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Dr Faustus AQA LIT B Revision Guide

Social Context (AO4) Dr Faustus was written in approximately 1592. English society at this time was a world apart from that of the modern (or post-modern) world. Despite undergoing drastic changes since the earlier Medieval times, society remained highly regimented. The power of the State was largely concentrated in the hands of the Crown, at this time that power being exercised by Elizabeth I. Her policy was shaped, influenced and implemented by an elite class of nobles and courtiers, generally drawn from the landed classes. The core economy was based on agriculture and weaving, both activities primarily lining the pockets of the owners of large estates. However, there was a developing merchant and artisan class centred in the great urban centres such as London, Bristol, Norwich and York and Elizabeths reign saw the beginnings of a conflict between this new middling sort and the traditional holders of power. This conflict would come to a head fifty years after Marlowe wrote Dr Faustus, when the tensions fed much of the strife of the Civil Wars. An element of this conflict is apparent in Faustus treatment of the horse trader, who he dupes by selling him a magical horse: Faustus, the urban and learned man, tricks the agricultural rustic. It is interesting to note, however, that the joke is ultimately on Faustus firstly, the man returns and pulls Faustus leg off in a rage, and secondly the audience is left pondering on how far below Faustus original lofty ambitions his actual behaviour has fallen. Further social tensions are explored in Dr Faustus through the inclusion of characters of differing classes. Faustus and his academic peers are drawn from the upper end of the gentry not quite nobility, but far above the average man. The academic classes were often the destination for second- or third-born sons of noble or wealthy families (the first-born son inheriting estates and secular power). Academia was largely controlled by the Church Dr Faustus is a Doctor of Divinity. The academics were involved in educating not just the next generation of clergy but also the children of the upper (and some upper-middle) classes. The late Sixteenth Century was a period of growth in literacy throughout society, although looking at the population as a whole the literate element was still a minority. Tensions between the literate and at least partly educated, and those who had received only at best a rudimentary education, are also reflected in Dr Faustus, particularly in the conflicts between Wagner and the other servants, and in the comic antics of Rafe and Robin. Faustus himself is not set outside the dynamics of his worlds social hierarchy, however: as the play progresses we see him come into conflict with the Knight at the Imperial court (the Knight representing the old, feudal, militaristic order in contrast to Faustus academic and educated background) and also reduced to performing conjuring tricks for his social betters. The possibility that he not only symbolically cuckolds the Knight (by magically placing the cuckolds horns on his head) but also literally cuckolds the Duke (by sating the Duchess desires) emphasises the degree of tension between Faustus world and the society around him.

Women in late Sixteenth Century England had few rights. They could not own property, except in the case of widowhood, and were expected to be subject to their husband. There was a law in London at this period that one could not beat ones wife with any stick with a diameter greater than a mans thumb hardly exactly protection. The women in Dr Faustus are generally presented as passive: Marlowe appears to be engaging in social conservatism when female characters are given an active role. The characterisation of Lechery, with her crude sexual references, is integral to ensuring Faustus remains locked into his pact with the Devil; it is the manifestation of Helen of Troy who finally seals Faustus fate when she steals his soul with her kiss. In both instances, Marlow appears to be reinforcing the misogynistic idea of women being responsible for mans downfall, la Eve. It is possible to argue that, given Marlowes apparent homosexuality, he might be inclined to have a less romanticised view of women than other young men. Such misogyny was not without its risks in a time when the ultimate power in the land was a Queen: however, Elizabeth was far from the stereotypical woman of the day. Determined to keep her own powers, she had resisted calls for her marriage and had instead built up the cult of the Virgin Queen. Married to her country, sacrificing her womanly duties and qualities for the good of her people, highly aware of the importance of pomp and display, Elizabeth had peaked in 1588 when she rallied the nation for defence against the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth was perhaps the closest thing to a Protestant saint that one could get, almost universally popular in society; Marlowe was hardly likely to make any explicit criticism of this demi-goddess, whatever his opinion of women in general.

Dramatic Heritage (AO4) Marlowe was an exact contemporary of Shakespeare (they were both born in the same year) and both were writing plays at around the same time. The Elizabethan age was a time of growth and development in the theatre; the English Renaissance (rebirth) was underway and plays were developing away from being moralistic or religious in tone, and were gaining depth and dramatic impact. Marlowes audience would have been a dynamic mix of the established wealthy (frequently companies of actors were hired to perform for individual nobles and their households) and also the urban-based gentry, the burgeoning middling sort (merchants, craftsmen etc) and the lower, uneducated classes. The breadth of society covered by these latter three classes is significant, and Marlowes text has to cater to each individual classs taste. This goes some way to explain the uneasy mix of high theology and high farce within the tale: Marlowe must cater for those in the audience able to read his text as a piece of dramatic literature, while also engaging those who have come for the spectacle of theatre. Marlowe builds directly on the foundations laid by the Medieval morality and mystery plays, religious allegories sanctioned by the Church whose purpose was to spread the Word, especially amongst those who could not read or did not receive religious instruction. The use of the Good and Bad Angels, and the tensions between the two, as well as the characterisations of the Seven Deadly Sins, draw directly from this clerical heritage. The (wise and holy) Old Man, another stock character also makes several appearances, suggesting that Faustus for all his knowledge and cleverness isnt actually wise at all. Marlowe goes further than just rehashing old morality plays, however or at least, there is a strong argument to this end. His characters develop even Mephistopheles, the great tempter, has a depth to him. Faustus, for all his pigheaded pride and pathetic failure to really use his powers, does by the end of the play come to a realisation of his own fall, and the fate that awaits him. Marlowe also develops the dramatic potential of the essentially simplistic plot. The cheap seats audience will be in turns thrilled by the slicing of Faustus arm to sign the deed, entertained by the slapstick of the mechanical classes (Rafe, Robin, the horse-trader etc) and terrified (or tempted) by the visions of Hell displayed. The more discerning audience, on the other hand, will be shocked by Marlowes inversion of the moments when Faustus calls on Christ (the first time, Satan pops up; the second, Faustus is dragged off to Hell) while they will be entertained like the good Protestant mob they claim to be by the Papal-bashing. Dr Faustus is based on the Germanic Faust legend, with embellishments by Marlowe. It is interesting to note that he appears to retain the Germanic setting Faustus is an academic at the University of Wittenburg. Marlowe also transfers the action to earlier in the Sixteenth Century: the reference to the court of the Emperor refers to Charles V, who ruled a vast empire covering Spain, modern-day Belgium 4

and Holland, much of Italy, much of modern-day Germany, and Austria. Charles V had to deal with the initial flourishing of the heretical Protestant doctrines, which emerged from 1517 onwards and culminated in Catholic states recognising the theoretical right of Protestant states to exist. Aspects of the Gothic (AO2, AO3, AO4) Knowledge Gothic literature can be characterised as being fascinated by the meaning of life. This can be litereal Dracula has the secret to eternal life, Frankenstein creates life or metaphorical. Macbeth reveals the true qualities of human nature (lust for power, treachery, madness). Wuthering Heights brings family secrets into a public (in the form of Lockwood) domain. Dr Faustus explores the limits of human knowledge: for all his experiences with Mephistopheles, Faustus fails to understand the human condition (see the Old Man for a contrast) and is ultimately isolated from human and, indeed, spiritual love. Title There is a tendency for Gothic texts to have an eponymous (anti-)hero ie their name is also the title. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Faustus, The Monk (OK, not a name, but kind of), Christabel, Hamlet, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde all the way down to modern Gothic texts such as Stephen Kings Carrie. Not really a good analytical point, but quite a nice throwaway remark if the questions right. Night-time Action Faustus summons Mephistopheles in the middle of the night; he gets taken to Hell at midnight after 24 years; the comical run-ins he has invariably occur at night. Good links across to Macbeth murdering Duncan and his subsequent fear that Macbeth shall sleep no more, and of course the haunting in Wuthering Heights. Horror and Terror The great irony of the text is that Faustus just doesnt get whats in store. He cant understand Mephistopheles line Why, this is Hell nor am I out of: for Faustus, Hell holds no fear until right at the end; he views Hell as a fable. Which is not how the audience would have felt for them, Hell was a very real place and one which they might end up in at any point, given the plethora of causes of death in the Sixteenth Century. There is plenty of horror in the text Faustus signing in his own blood, having his leg pulled off, being dragged off to Hell but its probably less impactful than the terror the audience feels on Faustus behalf, even though he cant feel it himself until its too late. Supernatural Necromancy, magic, demons and devils, Heaven and Hell, Good and Bad Angels... Plenty to be going on there. Contrasts nicely with Shakespeares uses of the supernatural in Macbeth: even the witches can be read as ultimately impotent (they just plant the seed of ambition, after all; Lady Macbeth is the one who nurtures it). Shakespeares most memorable supernatural elements the dagger, and Banquos ghost can easily be read as hallucinations: indeed, both Macbeth (A dagger of the mind... / Proceeding from the heat-oppressd brain) and Lady Macbeth (O proper 5

stuff! / This is the very painting of your fear) attribute the supernatural to psychological roots. Transgressive Females The sin of Lechery is personified as a woman, potty-mouthed. Helen of Troy is less obviously transgressive. However, we must not forget that she has been summoned from the dead and, even more transgressive, it was her abduction (or willing escape?) by Paris that led to the Trojan War. And she is the epitome of female attractiveness, which is never a good thing... Narrative Good for AO2 in terms of Form / Structure. The nature of this text being a play means that we cant have the multiplicity of narrators and narratives that we get in Wuthering Heights but there are elements of duality here Faustus struggles are echoed in the experiences of Wagner, but in a comic realm. Blood Dracula, The Bloody Chamber, the blood that stains the Macbeths hands, the blood which Faustus signs his contract in... Links to horror element quite well, but can be used discretely on its own. Could make speculative AO3 / AO4 readings to do with an inversion of Christian belief (This is my blood which is shed for you; drink ye all of this) Christs blood is our salvation, Faustus blood is his damnation.

Religious Context (AO3, AO4) By the time Dr Faustus was written, England was definitely a Protestant country. For much of the mid-Sixteenth Century, there had been religious uncertainty as the changes of King and Queen and of advisors to the King and Queen led to the national religion oscillating between Catholicism without the Pope (Henry VIII), extreme Protestantism (Edward VI and his advisors), extreme Catholicism (Mary Tudor) and finally the Anglican Protestantism of Elizabeth. The key differences between Catholics and Elizabethan Protestants were: Catholics Elizabethan Protestants Believed the Pope to be the head of the Believed that control of the Church Christian Church. rested with Royal power: the Queen ruled by the Grace of God (she still does look at the inscription on a 1 coin) and so was in charge of Gods affairs in that country. Believed the Pope was infallible (couldnt Believed in Papal fallibility: there was no be wrong). way the Pope, or any other man, could declare someones sins were forgiven, as no man knows whats going on in Gods mind. Believed in Transubstantiation that the Believed in Consubstantiation the bread and wine of the Mass literally Communion was celebrated in memory turned into the body and blood of Christ of Christ, and the Spirit was nearby but in the mouth: you were literally eating the actual bread and wine remained just Him. that. Believed that your soul could be saved Believed that your soul could only be by doing good works everything good saved by faith (Sola Fide by faith was weighed up against everything bad alone). you did in life, and depending which way the balance fell you either went to Heaven, to Purgatory for a bit, or to Hell. Believed in Free Will ever since the Believed in some degree of moment in Eden when Adam and Eve Predestination; at the extreme, people chose to disobey God, humans have had argued that God (knowing everything, the chance to make choices about their past present and future) already knew destiny. which souls would be saved, and people who thought they were in this group viewed themselves as the Elect, and that they could do no wrong as they were blessed by God. Many elements of these conflicts between the religions are present in Dr Faustus. In selling his soul to the Devil, Faustus is supposedly committing the worst possible sin in the world, ever yet he is frequently given the chance to repent (to save himself through his faith, through believing in God). Faustus problem is not really the 7

Catholic one of committing bad deeds with his powers (he hardly has any impact on other peoples lives certainly not that which he fantasises about initially); rather, his downfall lies in his denying of Christs ability to save him. By the time Faustus realises hes really in trouble, hes spurned the advice of the Good Angel, the Old Man and even his academic (and thus clerical) colleagues. He progresses from not believing anything will come of his pact with the Devil, to believing he cannot be saved. Such is the strength of his conviction that he is doomed that he is not in the Elect, that he cannot summon enough belief in Christ that his own self-doubt eventually holds him back from reaching out to Christs offered hand. The ending of Dr Faustus is unconventional, especially in a Protestant world-view. Given that hes been told repeatedly that salvation is an option, Faustus should reason either that he is one of the Elect (and thus safe, whatever happens) or that he can turn to Christ at any point. By denying Faustus salvation at the end of the play, Marlowe firstly creates a moment of high drama (remember, his ultimate purpose is to stage a dramatic play), but he also seems to be criticising both Protestant views of salvation. A loving, omnipotent, forgiving Christ should be able to save Faustus, whatever his flaws. This doesnt happen: is Marlowe suggesting that Christs power is somehow limited? Or that those who call on Christ wont necessarily get support? Or even, most dangerously (as heresy was still punishable by death) that there is no Christ in which to find salvation? It is interesting to note the similarities between Faustus and Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism. Both worked at Wittenburg University (this was where Luther developed and published his heretical 95 Theses challenging the Catholic Church to reform) and both have interaction with the Imperial court of Charles V where Faustus and Luther were both expected to justify themselves. It is likely that these parallels were deliberately drawn by Marlowe: it is just possible that, behind the apparently Protestant bias of the play, Marlowe is mocking the founder of Protestantism himself.

Marlowe (AO3, AO4) The controversial nature of the conclusion of the play may reflect Marlowes own beliefs. It is generally accepted today that Marlowe was either an atheist (he did not believe in God at all) or an agnostic (he wasnt sure and wanted proof either way). For either option to have been uncovered during his lifetime would have meant serious trouble and possibly death, so it is hardly surprising that Marlowe hides his own opinions behind the smoke and mirrors spectacles of Faustus temptation, fall and death. Marlowe was a colourful character: possibly a Government spy (a job which he could well have been blackmailed into by a Government which discovered any of his darker secrets), certainly a controversial playwright, probably homosexual (a crime, punishable by death): Marlowe had many reasons to obfuscate not only his religious opinions. Marlowe was a product of his generation. He was born four years into Elizabeths reign and would have grown up in a stability unknown for at least a generation. The state religion was finally established as the nascent Church of England Protestant in outlook but with some hangover of Catholic rituals and doctrines. England was (generally) at peace with her traditional enemies of Scotland and France, and also with the fading Continental superpower of Spain. Printing was widespread and the Bible was now being published in English, allowing a real engagement with the doctrinal discussions of the day to occur (only fifty years before his birth people were hung for printing English Bibles, and church services were conducted exclusively in Latin). This time of peace and prosperity allowed the young Marlowe to be well educated though not for service in the Church and opened up opportunities for him to move from his familys home in Cambridgeshire to experience the dynamic and exciting atmosphere of London. There is a danger of reading too much into the character of Faustus (or indeed Mephistopheles) when looking for clues about Marlowe. Perhaps he did feel that Faustus caught some of his own frustration at being limited by the society around him; perhaps he did feel that conventionality was dull (as was later written of Milton, he does seem to give the devil all the best lines). One point to consider relies on the conventions of staging plays at that time; women were banned from playing women, and so Helen (whose face launched a thousand ships, etc etc etc) would have been played by a man. Bearing in mind Marlowes probably homosexuality (it is claimed he once declared that all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools), the fact that it is Faustus kiss with Helen which seals his fate could be an oblique reference to the dangers Marlowe felt himself in by sating his lusts when the actor playing Faustus kisses the actor playing Helen, Faustus soul is lost, just as surely as Marlowes own would be were his proclivities discovered. Useful Links 9

Language, Form and Structure (AO2) Useful Quotations SCENE Prologue QUOTATION He surfeits upon cursed necromancy: / Nothing so sweet as magic is to him, / Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss And necromantic books are heavenly DEVELOPMENT Prefers is being used in the sense of valuing more (as in preferential treatment); he puts magic and necromancy above what should be important (ie his salvation). Gothic because of the importance he attaches to the supernatural. Ironic phrasing necromantic books are, of course, nothing to do with Heaven. Well, apart from the raising of the dead bit and the association with Christ, but Id leave that if I were you. Gothic because, again, of the supernatural. An almost blasphemous phrasing is he equating God to being just a trickster? And if so, perhaps this accounts for his lack of faith later on? Gothic due to the supernatural. Poor old Faustus just cant get it right. He feels ravished by magic the closest he gets to any ravishing (his first demand to Mephistopheles, for a wife, backfires and even when Helen is summoned, he just gets a kiss). Gothic due to supernatural, and the associated sexual failings. The scholars judgement is shared by Faustus: he does not believe in his salvation, so it cannot occur. Gothic due to supernatural and also idea of terror Faustus is doomed to Hell. Mephistopheles is open with Faustus, but Faustus refuses to believe in Hell later he cannot bring himself to believe in salvation. Gothic for supernatural and terror. One of the most blasphemous phrases in the text, inverting the correct view. This is Faustus world-view now. Gothic due to the inversion / duality, and supernatural. Even Faustus plans to commit horrendous acts do not come to fruition; this emphasises his ultimate failure even to capitalise on the price he will pay. Gothic for horror. See the inversion of the Christian tenet of faith identified above. Gothic for horror. Faustus failure to truly repent for repentance to work, you have both to genuinely repent and believe in the efficacy of repentance. Faustus probably doesnt hit the 10

A sound magician is a mighty God Tis magic, magic that has ravished me

I fear me nothing can reclaim him

Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it Despair in God, and trust in Belzebub

Offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes with my proper blood / Assure my soul to be great Lucifers I do repent, and yet I do despair



Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss


O, spare me, Lucifer

former, and certainly not the latter. Gothic for terror and subverting social norms. Women: dangerous things. Lady Macbeth seals Macbeths fate; Cathy ruins Heathcliff; Helen seals Faustus fate. It all began with Eve, dont yknow. Gothic for (arguably) transgressive female. Even at the hour of his doom, Faustus turns to the wrong supernatural being. Doh.

Specifics of Language Faustus expresses lust for knowledge, is ravished by magic etc: he is somehow almost not human in his desires. He tends towards the hyperbolic, planning to plunder India for gold and to enjoy pleasant fruits and princely delicates. His activity peaks at insulting the Pope and making a literal cuckold out of an imperial knight. There is a gulf between his language and his action, which emphasises the gap between academia and the real world, perhaps. The Is this the face... speech / soliloquy (he may be speaking his thoughts, he may be discussing with Mephistopheles) presents Helen very much to blame for the whole Trojan War: her face launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium. It was the womans fault, all along... She also sucks forth his soul rather a vampyric image? Structure Throughout the text, Faustus hyperbolic language and terrible actions are undercut by both the comic / clowning scenes, and his own descent from verse to prose (generally where he is expressing baser desires or transgressive views Marlowe is using the established device of debasing his speech to match the subject matter). The scene with the horse-courser is interesting as there is ambiguity about how far Faustus dreams his leg being ripped off. This opens up the (Gothic?) element of the importance of dreams, and interpretations contrasts well with Macbeths second visit to the Witches. On the first occasion that Faustus calls on Christ, Lucifer appears. This is not, it is fair to say, what the audience would expect. Time is not fixed in the text look particularly at the progress of time in Scene 13, and of course the fact that 24 years elapse in very little stage-time at all. This malleability of time is shared in Macbeth (no-one knows how long Macbeths reign lasts). Contrasts nicely to Wuthering Heights where the timeline can be fixed although even there the actual structure of the text jumps around both from present to past and from one time in the past to another. All these movements in time arguably add to a (Gothic?) sense of disruption and disquiet for the audience. 11

Form Marlowe is writing for a mixed audience (and, of course, there is a debate about how much of the text, or indeed which version of the text, is his). The need to create a successful play is balanced against the desire to create a worthy piece of literature. There is of course an innate impact on the audience in seeing the devils and demons on stage before them; similarly, the scenes of horror would have a visceral element that is not necessarily achievable in other forms of literature. The fact that much of the action takes place at night (Gothic) would require suspension of disbelief on the part of the original audience plays were performed in the afternoon, since there was no lighting to allow performances after dusk. Exam / Revision Technique (AO1) Faustus-specific Past / Specimen Questions To what extent do you think that Faustus.s greatest sin is his misuse of the supernatural powers given to him by Mephostophilis? Mephostophilis says, Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it. To what extent do you think Marlowe presents life on earth as hellish in Doctor Faustus? What have you found striking about Marlowes presentation of Mephistophilis and Hell in Dr Faustus? General Gothic Past / Specimen Questions Gothic texts show the supernatural intertwined with the ordinary. Discuss this view in relation to the texts you have been studying. Gothic literature is concerned with the breaking of normal moral and social codes. Discuss. If a text is to be labelled as Gothic, it must convey a sense of fear and terror. Discuss this view in relation to the texts you have been studying. To what extent do you think gothic literature is characterised by a fascination with death? Gothic settings are desolate, alienating and full of menace. In the light of this comment, consider some of the ways in which writers use settings in the gothic texts you have read. Consider the view that gothic writing often explores the powerlessness of humanity when faced with the power of the supernatural. Religion is central to readings of gothic texts. How far do you agree with this statement? 12

Consider the view that gothic writing explores the nightmarish terrors that lie beneath the orderly surface of the civilised mind. In gothic writing, women are presented as either innocent victims or sinister predators or are significantly absent. Consider the place of women in gothic writing in the light of this comment. General With regard to answering the questions under exam conditions, it is vital that you demonstrate to the examiner that you are familiar with the text, so a) ensure you are familiar with the text through close reading beforehand and b) use plenty of appropriate and well-criticised quotations. You must also ensure you address the questions in terms of context, both dramatic (i.e. within the play) and in terms of the Gothic. And remember to plan!!