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ENGLISH RENAISSANCE II
3. POETRY
The early Tudor poetry was not very significant with very few exceptions. The first important
Renascent poets were Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey (1517 - 1547). When they started
writing, there was not an English literary tradition. The language was changing, the unstable social
and political conditions of the fifteenth century were not favorable for the development of
literature.
THOMAS WYATT (1503 - 1542) was the first to introduce the sonnet in English literature and is
widely recognized as ―a master of verse translations, songs, sonnets and satires, … one of the most
technically versatile and original poets of the Tudor period. ― (Rachel Falconer) He was a courtier
and a diplomat, a poet and a translator. He lived a great part of his life on the Continent where he
became familiarized with the literary forms that circulated among the upper classes. In his poetry,
he combined the medieval English tradition with Renaissance poetry, and he was not so careful in
adapting these foreign formal conventions to the peculiarities of the English language. It is
considered that he reflected, in his poetry, the tensions and conflicts of English society passing
through religious and social changes.
His most famous text is an adaptation of a Petrarchan sonnet ―Who so list to hunt:‖
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vaine.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about,
‗Noli me tangere, for Caesar‘s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.‘
The deer in the poem seems to be Anne Boleyn whose pursuit he had to relinquish, because she
was now hunted by the King, referred to as Caesar.
The Earl of Surrey (Henry Howard) was a prominent member of the English aristocracy and
courtier of Henry VIII. He was a hot-tempered, proud and adventurous man, a capable military
leader and an educated aristocrat, widely travelled and proficient in several foreign languages. He
may have become acquainted with the Petrarchan sonnet during his travels. He understood better
the problems of adaptation of the Petrarchan sonnet to the requirements of the English language,
in which there are fewer rhymes and he modified the shape of the sonnet. He introduced the
blank verse in his translation of Virgil‘s Aeneid considering it a more appropriate vehicle for the
English language.
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Some critics consider that he lacked the talent and inspiration of Wyatt, but he was definitely a
better technician. His cultivated taste for and knowledge of poetry as well as his desire to
experiment made Surrey extremely influential in the later development of English poetry ―It is
generally recognized that style is Surrey's predominating poetical virtue, and that his refinement of
poetic diction contributed much to the improvement of English poetry. The language of poets was
archaic when Surrey began to write, but he discarded the archaic language and the pedantic words
of which his immediate predecessors had been so ridiculously fond – words for the most part
forcibly reft from Latin or French – and created a new poetic diction.‖ (Edwin Casady)
The Petrarchan sonnet was the chief source of inspiration for Surrey, five of his sonnets being
actually translations or adaptations of Petrarch‘s sonnets. However, he adapted some features to
the requirements of the English language or taste (nature depictions allude to English not Italian
landscapes ). Surrey chose to modify the organization of the Petrarchan sonnet, by organizing the
14 lines in three quatrains and a couplet at the end, which gives it an epigrammatic tone.
Set me whereas the sun doth parch the green
Or where his beams do not dissolve the ice,
In temperate heat where he is felt and seen;
In presence prest of people, mad or wise;
Set me in high or yet in low degree,
In longest night or in the shortest day,
In clearest sky or where clouds thickest be,
In lusty youth or when my hairs are gray.
Set me in heaven, in earth, or else in hell;
In hill, or dale, or in the foaming flood;
Literary Term: The SONNET
The sonnet is a poem with fixed form. The name derives from the Italian sonetto meaning ―a little sound, or song. ‖ It
was found in Italy in the 13th century and was used by Dante and especially by Petrarch. Traditionally, the sonnet has
14
lines, usually in iambic pentameter (a line of ten syllables, alternating unstressed syllable with stressed syllable) with
various rhyme patterns. The Petrarchan sonnet comprises an octave (eight lines) rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet
cdecde.
As a rule, the octave presents the problem, the theses, and the sestet resolves it.
(1) The Italian sonnet (also called the *PETRARCHAN SONNET after the most influential of the Italian
sonneteers) comprises an 8-line 'octave' of two *QUATRAINS, rhymed abbaabba, followed by a 6-line 'sestet' usually
rhymed cdecde or cdcdcd. The transition from octave to sestet usually coincides with a 'turn' (Italian, volta) in the
argument or mood of the poem. In a variant form used by the English poet John Milton, however, the 'turn' is delayed
to
a later position around the tenth line. Some later poets—notably William Wordsworth—have employed this feature of
the
'Miltonic sonnet' while relaxing the rhyme scheme of the octave to abbaacca. The Italian pattern has remained the
most
widely used in English and other languages.
(2) The English sonnet (also called the Shakespearean sonnet after its foremost practitioner) comprises three
quatrains and a final couplet, rhyming ababcdcdefefgg. An important variant of this is the Spenserian sonnet
(introduced
by the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser), which links the three quatrains by rhyme, in the sequence
ababbabccdcdee.
In either form, the 'turn' comes with the final couplet, which may sometimes achieve the neatness of an *EPIGRAM.
BLANK VERSE. This was introduced by the Earl of Surrey in the 16thc. in his translation of the Aeneid and consists
of
unrhymed five stress lines; properly, iambic pentameters. It has become the most widely used of English verse forms
and
is the one closest to the rhythms of everyday English speech. This is one of the reasons why it has been particularly
favoured by dramatists.(J.A. Cuddon)
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Thrall or at large, alive whereso I dwell,
Sick or in health, in evil fame or good:
Hers will I be, and only with this thought
Content myself although my chance be nought.
Though an admirer and follower of Wyatt, Surrey does not imitate him, shaping his own style:
―Wyatt stresses resistance, anger and confusion, Surrey glosses over the rough edges with more
regular, sonorous versification, greater attention to the relationship between self and landscape,
and muted expressions of love as melancholy.‖ (Diana E. Henderson). Though he adapted the
Petrarchan sonnet, he is considered more faithful to it through his ―more controlled, understated
manner‖ that is closer to Petrarchan subtleties. He set the tone for the sequent English poets
Tottel‘s Miscellany (1557) (entitled Songs and Sonnets (Written by the Right Honorable Lord
Henry Howard, Late Earl of Surrey, Thomas Wyatt and Others) but better known as Tottel's
Miscellany) is the first anthology of English literature, compiled by Richard Tottel, a prominent
publisher who had already published several important works of literature, like Thomas More's
Utopia, or Surrey's translation of parts of Virgil's Aeneid, which represents the earliest use of the
"blank verse" in literature. The writings of Wyatt were first printed in this collection of poems, after
his death. Among other contributors there are Surrey, Nicholas Grimald, Thomas Norton, John
Heywood and many anonymous poems. The success of the anthology was proved by the great
number of editions, nine until 1587.
The translations from Petrarch by Wyatt and Surrey signal a change in the literary cannon
and the transition towards Renaissance: "Their prosody and style thus provided a template for
court poetry that was influential during the reign of Queen Elizabeth." (Curtis Perry) Moreover, the
transition from manuscript to printed text was crucial in the change of literary cannons. These
poems had circulated before only in manuscripts and so, they were confined to a smaller audience,
being closely connected to court. After the publication of the anthology, these poems had a larger
impact and also larger audiences, providing models for writers and also readers for this type of
literature.
Sir Philip Sidney (1554 - 1586) was the first great Elizabethan poet. He was an aristocrat,
educated at Oxford. He was a poet, an adventurer and a soldier.
His prose works include The New Arcadia (1590), The Defense of Poesy (1595),
considered nowadays one of the first important essays in literary criticism. His poetic work mainly
consists of a cycle of sonnets in imitation of the Petrarchan sonnet, entitled Astrophel and Stella
(1591), drawing on his unhappy love for Penelope Devereux. For Sidney, poetry is not a form of
superficial entertainment, or an exercise of wit, but a serious form of art, meant to instruct and
move.
The first sonnet of the collection insists on the importance of inspiration in love poetry and
not in the study of other‘s words.
Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That the dear she might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe:
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
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Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay;
Invention, Nature's child, fled stepdame Study's blows;
And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write."
Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599) was the opposite of Sidney, in the sense that he was not of
noble birth, but he received a good education at Cambridge. He held the position of secretary to
the lord-deputy in Ireland. Among his works, the most famous are: The Shepherd‘s Calendar
(1597), Amoretti (1595), Epithalamion (1595), The Faerie Queene (1596 – unfinished).
The Shepherd's Calendar was praised by Sidney in his Defense of Poesy being, together
with Sidney's Arcadia, one of the best examples of the pastoral in Renaissance literature. It is not
merely a succession of poems that praises love, but an allegorical construction of greater
complexity: "Spenser would have confined himself to a rendering of the traditional idea of pastoral
love adapted to the changes of the different seasons; but, as a matter of fact, the unity of the design
lies solely in an allegorical calendar, treated ethically, in agreement with the physical characteristics
of the different months. The idea of love is presented prominently only in four of the eclogues, viz.
those for January, March, June and December: of the rest, four, those for February, May, July and
September, deal with matters relating to morality or religion; two are complimentary or elegiac,
those for April and November; one, that for August, describes a singing match pure and simple;
and one, that for October, is devoted to a lament for the neglect of poetry." (The Cambridge
History of English Literature)
The Faerie Queene, the most famous of his projects, intended to be structured in twelve
books, out of which only six were published, was supposed to be a national epic glorifying Queen
Elizabeth, named in the poem Gloriana, the Faerie Queene. It is connected to the King Arthur
cycle and with the virtue of chivalry, but it also draws on the famous Italian epics such as Ariosto's
Orlando Furioso or Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered.
Allegory is the dominant mode, as the knights sent by the Queene to save humanity from
evil represent virtues fighting against vices. Thus, the Redcross Knight (representing the Christian)
fights Error while Britomart is the female warrior representing Chastity. The Evil is represented by
characters such as Duessa (falsehood), or Archimago. This allegory is supposed to transmit the
image of a powerful, united, virtuous and Protestant nation and Gloriana‘s knights are supposed to
be victorious over the evil.
4. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA
The first part of the sixteenth century, till the revival of the Elizabethan theatre, was still
dominated by the medieval Mysteries and Moralities that survived till Shakespeare‘s time. A new
type of play appears: the Interludes, which were shorter plays, played, at the beginning, between
the acts of the Morality Plays, or between the courses in the feasts. The dividing lines between the
genres are not very clear, some Interludes being very similar to Moralities, allegorical and
didactical, others being humorous and farcical. It is considered that they form the link between the
medieval plays and Elizabethan drama. These interludes gained in importance, and they started
being played in colleges, at the court or in the noblemen‘s houses, sometimes even in the
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countryside. University dramas, plays written and played in colleges, had an important role in the
appropriation of the classical drama style and patterns, especially in the case of tragedies.
Some names of playrights are distinguished in the period: John Heywood (1470? - 1580)
with his farcical interlude The Four Ps involving four characters: a Palmer, a Pardoner, a
Pothecary and a Pedlar competing to tell a lie; Nicholas Udall (1504 - 1556), headmaster at Eaton
and writer of the first English comedy: Ralph Roister Doister, influenced by the Roman comedies
written by Plautus or Terence, and thus drawing on the Miles Gloriosus comic typology. Ralph
Roister Doister is the ancestor of Shakespeare‘s Falstaff and the plot is a model for Shakespeare‘s
The Merry Wives of Windsor, whereas his servant, Matthew Meerygreek will be recalled by Ben
Johnson‘s Mosca inVolpone. If this play is highly indebted to the classical comedies, Gammer
Gurton‘s Needle (presumably composed at the middle of the 16th century) recalls a typical English,
low-class scene, and is centered on the loss of a needle, found after five acts when one of the
characters sits on it. It is not an imitation of Roman plays, either in content or in structure,
involving typically English character, while the language that they use is the rustic, unpolished
English.
The first English tragedy presented to the public who had been familiarized to classical
tragedies in translation was Gorboduc (or Ferrex and Porrex) (1561) by Thomas Sackville and
Thomas Norton. It is also the first play written in blank-verse. The Senecan influence is visible in
structure, style and the penchant for bloodshed, an influence to be continued by Thomas Kyd,
Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. The plot, set in a mythical old English kingdom,
is a source of inspiration for Shakespeare‘s King Lear and it presents the tragic effects of divided
authority, exploring the results of a king‘s decision to split his kingdom between his two sons.
John Bale's Kynge Johann c. 1538 is the first known historical play and it deals with the
reign of King John. It was later used as a source by Shakespeare in his King John, but Bale
operates a major change, by making John a champion of Protestantism in his fight against the Pope
of Rome, a representation that Shakespeare does not use in his own text.
In the second half of the sixteenth century, the theatre becomes a professional type of
business, in the sense that professional players gradually replaced the guilds and their
performances. In fact, there was a strong tide against disorganized players, and the laws of 1572
eliminated the companies that had no patron considering them vagrants. Thus, the first theaters
appeared. In 1576, the carpenter and player John Burbage built the first theatre, named the
Theatre outside the city walls. The business was so profitable, that it was soon followed by others,
such as the Swan, the Rose, the Blackfriars, the Globe, especially in the suburbs, since the
authorities of London were against theatrical productions, in spite of the Queen‘s liking of such
performances.
The Elizabethan theatre was usually made of timber increasing the danger, was usually
round or polygonal. It had three tiers of roofed galleries in the middle of which there was a
roofless opening or a pit. In this yard, there was a stage, raised from the ground, with its own roof
and a curtain that, when drawn, revealed an inner stage. There were was also an upper stage, at the
back, for musicians or for certain scenes of the play. There was little scenery, only very few objects,
and so the audience was supposed to supply the lack of detail with their imagination. In general,
the lines of the play offered the background. The roles of women were played by young men or
boys.
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The University Wits were a group of writers educated in Oxford or Cambridge, who were
interested in adapting the classical models to the English language and to the English interests.
Some of these writers were John Lyly, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Kyd, George
Peele, Christopher Marlowe. The result of the changes worked upon the classical model, the
Elizabethan drama emerged as a fusion between classical and traditional elements, such as the
disappearance of the unity of time, place and action or of the chorus, and the combination, in the
same play, of tragic and comic elements, probably under the influence of interludes. The
Aristotelian catharsis gives place to the moral fight between good and evil, whereas the fate that
dominated the Greek tragedy was gradually replaced by personal choices.
1. Thomas Kyd (1558 - 1594) is one of the most important dramatists before Shakespeare
and is considered to be the author of the very successful play The Spanish Tragedy, one of the
earliest revenge tragedies in English literature, fashioned on Senecan influences. Many of the
elements drawn from Seneca‘s tragedies and included by Kyd in his complicated plot will be later
used by Shakespeare in Hamlet: the ghost, the character who pretends to be mad, the play-withina-
play, the bloodshed that satisfied the bloodthirsty Elizabethan audiences., only that there is a
reversal of roles: in Kyd‘s play it is the father that revenges the death of the son.
Kyd‘s play had a brilliant career in its time, staged continuously for a decade after its
composition and published in ten editions within the first twenty years. It is important not because
it remains as one of the most influential plays of period, but mostly because it ―invents the
Renaissance tragic subject or reinvents classical tragedy for the Renaissance‖ and more because it
―frees later tragedians from the generic limitations and epistemological determinism of classic,
Aristotelian tragedy; it advances the genre, that is, precisely by rejecting its most basic rules and
assumptions about the mimetic function of drama‖ (Cambridge Companion to Renaissance
Tragedy).
2.Christopher Marlowe (1564 - 1593) was the most famous of this group of writers. He was
born in Canterbury and educated at Cambridge. After he graduated, he came to London where he
became a famous writer, also joining a group of young writers led by Sir Walter Raleigh. Maybe it
was his professed atheism or the freedom with which he expressed his opinions, maybe it was his
dissolute life, he definitely drew an unwanted attention upon himself which led to his mysterious
death.
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Marlowe is the one who refined the blank-verse drama (unrhymed iambic pentameter) and
brought it to maturity. This type of verse had been used before only in the tragedy Gorboduc, but
it was Marlowe who brought it to perfection, shifting the stress, breaking the lines with rhythmic
pauses and matching the verse to his subject so that his text should not remain rigid, but flow with
flexibility and elegance, for which it was called by Ben Johnson ―Marlowe‘s mighty line‖.
Works:
Plays: Tamburlaine the Great – two parts (1586-7), Dr. Faustus (1588-9), the Jew of Malta
(1590),
Edward II (1591), Dido, Queen of Carthage (1593), The Massacre of Paris (1593), The
Passionate Shepherd (1599).
Poetry: Hero and Leander (unfinished. Completed by Chapman) and translations from Ovid and
Lucan
His plays are dominated by characters larger-than-life, controlled by thirst for power,
knowledge, or great wealth, ready to overstep the limits imposed by their (social) position or
humanity. Their final tragedy comes from their sense of solitude stemming from the understanding
that unlimited power is unattainable. This is the reason why most of his characters are
onedimensional,
dominating the play and the other characters that are subdued to them. An exception
is Edward II, where there is a clear improvement in the study of the human nature and a more
skilful treatment of stage action.
Tamburlaine the Great is a tragedy in two parts, the second part being written as a result of
the success of the first part. The two plays (five acts each) describe the rise and fall of Tamburlaine
the Great, the ―scourge of God‖ (denomination familiar to the Elizabethans through the
association with Attila the Hun), his rise from poor Scythian shepherd to conqueror of the world.
If the first part ends with the triumph of the conqueror, the second part depicts his downfall,
especially after the death of his beloved wife Zenocrate, when his thirst for power is transformed
into madness and obsession.
The play is dominated by cruelty and violence, these being the methods through which
Tamburlaine achieves his success: he puts his opponent, Bajazet and his wife into a cage, taking
them from one place to the other, he massacres the people of Babylon and Damascus, he uses a
carriage drawn by kings whom he whips and curses. The cruelty extends to his own family, as
Tamburlaine kills his own son, when the latter refuses to fight.
Tamburlaine is the embodiment of excessive ambition unlimited by any exterior force,
either from the Gods or from the society. He is not punished by anyone else, but by his own
inability to handle his excessive nature, his successes and the loss of the person he loves, and his
megalomania turns into dementia, seeking, now, war against the gods:
Tamb. What daring god torments my body thus,
And seeks to conquer mighty Tamburlaine?
Shall sickness prove me now to be a man,
That have been term'd the terror of the world?
Techelles and the rest, come, take your swords,
And threaten him whose hand afflicts my soul:
Come, let us march against the powers of heaven.
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signify the slaughter of the gods.
Ah, friends, what shall I do? I cannot stand.
Come, carry me to war against the gods,
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That thus envy the health of Tamburlaine. (Part II, V, 3)
The Massacre at Paris and The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta can be named
―Machiavellian tragedies‖ because they rely on the period‘s view of Machiavelli‘s famous work as
advocating treachery, amorality, cunningness and manipulation as the most successful means for
achieving political power. Many counter-Machiavelli works appeared in the Renaissance, some of
them warning about the dangers of following such an example, and giving the effects of such
politics, like the events occurring on St. Bartholomew‘s Day in France, which form the subject of
Marlowe‘s play The Massacre at Paris. This play, therefore, relies on the slaughter of the
Huguenots in 1572, focusing on a scheming Duke of Guise. The play, probably pieced together
from the memories of the actor playing the Duke, is a patchwork of speeches, speeches and
confusions, out of which the portrait of the Duke of Guise, the mind behind the massacre of
thousands of Protestants, is the most coherent and complex. This atrocious events had a great
impact in the mind of the Elizabethans, haunted by fears of Catholic treason and scheming. There
are three unifying elements in all this maze of intrigues, poisoning, stabbing and bloodshed: a)
insistence on the Catholic conspiracy against Protestantism; b) the events are centered on the
overwhelming figure of a tyrannical personality; c) the inhuman effects of the self-defined
―Extraordinary Man,‖ ambitious and mocking of his adversaries and victims.
The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta supposedly follows Tamburlaine the Great.
There
is the same display of excess, of cruelty, of hatred, but, where Tamburlaine had his grandeur,
Barabas, the Jew has the Machiavellian skill in following his interests disregarding the others, or
morality, or faith. In fact, the play opens with a prologue told by a character names Machevill. His
words set the theme of the play: no one can be trusted and personal profits turn everyone into a
traitor. Religion, which seems to stand at the basis of the play is, in fact, only a political instrument
and righteousness is only a mask that hides hypocrisy and the image of the Jew is not that of the
hated other, but a mirror directed towards ourselves.
MACHEVILL. Albeit the world think Machiavel is dead,
Yet was his soul but flown beyond the Alps;
And, now the Guise is dead, is come from France,
To view this land, and frolic with his friends.
To some perhaps my name is odious;
But such as love me guard me from their tongues,
And let them know that I am Machiavel,
And weigh not men, and therefore not mens words.
Admired I am of those that hate me most.
Though some speak openly against my books,
Yet will they read me and thereby attain
To Peter's chair; and when they cast me off,
Are poisoned by my climbing followers.
I count religion but a childish toy.
[…]
I come not, I,
To read a lecture here in Britanie,
But to present the tragedy of a Jew
Who smiles to see how full his bags are crammed,
Which money was not got without my means.
I crave but this. Grace him as he deserves,
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And let him not be entertained the worse
Because he favours me. (Prologue)
The Jew of Malta, by the name of Barabas, a name with clear Biblical resonances for the
Elizabethan public, refuses to pay the taxes and the governor takes his house to be turned into a
convent, where his own daughter will remain, as a Christian convert, and confiscates his money.
The play becomes a long trial of revenges and violence: poisoning his own daughter, helping the
Turks in their attack of Malta and then planning to kill them. Barabas dies falling into his own
trap, and he is boiled alive in oil.
Barabas justifies his hatred of the Christians and Muslims alike on account of their religious
differences, however, his true motivation is his love of money and of gold, the only reason that
moves him and prompts his actions:
Give me the Merchants of the Indian Mynes,
That trade in mettall of the purest mould;
The wealthy Moore, that in the Easterne rockes
Without controule can picke his riches up,
And in his house heape pearle like pibble-stones,
Receive them free, and sell them by the weight;
Bags of fiery Opals, Saphires, Amatists,
Jacints, hard Topas, grasse-greene Emeraulds,
Beauteous Rubyes, sparkling Diamonds, …
[…]And thus me thinkes should men of judgement frame
Their meanes of traffique from the vulgar trade,
And as their wealth increaseth, so inclose
Infinite riches in a little roome. (I, 1)
If in Tamburlaine the Great there the lust for power is domonant, and in The Jew of
Malta, the lust for riches is of crucial importance, in The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus there is
an excess of a different kind: knowledge and power, stemming from the belief that knowledge is
power. The play is based on a very popular German text about a Dr. Faustus and the play loosely
follows the idea of the original text: Dr. Faustus is an erudite thirsty for knowledge and absolute
power. For centuries, critics have tried to decide whether the play is a criticism to Christian
perspectives on hell and heaven or it finally conforms to them, or if Dr. Faustus is a tragic hero or
a misguided sinner. This is a tragedy shaped according to the allegorical tradition, Dr. Faustus
functioning as a distorted representation of the protagonist of Morality Plays, making a bridge
between the medieval dramatic tradition and the later developments of the Renaissance stage.
Certain elements of the morality drama are present in Marlowe‘s text, such as the Good and Evil
Angels and the Seven Deadly Sins, whereas the comic subplot of the Tudor stage tradition is
represented here by the manner in which the servants (Wagner, Robin and Ralph) unconsciously
parody the actions of the master.
From the very beginning, Faustus, though apparently an accomplished scholar, is
dissatisfied with the limitations imposed by his human capabilities and so he turns his back to God
and becomes his own god as he signs a contract with the devil, Mephistopheles, in return for
twenty-four years of splendid life.
Faust. Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all for Mephistophilis:
By him I'll be great Emperour of the world,
And make a bridge through the moving air,
To pass the Ocean with a band of men.
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I'll join the hills that band the Africk shore
And make that land continent to Spain,
And both contributory to my crown:
The Emperour shall not live but by my leave,
Nor any Potentate of Germany;
Now that I have obtain'd what I desire,
I'll live in speculation of this Art,
Til Mephistophilis return again.
At the end of this period of time, however, he is frightful and would like to change the deal he
made.
Faust. Ah, Faustus.
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn'd perpetually!
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
[…]
Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd
Unto some brutish beast! all beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements;
But mine must live still to be plagu'd in hell.
Curs'd be the parents that engender'd me!
No, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer
That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven
[The clock strikes twelve.
O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!
[Thunder and lightning.
O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!
Enter Devils.
My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
I'll burn my books!--Ah, Mephistophilis!
[Exeunt Devils with
Faustus.]
In this case, just as in the others, Faustus is doomed by his own choices and desires. His
own nature, and his excessive desires lead to dissolution and downfall and hell, as it is explained by
11
Mephistopheles, in the psychological, inner torment, and not an outer manifestation of physical
torture.
The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second is one of the first
historical plays in English literature (not counting Kynge Johann by John Bale) and depicts the
reign of King Edward II (1284 - 1327), considered by many one of the most disastrous reigns in
English history, marked by political instability, incompetence and military defeats. There were also
rumors of the king‘s homosexuality that weakened the image of the ruler. However, even if nothing
could be proved regarding the real nature of the relationship between the king and his favorite,
Piers Gaveston, it was Christopher Marlowe the one who insisted on the sexual aspects of the
relationship. Edward II was imprisoned by his wife and forced to abdicate in favor of his son,
Edward III and believed to be murdered.
Marlowe used Raphael Holinshed‘s chronicle in depicting the character of Edward II, but,
in comparison to the other plays, he managed to create a more complex and believable character,
being, at the same time, cruel and vengeful, as well as poetic and kind. His cruelty comes from the
fact that he prefers to put his pleasures above everything and he uses his kingly prerogatives to
nurture his desires:
Edward
Well Mortimer, I‘ll make thee rue these words,
Beseemes it thee to contradict thy king?
Frownst thou thereat, aspiring Lancaster,
The sworde shall plane the furrowes of thy browes,
And hew these knees that now are growne so stiffe.
I will have Gaveston, and you shall know,
What danger tis to stand against your king.