kolb0148: November 2012 Archives

Emily Kolb Blog Entry 3

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This week has been challenging- now that my group has an argument, I am looking at Faust not for what interests me but specifically to see: in what was does Marlowe diverge from the accepted theology of the time. Luckily, this is somewhat how I've been looking at the play but now I am searching for an argument that relates. As I re-read the play and look at scholarly articles about the play, the theme of knowledge is evident. The idea of knowledge, and the pursuit of knowledge being damnable- and so, I began to wonder how does Marlowe say something different about knowledge than what was normative. This week I began to think that it is not knowledge that Marlowe is looking at, it's false knowledge, knowledge that lacks. This is the sentence that needs to be unpacked: Faustus is not damned for his knowledge, he is damned for his confused knowledge.

If Faustus is a liar, it is a lie of omission, (or, perhaps, also a lie in bad faith). A lie, yes, but perhaps a lie of a different severity than a blatant lie. I think Marlowe means to paint a picture of Faustus as something other than a sinner. Or perhaps, a sinner in a different sense, a sinner in the Judaic sense where sin is "missing the mark" or "straying from the path" a definition that came back to me when I read the definition of Hamartia: "missing the mark". Considering how readily I saw Faust as a tragic hero of Greek proportions (and it's explicit- he is introduced through Icarus), this shared definition intrigues me. Marlowe suggests that Faust' sin should not be so easily damnable because his sin is not mutually exclusive with a mistake, instead this sin encompasses this mistake. Faust has strayed from the path.

Faust doesn't have accurate information. He is purposefully deceived (sometimes he is more complicit in this deception- it begins to look like self-deception). Things don't appear as they are. Lies look like truths. Evil looks good. Mephistophiles looks like Franciscan friar (at Faust's request, yes: he is in bad faith. Or maybe it's just another joke at the Catholic Church's expense).

So, the question becomes how guilty is Faust? How damnable, how mortal his sin? In a sentencing without a gray area, (he is either innocent or guilty, he either goes to heaven or hell) I think Marlowe means to suggest that he is innocent. The judge of this is how bad do we feel for Faust at the end of the play: Do we believe he's gotten his just deserts? I don't think so. We feel bad not because he is a respectable man, but because he isn't. He is a fool. He talks a good game but he is a fool. He is a fool in two respects. The first, because he is fooled. He is fooled by the evil powers over and over again. He is a fool because he doesn't have the facts straight (the examples of Faust's misinformation and unmet expectations are plentiful).

The other way that he is a fool is why the middle part of the play exists. Faust behaves foolishly. He pulls pranks. We see this very clearly when we look at how Faust uses his dark powers, and how the demonic forces of the play use theirs. The demonic forces use their powers on the intellect, on the soul. They modify truth, they equivocate. In spite of his expression of what he wants to do with his power in the first scenes of the play, Faust's tricks and pranks are bodily, physical. Even his most impressive feat, the flying on dragons bit, is physical. His dabbling in the dark arts is so harmless when compared to Lucifer and Mephistophiles. If he errs, it is harmless. If he is criminal, it is a victimless crime. And here is where Marlowe blasphemes.

Why is Faust punished? Because the God of Elizabethan England is a contradiction. No sin is victimless because every sin is an affront to God. Every sin is a violation of God's will. And the punishment is ostentatious, spectacular: because God is getting revenge. (...yeah this kind of from Foucault- which also speaks to the ubiquitous nature of theology in Marlowe's every day life. This is a... ecclesiasti-political justice. An affront to the accepted theology is an affront to EVERYTHING) Faust's punishment is a display of God's power. And the audience is disturbed, for we don't see how Faust deserves this. Faust's strayed from the path, yes, but does he deserve hell? No. And nor did Eve (because for this argument the stories are as analogous as ever). And here is the contradiction, this God is unforgiving. Eve's God was not a contradiction, because Eve's God hadn't the pretense of being a forgiving God. The God of the New Testament, the God of the Protestant Reformation, the God of Elizabethan England is supposed to be a forgiving God. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe heretically reveals God's face.

And now back to reality. That is probably not a four-minute argument and I have the responsibility of making it a four-minute argument, so obviously it will have to be broken down (which kills me because I wish I could dig in deeper,(- esp to this idea of Faust in bad faith, which isn't complete), not pack it up again. But I've gotta and I'm gonna. That's my challenge as I move forward). And once I have that reduced, considering the structure of our presentation, I need to decide what scenes best represent this. What's nice is that I think the meat of this can be shown in one of the middle scenes, which likely would have gotten the shaft from our presentation otherwise but I think they do say something important. Those middle scenes show Faust to be a fool and put in the context of the first and last scenes- I think our audience will have to be intrigued. The Faust who pretends to have his head knocked off is a different Faust from the eloquent and impressive Faust of the beginning, and the repentant, terrified Faust of the end. I'd be interested in the journey.

An addendum in response to your comments on our argument: The above way of looking at the play may help explain how the play was allowed to be performed. Our group came at this project looking for a rebellious Marlowe, and a lot of that was tied to his atheism. What I encountered when I read the play, and other members had a similar discovery, was that the play really didn't seem atheist. In fact, it seemed to be a morality play, a warning that very much ascribed to what we supposed was the accepted theology of the time. Perhaps Marlowe got this on stage by writing a play that did align with what everyone would have thought (the most obvious way that it diverges is that Faustus is not saved when he repents, but I think this can be explained and that the audience would have accepted this) but that the consequence of this theology is revealed. It conforms, but what does that imply. Perhaps Marlowe depended upon the inability for the censors to effectively censor the emotions in the audience that Marlowe intended to elicit- that is of pity and confusion in regards to Faust's final punishment.

Emily Kolb Blog Entry 2

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This week I've been mainly thinking about our question of if Marlowe is a rebel or not and what this label means. It's been difficult to put the articles I've been looking at in the context of this question- the authors I'm reading aren't looking at that. As we move forward, I feel like I need more historical context. To rebel suggests a contrast between two things- I have a good idea of Marlowe- but not so much an idea of the actual historical context in a more specific way (literally- that year, that day, etc). I have a solid idea of Christian theology in general- but not such a specific one. The article that I've focused on paints an interesting picture of Satan and sin to me but what would it have seemed to the audience of the time?

Another interesting question that ran across my mind this week was this idea of Marlowe as an atheist. Because not much information- looking at this play specificly- serves to support that theory. However, it's possible that Marlowe would have been trying to expose a skeptical view of the world but then also trying not to been seen as an atheist (I was listening to something about Descartes who was writing a few years after Marlowe and he kept affirming his belief in God, ostensibly not because he was trying to forward theistic thinking, but rather because he was afraid of the consequences of his thoughts gaining him the dangerous title of atheist). Looking at the death of Marlowe, which some have claimed to be related to his atheism, this would support a view of Doctor Faustus as being part of an attempt to avoid this title of atheist.

The article I read was about what Marlowe was attempting to say about Evil. That it was trying to reveal the frivolous nature of evil in the world. Considering what I said above, I wonder if we could get anywhere looking at if Marlowe was trying to say something about badness, self-indulgence, pride outside of a theological sense- not considering so much the theological implications of this behavior, but rather the worldly consequences. And that Marlowe put this questions in this religious context in order to make his idea palatable (even legible?) and also to avoid the title of atheist.

Smith, Warren D. "The Nature of Evil in Doctor Faustus." Modern Humanities Research Association 60.2 (1965): 171-75. JSTOR. Web.

This article looks mainly at the frivolity of Faust's actions in his 24-years. It posits that Faust's actions suggest that sin is trivial, that Faust's illusions of grandeur about all the things he'll be able to do with this power reveal that the act of sinning is never as weighty, or important, or fun as we think it might be.
The author responds to suggestions of others that the middle part of Faust, especially parts that involve the silly pranks he plays on people, weren't actually written by Marlowe. That they so starkly contrast the beautiful rhetoric and poetry and the weight of the ideas in the beginning and end of the play, that they must be written by a different author. Smith, however, posits that Marlowe's point is that sin is petty in nature. That the act of sinning should be in stark contrast to the heavy theological questions implied at the beginning and end.
The author also suggests that the smallness of scope of the 7 deadly sins is central to the play. That the parade of the sins reveals their small desires, and then Faust manifests this smallness throughout the play, expressing each of the sins in 24-year journey. And it is through this journey as well that Faust learns the smallness strength that the power provided by a pact with the devil allows, and that it is perhaps at this realization that Faust chooses to repent. All this, Smith argues, serves to suggest that the middle part of Faust is an important and purposeful representation of Marlowe's ideas about sin.

as is this

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