Page images
PDF
EPUB

of English tragedy. Born in 1564, at the opening of Elizabeth's reign, the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, but educated at Cambridge, Marlowe burst on the world in the year which preceded the triumph over the Armada with a play which at once wrought a revolution in the English stage. Bombastic and extravagant as it was — and extravagance reached its height in a scene where captive kings, the “pampered jades of Asia,” drew their conqueror's car across the stage — “Tamburlaine" not only indicated the revolt of the new drama against the timid inanities of euphuism, but gave an earnest of that imaginative daring, the secret of which Marlowe was to bequeath to the playwrights who followed him. He perished at thirty in a shameful brawl, but in his brief career he had struck the grander notes of the coming drama. His Jew of Malta was the herald of Shylock. He opened in “ Edward the Second” the series of historical plays which gave us “ Cæsar” and “ Richard the Third.” His “Faustus” is riotous, grotesque, and full of a mad thirst for pleasure, but it was the first dramatic attempt to touch the problem of the relations of man to the unseen world. Extravagant, unequal, stooping even to the ridiculous in his cumbrous and vulgar buffoonery, there is a force in Marlowe, a conscious grandeur of tone, a range of passion, which sets him above all his contemporaries save one. In the higher qualities of imagination, as in the majesty and sweetness of his "mighty line,” he is inferior to Shakespeare alone.

A few daring jests, a brawl, and a fatal stab make up the life of Marlowe; but even details such as these are wanting to the life of William Shakespeare. Of hardly any great poet, indeed, do we know so little. For the story of his youth we have only one or two trifling legends, and these almost certainly false. Not a single letter or characteristic saying, not one of the jests “spoken at the Mermaid,” hardly a single anecdote, remain to illustrate his busy life in London. His look and figure in later age have been preserved by the bust over his tomb at Stratford, and a hundred years after his death he was still remembered in his native town; but the minute diligence of the inquirers of the Georgian time was able to glean hardly a single detail, even of the most trivial order, which could throw light upon the years of retirement before his death. It is owing, perhaps, to the harmony and unity of his temper that no salient peculiarity seems to have left its trace on the memory of his contemporaries ; it is the very grandeur of his genius which precludes us from discovering any personal trait in his works. His supposed self-revelation in the sonnets is so obscure that only a few outlines can be traced even by the boldest conjecture. In his dramas he is all his characters, and his characters range over all mankind. There is not one, or the act or word of one, that we can identify personally with the poet himself.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND MEPHISTOPHELES.

(Old Romance.)

BECOME A PHYSICIAN, HE CONJURES UP THE DEVIL.

PROCEEDING in the same track as we have said, this proud Doctor further attached himself to his bold and bad practices; he did those things which he ought not, and omitted the things which he ought to do, pursuing his dangerous speculations both day and night. There was nothing either in heaven or on earth that could escape the boldness of his profane inquiries; he mounted, as it were, on wings, carrying his audacious questions and calculations to such a length, by means of unhallowed processes, such as magical figures, characters, and other forbidden means, that soon he determined to invoke the devil, in order to assist him in his diabolical sorceries.

And so it happened ; for as he was one evening walking in a thick, dark wood, a short way from Wittenberg, which he afterwards found was called the Spesser Voud, it suddenly came into his head that that would be the right place to begin his magical circles. Forthwith he boldly marked out a cross in fourfold figures, containing a large circle, with his wand, and within these he drew two smaller circles, in one of which he himself stood. It was in the dusk of evening, between the ninth and tenth hour, when the Prince of Darkness, well aware of the whole proceeding, laughed outright for triumph, and said within himself, “ Ha! ha! I must cool this mood of yours, if you will only approach a little nearer the brink, so that we may catch you both body and soul.”

With this view, he artfully sent a messenger, as if he were himself unwilling to appear, and avoided his conjurations, which had the effect of further provoking the Doctor's wishes and curiosity. At the same time, as he continued to invoke, the devil raised a great hurly-burly over his head, as if he were about to burst bis confines and sail into view. The trees bowed down their heads to the ground, and the wood began to be filled with demons, who drew nearer and nearer to the circle with a hideous din and uproar, like the rushing of swift chariots lighted with a thousand fiery trains, that shone like a conflagration all around. Then commenced the diabolic rout with all kind of dancing and waltzing, a scaramouch encounter of spears and swords was heard clattering far and wide; and this continued so long that the Doctor was on the point of leaping out of the circle to decamp. But mustering fresh courage, he remained firm, and with still more impious efforts he summoned the devil repeatedly to appear. Upon this the latter began to exhibit a variety of strange delusions : first, it seemed as if a vast brood of birds' or dragons' wings were flapping overhead ; and then, as the strongest conjurations concluded, the strange appearance drew nigh with piteous lamentations, and again vanished. In a short while afterwards, there fell a fiery fagot close to him, which again mounted into a sheet of flame, which hung like a canopy over the spot where he stood. At this sight even Faustus began to tremble, though he also exulted in the idea that he was thus compelling the devil himself to obey him, and he earnestly pursued his unhallowed labors, bent upon knowing the result.

In this fatal design he doubtless succeeded, as he was afterwards known, in a certain society, to have boasted that he had brought under his power, and could command the services of, the chiefest potentate in the wide world. One of the students in company, upon this, observed, " That there was no greater potentate than the emperor, the pope, or the king, acknowledged upon earth.” But the Doctor warmly retorted, “Sir, the one under my orders is greater than any of these !” as if he wished to allude to the sixth chapter of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians: “The Prince of this World,” etc., but he would explain himself no further.

And in truth, after several more invocations of the kind, the figure which had appeared to him in the wood began to send forth a flame of fire, which, mounting to the height of a man, at last assumed a human shape, and bounded round the circle in which Faustus stood. Then the demon assumed the form of a monk, and entered into a dialogue with the Doctor, inquiring hastily, “What might be his pleasure ?” To this the Doctor answered, that it was his pleasure that he should attend upon him on the ensuing night at his house, exactly at twelve o'clock; which at first the demon flatly refused to do. Then Faustus again invoked him by the power of his superior, that he should accede to his proposal, and obey him too when he came; all of which the infernal spirit was at length compelled to do.

DIFFERENT AUDIENCES BETWEEN DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND

THE DEVIL'S AMBASSADOR.

When Doctor Faustus returned to his own house early in the morning, he found the demon seated, uninvited, in his chamber, who candidly said he had appeared to know what the Doctor's commands were.

Now, it is very extraordinary, but very true, that when Heaven has wholly abandoned a man to his own evil machinations, a spirit has thus the power of playing off all such tricks upon him, coming like a troublesome servant uncalled for, and often refusing to come when he is called. So that, as the proverb has it, such evil-minded persons will see the devil in spite of themselves, here and there, and at all times except when they want his assistance. Forthwith in his turn, the Doctor, somewhat cavalierly dismissing the demon, set to work with his magical arts afresh, in order to give him the trouble of returning, like an ill-humored master ringing for his servant before he has well got downstairs. The next time the Doctor showed him the articles of the compact which he had drawn up, namely : Imprimis, That the demon should obey him in everything he required, or chose to exact, during the whole term of the Doctor's natural life. Secondly, That he should be bound to answer every question upon every subject put to him, without any quibble or demur. Thirdly, That he must there reply to all the different interrogatories that the Doctor chose to trouble him with. This the infernal spirit flatly refused to do, excusing himself by declaring that he had no such authority from the prince under whom he held office to sign any such articles. “It is quite out of my power, friend Faustus, to venture on such a step; it remains with our royal master himself.” “What am I to understand from this ?” inquired the Doctor ; “ do you want power to do it, do you say ?” “ That I do indeed,” replied the spirit. “Let me hear the reason, then, now.” “You must know, Faustus,” said the other, “ that there is a supreme power over us, as there is over the earth. We have our governors, officers, and catchpolls, of whom I am one and many'; we name ourselves Legion : in fact, ours is a kingdom of legions ; because when Lucifer himself, owing to his pride and arrogance, fell with fierce downfall and punishment, he brought along with him a legion of devils. He is called Prince of the Orient, from holding dominion over those eastern regions. He likewise holds sway in the south, in the north, and in the west. And inasmuch as Lucifer the fallen holds all his influence and empire under the sway of heaven, so we demons had it left in our power to render ourselves subservient and serviceable to mankind. Were this not so, it would be impossible for any mortal to bring Lucifer under his power, who then sends his messengers as he has now sent me to you. It is true that we have never yet acquainted mankind with the real nature of our state and government; not even the wisest among you can fathom them; a knowledge which is reserved for those only who travel thither on their own account.” The Doctor was not a little startled at hearing this, and said, “I have no desire to earn that knowledge and be damned for your pleasure.” “Will you not ? ” replied the spirit; “that will perhaps not help you in the end; for your evil heart and life have already merited condemnation." Doctor Faustus replied, “ You may as soon think of catching good St. Valentine; so take yourself speedily off

away !”

As the demon was departing, the Doctor, seized with some fresh doubts, again called him back, and enjoined him to appear in the evening about vespers, to hear something further which he had to propose; to which the spirit assented, and took his departure.

From this first scene the abandoned heart and imagination of this man are made evident; and although the devil had fairly warned him by singing the “song of poor Judas," as we say, he still clung to his diabolical thoughts and projects.

SECOND INTERVIEW BETWEEN DOCTOR FAUSTUS AND THE

DEMON NAMED MEPHISTOPHELES.

Towards the appointed evening the same busy fiend again made his appearance, between three and four o'clock. He now

« PreviousContinue »