruno
ago. Interpretations based on the biographicalepisodes, and the pedestrian allegorical sequences
evidence of Marlowe's atheism are now in dis- and choruses of the last scenes, which seemed to
repute, because scholarly investigations of Greg out of character with the total artistic con-
Elizabethan thought and dramatic traditions ception of the play.4
would convince us of the orthodoxy of Marlowe's While bibliographical investigations have not
artistic theme and moral attitude. But if earlier solved the complex problems of Marlowe's text,
"biographical" studies of Dr. Faustus were par- much less the problems of interpreting Marlowe's
tial and unsatisfactory, they were at least inartistic intention, they have swept away some
touch with the poetic splendor of its lines and dubious assumptions which have muddled crit-
the metaphysical terror of its final scene. In more ical inquiry. For too long critics have talked
recent "corrective" studies the element of fire in about the text of Dr. Faustus as if it were a mas-
Marlowe's tragic thought is quite put out; onlysive ruin, when there is no real evidence that any
the ironies of Faustus' overreaching ambitions important scene has been lost or replaced by
and the choric homiletic pieties remain. hack comedy. The artistic jumble and anticlimax
Much more knowledgeable about Marlowe'sof the fourth act is a consequence, I think, not of
art and Elizabethan culture than were earlier textual corruption but of the fundamental in-
readers, we see Dr. Faustus differently. Indeed, capacities and limitations of Marlowe's imagina-
we study a text different from that used by tion. Lacking a sure instinct for dramatic de-
earlier scholars, who preferred the 1604 Quarto sign,5 he reproduces in Dr. Faustus the narrative
to the longer 1616 Quarto with its explicitly failings
and of the tragical history of Dr. Faustus as
harshly moralistic conclusion. We now know it is related in the Faustbook. In Marlowe's play,
from W. W. Greg's splendid researches that the as in his source, the hero's defiant, blasphemous
1616 Quarto is a far more respectable (that is, lesschoice of black magic is a splendid beginning;
corrupted) dramatic text than is the 1604 his final moments of dread and despair are a
Quarto.' But before we accept the moralism of powerful conclusion. But between these two poles
the 1616 Quarto as a key to Marlowe's tragic in- of spiritual crisis, the history of Faustus lacks
tention, we must ask whether it represents a dramatic intensity and narrative substance; the
more authentic version of the Dr. Faustus which emphasis falls on the astonishing adventures in
Marlowe (and possibly a collaborator) originally sorcery, which can be far more easily talked
conceived. I am not alone in thinking that de- about than acted out, and which do not in them-
spite its flaws, cuts, and evident corruption, the selves sustain the essential drama of the hero's
1604 text is, as a whole, more powerful and progress toward damnation.
artistically compelling than is the 1616 text.2 In- Of course, Marlowe might have found alter-
deed, if the 1604 Quarto is, as Greg argues, a natives to the slapstick comedy from the Faust-
memorial reconstruction of a truncated and de- book which he incorporated in his fourth act. He
graded performance version of Marlowe's play,
then it is a uniquely remarkable one which re- 1 See the introduction to Greg's Marlowe's Doctor Faustus
produces the main plot with extraordinary ac- 1604-1616, Parallel Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950).
2 See, e.g., C. L. Barber, " 'The Form of Faustus' Fortunes
curacy, which restores more memorable and
Good or Bad', " Tulane Drama Review, vmII (1964), 93, n. 2.
unmistakably Marlovian passages than it omits, 3 The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, ed. Frederick S.
and which again and again either corrects errors Boas (London, 1932), p. 23.
in the 1616 text or offers more terse and vivid 4 Greg, Parallel Texts, pp. 230-232.
readings. Frederick S. Boas remarked (and Greg 5 One cannot attribute all the varied structural failings of
Marlowe's plays to textual corruption. Tamburlaine, Part I,
agrees) that the 1604 Quarto contributes as succeeds to the extent that it does despite a singular lack of
much to the presently accepted text of the main dramatic form.

1378

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Robert Ornstein 1379

might have created absorbing scenes of spiritual crown is no medicine for Tamburlaine's dying
discovery in which Faustus, increasingly aware fury, nor is it, even in Tamburlaine, Part I, an
of the futility of his bargain with the Devil, adequate object for Tamburlaine's essentially
turns with true longing toward salvation. Greatly metaphysical longings.6 Nothing merely earthly
portrayed, Faustus' spiritual struggles-his or merely human could be commensurate with
waverings between exhilaration and despon- Marlowe's passion for the heroic.
dency, stoic resolution and despair-might have We do not know how Marlowe's metaphysical
provided an essential core of psychological and longings struck his contemporaries. We do know
moral action between the first and last acts. But that his plays fascinated them, and we know
though Marlowe superbly portrays his hero what on they thought about Marlowe's blasphe-
the heights of aspiration and in the depths of mous life and death. We must necessarily dis-
despair, he does not trace the path which leads tinguish between Marlowe's life (as Elizabethans
Faustus from one spiritual extreme to the other.perhaps imagined it) and his art. But we cannot
Not interested in, or perhaps capable of, depict- assume that the two are completely unrelated.
ing psychological nuance and process, he allows We do not arrive at a more just and scholarly
the allegorical machinery of good and bad angels interpretation of Dr. Faustus by ignoring con-
to conventionalize and externalize Faustus' temporary opinions about Marlowe and by put-
spiritual struggles, even while he ekes out ting his
aside the ideas attributed to him by con-
fable with seriocomic episodes from his source. temporary accusers. Similarly we cannot argue
I do not mean to oversimplify either Marlowe's that the Baines note and the Arian disputation
failings or the artistic problems which he faced
said to be Marlowe's tell us nothing about the
in writing Dr. Faustus. Just as his hero seeks mindthewhich created Dr. Faustus, while we seek
unattainable, Marlowe attempts in art the im-to Marlowe's artistic intention in pedes-
the key
possible: namely, to translate into specific trianhu-plays which he probably never saw.7 No
man terms and effective theater his amorphous, doubt Marlowe's contemporaries exaggerated
rhapsodic idea of man's transcendent as poten-
well as distorted his heterodoxy. Vehement
tialities. His inability to fashion appropriate accusations of atheism were notoriously casual
artistic correlatives for his metaphysicaland vision
inaccurate in the Renaissance, and Marlowe
is perhaps more apparent to us than it was was theto kind of man who incited other men's
"credulous" Elizabethans, who, we say, wereand enmity. But while the evidence of
malice
awed by a few squibs, or by flights of his poetic
"atheism" is circumstantial (and the cir-
fancy and seriocomic sorceries. But perhaps even
cumstances themselves are doubtful), one is
on the Elizabethan stage, the scenes of Faustus' nevertheless struck by the correspondence and
magical arts did not seem magical enough, be-
consistency of the accusations made against Mar-
cause several of them are omitted from the lowe by Kyd, Baines, and others.8 We must
briefer 1604 Quarto. wonder, furthermore, whether the legend of
Even clothed in the conventionalities of the Marlowe's atheism could have flourished well
Faustbook, Marlowe's fascination with the super-
into the seventeenth century, if Dr. Faustus, his
natural is very much the expression of a unique
one play that held the Jacobean stage and read-
temperament. The elements of the supernatural
ing public, had seemed as obviously orthodox to
in other Elizabethan plays are merely literary,
viewers then as it does to scholars today.
drawn from folklore and popular superstition, This is not to say that the scurrilities of the
and allied to the fantasy of dreams rather than
Baines note or the Arian arguments of the
the speculations of philosophy. For Marlowe,
however, the dream of transcendent or super- 6 See Una Ellis-Fermor's acute discussion of poetry and
natural power has momentous intellectual se- idea in Tamburlaine in Christopher Marlowe (London, 1927),
riousness; it is his unique "philosophical" con-
pp. 27 ff.
tribution to the Renaissance theorizing about7Plays such as Nathaniel Woodes's Conflict of Conscience.
power which in Machiavelli and Bacon takes a8 Kyd's apology and the fragments of the Arian disputation
he said belonged to Marlowe are reprinted in F. S. Boas,
more purely pragmatic form. It is revealing that
The Works of Thomas Kyd (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901),
Marlowe, who established the Machiavellian pp. cx-cxiii. Kyd's accusations against Marlowe and Richard
hero-villain on the Elizabethan stage, could not Baines's note are reprinted by Paul Kocher in Christopher
fix his attention on the petty arena of politics Marlowe (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1946), pp. 25, 34-36. Kocher
argues very persuasively the consistency of atheistic ideas
or on the paltry goal of wealth and political attributed to Marlowe by various contemporaries (pp.
sovereignty. The sweet fruition of an earthly 27-32).

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1380 The Tragic Theology of "Dr. Faustus"

theological disputation correspond to the pro- which, shaken by the spectacle of tragic suffer-
founder vision of Dr. Faustus, which though ing, moralizes the error of tragic daring.
written in the last year of Marlowe's life, when To walk the path that the Chorus delineates,
he was publicly flaunting his heresies, seems far however, is not to be Faustus. For though the
less a manifesto of heroic defiance and aberrant Chorus speaks of the bough that might have
enthusiasms than do his earliest plays. Paulgrown straight, its metaphor of growth and ful-
Kocher would explain the apparent retreat fillment is earthbound and passive. The heroic
toward orthodoxy in Dr. Faustus as Marlowe'schoice is not between alternative paths of self-
fulfillment but between the self-destructiveness
instinctive shudder before the possibility of
hell.9 But this psychological conjecture ignores
of mighty strivings and the salvation that de-
mands self-abnegation and the denial of heroic
the insistent ironies of the play, which embody
Marlowe's lucid intellectual awareness of his aspiration. For inevitably man's attempts at
greatness must break against a universal order
hero's failings and failures. From the beginning,
mean sensual appetites intermingle with Faus- which is predicated on, and which demands,
tus' Promethean aspirations. From the begin- human obedience and denial. Thus Marlowe's
ning, he is too glutted with self-conceit to see do not cry out, like Hamlet and Lear,
heroes
that his mastery over Mephistophilis is mere ap- worlds out of ethical joint. Like figures
against
pearance and that he defies heavenly law only to
of Greek mythology, they hurl the gauntlets of
accept the bondage of hell. Hungering for im-will and ambition at whatever gods may be.
their
mortality, he trades his hope of salvationTheirfor defiances are Promethean, their flights of
twenty-four years of pleasure and profit, but
aspiration Icarian, their challenges Titanic. It is
even the terms of this ridiculous bargain are not
notenough for Tamburlaine to subdue the mon-
honored, because he never attains the powers orof the earth. Ultimately and inevitably he
archs
the knowledge which magic promised. Onmust the set his standards against the heavens."
We could more confidently speak of Dr.
stage, he is never more than a master of illusions,
pranks, and magic shows, who grows enamored
Faustus as a cosmic tragedy if its plot sustained
of his own shadows, and who parodies divine
the philosophical magnitude of the opening
omnipotence, even as in turn he is parodied by where fundamental questions are raised
scenes,
the silly clown.10 Aware at last that he cannot
about man's destiny. Unfortunately, however,
command the elemental forces of nature,
the he
great concluding scene seems to lack the
intellectual resonances of the first act. The
would lose himself in them; in ironic peripeteia,
his creative impulse becomes a passion forearlier
self- philosophical questioning of human lim-
annihilation. itations seems to have no bearing on the ultimate
The ironic lesson of Faustus' tragedy is clear drama of Faustus' spiritual anguish, which seems
enough, I suppose, but it is not clear to whom wholly personal, and emotional, and explicable
the lesson was addressed. Was it intended for by Christian doctrine. What Faustus has dared
the mass of Elizabethan theatergoers, who hador done seems now irrelevant, because, according
neither the intellectual capacity nor the daringto doctrine, he need only repent and have faith
to emulate Faustus' career and who would, if atto be saved. As an intellectual rebel, Faustus has
all, damn themselves in more conventional mythic significance. As a writhing sinner, he
ways? Similar to other men in his vanity, seems merely another example of religious de-
Faustus is extraordinary in his hubristic daring
and in his heroic willingness to embrace a dread- 9 Kocher, p. 119.
ful fate, though he first puts aside the thought 10 See my earlier essay, "The Comic Synthesis in Doctor
Faustu,," ELH, xxII (1955), 165-172.
of the inconceivable future and later cringes 1 Again and again the thought of man challenging or dis-
before his self-imposed destiny. From a pruden-placing the gods recurs in the first part of Tamburlaine,
tial viewpoint Faustus' choice of necromancy iscouched usually in allusions to Greek mythology. See, e.g.,
foolish as well as self-destructive. His thirst n.iii.18 ff.; ii.vi.1-8; n.vii.12-15; iv.iv.71-72; v.ii.387-390,
for the absolute ignores the alternative path of 447-448. It is revealing that the great apostrophe to man's
aspiring mind "still climbing after knowledge infinite" (II.vii.
caution and acceptance which is always open. 18 ff.) immediately follows a reference to Jove's deposition of
One can be saved like the Old Man, not doomed Saturn, king of the gods. In Part u Tamburlaine threatens
like Faustus, just as one can be an Ismene, not to turn his cavalieros against the heavens (I.iv.103-106)
an Antigone; a Horatio, not a Hamlet. The way when Zenocrate dies. And when he feels his fatal illness, he
of survival-of the mean-is announced and would "march against the powers of heaven" to "slaughter
the gods" (v.iii.48-50). All references to Marlowe's plays are
exemplified by the Chorus of Marlowe's play, to The Complete Plays, ed. Irving Ribner (New York, 1963).

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Robert Ornstein 1381

spair. To be sure, Faustus proclaims the unique- guard of Renaissance humanistic thought, then,
ness of his fate as one hounded by an unrelenting we should recognize that his bent of mind is more
God for having committed the unpardonable medieval than modern, and his response to ex-
sin of daring.'2 But scholars insist that Faustus perience is more antihumanistic than humanistic.
is mistaken; they would see him as the victim of Man as such does not delight him-nor woman
his own illusions, not as the sacrifice to a univer- either. His Zenocrate and Helen are incarna-
sal order hostile to human greatness. tions of poetic aspirations, not of feminine
Perhaps the desire to conventionalize the beauty. His recollections of Ovid, as in Faustus'
viewpoint of Dr. Faustus is an inevitable reac- dying speech, translate rhapsodic sensuality into
tion against earlier attempts to magnify Mar- metaphysical dread. We look in vain in his plays
lowe's importance as intellectual rebel and proph- for an appreciation of the enduring qualities of
et. Certainly there is a need to reexamine the the human spirit, or for those personal relation-
usual and familiar generalizations about Mar- ships which are treasured in the more genuinely
lowe and his age. But it is not easy to demy- humanistic art of his contemporaries. Indeed,
thologize a writer who was a legend in his own very near the surface of Marlowe's enthusiasms is
time and who serves modern scholars as an a desolate sense of the emptiness of much of ex-
exemplar of the restless questioning spirit of late istence; and at the heart of his "philosophy" is
Renaissance thought. A useful beginning might something that might be called "contempt for
be the recognition that there is little of the the world." He cannot rejoice in the human (much
"Faustian" as Goethe conceived it in Marlowe's less in human self-sufficiency) because he con-
Faustus, even as there is little that is modern or siders that which is merely human worthless.
scientific in Marlowe's thought. No compeer of The humanistic enthusiasms of the early Tam-
Bacon or Galileo, Marlowe's "philosophy" was burlaine are not to be found in Faustus' opening
felt, not argued; poetic, not intellectual. Em- speech,'3 which implies that man's condition is
piricism, naturalism, mathematical rationalism- merely pitiful; he lives like a criminal under the
the main currents of late Renaissance philosophic sentence of death, and his crime is inherent in
thought that converged in the scientific revolu- his humanity.
tions of the early seventeenth century-were Other Elizabethans felt the pang of mortality
alien to him. He could not insist on the standard
more immediately and sensuously. They knew
of rationalism when he yearned always for mys- that all must pass and that no ecstasy can make
teries that lay beyond human reason and ex- the stars stand still. But they also knew the pre-
perience-beyond the here and now of Renais- ciousness of youth, of beauty, and of love. For a
sance humanism. Thus where Bacon seeks the
despairing Faustus, however, the beauty of Helen
scientific knowledge that eradicates mysteries is no anodyne. There is no depth or intensity of
and enables man to control a world of natural
experience that compensates for mortality, no
"second causes," Marlowe's Faustus aspires to a accomplishment that does not seem ultimately
control of nature which is immediately mi- trivial. Because death is a metaphysical outrage
raculous and "divine." Where the modernity of
which annihilates the meaning of existence,
Renaissance humanism lay in its increasing con- Marlowe's heroes begin as lovers of the world
cern with the purely natural and human, Mar- they would remake-they would seize their
lowe was fascinated by the superhuman and by day-and end as nihilists. Other Elizabethan
the very metaphysical speculations which seemed
tragic heroes learn how to die and, in learning
to a Bacon and Montaigne barren and futile. this, rob death of its infinite terror. Their vic-
Despite a wide-ranging skepticism about re- tory is denied the Marlovian hero, who can never
ligious belief, he hungered for an altitude of accept the elemental facts of his humanity.
thought and experience. He brooded over the Renaissance humanists inherited the ancient
nature of the Diety, whose supreme authority saw that all philosophy is learning how to die.
and limitless power provide (in Tamburlaine as
For Marlowe, however, the crux of philosophy is
well as in Dr. Faustus) a measure of human po- why men must die. He knows the traditional
tentialities and limitations. His God is no tired
vaudevillian, as Sartre imagines; his heroes' 12 "But Faustus' offence can ne'er be pardoned. / The
blasphemy is not a denial of God but a challenge serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus"
to His supremacy. They do not deify mankind; (v.ii.41-42).
they would be gods. 13 Concluding his summary of his feats in medicine, Faustus
remarks, "Yet art thou still but Faustus and a man." And
Instead of placing Marlowe in the very van- to be but a man is of course to be subject to death.

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1382 The Tragic Theology of "Dr. Faustus"

justifications for the ways of God. He links aggrandizing: he dreams of pleasure and profit.
Faustus' rebellion to the original impulse to sin But if we say that at the start Faustus is ar-
in Lucifer and Adam, and he thinks on the cure rogant, vain, and guilty of the cardinal sin of
which Christ's sacrifice dearly bought. But he pride, then we have also to say that his "fall" is
will not, like Christian apologists, explain neither a simple moral degradation nor a con-
original sin as a collusion of feminine vanity and ventional seduction from conscience and belief.
masculine uxoriousness. In Dr. Faustus, as in Compare, for example, the pattern of his fate
Greek mythology, man's primal disobedience is with that of Macbeth, who before he succumbs
a Promethean impulse. It is the questioning to the temptation of power is at the height of his
mind, not unruly passions, that threatens the nobility.14 From the moment he decides to mur-
divinely established order. For with knowledge der Duncan, Macbeth's path is precipitously
enough man-even a sinner like Oedipus-could downward; his life becomes a darkening horror
become like the gods. of self-hatred and murderous acts. Faustus'
Not convinced of the beneficence of universal tragic career is more paradoxical, because even
order, the Greek mind could equate tragic hu- as his grand illusions fade and his intellectual
bris with nobility and altruism. It could imagine powers dissipate in petty shows and sensuality,
a fearful Zeus, who had usurped supreme power his moral awareness grows. By strict Christian
in the universe, denying man the gifts of civiliza- tenet, Faustus may be more innocent at the
tion which might threaten his own supremacy. beginning of the play than at the close; to an
Apologists for an omnipotent and loving Chris- audience, however, he is most arrogant, most
tian God could not imagine a Promethean kind contemptuous of other men, most scornful of
of disobedience. Since divine law is necessarily religion before he falls. His fall is a moral educa-
perfect, man's disobedience is necessarily vicious tion and discovery, during which he is human-
or absurd. The very desire to fathom supernal ized, not degraded. Though he speaks of his
mysteries becomes, in Christian apologetics, a hardened heart and would have the Old Man
symptom of man's spiritual malaise. The Old tormented, for misery loves company, he gains in
Testament answer to a Job is ad hominem in the damnation a humility, compassion, and sym-
largest sense: what right has man to question? pathy for fellow human beings which he did not
The argument of Paradise Lost is similarly ad before possess. Where Macbeth's fall increasingly
hominem. Milton does not rationalize the edict isolates him from other men, Faustus' fall is a
against tasting moral knowledge; he insists
means to communion with others. At the last he
rather that the edict is one which only the
is surrounded by men who would pray for him
and protect him from the Devil, but Faustus
egotistical, undisciplined, or self-conceited would
wish to overstep. In fact, the limitation seems will not allow them to risk their lives and souls
arbitrary only to those incapable of self-knowl-for him. I do not mean to oversimplify our re-
edge, who are seduced by Satan or make a god sponse to the Faustus who cringes before
of their own appetites. Mephistophilis and Lucifer, and who would lose
Marlowe would not argue the contrary. The himself with Helen. I would suggest, however,
mood of exultation in the first part of Tambur- that Marlowe's portrayal of the dying Faustus
laine fades in Part II, where Marlowe intuits the
is far more poignant and disturbing than many
inhumanity of titanic aspiration. In Dr. Faustusscholars will admit. If Faustus were obviously
he anatomizes the vices of the would-be super- lost and corrupted, there would be no final prob-
man, who spurns splendid accomplishments be- lem of interpretation, no need to pore over
cause they do not satisfy an ignoble egotism. Elizabethan sermons and theological treatises to
Faustus practices medicine without compassion explain why he is not saved. It is only because
for human suffering, and worse still, he would Faustus seems so much more gracious in the
abandon his studies because his fame is already fifth act than in the first that the reason for his
established and the conquest of death eludes him.
damnation must be argued out, frequently with
He despises the petty quiddities of the law, but
he is not inspired by a nobler ideal of justice.
Incapable of selfless dedication to his studies, he
14 In paralleling the careers of Faustus and Macbeth, Helen
Gardner emphasizes only their degradations ("The Tragedy
can use the very chop logic he scorns in philoso-
of Damnation," Essays and Studies, i, 1948, 46 ff.). Yet we
phy to justify his abandoning of theology and his
have only to compare the last scenes of Dr. Faustus with the
pursuit of black magic. Because he is glutted
last scenes of Macbeth to realize how different are the spiritual
with self-conceit, his altruistic schemes are self-
fates of the two "damned" heroes.

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Robert Ornstein 1383

such doctrinal casuistries as turn the God of the Sacrifice is real; indeed Faustus' attempts to
infinite love into a petty legalist.15 parody it merely accentuate his hybristic blind-
Faustus claims that his doom was sealed by ness. Because the Baines note records, not Mar-
his blasphemous defiance of God. Theology lowe's most private convictions, but the out-
denies his claim on the ground that no trespass rageous heresies he chose18 recklessly to flaunt in
has irrevocable consequences and no human act public, we need not choose between it and Dr.
is beyond divine pardon. Yet even theology ad- Faustus as his final religious "testament." Nor
mits that human acts may have irrevocable con- need we attempt the impossible task of recon-
sequences. After original sin, man's nature and ciling the one with the other. But we can note
his destiny were irrevocably changed. Knowing the illuminating ways in which the ideas of the
good and evil, he forfeited the paradise of in- Baines note converge with, as well as contradict,
nocence and entered the world of moral and the tragic theology of Dr. Faustus.
mortal experience, from which only grace might Marlowe's free thinking is evident in almost
redeem him.
all of his art. He reveals aberrant sympathies in
Grace is grace, say the reprobates of Measure Tamburlaine and he snipes at Christian assump-
for Measure, despite all controversy. But grace tions and professions in The Jew of Malta and
in Dr. Faustus is problematical because Marlowe The Massacre at Paris. In Dr. Faustus his quarrel
would have it so. He could have shown in the with Christianity continues. The Church is still
last scene a Faustus who is tormented by the for him a place of superstitious rites and false
legions and the prospect of hell as he reaches authorities.'9 The true revelation of the divine
toward a glorious heaven beyond his grasp. is the universe itself, in which God's Apollonian
Marlowe chose instead to make Lucifer merely creativity is manifest.20 Marlowe could imagine
a spectator to the final agony of his victim, who his heroic Creator exacting a fearful sacrifice as
shrinks more from the wrath of God than from the price of man's pardon. But he could not
the terror of hell. Mephistophilis may defineimagine, nor does he imply in Dr. Faustus, that
hell as the absence of God, but Faustus finds the
this supreme and universal Power ever assumed
presence of God unbearable, because he sees, man's inferior shape, contemptible weakness,
not the loving Father, but the wrathful Jehovah and mortality.2'
who cast the rebellious angels down to hell.16 As a philosopher, Faustus is superior to the
There is pity on earth but not in heaven, though
Christ's blood streams in the firmament. We
16 One example is W. W. Greg's argument that Faustus is
can, of course, cite theological reasons why
ultimately damned because he makes love to a witch (Helen),
Faustus must be damned: he lacks faith, he does in "The Damnation of Faustus," MLR, XLI (1946), 97-107.
not believe in God's redeeming love, he is guilty16 Similarly Faustus' fellow scholars shrink from his side
lest they tempt the wrath of God. The heavens can bur as
of the sin of despair. But we cannot by references
to Christian doctrine resolve the aesthetic is- well as hell. When the opening Chorus speaks of "melting
heavens," it refers, not to tears of mercy and compassion, but
sues of a play that calls doctrine into question.
to the heat of vindictive wrath. Indeed, "melting heavens
We cannot argue the theological reasons why conspired [Faustus'] overthrow."
Faustus does not merit God's pity, when the17 See Kocher, pp. 71 et passim.
18We can only speculate about Marlowe's motives for
audience is deeply moved, when the Old Man
publicizing his atheism. See n. 26.
pities Faustus, and even Mephistophilis was19 According to Baines, Marlowe said, "The first beginning
touched to momentary compassion. Shall the
of Religioun was only to keep men in awe," and he accused
audience and a fallen angel pity what GodMoses of tricking the Jews so as to implant an "everlasting
cannot? superstition" in their hearts (Kocher, p. 34). To be sure,
Marlowe's target in Dr. Faustus is the hated papacy. But
That Marlowe's God is a deity of power, not Baines reports Marlowe's statement "that if there be any
love, has been suggested by various critics,17 and god or any good Religion, then it is in the papistes because
can be inferred from his plays, the arguments of the service of god is performed with more Cerimonies, as
the Arian disputation, and the ideas attributedElevation of the mass, organs, singing men, Shaven Crownes"
(Kocher, p. 35). Marlowe may well have been attracted to
to Marlowe by his contemporary accusers. Butthe solemn ritual and mysteries of the Catholic service.
we cannot from such various sources abstract a
20 The first antagonism between Faustus and Mephistophi-
single static Marlovian theology which explains lis arises when Faustus asks "who made the world." Faustus
the world view of Dr. Faustus. For the Arian tries to think "upon God that made the world," but he is
ordered by Lucifer (II.ii.108) to "talk not of Paradise or
disputation denies the divinity of Christ, and creation."
the scurrilities of the Baines note jeer at Christ a1 See the emphasis on the eternality and omnipotence of
as a lewd effeminate imposter. Yet in Dr. Faustus the deity in the Arian disputation, Kyd, pp. cxi, cxii.

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1384 The Tragic Theology of "Dr. Faustus"

crude vulgarities of the Baines note but not to its holds out the possibility of pardon and eternal
mockery of Christ. He does not proclaim that life-a possibility which Faustus seems to ignore:
Jesus is an unmanly pseudo-god, but by temper-Jerome's Bible, Faustus, view it well:
ament, and with conscious ironic wit, he playsStipendium peccati mors est. Ha! Stipendium, etc.
the role of an antichrist. Unlike the God who [He reads]
became man, Faustus is man who would be god, The reward of sin is death. That's hard.
who would escape the human condition which Si peccase negamus, fallimur
Et nulla est in nobis veritas.
Christ willingly assumed, and who deliberately
seeks the satanic temptations which ChristIfre-we say that we have no sin,
We deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us.
jected. Like Christ, but without Christ's love,
Why then belike we must sin,
Faustus has healed the sick, and he now spurns
And so consequently die.
medicine because he cannot by it reenact Christ's
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
miracles: he cannot, he complains, raise men
What doctrine call you this? Che serd, serd:
from the dead or make them live eternally.What De- will be, shall be! Divinity, adieu! (r.i.38-49)
liberately parodying the Sacrifice, he sells what
Christ died to purchase; he signs the Devil's Ignoring
pact the conditional quality of Jerome's sen-
with his own blood and with Christ's words on tence, Faustus seems to construct a faulty syl-
his lips, even as later he dies with a paraphraselogism of inevitable damnation. Man, we protest,
need not claim that he is innocent. He can be
of the Last Words on his lips. But the irony of the
saved if he confesses his sinfulness and throws
last scene is very different from that of earlier
moments where Faustus played the conscious himself on the mercy of God. But is not this
salvation also hard for one who would believe
parodist of Christ, for now the mock-Passion
in the dignity of man? What value can man
has become real; and Faustus' death is a sacrifice
which, like Christ's, reveals the divine will- claim for his being if its criminality can be ab-
solved only by confession and surrender? Faus-
that is to say, it is in the sacrifices which the
gods require that their law is revealed to us. tus will not save himself by imitating Christ's
We can argue that Faustus too late-or withsubmissiveness; he seeks instead to fulfill the
too little conviction-turns toward Christ. But "divine," and yet forbidden, potentialities of
we cannot say that the Faustus of the earlyhis own genius. His model of imitation is the God
scenes ignores the Sacrifice when he rejects his of force and creative energy whom Tamburlaine
faith. He does not, as scholars would have it,first "served" and then challenged.
describe Christianity without Christ or delude We can say that Faustus despaired because
himself with schoolboy sophistries about the he misconceived the nature of God. But taking a
possibility of salvation. No character so foolish larger perspective on Marlowe's art, we can in-
could claim the intellectual authority or thefer that Marlowe despaired because he could
magnitude of accomplishment which is grantednot imagine a God other than the Deity of
to Faustus by the Chorus and the speeches of the Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus, even though with
opening scene. If the impatient tone and thematurer sympathies he came at last to see that
cursory quality of Faustus' deliberations seem tothe untrammeled and transcendent "divine"
convict him of superficiality, we must remember will is an ethical horror. Can Marlowe's God
that he is not for the first time considering the forgive? No doubt he can forgive the Old Man,
possibilities that lie within man's scope. Even who bows his head in submission, even as Tam-
as the play begins he is "settling" his studies: burlaine can forgive those who bow before his
i.e., summing up intellectual accounts, reviewingdreadful edicts. But this is the "charity" of
the circumstances which led him toward forbid-satisfied will, not of compassionate love; its
den pursuits. His accounting (as the dramatic obverse is the damnation of Faustus, which
occasion requires)22 is elliptical and poetic, notechoes imaginatively the slaughter of the Damas-
discursive; yet it has a philosophical amplitude. can Virgins in Tamburlaine. Just as the fatal
Faustus begins, as it were, at the beginning,banners hang over Tamburlaine's tents at Da-
with man's conception in sin; and he contem- mascus, "reflexing the hue of blood," at Faustus'
plates man's fate under the aspects of time anddamnation Christ's blood streams in the Fir-
eternity. If all men must die because the wages
of sin are death, then that is hard, since no man 2 The dreariness of the opening scene of Tourneur's The
Atheist's Tragedy, where D'Amville discusses his philosophy
can escape sinning. Or rather that would be in-at length with his accomplice Borachio, provides an instruc-
tolerably hard, except that Christ's sacrificetive contrast to the brilliant opening scene of Dr. Faustus.

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Robert Ornstein 1385

mament.23 At the beginning of Dr. Faustus the rienced which is conveyed by Faustus' last so-
sublime charity of the Sacrifice is poised against liloquy. Recoiling from the intellect that be-
Faustus' consuming egotism; at the close of the trayed him, Faustus turns from thought to
play it is poised against the unpitying wrath of sensuality, from the pursuit of knowledge to
God. Thus while the tragic theology of Dr. the burning of books,25 and to a longing for self-
Faustus admits the Incarnation, which is de-annihilation which is perhaps also exemplified
in Marlowe's life. If Baines's account is accurate,
rided in Marlowe's "atheistic" pronouncements,
the Godlike and the Christlike remain anti- Marlowe, in the last weeks of his life, courted
thetical. The ethic of mercy is humane, pro-the stake by publicly and repeatedly declaring
mulgated by the Son, who became man. The atheistic and treasonous libels.26 And finally, in
ethic of heaven-of the cosmos-in Marlowe's a drunken, almost suicidal quarrel (which he
view, is inhumane, futilely grasped at by seems
an ar- to have provoked), he found a lasting
rogant Faustus and exemplified on earth byfrom the vexation of his own thought.
escape
Tamburlaine's dedications to power and the
CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY
law of his own pitiless will.24
Cleveland, Ohio
Not surprisingly, then, we find nothing in
Marlowe's plays that resembles the tragic ac-
23 Doctrinally, of course, Christ's blood is the symbol of
ceptances of other dramatists. Rejecting his
redemption. But the immediate imaginative and emotional
early Marlovian enthusiasms, George Chapman force of the line, I think, is to evoke the agony of the Cruci-
fashioned a nobler ideal of the stoic fortitude fixion. When the red banners hang at Damascus (Tambur-
that endures and triumphs over adversity. laine),
But the Virgins are slaughtered at spearpoint, and in
Part 1I, Tamburlaine would "set black streamers in the firma-
when Marlowe outgrew his jejune infatuation
ment /To signify the slaughter of the gods" (v.iii.49-50).
with power, he could not reach beyond the bitter
In Tamburlaine, at least, bloody hues in the firmament are
pleasure of exposing his illusions. Thus no tragic
associated with implacable will and destructiveness. Equally
fortitude sustains Faustus, who shrinks from revealing is the description of Tamburlaine's "mildness of
absolute daring to wretched impotence, who, mind / That, satiate with spoil, refuseth blood" (Iv.i.51-58).
Such is the "mercy" of satisfied will at Damascus in Part I.
cringing before the Devil's physical tormentings,24 This is not to agree with Una Ellis-Fermor that Marlowe
is less heroic than the Old Man, the mean of envisions
life in Dr. Faustus a Satanic world order (The Frontiers
over which the superman would soar. If weofas- Drama, London, 1948, pp. 141 ff.). Cruelty, sadistic de-
sume that Dr. Faustus, composed in the laststructiveness, and vindictiveness are characteristic of the
would-be god, Tamburlaine (or Lucifer), in his degradation,
year of Marlowe's life, is a piece of orthodox
not of the wrathful deity of Marlowe's last play.
moralism, than we must wonder at the sordid and
25 It is interesting that Faustus' last despairing attempt to
unregenerate circumstances of Marlowe's death.
appease his angry God by offering to burn his books echoes
If, however, we see in Dr. Faustus Marlowe'sEnvy's sentence: "I cannot read and therefore wish all books
burned" (II.ii.128).
testament of despair, then we see also a perfect
26 To read Baines's account of Marlowe's obscene and trea-
correspondence between the nihilism of Mar- sonous public statements-an account corroborated by
lowe's art and of his life. For it is the horror of others-is
the to know that whatever Marlowe's motive was, it
void-of loss and impotence-humanly expe- was not a hope of winning believers from Christianity.

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