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Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Stage, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

In a nutshell, this is the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a greater sense of knowledge and power.  The themes within this play, for the biggest part, revolve around sin and ramifications of falling off the beaten path, or of getting sidetracked by one or more of the seven deadly sins, the the Capital Vices, or Cardinal Sins (greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth, pride, lust, and envy). The demon Mephistophilis, a demon that Faustus materializes and conjures up while first using his magical powers, is another independent existent theme.  Another (debated and debatable) theme is Satanism as a result of human death.

Whilst arousing much of the most strengthened condemnation right alongside appraisal within the previous couple decades (1991 through to 2011), this appraisal of Christopher Marlowe carries the tone as chosen by the apprentice rather than compulsory.  This is the heart of his thoroughgoing and revolutionary spirit. By all means, the discrepancy must be held foremost that this modernist, who existed within a social mindset alongside the technology of more than five hundred years ago, has been judged by the existent post-modern criticism of this day; critics, by the way, whose greatest compositions have been strongly influenced from his previously written and acted-out material.

This creates an obstacle, the obstacle being that one cannot have both the mindset of an existent citizen then and that of now.  True objectivity and an objective comprehension cannot truly be achieved, but only attempted.  Anyhow, through separate critiques of these three thematic elements, the reader soon enough will more clearly understand the theoretical mise en scène, setting or surroundings of an event or action as arrangement by scenery and stage properties in a play, created by the size of performance space, set, themes, period of setting, and casting decisions (theoretical casting and intent, of course, as opposed to the workable and parlayed delivery on stage).

Body

A major theme within Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is sin.  Homosexuality is regarded as a sin, as has been believed before medical science discovered that sexual orientation developed in the brain of the fetus before gender assignment; even before the now-unheralded and false presumption of innate bisexuality by Sigmond Freud (as expressed as a precursor to psychological development to Wilhelm Fliess). Surely scientists from all across the world have soon attempted to develop a method by which to reconfigure this assignment through embryonic stem cell research and one day cure homosexuality, but that topic is for a more scientific assignment.

But is homosexuality regarded as such the sin? “What are thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to die?” (4.5.41).  After all, we all die.  Marlowe’s message is much deeper, and each of his meanings have multiple layers.

Doctor Faustus is a Christian play, though, so homosexuality was (and still is, by most Christian preachers and standards) viewed as sinful.  Nonetheless, today Christianity does not hold quite the concentrated and forceful social prestige as it did then, during the time of Marlowe, so the stage designs surely depict what is accepted socially. Regardless, sociology by all means held a stronger influence in concern to Marlowe’s intended stage, then, as opposed to any to be discovered as time progressed since.

Sin and ramifications of falling off the beaten path, or of getting sidetracked by one or more of the seven deadly sins or the Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins (greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth, pride, lust, and envy) are evident in the initial depictions of Doctor Faustus’ greed.  From there, the other six follow through seemingly aligned.  On stage, a similar set with similar characters that are not varying too far off that of the first sin, greed, follow suit within each coming scene in accordance with the other sins.

Mephistophilis, that demon that Faustus materializes and conjures up while first using his magical powers, is another existent theme.  Therefore, Mephistopheles in the Globe production was young, intelligent, charming, though sinister to project each of these characteristics as human. Throughout the time of Marlowe, a magician was understood to maintain the identical authority as we perceive in science today, and magic along with magical spells were observed as either punishment or as therapeutic, depending.  Accordingly, there would rest a difference in stage set-up also. The understood perceptions then versus now ties in very well with this next issue concerning the one-track mind of Faustus.

As Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he escaped from Hell, Mephistophilis responds that Doctor Faustus is operating with a false sense of reality:

“Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.

Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,

And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,

Am not tormented with ten thousand hells

In being deprived of everlasting bliss?”

(Mephistopheles, Act 1.3)

During his lifetime, Marlowe certainly chased away far more return viewers than he entertained and retained as a fan-base; his popularity neither truly came about until years after his death, and nor was his point socially understood for much more than shock-value (Hamlin, 2001).  The stage settings surely developed into what they have now become throughout a period of several years.

Another theme is Satanism as a result of human death.  “I am a servant to great Lucipher and may not follow thee without his leave. No more than he commands we must perform” (p 13 line 39-41).  Today, this seems based on an evangelical presentation of the Gospel, and presents the Biblical message that one must believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved and go to Heaven, or otherwise face eternal punishment in Hell.  A motley score of characters are surprisingly killed, and then immediately find out whether they are destined for heaven or hell. If they have refused to believe, they fail to be born again; consequently, these characters are sent into eternal punishment in Hell.

If they have received an undoubtedly Christian Jesus as Lord of their soul and destiny, then he is their Savior and they are welcomed into Heaven, but only after the confrontation between Medieval and Renaissance values.  Up front, the reader or play viewer understands that Marlowe blatantly rejects the values of the medieval, and therefore understand that the play will strictly follow Renaissance values. Again, this is a matter of perceptions; again, Christianity does not hold quite the concentrated and forceful social prestige as it did then.  Accordingly, the stage would need to be aligned according to an academic estimate or a recorded image of how the stage shall appear and how the characters shall present themselves in costume.

Pertaining to this Medieval vs. Renaissance ordeal, this “shakespearemarlowe” website (Lim Chieng Joh) affords us quite a thorough yet straightforward and uncomplicated editorial view of pretty much this entire play:

Scholar RM Dawkins argues that Faustus is a “Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one. But the play itself would suggest that Faustus is not a true Renaissance man. He is someone incapable of living up to the standards of the medieval era, and he is equally incapable of living up the Greek-influenced standards of the Renaissance. He rejects the submissive morality of Christianity, cutting himself off from goodness, but he cannot live up to Renaissance greatness. Faustus fails to live up the standards of a tragic hero. He has amathia aplenty, a necessary ingredient in the constitution of a tragic hero. Amathia is a Greek word, meaning a man’s failure to recognize his own nature. But Faustus lacks nobleness, and from the start his interest in selling his soul seems to come from boredom and restlessness. In Act One, he makes long-winded boasts about the uses to which he’ll put his power. What we learn subsequently is that Faustus’ amathia is a bit of a letdown. He fails to recognize that he’s a lazy slob. He is all talk, and no action. (Joh, Lim Chieng, shakespearemarlowe, Retrieved from:  HYPERLINK “http://www.gradesaver.com/dr-faustus/study-guide/section1/” http://www.gradesaver.com/dr-faustus/study-guide/section1/ 13 December 2011).

Conclusion

Recall, this story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a greater sense of knowledge and power, with themes revolving around sin and ramifications of falling off the beaten path, or of getting sidetracked by one or more of the seven deadly sins: greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth, pride, lust, and envy.  This demon, Mephistophilis, rides out this thematic linking Satanism as a result of human death.  But it’s really the elements, the parts, that make the whole of why this play has been so provocative for so long.

As covered, that theme of how humans have perceived sin.  The Biblical (Christian) disregard for this antiquated though still firmly and socially believed, though blindly discriminatory, presumption of this sin.  Moreover, the overshadowed theory on innate bisexuality  from Sigmond Freud, as expressed as a precursor to psychological development to Wilhelm Fliess, has now become so anachronistic, so antiquated that has for years been observed as obsolete.

Still, though, Marlowe does objectively toy with ideas of this concept throughout Doctor Faustus; in fact, he toys with this sin within this written material so strongly that contemporaries and future commentators alike (subjectively) presume that Marlowe was indeed a homosexual, and some even claim that his homosexuality was the reason he was killed in 1593 (Nicholl, 1992).

Still, others insist that Marlowe’s sexuality has nothing to do with his writings and the plays from which they originally came. J.B. Steane wrote that he considers there to be “no evidence for Marlowe’s homosexuality at all” (Stearne, 1969); Steane probably thought that claim held as much merit as that of Marlowe’s devout atheism.  Another measure we all can ascertain is how  the death of a popular figure still draws far more rumors and creates more fabricated characteristics than do the deaths of the common individuals.  At the same time, however, this same quality creates this once-upon-a-time memory of this celebrity seem far more realistic, or makes the idealistic seem a bit more unidealized.  The postmodernist point to come from this ambiguity is that his personal sexuality and sexual preferences have noting to do with the works that have gained centuries of admiration as well as disdain — ultimately awe from critics, scholars, analysts, and intellectuals alike.  Moreover, material from Marlowe still lives on, perplexing many, while several absolute theories once believed have become nullified and outdated.

Bibliography

(Hamlin , William M. . “Casting Doubt in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (2001): 257-275.)

Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.

Nicholl, Charles. “12”. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. London: Jonathan Cape. 1992.

Joh, Lim Chieng. “shakespearemarlowe” website. Retrieved from:  HYPERLINK “http://www.gradesaver.com/dr-faustus/study-guide/section1/” http://www.gradesaver.com/dr-faustus/study-guide/section1/ 13 December 2011.

Stachniewski, John. The Persecutory Imagination: English Puritanism and the Literature of Religious Despair. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Steane, J.B. (1969). Introduction to Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays. Aylesbury, UK: Penguin.

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