Relevant theology and other influences
Early Christian theologians had problems with many forms of Gnostic dualism in first four centuries AD; particularly, how to reconcile a belief in a God who was omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, withthe existence of evil in the world he had created. Doctor Faustus often expresses attitudes and ideas from this period.
The ideas in Doctor Faustus frequently echo those of St Augustine. St Augustine originally believed in Manicheism (an extreme Gnostic dualist sect, see below). He thought through the Manichean ideas and eventually rejected them.
To account for evil in the creation, Augustine taught that evil comes from the abuse of freedom. The will is not inherently evil – becomes so when it chooses to prefer the lesser good (earthly things) to the superior good (heavenly things). Evil has no existence by itself – it is a deprivation of good – a tendency towards non-being which grows stronger as the will falls away from its proper direction, ie towards God and good. Both the Fall of humanity and the Fall of the angels come from a perverse choice of the free will – lead to a complete negation of all good, both the superior good of Heaven and the inferior good of earth. No good, superior or inferior, can be enjoyed unless the will is devoted to God.
There are interesting parallels between Marlowe and Augustine:
Doctor Faustus and the Bible
Marlowe was a trained divinity student with keen/informed interest in problems of Biblical interpretation.
Marlowe would expect his audience to be familiar with the Bible on Satan as adversary, accuser, and Prince of this World, on damnation and eternal torment, and on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.
Doctor Faustus and Conscience
When Faustus blames the stars, the flesh and the devil, we are made to feel these are just excuses for wilful choice, made by his whole soul.
C16 accounts of conscience tell us fear is ordained by God, and its presence means there is still hope of salvation. But wilful man may continue to dismiss his fears until his heart is hardened, leading to despair and the loss of the capacity for contrition and repentance (cf Macbeth, Brutus). Faustus hardens his heart by resolutely dismissing the fears of conscience – he ignores the promptings of Good Angel and Old Man. In doing this his commits the ultimate sin against the Holy Spirit – he despairs.
Doctor Faustus and the Morality Play
Main elements are easily recognisable – Deadly Sins, Good Angel / Bad Angel, Vices (for example Valdes and Cornelius), Devils, the Old Man – the morality plays deal with central questions about good and evil and the human condition by showing the interaction of the personifications of abstract qualities.
Morality plays were still current as entertainment in Marlowe’s day. Dramatic expression of traditional modes of thought.
Later moralities show the tension between medieval and Renaissance attitudes exemplified in Doctor Faustus.
Miracle and Morality plays offered two versions of the Devil:
Becoming obvious in Tudor drama is an interest in knowledge, study, wit and science – only touched on in medieval Moralities – but had long been a theme in theological/homiletic writings (eg writing about religion, and sermons).
Eve and the apple – sin not just disobedience but curiosity – intellectual vice, but also (because of shame) linked to lustfulness.
Knowledge is a Good Thing because humanity distinguished from beasts by it, and through refined knowledge of God’s creation man is led to a knowledge of God himself.
In Wit and Science (c1530, John Redford) science is God’s gift, to be used for the benefit of humanity – an idea developed in The Marriage of Wit and Science (c1570). The bad character is Will – an obstruction to the partnership of Wit and Science. Faustus is diverted from service – using his learning for good – by the seductive power of the perverse will.
Gmc2000 (from Brockbank: Marlowe)
page last edited 26 February 2007