Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe was to become the first great poet of the theatre's second great age. His life, much like the lives of his characters, would be short and violent.
The son of a shoemaker, Marlowe attended King's School, Canterbury and Corpus Christi College where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1584 and his Masters degree three years later. According to university records, Marlowe disappeared frequently during his last years at school, exceeding the number of absences permitted him by statute and putting his degree in jeopardy. Apparently, much of this time was spent in Rheims among the Catholics who were plotting against Queen Elizabeth's protestant regime. Because of his absences and the fact that he refused to take holy orders, the university refused, for a time, to confer his degree, but the authorities intervened, and the degree was eventually granted.
Although we cannot be certain, Marlowe may have fought in the wars in the Low Country after graduation. What we can be certain of is that he settled in London in 1587 and began his career as a playwright--although he may still have been in the employ of the secret service as well. The young poet plunged himself into a social circle that included such colorful literary figures as Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. He shared a room with fellow playwright Thomas Kyd and was often seen frequenting the taverns of London with the likes of Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe. His magnificent appearance, impulsiveness, and bejeweled costumes soon became the talk of the town.
Primed by this new-found intellectual stimulation, Marlowe soon wrote Tamburlaine, the first notable English play in blank verse. Elizabethan drama had reached the foothills and was beginning its final ascent when Marlowe came onto the scene. All that was needed was a bold leap such as no one had yet dared or been able to make--and Marlowe was determined to make that leap.
He had the advantage of having his plays presented by the Lord Admiral's company. While his contemporaries were watching their work performed by church boys, Marlowe saw his dramas staged by full-chested men such as the seven-foot-tall, majestic Edward Alleyn.
No playwright had hitherto invoked the world, the flesh, and the devil so magnificently in plays such as Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II. The young poet, however, had neither wealth nor position, and the disparity between his dreams and the reality of his situation began to weigh upon him. He grew more and more restless and irritable until even his friends began to lose patience with him.
In 1593, after pointing out what he considered to be inconsistencies in the Bible, Marlowe fell under suspicion of heresy. His roommate, Thomas Kyd, was tortured into giving evidence against him, but before he could be brought before the Privy Council, the twenty-nine-year-old poet was found dead at Dame Eleanore Bull's tavern in Deptford. On May 30, 1593, he had gone to the tavern to have dinner with some friends. According to witnesses, there was a quarrel over the bill and Marlowe drew his dagger on another man who, defending himself, drove the dagger back into the young poet's eye, mortally wounding him. There is reason to believe, however, that Marlowe may have been deliberately provoked and murdered in order to prevent his arrest. Had he been brought before the Privy Council, he might have implicated men of importance such as Raleigh.
Christopher Marlowe's contribution to the drama, however, was complete. He had returned high poetry to its rightful place on the stage and left us characters as fiery and passionate as their creator, preparing the way for a poet even greater than himself--William Shakespeare.
~Read Marlowe's poem The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
~Check the Luminarium website on the whole Marlowe!
...and here's an interesting essay...
Marlowe's Cambridge years and the writing of Doctor Faustus
by G.M. Pinciss
"Contrition, prayer, repentance: what of them?" Faustus asks, and the question Marlowe wrote for his hero echoed the uncertainty over religious beliefs and practices felt by many of Queen Elizabeth's subjects. Indeed, in writing Doctor
Faustus, Marlowe reflected the growing debate among Protestants that grew progressively more intense at his university during his years there. For unlike Oxford, Cambridge in the later 1580s was the battlefield on which the Calvinist and anti-Calvinist advocates played out their strategies, and the young Marlowe was surely an impressionable witness.(1) To appreciate the impact of this experience on him, we should know something of what he encountered as an undergraduate--the broad areas of disagreement that separated the various Protestant positions, the intense quarrels over religious doctrine, and the powerful impression created by influential churchmen. And we should keep in mind that what may seem today to be minor differences took on importance because, to a true believer, such matters could prove decisive in the salvation of one's soul; the risks were very high.
Disagreements in matters of religion were, of course, nothing new to the English of the 1580s, for the populace was still feeling the effects of the Reformation--divided not only into Catholics and Protestants but also into varieties of Catholicism and Protestantism. Some Catholics considered themselves primarily English subjects and placed loyalty to the monarchy above obedience to the pope; others believed that true Catholicism could not be practiced without accepting the pope's primacy of place. Among Protestants, too, the varieties of religious beliefs and practices as well as the intensity with which they were held defined the spectrum of English Protestantism in which the members of the Church of England could be more or less Calvinists.(2)
Quite naturally, many felt bewildered, alienated from their God. For some, the loss of the spiritual comfort afforded by the Catholic belief in Purgatory, or in the effectiveness of prayers for the deceased, or in the practice of Confession was made even more painful by the desecration of churches and by the elimination of ritual elements from the service. Moreover, the government understandably feared that religious radicalism would lead to political ferment and social unrest.(3) Those who claimed to be church reformers, some even preaching a new doctrine of egalitarianism, could make use of the tensions in society caused by economic problems such as inflation and social dislocations such as land enclosure to heighten the strains between rulers and ruled, between the wealthy and the impoverished. Elizabeth's administration happily adopted Archbishop Cranmer's Forty-two Articles, though now reduced to thirty-nine, since they were drafted in such a way that they could accommodate a variety of religious convictions. As Powell Mills Dawley has pointed out, the queen's "original settlement of religion had been constructed to rest on the broadest possible base of agreement on the essentials of Christian doctrine rather than on the precise and rigid theological definitions familiar in sixteenth-century confessional systems."(4) And so some matters were deliberately left unsaid or stated vaguely in an attempt to head off controversy. But in its effort to be all-encompassing, the Elizabethan settlement was rendered susceptible to influences from all directions, especially of those Reformed writings that issued from Geneva.
The initial efforts of the English Calvinists to correct what they saw as errors or abuses in the Church of England were focused on matters of polity and ritual. While they were prepared to accept episcopacy--on condition that the bishops were "godly"--the suspension of Grindal as Archbishop led a significant number in the late 1570s to press for an alternate presbyterian system similar to that of Geneva, in which the clergy were elected by church members and matters of administration were shared by ministers and laymen. And they argued for the need to cleanse or purify the ceremonies of the church service from what they claimed were the remnants of Popish customs--including such matters as the wearing of surplices and vestments, the location of the altar, and the practice of kneeling at prayer. According to Patrick Collinson, although these remained contentious issues, the energy to sustain an active fight for such changes was exhausted before the 1590s: the reformers were outmaneuvered, and the death of the Earl of Leicester, one of their most influential supporters, proved a heavy loss.(5) In addition, attention in the 1580s had been shifting from these operational concerns to doctrinal and philosophic matters that were closer to the heart of the differences between Calvinist and anti-Calvinist views.(6) Nicholas Tyacke has neatly summarized how the balance of power changed throughout the decade:
In the early and middle years of Elizabeth's reign Calvinism keyed in fairly convincingly with political reality. To begin with, the existence of a large body of English Catholics lent credence to the identification of Protestants with the elect. Later, as relations with Spain deteriorated, Calvinism was transferable to the international plane, and Englishmen were now portrayed as chosen by God to do battle for the true religion. But as political circumstances eased, so the way was opened for undermining Calvinism from within. In the course of the 1590s the external threat from Spain appeared to diminish and the prospect of an internal revolt by English Catholics seemed increasingly remote. A united Protestant front was, therefore, less essential. At the same time English Calvinist teaching was itself becoming more extreme, in line with continental religious developments.(7)
Now questions of grace and salvation came to the fore--questions that would be of particular interest to the young Marlowe: Who were those elected to be saved? How could they know? How could salvation be assured? Could it be won or lost? Were some born reprobates, inevitably to be damned, and if so, when did God make this determination and why? These are indeed what were called "deep points."
During the 1590s English Calvinism had been very much in the ascendant, and nowhere was that ascendancy more obvious than at Cambridge University. Symptomatic of the situation is the publication in 1590 of William Perkins's Armilla Aurea . . . |which~ asserted the doctrine of absolute predestination against its critics. . . . Paradoxically, however, the propagation of such views also helped fuel the anti-Calvinist sentiment.(8)
The differences between English and Continental Protestantism were becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, and the hostility between those who held opposing points of view intensified. Through these quarrels, through public debate and preaching, ministers on both sides grew more outspoken, their skills sharper and more finely honed. As Patrick Collinson has remarked:
Calvinist assumptions . . . were challenged, as they would not have been ten years before, by the reaction against Geneva which was gathering force amongst a party of avant-garde divines in Cambridge, and this nascent English "Arminianism" would lend orthodox, Calvinist puritanism a new "theological distinction."(9)
Conditions were ripening for the forceful confrontations of the 1590s--the issues were more difficult and serious, the opponents more practiced and determined.
Enter Christopher Marlowe. On this scene of religious strife, Marlowe began his Cambridge University career as a student of divinity at Corpus Christi College in early December 1580. His program in his first year would have involved attending lectures in rhetoric (Quintilian, Hermogenes, and Cicero), preparing lessons for his tutor, studying the Old and New Testaments, and attending chapel sermons.(10) Marlowe's arrival in Cambridge coincided with the period when William Perkins became known by his preaching as the most popular and effective spokesman for the extreme Calvinists. Perkins had received his B.A. in 1581 and his M.A. in 1584; in that year he was elected a fellow of Christ's, a position he was to hold for the next decade, and he was appointed lecturer at Great St. Andrews in the town. Perkins rapidly established himself both as a preacher and as "the most outstanding systematic Puritan theologian of his time."(11) Marlowe's career at Cambridge spans these years: he completed his undergraduate studies in 1584 when he was awarded his B.A.; and he continued in residence, with some periods of absence, until March 1587, when he filed his application for admission to the M.A. degree. His interest in the Faust story must have followed hard upon, for The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was written sometime between 1588 and 1592--with many scholars giving it an earlier rather than later date.(12)
Since Perkins was among the most powerful voices at Cambridge during Marlowe's career there, we should consider what Calvinist principles he emphasized and how his presence may have influenced undergraduate attitudes. From first-hand accounts we know that he was an impressive and memorable teacher: according to Samuel Ward, who was trained at Christ's, "in expounding the Commandments |Perkins~ applied them so home, |that he was~ able almost to make his hearers|'~ hearts fall down, and hairs to stand upright."(13) And in 1584 his appointment as lecturer at Great St. Andrews gave Perkins the opportunity to address an audience of both students and townspeople in Cambridge. His technique was clearly impressive. Even after the Civil War his fame was remembered.(14) Ultimately, two aspects of Perkins's manner account for his wide appeal--his arguments were constructed by a precise and logical method that applied the new Ramist principles of organization then in vogue, and his language was simple, direct, and moving. Perkins was so deeply persuaded of the importance of his mission and his words were chosen so carefully that a listener would find "his conscience so convinced, his secret faults so disclosed and his very heart so ripped up that he said, 'Certainly God speaks in this man.'"(15)
Naturally, Perkins's success aroused the anti-Calvinist opposition and, feeling threatened, they began a counterattack. It is this controversy that provided the background for the debate Marlowe would dramatize in Doctor Faustus. But actually such tensions were nothing new among those holding differing views of what constituted the true doctrine of the Protestant church. Spokesmen for various points of view in the University had been sparring with one another throughout the 1580s, jockeying for lead position, attempting to attract converts, and vying for influence in the highest reaches of the English Church. An especially vivid instance of the intensity of the conflict between the two parties can be seen in the bitter quarrel that, after long smoldering, finally erupted in 1595-1596 between William Barrett and Peter Baro, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, on the one hand, and the heads and dons of the more Calvinist-oriented colleges on the other. Baro was accused of having "for the space of these fourteen or fifteen years, taught in his lectures, preached in sermons, determined in the Schools and printed in several books divers points of doctrine . . . contrary to that which hath been taught and received ever since her Majesty's reign, yet agreeable to the errors of Popery."(16)
Ironically, the views of Barrett and Baro were actually closer to the letter of the Thirty-Nine Articles than were the theological positions of their opponents. Nevertheless, Perkins and his followers argued that their Calvinist opinions correctly expressed the spirit of the doctrines of the Church of England rightly understood, and that only those holding their views could think of themselves as true members of that Church. Their influence was so strong that Barrett was actually forced to recant and Baro was eased out of his position. Indeed, later church historians acknowledge the importance of Baro's role in curbing the growing power of the Calvinists: "this Doctrine finding many followers . . . might have quickly over-spread the whole University had it not been in part prevented and in part suppressed by the care and diligence of Dr. Barse |i.e., Baro~ and his Adherents."(17)
Marlowe's Doctor Faustus directly engages these controversies.(18) His plot roughly follows the story-line of the English Faustbook, but the issues it raises are not discussed in this source. The theological significance of Dr. Faustus's choices can perhaps best be understood by referring to what Perkins himself wrote in a work that, as Ian Breward notes, "grew out of sermons in the 1590s, when a fresh outbreak of popular interest in the discovery and detection of witches would make it a very topical treatment."(19) According to Perkins, the practice of witchcraft is like the sin in Eden of desiring to become a god, motivated by a longing either to win "credit and countenance amongst men" or, "not satisfied with the measure of inward gifts received, as of knowledge, wit, understanding, memory and suchlike, . . . to search out such things as God would have kept secret."(20) This is what Marlowe describes as the "world of profit and delight, / Of power, of honor, of omnipotence": his hero wants "to practise more than heavenly power permits." Now "having commencde" |sic~--or taken his degree(21)--Faustus would exceed "Emperours and Kings," for they
Are but obeyd in their seuerall prouinces: .................... But his dominion that exceedes in this, Stretcheth as farre as doth the minde of man. A sound Magician is a mighty god: Heere Faustus trie thy braines to gaine a deitie.
To describe him in Perkins's words, Marlowe's Faustus is "not satisfied" with the achievements of his education. Had he been a student at Cambridge, for example, his program of study--disputations in divinity on such topics as free will, justification, and grace; systematic and analytic sermons on biblical passages; and the presentation and defense of theses--would have trained him in such matters as God would not have kept secret from us. To conduct these disputations, analyses, and defenses, the study of logic or dialectics was prescribed in the undergraduate curriculum in the third and fourth years. Aristotle was the required text; as Faustus says, he would "live and die in Aristotles workes" (line 35). But in his very next words Faustus quotes a precept of the controversial French reformer, Peter Ramus, who advocated revising the traditional scholasticism of the university curriculum that blended Aristotle with St Thomas Aquinas.
By their efforts, the Ramists attempted to simplify and clarify the methods of the scholastics and to systematize the reasoning processes-especially on the correct way to establish truth through logic. Perkins, for one, retained the scholastic method for discussing questions of divinity, but he was a Ramist in his arguments. For analyzing matters of church doctrine his preferred method was an orderly, step-by-step sequence of questions and answers. As described by Peter Helyn, who was perhaps rephrasing Thomas Fuller's words, "when he was a Catechist of Christs Colledge in Cambridge |Perkins~ did lay the Law so home in the ears of his Auditors that it made their hearts fall down, and yea their hair to stand almost upright."(23) Catechisms were a common element in teaching the principles of the reformed churches: "a huge number appeared in England between 1558 and 1660, frequently written by those with puritan sympathies, aimed not only at supplementing or replacing the brief catechism in the Prayer Book, but also seeking to provide godly householders with material with which to edify their family and servants."(24) Perkins offers a fine example in his Foundation of Christian Religion Gathered into Six Principles (1590), in which he carefully makes the fine distinctions that will help one think correctly on religious matters:
Question: What state shall the wicked be in after the day of judgment?
Answer: In eternal perdition and destruction in hell-fire.
Question: What is that?
Answer: It stands in three things especially: first, a perpetual separation from God's presence; secondly, fellowship with the devil and his angels; thirdly, an horrible pang and torment both of body and soul arising of the feeling of the whole wrath of God, poured forth on the wicked for ever, world without end; and if the pain of one tooth for one day be so great, endless shall be the pain of the whole man, body and soul for ever.(25)
Faustus makes use of just this kind of catechism when he first talks with Mephostophilis. For the most part, his lines are a series of questions to which Mephostophilis provides the answers: "Tell me what is that Lucifer thy Lord?" (line 307), "Was not that Lucifer an Angell once?" (line 309), "How comes it then that he is prince of diuels?" (line 311), "and what are you that liue with Lucifer?" (line 314), "Where are you damn'd?" (line 318), "How comes it then that thou art out of hel?" (line 320).
Despite all of his advanced studies and perceptive questions, Faustus is completely unaware of his ignorance and blinded by his self-conceit.(26) In his opening soliloquy in which he debates the merits of various fields of endeavor, Faustus rejects Aristotelian logic as a subject worthy of his attention and considers medicine as a possible career. But once again, his aspirations are blasphemous. Faustus could be satisfied as a physician only if he had the god-like power to grant immortality--to "make man to liue eternally / Or being dead, raise them to life againe" (lines 54-55). Medicine, it appears, is too restrictive for one with his ambitions. And, after thinking about it, he determines his disposition is also unsuited for the law, for Faustus has neither the patience nor the interpretative skills to interest himself in what he calls "paltry legacies." Faustus even admits that he cannot distinguish "a petty case" from much more important instances--for example, under what circumstances a father may disinherit a son: "Ex haereditari filium non potest pater nisi." This topic is, in fact, one discussed not only by Justinian but also by Protestant clerics: in spiritual terms, when and under what conditions does God decide to disown his child? Faustus is like the man described by Perkins in a sermon delivered in 1593:
a sinner in his first estate . . . hath a veil before his face so that he seeth nothing. The wrath of God and the curse due for sin, hell and damnation seeking to devour him he seeth them not . . . but rusheth securely into all manner of sin, the night of impenitence and the mist of ignorance so blinding his eyes that he seeth not the narrow bridge of this life, from which if he slide he falls immediately into the bottomless pit of hell.(27)
Unable to reason properly and, as Perkins describes it, "not resting content with the condition of men,"(28) hoping to be "a mighty god" (line 92), to be "on earth as Ioue is in the skie" (line 108), Faustus rejects Jerome's Bible for "Negromantike bookes" (line 80).
In the play each of these subjects has its advocate, the Good Angel naturally promoting the joys of Bible study and the Evil Angel recommending the advantages of black magic. Whether they are reflections of Faustus's own mental processes or independent of them, these allegorical figures objectify the inner conflict in the hero; through them the contest for his soul is dramatized. And what at first seems most important is that they emphasize his freedom to choose. If Faustus were born to be damned, as he might be in a Calvinistic universe, he is surely ignorant of it, for he believes he can exercise his own will. Yet he admits that the rewards promised by the Evil Angel are irresistible. Since Faustus is actually the type of person who is drawn compulsively to what is blasphemous, daring, and imprudent, it is not at all clear that his choice is so free after all. The A-text, in lines that do not appear in the 1616 edition, emphasizes how greatly his decision is a consequence of his character:
not your words onely, but mine owne fantasie, That will receiue no object for my head, But ruminates on Negromantique skill.
The force of his own nature compels him to the study of magic, and he is unable to resist: "Tis Magicke, Magicke that hath rauisht mee" (line 143)(30) Faustus signs his pact with the devil, providing, as Perkins explains, "the ground of all the practices of witchcraft: . . . a league or covenant made between the witch and the devil wherein they do mutually bind themselves to each other."(31)
Faustus reminds himself repeatedly of the price he will ultimately pay if he continues, and he realizes, at least in a part of his mind, that reformation and repentance are more than "vaine fancies" (line 441). But Faustus lacks faith, and that is essential for salvation. Acknowledging that in his case "the god thou seruest is thine owne appetite" (line 448), he rightly concludes that he "must . . . needes be damnd" (line 438). His inability to give up the pursuit of magic or break his agreement with Lucifer, then, can explain, according to anti-Calvinist teaching, why he is ultimately damned or, according to Calvinist teaching, why he was born damned. As Perkins reminds his congregation, "The decree of God |in rejecting some~ is secret, because it ariseth only from the good pleasure of God, unsearchable."(32)
The ending of the play merits especially close attention, for it focuses explicitly on the conflicting Calvinist and anti-Calvinist views. According to the Old Man, Faustus can still be saved: he has only to "call for mercie and auoyd dispaire" (line 1323). Just such a line of reasoning would be held by Perkins's opponent, Peter Baro, who argued that "to each and every man God desires to give grace sufficient for salvation, for Christ died for each and every man."(33) Though some may choose to resist it--"the grace which is offered they thrust from them" in Hooker's words(34)--saving grace is available to all. The Old Man's encouragement to Faustus would certainly support such a reading: "I see an Angell houers ore thy head, / And with a violl full of precious grace, / Offers to powre the same into thy soule" (lines 1320-22). It is only by rejecting the grace that is freely offered that one becomes a reprobate: as Baro explained, "Men shut themselves out of heaven, not God."(35) In its ending the text of the play can be made to support the non-Calvinist view that Faustus can still attain salvation by an act of faith, by repentance and prayer. But Faustus's faith proves too weak and insufficient: "I do repent, and yet I do dispaire" (line 1330). He cannot believe he can be forgiven by the God he "hath abjurde . . . whome Faustus hath blasphemed."(36) According to the Old Man, Faustus is "accursed" (line 1377) because he "excludst the grace of heauen" (line 1378). But Faustus has always thought of himself as beyond common humanity. Since to his mind superlative and excessive actions are the hallmarks of his nature, his offenses must naturally be so great that he "can nere be pardoned, / The Serpent that tempted Eue may be sau'd / But not Faustus" (lines 1402-404). As Wilbur Sanders has observed, "We are watching a man . . . locked in a death embrace with the agonising God he can neither reject nor love. It is the final consummation of the Puritan imagination."(37) Much as he may desire it, Faustus's conception of himself prevents him from achieving justifying faith.(38)
The anti-Calvinist, emphasizing the hero's need to turn to God and believe in his forgiveness, can, of course, be countered by stressing those elements that make Faustus seem more a Calvinist paradigm. Read in that light he is quite simply one born a reprobate who will feel God's "heavy wrath." He was damned from birth: "You starres that raignd at my natiuitie, / whose influence hath alotted death and hel" (lines 1474-75).(39) In the final judgment his fate was not determined by Faustus's deeds or lack of faith. According to Perkins, the decision who shall be saved and who condemned is God's alone; it "hath not any cause beside his will and pleasure."(40) The saving drop of Christ's blood is denied him as it is to all reprobates who, in the words of Perkins,
are punished with eternal confusion and most bitter reproaches. . . . They have fellowship with the devil and his angels. They are wholly in body and soul tormented with an incredible horror and exceeding great anguish, through the sense and feeling of God's wrath poured out upon them for ever.(41)
Can one fix the ultimate, responsibility, however? Is Faustus a Calvinist reprobate, a being born to be damned, one so fixed in his ways that from birth the course of his life is a foregone conclusion? As Alan Sinfield succinctly expresses this point of view: "Marlowe's Faustus is not damned because he is wicked, but wicked because he is damned."(42) Or on the contrary, is Faustus an Arminian soul, a free agent exercising volition who refuses the grace that is freely given? In the words of Roma Gill, "Marlowe's God is more long-suffering than the God of the Elizabethan church and continues to extend mercy and forgiveness to Faustus long after the traditional God would have turned away."(43) Clearly, in either case, the spiritual failure in the hero's character is a crucial element in the outcome, but in the final analysis, the issue remains unresolved and unresolvable. Both Calvinist and anti-Calvinist views are sustained throughout the action.
In no small measure Marlowe's experiences at Cambridge helped shape his hero who is neither clearly redeemable nor reprobate: ultimately, the play cannot be reduced to a straightforward theological text.(44) The reasons for what Norman Rabkin would call its "complementarity," however, are surely personal and practical as well as religious.(45) We need not read Doctor Faustus as reflecting quite so extreme a psychological crisis as Wilbur Sanders, who holds responsible "those disordered forces in Marlowe's own imagination which lead him either into hectic exaggeration or into moralistic excess."(46) Yet we should acknowledge that the young playwright was not only reacting to the fierce debate between Calvinists and anti-Calvinists he had witnessed as a Cambridge undergraduate but also incorporating into the poetry something of his own personal reaction to this debate. While a divinity student he had, after all, heard some of the most forceful and unforgettable presentations of the extreme Calvinist position: even as an old man, Peter Helyn could still recall that William Perkins would "pronounce the word Damne with so strong an Emphasis that it left an echo in the ears of his hearers a long time after."(47)
When designing his play in the late 1580s or early 1590s, Marlowe must have also taken into account political and aesthetic considerations. He was surely aware of the long-standing government prohibition against those who "handle in their plaies certen matters of Divinytie and of State unfitt to be suffred." Indeed, perhaps as a consequence of the Martin Marprelate imbroglio, the authorities were once again feeling the need for more forceful control over the stage: in November 1589 the Privy Council requested that Archbishop Whitgift appoint a "fytt persone well learned in Divinity" to assist the Master of the Revels in screening plays "to geve allowance of suche as they shall thincke meete to be plaied and to forbydd the rest."(48) The performance history of Marlowe's effort clearly indicates that it did not defy the censors, however much it might have ruffled the feathers of one or another religious position. And whether the result of his practical good sense, of his instincts as an artist, or of some combination of the two, Marlowe must have understood that a work that engages in so hotly contested a subject would surely attract the public, just as he must have realized that any play with a clear-cut or consistent theological message would be in danger of turning into a sermon, didactic, undramatic, and dangerous.
The energy of his work, its power to draw an audience, would be generated by playing off the possibility of salvation against the fear of absolute damnation, an anti-Calvinist world-view, expressed through the Good Angel, in conflict with a Calvinist hero, a born reprobate. And this combination would enable him to create a memorable character. After all, a protagonist presented purely in a Calvinist light, one who can do nothing to assure his own salvation, is merely a victim--rather like the pathetic figure of the de casibus tradition. And the other alternative, a protagonist who is completely responsible for his damnation, is liable to appear merely wicked or foolish--rather like the title character in a Senecan-styled tragedy. A hero of either stamp could arouse little interest.
In the final analysis, then, Marlowe's drama can be appreciated as the product of a number of forces--the controversy between Calvinists and anti-Calvinists that must have impressed him deeply during his years at Cambridge, the expanding power of state censorship, and, surely not to be underestimated, his own personal, poetic, and artistic instincts.
* * *
1 "There was a distinct feeling in the air that, though damnation was a certainty unless steps were taken to avert it, salvation was a problematical and tricky business. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Marlowe at Cambridge was thoroughly exposed to this opinion and the debates it provoked" (Wilbur Sanders, The Dramatist and the Received Idea: Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare |Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1968~, p. 227).
2 As modern church historians have come to realize, hard and fast distinctions among believers are often impossible to achieve:
Anglicanism, it was assumed, represented the official position of the English church, constituting a sort of via media between Rome and Geneva, protestant but not Calvinist, episcopalian yet reformed, sacrament- and ceremony-centered although in no sense cryptopopish. Puritanism was seen as the radical protestant opposition to that mainstream; Calvinist, presbyterian or presbyterianizing, word-centered and austere in its attitude to the role of ceremony and liturgy in the life of the church, it represented an entirely distinct religious tradition from the anglicanism it opposed. |But~ since the late 1960s, at least, as the word-centered Calvinist divinity and rabid anti-popery supposedly typical of oppositionist puritanism have been found closer and closer to the centre of the lay and clerical establishment, such a dichotomy has come to seem less and less satisfactory as a characterization of Elizabethan protestant opinion. . . . While many people to whom the term |puritan~ is applied were in fact nonconformists or advocates of some sort of institutional reform of the church, not all of them were. Moreover, the slightly uneven not to say promiscuous, ways in which conformity was defined and enforced in the Elizabethan church often make it difficult to say whether or not an individual conformed and, if he did, what that "conformity" amounted to. Since this view of puritanism is founded on a sense of a common core of religious experience and values, which could transcend the formal issues of conformity and church government, it is inevitably somewhat too loose and open-ended for comfort. ---
Peter Lake, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1988), pp. 4-5.
3 Susan Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 268 ff.
4 Powell Mills Dawley, John Whitgift and the English Reformation (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954), p. 216.
5 Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1967), p. 434; Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 1559-1625 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 6.
6 Dawley, p. 217.
7 Nicholas Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of Arminianism c. 1590-1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 4.
8 Tyacke, p. 29.
9 Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p. 434.
10 William Urry, Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988), p. 55. See also Richard F. Hardin, "Marlowe and the Fruits of Scholarism," PQ 63, 3 (Summer 1984): 387-400 for a discussion of the intellectual life at Cambridge during Marlowe's student years and the conflict between "the practical and spiritual ends of learning" that, in the case of Doctor Faustus, reflect "a frustrated search for wisdom" (p. 398).
11 John F.H. New, Anglican and Puritan: The Basis of Their Opposition, 1558-1640 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1964), p. 9.
12 For a discussion of the problems of dating the play see J.B. Steane, Marlowe: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 117-19.
13 Thomas Fuller, The Holy State and the Profane State (Cambridge: 1642), p. 90. Fuller, who was a student at Sidney Sussex, may have heard this directly from Samuel Ward, who became master there.
14 Peter Heyln, Historia Quinqu-Articularis or A Declaration of the Judgment of the Western Church (London: 1660), p. 66.
15 William Perkins, The Work, ed. Ian Breward (Abingdon: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1970), p. 43.
16 H.C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1958), p. 376.
17 Peter Heyln, p. 66. See also the account in Peter Lake, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 201-42.
18 William Empson speculates that an earlier and more heretical version of the play was suppressed by the Master of the Revels; though vigorously argued, his thesis has no documentary evidence. See Faustus and the Censor: The English Faust-Book and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, ed. John Henry Jones (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987). Janet Clare in "Art Made Tongue-tied by authority": Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship (Manchester and New York: Manchester Univ. Press, 1990) considers the possibility that the Bruno scene in the B version "originated with Marlowe, part of it being suppressed before early performance but later recovered with some adulterations by Rowely." In her judgment:
There is then, from the criteria of both style and content, a case for Marlowe's composition of the Bruno episode. It seems reasonable to suppose that it does not appear in the "A" text because Tilney suppressed its portrayal of a triumphant Pope threatening to depose his allegedly heretical enemies in terms which could readily be applied to the Queen and ordered its revision, thus promoting the anti-papal satire which remains. Marlowe's original scene was presumably recovered to increase the attraction of an old Elizabethan play. Its restoration took place at a time when the threat of excommunication carried less immediate impact and when the English Catholic body was no longer regarded by Catholic governments of Europe as a major oppositional force. (pp. 28-30)
Yet according to Clare the censorship of the 1616 edition went "beyond the strict prohibition of utterances taken as blasphemous" (i.e., the "Acte to restraine Abuses of Players" of 1606), for "several of the doctrinal allusions in the play" as well as the omission of further short passages and lines . . . can reasonably be attributed to censorship in deference to the Act. . . . The manuscript underlying the 1616 edition of Doctor Faustus has, therefore, suffered thoroughgoing censorship in accordance with Jacobean legislation. . . . The extent and nature of the censorship of the "B" text . . . suggest that, when the play was revived, revised and augmented with the Rowley and Bird "adycions" recorded by Henslowe, it was regarded as a new play, re-submitted to the Master of the Revels, and censored in accordance with recent legislation. . . . The 1606 "Acte to restraine Abuses of Players" is itself relatively limited in scope; but it would seem on the basis of the censorship of the "B" text of Doctor Faustus that it could be invoked to sabotage plays which dealt liberally and critically with matters of scripture or doctorine.
19 Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft (1608), pp. 579-609, 581 in The Work. And in her recent edition of the play, Roma Gill points out that in his work Perkins describes the "mental and spiritual deterioration" dramatized in the middle parts of the play: "When they first beginne to grow in confederacie with the devill, they are sober, and their understanding sound . . . but after they be once in the league . . . then reason and understanding may be depraved, memorie weakened and the powers of their soule blemished" (|Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990~, pp. xxix-xxx).
20 Perkins, p. 591.
21 In the prologue, the chorus uses the language of the university when describing Faustus as one "grac't with Doctors name," i.e., recorded in a "Grace Book." See John Bakeless, Christopher Marlowe, The Man in His Time (New York: Washington Square Press, 1964), p. 45.
22 All quotations are from W.W. Greg's parallel text edition, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, 1606-1616 (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1950). Unless otherwise noted, citations are from the 1604 version and will appear parenthetically in the text.
23 Heyln, p. 66. See endnote 13.
24 Breward, in Perkins, The Work, p. 139.
25 Breward, in Perkins, The Work, pp. 142-67, p. 167.
26 In "Marlowe's Faustus and the Comforts of Academicism," H.W. Matalene III finds that the hero "takes up each book in turn, not in order to attend to it (though that is what he pretends to do), but in order to hear himself draw automatically on a memorized fund of usually pejorative observations about it. Our first impression of Faustus' scholarly life is that it is a constant game of 'one-upmanship' with the great" (ELH 39, 4 |December 1972~: 495-519, 505).
27 Perkins, "A Faithful and Plain Exposition upon The Two First Verses of the 2 Chapter of Zephaniah, delivered at Stourbridge Fair in 1593" (1605), in The Work, pp. 279-302 in Breward.
28 Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p. 591.
29 Except for this citation, all my quotations from the play appear in both the 1604 and 1616 quartos. In a comparison of the A (1604) and B (1616) editions, Leah Marcus argues that the earlier is more Calvinistic. See her article, "Textual Indeterminacy and Ideological Difference: The Case of Dr. Faustus," RenD n.s. 20 (1989): 1-29.
30 Paul H. Kocher disagrees: "Faustus has free will, free capacity to repent. It is his own fault that he does not, and so he goes to a condign doom" (Christopher Marlowe: A Study of his Thought, Learning, and Character |Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1946~, p. 108). For a discussion of the place of magic in the play see Robert H. West's "The Impatient Magic of Dr. Faustus," ELR 4, 2 (Spring 1974): 218-40.
31 Perkins, A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft, p. 593.
32 Perkins, A Golden Chain (1591), in The Work, pp. 169-259, 250.
33 Quoted in Porter, p. 381.
34 Richard Hooker, "Fragments of an Answer to the Letter of Certain English Protestants" in The Works, arranged by John Keble, seventh edn., 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), Book V, Appendix 1, paragraphs 42, 43.
35 Quoted in Porter, p. 381.
36 See Michael Hattaway's "The Theology of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus," RenD n.s. 3 (1970): 51-78.
37 Sanders, p. 235.
38 "The Old Man's precepts concerning the continued amiability of Faustus's soul and the accessibility of grace reflect a scholastic and moderate Anglican emphasis upon the idea that the wicked render themselves incapable of salvation" (John S. Wilks, The Idea of Conscience in Renaissance Tragedy |London and New York: Routledge, 1990~, p. 150).
39 According to Pauline Honderich, in this speech "Marlowe calls up and sets against each other the images both of the benevolent God of the Catholic dispensation and of the harsh and revengeful God of Calvinistic doctrine" ("John Calvin and Doctor Faustus," MLR 68, 1 |January 1973~: 1-13, 12).
40 Perkins, A Golden Chain, p. 85.
41 Perkins, A Golden Chain, p. 256.
42 Alan Sinfield, Literature in Protestant England, 1560-1660 (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1983), p. 14.
43 Roma Gill, Doctor Faustus (London: A. and C. Black, 1985), p. xxii.
44 After examining some twenty-four essays on Doctor Faustus, Max Bluestone determined that critical "opinion divides about equally between those who see the play as orthodox and those who see it as heterodox or ambiguous" ("Libido Speculandi" in Reinterpretations of Elizabethan Drama, ed. Norman Rabkin |New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1969~, p. 38 n. 5).
45 See Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York: The Free Press, 1967).
46 Sanders, p. 242.
47 Helyn, p. 66.
48 E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 4:306. See also the discussion in Annabel Patterson, Shakespeare and the Popular Voice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), pp. 18-28.
G.M. Pinciss is Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Literary Creations: Conventional Characters in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries and Christopher Marlowe; coauthor of Shakespeare's World; and coeditor of the Malone Society edition of The Faithful Friends.