Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Synopsis

A collection of seven critical essays on Marlowe's drama, arranged in chronological order of their original publication.

Excerpt

Like Shakespeare, born only a few months after him, Marlowe began as an Ovidian poet. Killed at twenty-nine, in what may have been a mere tavern brawl or possibly a political intrigue (fitter end for a double agent), Marlowe had the unhappy poetic fate of being swallowed up by Shakespeare’s unprecedented powers of dramatic representation. We read Marlowe now as Shakespeare’s precursor, remembering that Shakespeare also began as a poet of Ovidian eros. Read against Shakespeare, Marlowe all but vanishes. Nor can anyone prophesy usefully how Marlowe might have developed if he had lived another quarter century. There seems little enough development between Tamburlaine (1587) and Doctor Faustus (1593), and perhaps Marlowe was incapable of that process we name by the critical trope of “poetic development,” which seems to imply a kind of turning about or even a wrapping up.

There has been a fashion in modern scholarly criticism to baptize Marlowe’s imagination, so that a writer of tragic caricatures has been converted into an orthodox moralist. The vanity of scholarship has few more curious monuments than this Christianized Marlowe. What the common reader finds in Marlowe is precisely what his contemporaries found: impiety, audacity, worship of power, ambiguous sexuality, occult aspirations, defiance of moral order, and above all else a sheer exaltation of the possibilities of rhetoric, of the persuasive force of heroic poetry. The subtlest statement of the scholar’s case is made by Frank Kermode:

Thus Marlowe displays his heroes reacting to most of the
temptations that Satan can contrive; and the culminating
temptation … is the scholar’s temptation, forbidden knowl
edge.… [Marlowe’s] heroes do not resist the temptations,
and he provides us, not with a negative proof of virtue and

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