Monday, January 06, 2014

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

[The unnamed portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College in 1952, in the form of two old planks that almost got used to house a hi fi system (the text in the link is roughly quoted from Park Honan's book). The inscription gives the year 1585 and the age 21, which fits Marlowe and no other student in the college records. He was there, thanks to a Parker scholarship, from 1580 to 1587.]

Dr Faustus (1588? or 1592?)

[Line references are to the Revels edition, ed. Bevington and Rasmussen (1993). But I have not necessarily stuck with their spelling or punctuation.]

The corpus of plays attributed to Christopher Marlowe makes a double and somewhat contradictory impression. On the one hand what you want to remember is a cleanness and directness that are intensely exciting; on the other hand, it’s rather a ragbag, with many pages and even whole plays in which our interest, unless stoked up by biographical considerations, is really quite tepid.

In the English-speaking world the two parts of Tamburlaine make a powerful, troubling statement, and one of enduring significance for our literature. But Marlowe’s “mighty line” and his confrontational immorality are local matters. Outside the English-speaking world, Marlowe simply means Dr Faustus, a formidable European classic, a key text.

This is so even though, most people think, Marlowe wrote only the pivotal scenes and left the foolery demanded by the Faust Book to be written up by an unknown collaborator. (Elizabethan collaboration, some people say, usually meant that the co-authors worked independently on the scenes assigned to them, and did not have a close knowledge of each other’s contributions.) The date of composition is uncertain, the evidence favouring 1588. The result of that collaboration is more or less represented by the version now known as the A-text, printed in 1604. More or less, because the text is short; some scenes are disordered and others seem to have disappeared altogether.  The A-Text of Dr Faustus makes quite modest demands on theatrical resources. It was well adapted to touring companies such as Lord Pembroke’s Men, who were presumably playing it during the recess of London playhouses in 1592-93. But when Dr Faustus became a long-running hit in London during the mid-1590s, there was an impulse to exploit the diabolical reputation that the play was earning by spicing it up with more devils and more spectacle, as well as re-working bits of clown repartee that had not worn well.  In November 1602 Henslowe’s diary records payment to  “wm Bvrde & Samwell Rowle” for additions to Dr Faustus. Byrde and Rowley’s dressed-up version is presumably the basis of what is known as the B-text, first printed in 1616. This had now taken over as the acting version, and in B there is some censorship of the language, reflecting the impact of the 1606 Act of Abuses. Both the printed versions are good plays, but A is the obvious choice for most purposes.

The above paragraph represents what is currently the orthodox view of many difficult problems. It must be admitted that the evidence for most of its assertions is more slender than one could wish. The strongest arguments for e.g. the date, or the collaborator, are probably that they “feel” right. In detail, however, there are some difficulties with the orthodox view.

One is as follows. The B-text makes valiant (if not too convincing) efforts to redress the disordering of scenes that is manifest in A; the obvious assumption therefore is that the text from which Byrde and Rowley were working was more or less the same one that was printed a couple of years later as the A-text, in 1604. In other words, A’s disordering of scenes did not take place in the printing house. But there is important evidence that, in fact, the improvers’ source-text did differ from A. This evidence is contained in The Taming of A Shrew (printed in 1594), which appropriates several passages from Dr Faustus; for full details, see Appendix B, below. Some of what the Shrew-compilers borrowed turns up in B but not in A, which suggests the possibility that B may contain some valuable testimony to the material that seems to be lost from A. One of the parallel passages in A Shrew relates to lines in B IV.2, the scene where the Emperor’s knights ambush Faustus and he sets the devils on them; but this whole episode is absent from A. There must be another scene missing between A IV.1 and A IV.2: Faustus and Mephistophilis leave the stage and re-enter immediately though there has been a gap in the action – which is a fine cinematic cut, but foreign to Elizabethan stage practice. B supplies just the kind of scene we’re looking for: a swift comic scene in which neither Faustus nor Mephistophilis appear at all. And in it, the Clown/Robin tells us that “one of his (Faustus’) devils turned me into the likeness of an ape’s face”, which is indeed what happened in A III.2, but not in the revision of the scene (B III.3). Obviously there is more than one way of interpreting what has happened here, but the simplest is that Byrde and Rowley revised the action of scenes that were in fact present in the original work by Marlowe’s collaborator, though they went missing from the 1604 printing of A. So one naturally begins to think of the copy text for A not as virginal “foul papers” but as reflecting some stage history, e.g. of cuts to reduce the number of actors. It seems pretty clear that the final Scholars scene (B.V.3) was also part of the original, as explained in a couple of recent articles by Robert A. H. Smith.]

In Dr Faustus Marlowe explores (as the Faust Book had not) the intriguing potency of the folkloric notion that one can irrevocably make a pact with the devil in return for a temporal span of luxurious living. The play spends very little time worrying about how Faustus arrived at such a horrific decision; it is not a play about character and motivation. We only need to know that Faustus is “resolute” – not why. The opening scenes cruise with unstoppable momentum through the final stages of making the pact. Faustus agrees with the Evil Angel that it is a pact – everything is irrevocable now. But the devils are by no means so sure; they seem to agree with the Good Angel. (Faustus himself quite understands that it is Lucifer who stabs him with pain for naming Christ, even so near the end; he is being strong-armed into hell.) The nagging possibility of redemption creates a sense of strain that runs through the dream-like centre of the play (where no such matter is discussed) and becomes ever more taut as time runs out in the final scenes. The deeper the darkness that gathers around Faustus, the brighter its pinpoint of salvation seems to burn.

Peter Hammill, lead singer of the ‘70s progressive rock group Van der Graaf Generator, said in an interview that one of their “concept albums”, Godbluff, dramatizes an action that took about two seconds. It’s the same with Dr Faustus, which compulsively replays the same two-second moment of choosing over and over again, casting it into new dramatic forms with ceaseless invention. The aesthetic of Dr Faustus is not so far away from the aesthetic of Shakespeare’s sonnets to his young man, every one of which is a different way of saying “I love you infinitely”. 

The real action of Dr Faustus concerns a choice of purely metaphysical dimensions, a choice that may never have been made at all and is perennially fresh, in defiance of time. But everyone makes a choice of life – it doesn’t matter what - . Everyone has made choices in the past: big, unpleasant and probably wrong, unassessable at best... so Dr Faustus makes us think about ourselves. To respond to this no awareness is needed other than of our own potential; which is why Faustus appeals (like the novels of Dostoyevsky) to adolescents. 

The awareness of our own potential is inconclusive. It appears to be limitless, in principle. But then we are conscious of all sorts of restraints. Have we, in fact, already made our choice, and is it irrevocable? Have we already drifted far, so that now the apparent choice only confirms what our natures have already become? Are we freely resolute to be ourselves, or does our “resolution” only conceal from us that we are trapped in our own destiny?

And then, increasingly with the years, one drifts away from this contemplation and finds ways to avoid thinking about the choice (if it was already irrevocable, more years make no difference; and if it is after all revocable, we may yet wait for a more energetic mood). But perhaps in those seedy middle years one is actually making the choice by not thinking about it? These are the years in which what we once projected does not bring happiness, only age. Nothing big that you ever bought actually delivered its payload. No friendship that you formed or marred leaves you any less alone on the day when you face the choice again and see that you are just where you were, that time has not healed and nothing that you pursued in the meanwhile has made the choice itself go away. 

The god thou servest is thine own appetite,
Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub;
To him I’ll build an altar and a church,
And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes.  (II.1.11-14)    

With these words Faustus settles himself into a firm decision after a moment of doubt. We understand that when he blusters about lukewarm blood this is nothing more than “resolution” making itself look resolved. Faustus in fact does nothing in the play that is repugnant to human morality – this would introduce a quite different set of concerns. On the contrary he is (but his character is not really the point of it) really rather gentle with those around him. (His behaviour to the Pope does not count.) Like many polite, gentle people, he is probably in truth indifferent. Faustus is a scholar’s play as well as an adolescent’s play. Mephistophilis denies him a wife, and Marlowe’s collaborator finely hints at Faustus’ melancholy sense of isolation from the concerns of the Duke of Vanholt and his pregnant Duchess. Faustus goes about consuming the years with his nasty little imaginary friend, to whom also he is noticeably polite. The Third Scholar is not far astray when he surmises: “Belike he (Faustus) is grown into some sickness by being over-solitary”. [* See Appendix A, below] 

The collaborator must take credit for this, too:

Now, Mephistophilis, the restless course
That time doth run with calm and silent foot,
Shortening my days and thread of vital life,
Calls for the payment of my latest years.
Therefore, sweet Mephistophilis, let us make haste to Wittenburg.
(IV. 1. 100-104)

This is what any aging but still-busy person might say. It’s as if the collaborator has forgotten that Faustus has a rather more dreadful payment to make than such comfortably stoical words normally imply. What comes across is that Faustus has forgotten. Or rather, he doesn’t like to talk about it. The collaborator is perhaps just taking us as smoothly as possible through to the point where his task is done and where Marlowe takes over again; the result is a wonderfully moving moment, a very un-Marlovian one, but one that is true to the multiple vision of the play. For Faustus is an Everyman too. If the literal image of a pact with the devil is folkloric and perhaps contradictory to Christianity, there are realities in every life that the pact can very well stand for – which was obvious in that Calvinist age and no less obvious now.   

In Dr Faustus all times and places are omnipresent.

Faustus. How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
Mephistophilis. Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.     (I.3.77-78)

Though Faustus may pretend otherwise, it is always the last hour before the last midnight, the pact and the final payment are coincident. The final hour is defined by Faustus at last seeing his choice in its true colours. 

See see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!  (V.2.78)

I still don’t know quite what Faustus says he is seeing (As a teenager I always thought of a system of glass tubes, like in chemistry lessons). But it is, approximately, a universal wound at the back of all things; the world is eternally in a critical condition.... This might be the only time in all art that Christ’s blood suddenly affects me like the sight of real blood. That is to say, with horror.

Perhaps one may say, with unconfined heterodoxy, that what tortures the damned in hell is nothing other than the vision of Christ. Contrariwise, the advancing militia of hell could be salvation (though they aren’t for Faustus), which is what ought to have been portrayed at the end of V.1, when the pious Old Man is engulfed by devils, and is triumphant in martrydom. Dyce’s mischievous idea that the Old Man repulses the devils and smartly nips off stage in an opposite direction makes nonsense of Mephistophilis’ point that the devils can (and will) afflict bodies to the uttermost.

[Note how at this moment in Faustus’ final speech “Marlowe’s mighty line” stretches and tears. He has made good use of that clean, end-stopped pentameter in parts of Faustus (the speech about Helen being its apotheosis) but it is only one of the tools, hastily taken up and thrown down, that the multiple vision of the play has called forth. Think of Faustus’ astonishing prose speeches in the first part of V.2, when the scholars are still with him.] 

What the fully-engaged Faustus sees now is what has been happening all along. Mephistophilis in fact manifested some impatience at Faustus’ pert coolness in the earlier scenes when he made the pact. Stupidity, even when it happens to suit our plans, can be unacceptable; and Marlowe, with one of those swift intuitions of genius that also produced the Good and Evil Angels, sees no reason for Mephistophilis to be a mere devil. As the scene with the scholars demonstrates, the panoply of devils may be all in Faustus’ own mind anyway.

I would lift up my hands, but see, they hold them, they hold them.  (V.2.33-34)

When Faustus is lost in adoration of his Helen, the most important and pitiable aspect of the scene is that Helen is his own projection. As the old joke goes, nobody knows better how to please you.

Dr Faustus: Appendix A

[The following scrap of dialogue, though reflecting the probably mistaken belief that Marlowe wrote the middle scenes of the A-text, is the source of my thoughts about the Vanholt scene:


.... I don’t agree with that at all. In fact I don’t agree that Marlowe had a fixed conception of Faustus’ character at all. That’s a Bradleyan notion of character which might often be quite appropriate to Shakespeare, but Marlowe’s play is a completely different kind of thing. To be frank, he has not much interest in human character. Faustus was a perfect vehicle for him. It is about a sin that involves no human relations. It takes place almost outside of time. Twenty-four years, one hour, what are they? The sequence in the middle of the play is dream-like. Just as everyone grasps that the opening scene of the play dramatises years of thought, so in these scenes we have no doubt that we are seeing a specialized concentration of Faustus’s twenty-four years. Of course it was going round in his head the whole time. The same sickening thought-sequences: I will be resolute, that means I can’t repent, yes I can if I wish, no it is too late, I have made a pact...  But there was no point in Marlowe presenting that same thought-sequence over and over again. What he does instead is show us some other things, all of them important. First, that Faustus’s inner struggle makes no outward impression on other people. Second, that Faustus in despair turns out to have no taste for slaughtering new-born babes or bridging continents. He is almost an automaton – he even enjoys a guided tour, for God’s sake! Third, that Faustus’s damnation, or rather his conviction of damnation, is quite consistent with being a kindly and sociable person.   


So for you the middle of the play – of the A-Text, that is – is completely integrated with the rest of it.


I don’t claim that it is full of dramatic highpoints -  the play has enough of those anyway. But I think it works. Think of that odd little scene with the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt and the grapes. Of course it is poetically vacuous, but as I’ve said that’s typical of one element in Marlowe’s stagecraft. But consider what it means – for everyone registers what Marlowe means in this play, which I suppose is what you meant  by “fluency”. Would you like to read the scene? You are the heavily-pregnant duchess. Start it from “summer”



and were it now summer, as it is January and the dead time of winter, I would desire no better meat than a dish of ripe grapes.


            Alas, madam, that’s nothing.

Then, after an aside to Mephistopheles and a small pause while Mephistopheles departs, he goes on:

Were it a greater thing than this, so it would content you, you should have it.   – Here they be, madam. Will’t please you taste on them?

Fern. (laughing)

I wish you had really produced some grapes!


Don’t, it’s too creepy. Faustus blatantly manipulates our buried belief that devils really can be invoked if you say the right things.


I don’t think I have that belief, but it’s quite clear that Marlowe exploited it in his audience.


I get scared just reading through the scene where Faustus does the invocation - it ought to be sensational in the theatre. Anyway, the duchess tucks into the grapes while Faustus makes scholarly chit-chat about geography to the duke. Then he turns to her and says:

            How do you like them, madam? Be they good?


Believe me, Master Doctor, they be the best grapes that e’er I tasted in my life before.


            I am glad they content you so, madam.

And that’s more or less it, apart from a ceremonious exit. Now, what’s going on here? Is this comic relief?


It’s idyllic relief, perhaps. A pregnant woman, like the old man who is a staunch Christian, shows us the good things that Faustus has given up.


He is a scholar, he knows nothing of child-bearing. He lusted after knowledge, but Mephistopheles wouldn’t let him be married, so he is ignorant of most things that matter. Do you think he likes grapes?


He does particularly mention, in another scene, that he wants a book about plants.


But that’s as a scientist. That’s to emphasize his lack of interest in human life. There’s only one sin that Faustus is capable of being tempted by.


I don’t think Faustus is very pleased with the grapes. He refuses to name them. When he asks the duchess about them, that’s politeness – to bring her back into the conversation. Faustus is a very polite person in this scene.


I agree. Including “Alas, madam, that’s nothing.” Alas registers disappointment, but it’s not with the duchess, is it? Does he imply that her imagination doesn’t exactly set us on fire?


He would have liked the opportunity to do something more spectacular than produce a bunch of grapes.


And as a theatre audience, we might agree. We too might have looked for something more of a spectacle.


The disappointment must certainly have to do with his own situation. I know! Read this - what the duke says as they’re going out.

            Come madam, let us in,
            Where you must well reward this learnèd man
            For the great kindness he hath showed you.

He is over-stating it in a gracious way, but still, he does think that Faustus has done a kindness to his wife. Faustus knows he really hasn’t. Everything comes too easy to him. The power he has bargained for is itself a kind of damnation. It places him outside the sphere of ordinary human aspirations and intimacies.


Look again at that line – “I am glad they content you so, madam”. No reader believes him. Not that Faustus is vindictive, but the fact of the grapes pleasing her so much is something that he is utterly distanced from. What he senses is the insignificance of his own part in the transaction. The whole scene makes him feel isolated. It certainly does not “feed his soul”, whatever you might believe about the procession of the Sins. There is a dramatic tension here, too. It’s a long time since Faustus has really told us about his feelings. We won’t have much longer to wait...]

Dr Faustus: Appendix B

Borrowings from Dr Faustus in The Taming Of A Shrew (1594)

The Taming Of A Shrew  is a play that was “reconstructed” from none-too-recent memories of Shakespeare’s early masterpiece The Taming Of The Shrew (c. 1589) , probably by actors for the use of a touring company (i.e. the Pembroke company mentioned on the title page). This reconstruction took place some time before 1594 when the text was sold for printing. The company must by then have been in financial straits. The actors had not been able to recollect many of Shakespeare’s actual words, or even the exact story of the “Bianca” sub-plot, but what they produced was sufficient for its purposes. Their basic conception of  a good play was Marlovian rather than Shakespearian; they wanted high-sounding rhetoric and then they had recourse to a wealth of material remembered from other plays in which they had acted, including Dr Faustus. The upshot is a number of parallel passages. Some are distinct “borrowings”, appropriated word for word; one would like to think the actors had fresh memories of playing the parts of Wagner/Chorus and of Faustus himself. Others have been adapted at will and the most imponderable ones may well have been unconscious or even coincidental, so drawing conclusions about the textual evidence for Faustus is not straightforward. Since the details of these parallel passages are not easy to come by, I present them in full here. This information comes from The Taming of A Shrew, ed. F.S. Boas (1911), in which an Appendix is devoted to Marlovian borrowings (some from Faustus, the rest from Tamburlaine), supplemented by The Taming Of The Shrew, ed. Brian Morris (1981), p. 36n, which lists a few other parallel passages that have been discerned in the years subsequent to Boas’ edition. A Shrew line references are to Boas’s edition. I preserve the old spelling given in Boas’ Appendix where this is my source; for the others I quote the modernized English of Boas’ main text. Faustus line references and quotations are from Bevington and Rasmussen ed. (1993). I make the assumption that where A Shrew has the same words as either A or B or both, this represents the text of Dr Faustus in the form that was known in 1594, and for convenience I refer to this text as the original. Other hypotheses are of course possible; for example that manuscripts of Faustus were already diverging into two streams at this earlier date. 

1. (=Boas 1)

A Shrew, Induction Sc 1, 9-12

Lord. Now that the gloomie shaddow of the night
Longing to view Orion’s drisling lookes,
Leapes from th’antarticke world unto the skie
And dims the welkin with her pitchie breath.

Faustus A and B I.3.1-4

Faustus. Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth, [A: earth, B: night,]
Longing to view Orion’s drizzling look,
Leaps from th’Antarctic world unto the sky
And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath,

Comment: A’s reading of  “earth” is more attractive, but the Shrew players seem to have been familiar with “night”, as preserved in B. It looks like A improved on the original.

2. (=Boas 8)

A Shrew, II.1.79-80

Aurelius. To seeke for strange and new-found pretious stones
And dive into the sea to gather pearle.

Faustus A I.1.84-87, B I.1.81-84

(Faustus) I’ll have them fly to India for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all corners of the new-found world
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates.

Comment: A Shrew preserves the general sense, and the words “pearl” and “new-found”, though the latter is applied in a different context, and America drops out of sight. A and B texts are identical at this point.

3. (=Boas 13)

A Shrew, II.2.1-4

Boy. Come hither, sirha, boy.
Of your face, you have many boies with such
Pickadevantes I am sure, souns would you
Not have a bloudie nose for this!

Faustus, A I.4.1-4

Wagner. Sirrah boy, come hither.
Robin. How, ‘boy’? ‘Swounds, ‘boy’! I hope you have seen
many boys with such pickedevants as I have. ‘Boy’,

Faustus, B I.4.1-4

Wagner. Come hither, sirrah boy.
Robin. ‘Boy’? O, disgrace to my person! Zounds, ‘boy’ in your
face! You have seen many boys with beards, I am

Comment: The original was clearly closer to B, but for the phrase “such pickedevants”. B has dropped this (perhaps because the expression no longer raised a titter, or because the current Robin did not have a pointy beard). The A-text is substantially re-worded.

4. (=Boas 15)

A Shrew, III.6.31-32

Emelia. As once did Orpheus with his harmony,
And ravishing sound of his melodious harpe.

Faustus, A II.3.29-30; B II.3.26-27

(Faustus) And hath not he that built the walls of Thebes
With ravishing sound of his melodious harp

Comment: A and B are identical here. The lines in Faustus refer to Amphion, not Orpheus.

5. (=Boas 16)

A Shrew, IV.2.60-61

Duke. This angrie sword  should rip thy hatefull chest,
And hewd thee smaller than the Libian sands.

Faustus, B IV.2.73-74

(Faustus) And had you cut my body with your swords,
Or hewd this flesh and bones as small as sand

Comment. This scene (in which the Emperor’s knights ambush Faustus) is not in A. It forms part of the substantial material in B that concerns Benvolio and his companions.  Boas points out that the Duke’s subsequent wish to “muster bands of hellish fiends” (A Shrew IV.2.73) also reflects the general context of the Faustus speech, which leads up to summoning a troop of devils to persecute the knights. B probably elaborated the original; but it is yet more certain that A cut it.

6. (Morris, loc.cit.: first recognized by Raymond Houk, 1947)

A Shrew, II.1.10 and16-17

(Kate) For, trust me, I take no great delight in it...
(Valeria) If that, sweet mistress, were your heart’s content,
You should command a greater thing than that

Faustus, A IV.2.4-5 and 15-16

(Faustus) But it may be, madam, you take no delight in
this. I have heard that great-bellied women...
(Faustus) Were it a greater thing than this, so it would content you,
you should have it.

Comment: From the Vanholt scene. This scene is also in B (IV.6) but the relevant passages are dissimilar, presumably because of revision by  Byrde and Rowley.

7. (Morris, loc. cit.: first recognized by Robert A.H. Smith, 1979)

A Shrew, Induction Sc 2, 32-35

Lord. Ay, my gracious lord, and your lovely lady
Long time hath mournèd for your absence here,
And now with joy behold where she doth come,
To gratulate your honour’s safe return.

Faustus, A IV.Chorus, 3-6

(Chorus) He stayed his course and so returnèd home,
Where such as bear his absence but with grief –
I mean his friends and nearest companions –
Did gratulate his safety with kind words.

Comment. This chorus is not in B (and is generally agreed to be misplaced in A). Its content, describing a visit that Faustus makes to Wittenburg before attending the Emperor, would not have been consistent with the action in B, where Faustus is said to have come straight to the Emperor from Italy in the company of  Bruno, the rival pope. Perhaps the Bruno material was Byrde and Rowley’s innovation, and hence they dropped the chorus. This is the least persuasive of the parallel passages, I think; the Shrew­-author is exceedingly fond of the word “gratulate”, though of course it may be from Faustus that he picked it up. It becomes one of his portmanteau expressions to add a poetical colouring, like “precious stones” and “Medean silks” (both ultimately from Tamburlaine). The word “gratulate” does not appear in Tamburlaine or in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but it does appear in Richard III (IV.1), while in Titus Andronicus (another play that the hard-up Pembroke company sold for printing in 1593-94) we find “And gratulate his safe return to Rome” (I.1.222), which is close to the Shrew line above. To “gratulate” someone’s “safe return” appears indeed to have been a fixed form of words, for William Ponsonby’s dedicatory note to Spenser’s Amoretti (1595) begins: “Sir, to gratulate your safe return from Ireland...”. It was a small world: A Shrew had the same printer (Peter Short) as the Amoretti volume (as did also e.g the Quartos of I Henry IV). The case for a recollection of Faustus  rests on little more than the unstartling thought-progression from mourning (or grieving) someone’s absence to gratulating their safety. 

[Incidentally, the line from Titus Andronicus comes from Act I, the Act that most readers feel is distinctly un-Shakespearean. It has been persuasively connected with George Peele  (see BrianVickers, Shakespeare: Co-Author (2004)). However when Vickers rightly comments that Peele was addicted to the word "gratulate" (p. 172) he might perhaps have added that lots of other people were, too.]

8. (Morris, loc. cit.: first recognized by Robert A.H. Smith, 1979)
A Shrew, III.6.7-8

Emelia. Should thou assay to scale the seat of Jove,
Mounting the subtle airy regions,

Faustus, B III.Chorus, 3-4 (A III. Chorus, 3-4) and 18-19 (not in A)

(Chorus) Graven in the book of Jove’s high firmament,
Did mount him up to scale Olympus’ top,...   [B: him up A:himself]
And, mounted then upon a dragon’s back,
That with his wings did part the subtle air,

Comment: “Scale”and “Jove” also appear together in Tamburlaine, Part One, I.2.199-200, while “mounted up the air” appears at Tamburlaine, Part Two, I.1.140, and “airy region” at Tamburlaine, Part Two, IV.1.119. It is not always easy to distinguish a definite recollection from a general Marlovian colour, and much depends on that fragile testimony, the “subtle air”. If you accept it, the same conclusion applies as to No. 5: B’s 25 lines may elaborate the original, but A’s 11 lines are certainly an abridgment. In this case what B preserves may well be almost pure Marlowe.

(2004, 2014)



At 8:01 pm, Blogger Vincent said...

I find this a brilliant piece, evoking a reading of Dr Faustus more than fifty years ago, can't say when; and possibly other of Marlowe's works as well. In a single interpretation, you have woven detailed glosses into a broad sweep which somehow touches on the essence of everyone's life, particularly these lines:

‘The real action of Dr Faustus concerns a choice of purely metaphysical dimensions, a choice that may never have been made at all and is perennially fresh, in defiance of time. But everyone makes a choice of life – it doesn’t matter what - . Everyone has made choices in the past: big, unpleasant and probably wrong, unassessable at best... so Dr Faustus makes us think about ourselves. To respond to this no awareness is needed other than of our own potential; which is why Faustus appeals (like the novels of Dostoyevsky) to adolescents.

‘The awareness of our own potential is inconclusive. It appears to be limitless, in principle. But then we are conscious of all sorts of restraints. Have we, in fact, already made our choice, and is it irrevocable? Have we already drifted far, so that now the apparent choice only confirms what our natures have already become? Are we freely resolute to be ourselves, or does our “resolution” only conceal from us that we are trapped in our own destiny?’

And then again, in your talk of ‘seedy middle years’ ...

I note that your other piece on Fulke Greville confesses to revision of the original piece written in 2014. It makes me wonder if this one on Marlowe was also updated in any way, especially in the parts I quote above; for I’d imagine that the intervening ten years have made some difference to your thought?

Anyhow, both pieces stand up to multiple readings, and their scholarly content won’t daunt a curious reader like this one.

I’m sure you’ll be able to dig out more and publish here if you are motivated to do so, and find some eager readers.

At 9:19 pm, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

Thank you, Vincent - I glowed!

Oh yes, I did update it a little, but forgot to annotate the date.

Yes, there'll be many more pieces like this, as I gradually dismantle my old "Brief History" site and shift these essays into the comparative glare of the blogosphere.


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