Monday, September 29, 2008

Faustus and Despair

For a lean, straightforward examination of what dooms Dr. Faustus, I strongly recommend John McCloskey's "The Theme of Despair in Marlowe's Faustus" (College English, Vol. 4, No. 2; Nov. 1942). "Faustus is, undoubtedly, the embodiment of the Renaissance thirst for knowledge, but he is, at the same time, an illustration of the medieval concept of despair," asserts McCloskey. And there's the rub. It is his sin of despair--the loss of hope that he can be forgiven by God--that proves his ultimate demise. Until the final hour, writes McCloskey, there is still the opportunity for Faustus to repent ("Never too late," says the Good Angel, and "Then call for mercy" advises the old man), yet "Too grievous has been his sin, so he thinks, for the wrath of God to endure." Faustus's character defects of pride and ambition trigger his downfall, but it is despair--the sin against the Holy Spirit--"which finally and irrevocably ruins him."

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Was Richard Baines? A question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, I was re-reading Robert Ornstein's essay "The Tragic Theology of Dr. Faustus" (PMLA, Vol.83, No. 5, Oct. 1968) and I was struck by his last few lines: "If [Richard] Baines's account is accurate, Marlowe, in the last weeks of his life, courted the stake by publicly and repeatedly declaring atheistic and treasonous libels. And finally, in a drunken, almost suicidal quarrel (which he seems to have provoked), he found a lasting escape from the vexation of his own thought." I know you disagree with Prof. Ornstein here. The blog has examined the possible staged death of Marlowe in detail, but could you comment on the matter of Richard Baines and his infamous "Note" that accused Marlowe of atheism and blasphemy?

Sam: I adamantly disagree with Robert Ornstein, who obviously did not dig enough. Marlowe was not courting the stake by publicly and repeatedly declaring atheistic and treasonous libels. First of all, all of these accusations about Marlowe have come from his enemies. Baines, who once wanted to poison everyone at the Rheims Catholic Seminary, can hardly be trusted, and all of these negative accusations came mainly from Baines who was a double agent. He accused Marlowe of counterfeiting, but Burghley knew that Baines was lying. Also, there is no evidence, other than the phony Coroner's Inquest, that Marlowe was engaged in a drunken, suicidal quarrel with anyone. The Deptford "quarrel" was obviously a staged episode to justify Marlowe's "murder." The body that the Coroner inspected, I theorize, was not Marlowe's but John Penry's. When you accept as gospel truth what Marlowe's enemies said about him and what the Coroner's Inquest said, then you simply accept what the history books have reported about all of this. Obviously, after seven years of research, I have come to a very different conclusion.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008

Click here for Sam's 3/21/09 post on Baines.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Three Incompatible Views of Marlowe

For an excellent piece addressing Marlowe scholarly criticism, I strongly recommend Irving Ribner’s “Marlowe and the Critics” (The Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 4; Summer, 1964). Although it’s dated by over 40 years, Ribner’s clarity, precision, and erudition make his prose a joy to read, as opposed to the pretentious, obfuscating, and often nihilistic ramblings so prevalent in literary journals of the past 30 years or so (see also our 7/2 post on Ribner's "Marlowe and Machiavelli"). In a nutshell, Ribner (of Tulane) analyzes the three prevailing positions taken by Marlowe’s critics (Marlowe as Renaissance/Romantic overreacher, Marlowe as pious Anglican, and Marlowe as the morally ambiguous dramatist) and persuasively argues the following: “Marlowe presents a virtually unique instance in contemporary criticism, for no one of the three dominant positions now current is in any real way compatible with either of the other two.” Best representing the overreacher critical view, Ribner focuses upon legendary Harvard scholar Harry Levin; for the pious Marlowe, Douglas Cole of Northwestern University; and for the morally ambiguous Marlowe, David Bevington of University of Chicago. Ribner also takes us on an educational trip down memory lane, cataloguing the major Marlowe critics since the Romantic Age, for “[e]n-thusiasm for Marlowe seems really to have begun with William Hazlitt, who devoted fifteen pages of criticism to him in a volume of lectures on the Elizabethan dramatists published in 1820.” In highlighting the three "utterly diverse" approaches to Marlowe that prevail in literary criticism, Ribner beautifully argues how such “incompatibility” is in fact a validation of Marlowe’s complex genius.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008

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Monday, September 1, 2008

On his seven-year quest and Marlowe's best-kept secret: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, getting to the bottom of the Shakespeare authorship controversy is no small quest on your part.

Sam: Of course. In fact, J. Thomas Looney, in his 1920 book on the Earl of Oxford, makes several statements which express my own views on the quest to identify the true author of the works of Shakespeare:

"The transference of the honour of writing the immortal Shakespeare dramas from one man to another, if definitely effected, becomes not merely a national or contemporary event, but a world event of permanent importance, destined to leave a mark as enduring as human literature and the human race itself."

That is why I was willing to devote seven years of research to this project!

Looney states: "Everything seemed to point to his [Shakespeare's] being but a mask, behind which some great genius, for inscrutable reasons, had elected to work out his own destiny."

In addition, I'm always asked how Marlowe's fake death managed to be so well-kept a secret. Let me refer to Looney again, who makes an interesting point about secrecy in Elizabethan times:

"Mystery and concerted secrecy were moreover characteristic not only of the literary life of the times, but even more so of the general social and political life....We can be quite sure that in those times no important secret would be imparted to any one without first of all receiving the most solemn assurance that no risk of disclosure should be run....The carefully framed oaths by which Hamlet binds Horatio and Marcellus to secrecy, and the final caution he administers, is clearly the work of a man who knew how to ensure secrecy so far as it was humanly possible to do so. And we do know, as a matter of actual human experience, that when a superior intelligence is combined with what may be called a faculty for secrecy and a sound instinct in judging and choosing agents, secret purposes are carried through successfully in a way that is amazing and mystifying to simple minds."

It has taken 300 years to unravel this best-kept secret!

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, September 2008

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC.

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