Reviewing The Tragical History Of Doctor Faustus English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

My third chapter proposes a threefold analysis of the major characters in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita. First, by comparing Faustus and Margarita, I show how their individual features as well as their relationships with the other characters are marked by elements of feminism, psychoanalysis, Renaissance humanism, affective geography, and role-play. Then, I put forth a parallel between Woland and Mephostophilis meant to reveal that-in both literary works-the devils embody a necessary evil that actually reinforces divinity. Last but not least, an insight into some of the most significant supernatural episodes of these books shall demonstrate that magical realism and Bakhtin's theory of carnival laughter offer readers the Faustian myth with a twist.

Margarita and Doctor Faustus

Starting from the premise that man is created as God's reflection, "in a twofold embodiment of the masculine and the feminine principle" (Sergei Bulgakov 150), one might easily assume that both The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita underline the harmonious union between male and female elements-hence Bulgakov's title of his novel and also its dual structure; yet instead, nothing could be farther from the actual ponder of masculine over feminine aspects in both books. In this sense, feminist critics and theoreticians base their approach to either of these two literary works on issues of gender-segregated societies, appellatives, transgender identity, androgyny, and linguistically codified male discourses.

Both Marlowe's England and Bulgakov's Stalinist Russia are worlds segregated in terms of gender. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick explains: "male friendship, mentorship, admiring identification, bureaucratic subordination, and heterosexual rivalry" (quoted in Chedgzoy 247) are all forms of homosocial connections that pervade both Marlowe's play and Bulgakov's novel. Thus, Faustus' aspirations are foreshadowed at the beginning of the play when he fantasizes about exotic sites, colonial exploitation (attributed to men exclusively), and violent ambitions: "Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. / O, what a world of profit and delight, / Of power, of honour, of omnipotence" (Marlowe 52). Faustus deems knowledge the way to gain power. His is not a singular view; rather, it represents the exponent of Marlowe's epoch according to historians: during those times, this segregation extends even to theatres where actresses are not admitted and universities where men alone are granted access. Bulgakov's work of fiction account for a role reversal, although the circumstances are somewhat similar. Margarita-the female Faustus of the twentieth century and therefore the one who assumes a anti-hegemonic role-is swept off her feet by the Master, a God-like figure who is not satisfied with writing about Yeshua (hence the identification with the latter that confers him divine authority) but carries his artistic mission further, which acquires metaphysical connotations. The Master remains unnamed and thus represents a universal symbol of Bulgakov's literary times. He is the exponent of "one of the major Moscow literary associations, called Massolit" (Bulgakov 11) that rarely if ever includes women writers among its members. Even if this is the case, women are belittled twice: first rejected as writers or second fiercely censored by the state.

Feminists seek to rebel against such a misogynistic structure of masculinity; they find the key figures to do that in exactly the same female characters who are initially submissive and oppressed. Both Margarita and Helen of Troy disrupt the authoritative discourse of masculinity. On the one hand, the second part of Bulgakov's novel casts away the Master and brings into focus the beautiful Margarita: "She was beautiful and intelligent. (...) many women would have given anything to exchange their lives for the life of Margarita Nikolaevna" (Bulgakov 166). She is now the active protagonist, whereas the Master is the passive one. She is willing to sacrifice body and soul in the name of love, acknowledging her role entirely. On the other hand, Marlowe's tragedy depicts Helen as the demolisher of masculine power; her name Helen may be read as made up of the core Hel (referring to hell and destruction) and the particle -en. That is why Helen's image is associated with the downfall of Troy but also of Faustus and Wittenberg here.

Furthermore, an equally significant element that brings about the subversion of masculine authority is love. Both Faustus and the Master single-mindedly surrender to their mistresses, although this aspect is more obvious at Marlowe. In Bulgakov's book, the Master owes Margarita his salvation and recuperation, whereas in Marlowe's tragedy, the play of significances has a greater depth. Doctor Faustus and Helen engage in an androgynous role-play: he plays Semele and Paris: "I will be Paris, and for love of thee / Instead of Troy shall Wittenberg be sack'd, / (...) When he appear'd to hapless Semele" (Marlowe 106), while Helen assumes the prototype of feminine beauty but also the role of Jupiter: "Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter" (106). A few lines afterwards, by being associated with Eve, Faustus becomes aware of his sin but he is also left with an undermined masculinity: "that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus" (108).

In The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita alike, even episodic characters or those of lesser importance see women only as a medium of power, as objects rather than agents. Hence Valdes' ironic observation: "Sometimes like women or unwedded maids, / Shadowing more beauty in their airy brows / Than in the white breasts of the queen of love" (Marlowe 54) or Robin's declamatory fantasy: "Ay, there be of us here that have waded as deep into / matters as other men" (73). Mephostophilis himself turns the concept of marriage into an antisocial act because he offers Faustus a devil disguised as woman instead of a wife. Bulgakov's text describes the meeting between Azazello and Margarita on which occasion the former reckons that women are superficial beings: "saying ironically: "Difficult folk, these women!" (174). Another character, Hella-Woland's maidservant-is analogised to Helen of Troy through her name (note the particle Hell): she represents the feminine side of Hell.

Twentieth century feminists fight against such patriarchal empowerment. This is the case of Helene Cixous who upholds the idea that gender relations are inscribed in the language we use. Consequently, "Cixous turns the invisibility of women back against men, who become the 'other of the other' and hence are cancelled out" (Hedges 106). Following in the same line, Luce Irigaray argues that man obliterate differences between them and women as a result of their belief that women represent their reflected opposites; therefore, women's otherness is denied (Hedges 105-6).

Additionally, the two protagonists of these literary works are linked by features of humanism. Doctor Faustus definitely embodies the exponent of the perfectible man of the Renaissance whose intellectual curiosity, aspiration for power, and nationalism are expressed rhetorically in the first person singular: "I'll have them (…) / I'll levy (…) / I'll make (…)" (Marlowe 53). In this respect, Faustus is an overreacher according to Harry Levin as he reaches out to the unconscious, to supernatural forces that might help him remedy the intellectual bases of his age which he perceives as faulty (quoted in Mitchell 55). Although he aims to gain fame through his powers and he aspires to be more than a man, he is permanently haunted by an uneasy consciousness; hence the opposition between the Good and the Bad Angels but also the Seven Deadly Sins that reveal the scholar's inner flaws. Margarita too is a representative of twentieth century humanism. She does not seek to gain power through knowledge but through love. Similarly, her being an overreacher is evident in the desire to explore new environments and her acceptance to obey occult forces.

Marlowe's Faustus and Bulgakov's Margarita are both folk protagonists since they are considered dissidents of their times, in spite the fact that their endeavours target very distinct goals. Paul de Man describes this type of character as the one whose "path is strewn with those parts of himself that he had to abandon in the process of his own becoming" (398). Faustus symbolizes the opposition brought about by the protestant belief that every individual is responsible for his / her own salvation or damnation. Margarita denotes the opposition against the rigid moral and social rules dictated by the communist regime. The scholar's unorthodox practices and his extended travels shed light on the ultimate results which he bargains for: knowledge, fame, and control over other cultures, whereas Margarita's is a more limited aim-she is not at all domineering (although she is appointed queen for a night) but looks for affective fulfillment. However, these central characters are brought together by "the development of all" their "individual possibilities, so that, by being put to test in the world," they "might penetrate, come to know, and dominate reality" (Lukacs quoted in Hedges 92). Faustus' and Margarita's personalities extend to more than their individual scope, they represent a literary reaction to the ardent issues of their times.

Moreover, these protagonists are depicted as torn between their affective and their intellectual make-up all throughout the texts. Obviously, the combo of emotion and reason is much more stringent in Faustus' case: the oscillation between enjoying life and attaining knowledge reveals that for the scholar, the body is more important than the soul, as he himself puts it: "This word 'damnation' terrifies not him" (Marlowe 58). Nevertheless, Faustus' "existence stands not under the sign of eros," (like Margarita's does) "but of thanatos" (Hermand quoted in Hedges 94)-since his quest leads to death whereas Margarita's grants her access to atemporal bliss.

Ultimately, the construction of Marlowe's and Bulgakov's central characters is informed by the setting where they are portrayed. Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr. speaks about an affective geography (231)-for instance Faustus' study or the Master and Margarita's rented apartment-that shapes the protagonists' identity. He further explains that the notion of geography is defined as "a conceptual structure through which social and spatial relations are simultaneously materialised and represented" (Sullivan 236). In these two literary works, there exists a cyclic sequence of broadness and enclosure. We find Faustus alone in his study both at the beginning and in the end of the play, although he travels extensively during the twenty-four years of the pact, while Margarita swings between the remoteness of her Master's apartment-"A completely private little apartment, plus a front hall with a sink in it, little windows just level with the paved walk leading from the gate" (Bulgakov 109)-Moscow's expansiveness, and the seclusion of their eternal refuge. Thus, the relationship space-identity acquires new dimensions; locations become part of the characters' emotional make-up: "The axis mundi passes through [Faustus's] Wittenberg study" and the Muscovite abode; "on it lie Heaven and Hell" (Kott quoted in Sullivan 240).

Overall, Marlowe's play and Bulgakov's prose present two multidimensional characters who-if carefully analysed-are more similar than different in terms of questioning patriarchal discourses through feminist techniques, in terms of revealing humanistic features, and in terms of attaching emotional connotations to their setting or background.

The Evil Suite

The archetype of the dichotomy good-evil permeates human discourses as well as literary creations since the beginning of time. Evil has forever been opposed to and traditionally vanquished by good forces, regardless of the culture adopting this model. Nonetheless, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus as well as The Master and Margarita put forth an innovative perspective: not only does evil stem from good, but it also reinforces divine laws and teaches moral lessons.

Both Christopher Marlowe and Mikhail Bulgakov deal with metaphysical issues in their works, issues that question the relationship between Heaven and Hell and God's intervention in humans' lives at the same time. In this context, Woland's emergence in Moscow and Mephostophilis' in Faustus' study foreshadow the obvious religious themes whose manifold interpretations are disclosed in these two works. Woland's mission is to point to the moral collapse of the Stalinist 1930s' Moscow through the use of satire and supernatural whereas Mephostophilis' task is more limited in scope because it refers to a single individual, Doctor Faustus. However, both demons appear as God-sent messengers swinging between Heaven, earth, and Hell.

In Marlowe's tragedy but also in Bulgakov's novel, "the forces of good and evil are not in competition but coexist on more or less equal terms" (225) as Laura D. Weeks tells us in her article "Hebraic Antecedents in The Master and Margarita: Woland and Company Revisited". The black magic professor, Woland seems inseparably united with God even from the very beginning of the novel, when the motto taken from Goethe exposes this timeless link: "I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good" (Bulgakov 11). The same may be said about Mephostophilis who-when asked about his origins-replies: "FAU. Was not that Lucifer an angel once? / MEPH. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov'd of God. (...) FAU. And what are you that live with Lucifer? / MEPH. Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer" (Marlowe 59). Thus, Woland appears as an intricate and profound character while Mephosto is less thoughtful and more servile.

Additionally, having the status of God's opposites, the two devils actually strengthen His goodness and prove once more that they are His envoys. In Bulgakov's novel, Woland claims to have been an incognito observer of Yeshua's trial; it is paradoxical how-by recounting this first installment to Berlioz and Ivan Homeless-Woland in fact reasserts God's existence: "'There's no need for any points of view,' the strange professor replied, 'he simply existed, that's all'" (Bulgakov 18). Likewise, Mephostophilis reconfirms the divine authority when he admits his origins and confesses the sin of having "Conspir'd against our God with Lucifer" (my emphasis, Marlowe 59).

Moreover, both Woland and Mephostophilis have immense powers, yet they are aware these are limited in comparison to God's. For instance, when Margarita asks that Frieda be forgiven, Satan admits: "Each department must look after its own affairs. I don't deny our possibilities are rather great, (...) But there is simply no sense in doing what ought to be done by another - as I just put it - department" (Bulgakov 216). Mephosto similarly gives away his limitations when he refuses to tell Faustus who has created the world: "Now tell me who made the world. / MEPH. I will not" (Marlowe 69) or during all the episodes when he urges the scholar to renew his bond for fear Faustus might be forgiven by God.

However, in their attempt to attest God's existence, both Marlowe's and Bulgakov's demons actually want to reinstate theirs. Woland's and Mephostophilis' is a peculiar status since they seem to embody both good and evil. On the occasion of the Great Ball when Woland is willing to grant Margarita a wish, the power of mercy surfaces: "'I am talking about mercy,' Woland explained his words, (…) 'It sometimes creeps, quite unexpectedly and perfidiously, through the narrowest cracks. And so I am talking about rags...'" (Bulgakov 216). Mephostophilis does not mention mercy but regret and despair when he contemplates his everlasting doom in Hell: "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 depriv'd of everlasting bliss?" (Marlowe 59) or when he advises the scholar: "O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, / Which strike a terror to my fainting soul" (ibidem). Under these circumstances, there arise questions about the ambiguous, opposites-marked personalities of Woland and Mephosto; Radha Balasubramanian further explains: the two literary works

complicate the matter further by concentrating on the nature of the Devil, raising questions as to who the Devil is, and how he came out being angelic. He is a wanderer, without a name and without a home? Does he also resemble God? Are they the same? Do devils exist as a contrast to God? Are they two sides of the same coin? (1995: 41)

Therefore, besides the dominant feature of demonism, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita endow their devils' characters with versatile attributes. The demons incorporate "multiple valid truths" (Emerson 179), acting as coordinators and bridging the different plans of the two books. In so doing, Woland and Mephosto bring about a multiplicity of perspectives and remind the reader of Mikhail Bakhtin's heteroglossia, although Marlowe's devil is less distant than Bulgakov's: "Except when he is the mouthpiece for an installment of Christ's Passion, Woland is a taciturn man. This is appropriate. He shows rather than tells" (Emerson 179).

Another equally significant aspect is related to the parallel that the two authors draw between devils and religion. Hence, the satire of the Stalinist Moscow's society is acquired through a review of the Yershalaim narrative. The same may be averred about a satire of Catholicism at Marlowe through a post-Reformation approach. Whereas the parallel between Woland's visit in Moscow and Yeshua's Passions in Yershalaim indicates time condensation-"Moscow's literary time became a mythical time that can be structurally correlated with the mythical dimension in the Yershalaim chapters" (Balasubramanian, 2001: 90)-there is no such analogy or time contraction in Marlowe's tragedy. Instead, the dramaturge describes the meeting between Faustus, Mephosto, and the Pope as the only occasion when the Pope is punished by the devil. In this way, Catholicism is downplayed as the Pope is mocked for failing to exorcize the "troublesome ghost" (Marlowe 83). Here, religious dissidence is also backed up by newly emergent ideas of predestination and original sin as advocated by the Elizabethan church. By opposition, the sole religious dispute occurs in the incipit of Bulgakov's novel between Ivan Homeless, Berlioz, and Woland.

Furthermore, there are additional thought-provoking implications that seem to pervade only Bulgakov's novel but not Marlowe's play. For instance, certain scholars question the source and the narrator of the novel at the same time, attributing these alternatively to Bulgakov, the Master, the Devil, or God (Balasubramanian, 1995: 44). It is evident that endowing Woland with the premise of authorship is an idea reminiscent of Bulgakov himself who has "originally planned his novel as a 'Gospel According to the Devil'" (Emerson 178). In this respect, "Christ's story is defamiliarized by transposing narrative points of view from the apostles to the devil" (Balasubramanian, 1995: 44)-the habitual Christian perception is disrupted and the gospel acquires novel undertones.

In general, good and evil are the inseparable components of the human nature differentiated only by man's free will. There is no preeminence of evil over good, although there can be no good without evil: "Kindly consider the question: what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?" (Bulgakov 274). By this account, both Woland and Mephostophilis appear as the most reliable source of knowledge in these two literary works but equally as troubled allies of God.

Supernatural Encounters

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, E. T. A. Hoffmann-a leading representative of German Romanticism-uses the fantasy genre with macabre undertones in combination with realism. A century later, the theoretician Mikhail Bakhtin defines his work as a Menippean satire, fundamentally satirical or mocking in nature and seeking "to ridicule different intellectual attitudes and philosophical postures" (Cuddon 504). The two literary works herein under scrutiny draw on the category of supernatural and on comedy to give the Faustian myth a twist, although humour serves distinct purposes in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita.

The use of humour and farce in the two books is treated differently by critics. On the one hand, in Marlowe's play, the comic scenes have not received that much critical consideration over the years. One reason for this aspect might be the fact that there is still ardent debate nowadays over the authorship of these comic scenes: "There is almost unanimous agreement that the scenes of clownage (…) and the comic scenes at the papal, imperial, and ducal courts" (Jump 22) are not Marlowe's but someone else's-hence the variation in length and style between the A-version (1604) and the B-version of the text (1616). Regardless of their origin, humourous scenes do permeate Marlowe's play. On the other hand, Bulgakov's comedy episodes have been the focus of much more critical interpretation due to the conviction that, in this case, Bulgakov himself is the author of these scenes. Bulgakov's fiction does not employ humour and pranks only for the sake of comic relief but also to underscore a deeper connotation: the Stalinist Moscow's small-mindedness, gluttony, and moral degradation.

Certain commentators such as Marie-Hélène Besnault in "Belief and Spectacle at Early Performances of Doctor Faustus" (2009) separate humourous episodes into "low-comedy" and "clowning scenes" (19). The former category occur in Vatican and at Charles'-the German Emperor's-court, have Faustus as protagonist, depict people pertaining to the social elite, and are further divided into sub-scenes with a larger number of characters (Besnault 19-20): dukes, attendants, cardinals, and others. The most relevant instances of low-comedy scenes centre on the moments when Faustus and Mephosto steal the Pope's food or beat up the friars: "POPE. How now! Who snatch'd the meat from me? / POPE. My wine gone too? Ye lubbers, look about" (Marlowe 82).

By opposition, the protagonists of the clowning scenes are Robin, Dick, the horse-courser and their suite (in fact, all of them embodying archetypes of clowns), although the main topic of discussion remains Faustus. Besides, these episodes have a less intricate course of events as well as an equally uncomplicated spatial and temporal frame. Examples that best illustrate this case present Faustus tricking the horse-courser or Robin and Dick being changed to animals: "For apish deeds transformed to an ape. / MEPH. And so thou shalt: be thou transformed to a dog, and carry him upon thy back. Away, be gone!" (Marlowe 85).

Similarly to Marlowe's low-comedy that parallels the major events of the play, Bulgakov's novel contains buffoonery scenes meant to counterpoint the main plot. For instance, Natasha's metamorphosis into a witch parallels Margarita's: "Completely naked, her dishevelled hair flying in the air, she flew astride a fat hog, who was clutching a briefcase in his front hoofs, while his hind hoofs desperately threshed the air" (Bulgakov 185). Then, there is also the correspondence between Behemoth's noble-like manners and Woland's aristocratic personality: "There was now a white bow-tie on the cat's neck, and a pair of ladies' mother-of-pearl opera glasses hung from a strap on his neck. What's more, the cat's whiskers were gilded" (Bulgakov 195).

Both Marlowe's tragedy and Bulgakov's narrative dwell on the connection between belief and disbelief when presenting supernatural occurrences. T. S. Coleridge's willing suspension of disbelief (Biographia Literaria, 1817) justifies the emergence of supernatural, seemingly inexplicable actions in a literary work. Thus, despite being taken aback by multiple extraordinary, uncanny events, the readers of these two books are willing to believe and acknowledge such scenes as literary conventions. Berlioz's severed head as predicted by Woland, Behemoth traveling by tram with a paid ticket, Faustus' invocation of Alexander the Great, or Wagner's summoning devils are all examples that illustrate the abovementioned hypothesis. Unlike Bulgakov's fiction however, Marlowe's play draws on an extra element which reinforces the suspension of disbelief (ibidem), namely the fact that the comic scenes seem open to further editing, alterations, or adjustments according to the taste of the audience who watches the performance of the play onstage.

Additionally, magical realism informs The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita alike. In The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (1998), J. A. Cuddon enumerates some of the key aspects which characterize this literary trend:

Some of the characteristic features of this kind of fiction are the mingling and juxtaposition of the realistic and the fantastic or bizarre, skillful time shifts, convoluted and even labyrinthine narratives and plots, miscellaneous use of dreams, myths and fairy stories, expressionistic and even surrealistic description, arcane erudition, the element of surprise or abrupt shock, the horrific and the inexplicable. (488)

In the two literary works analysed here magical realism establishes a link between the books' reality and a mythological, distant past. In this way, supernatural episodes are bordered by easily recognisable locations and characters that offer readers a dose of certainty. Behemoth alludes to Charles Perrault's story The Booted Cat (1697) when he claims: "'A cat is not supposed to wear trousers, Messire,' the cat replied with great dignity. 'You're not going to tell me to wear boots, too, are you?'" (Bulgakov 195). Koroviev himself hints at various titles as he walks pass the Griboedov House: "'and a sweet awe creeps into one's heart at the thought that in this house there is now ripening the future author of a Don Quixote or a Faust, or, devil take me, a Dead Souls. Eh?'" (268).

Furthermore, humour at Marlowe and Bulgakov is not exclusively employed for purposes of comic relief during moments charged with narrative or dramatic tension. Rather, it also mocks, it satirizes individual and social flaws, being marked by ironic undertones. In Bulgakov's novel, the "fascination with the folkloric, the demonic and the grotesque" (Jones 27) actually indicates a satire of the Stalinist society that has discarded individual reliability and awareness. In this situation, the mockery seems to be directed especially towards people of the artistic sphere: writers, critics, or theatre employees. By comparison, in Marlowe's dramatic work readers come across entertaining episodes fraught by sinister underpinnings-for example, Robin and Dick's metamorphoses in animals parody the degradation of the human nature, its reduction to primeval instincts.

Moreover, Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of carnival laughter may be applied to both Marlowe's play and Bulgakov's narrative. In the article entitled "Carnival and Comedy: On Bakhtin's Misreading of Boccaccio", Adrian Stevens explains that "For Bakhtin, carnival is a manifestation of 'folk laughter'; it embodies a folk based culture defined by its antipathy to the official and hierarchical structures of everyday, noncarnival life" (1). Bakhtin believes that carnivals influence the various types of comic works in literature by deferring daily constraints and thus liberating humans and also by bringing opposites together. In Bulgakov's and Marlowe's books comic scenes unite masters and servants (Faustus and Mephosto-Wagner and his suite; Margarita-Natasha; Woland-his retinue), the righteous and the sinful (Yeshua-Woland; Pope-Mephosto; Good Angel-Bad Angel) but equally the wise and the fool (Faustus-Benvolio; the Master-Ivan Homeless).

On the whole, the third chapter of my paper has shown how the personalities of the protagonists in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and The Master and Margarita are shaped by elements of feminism, humanism, and affective geography. Afterwards, I have compared the evil entourages in these two works only to reveal that Woland and Mephostophilis are an integrant part of goodness. Finally, by contrasting the supernatural and the comic episodes in Marlowe's play and in Bulgakov's novel, I have exposed the fact that humour may acquire deeper implications besides the visible comic relief at the surface.