Essay Responses to Marlowe, Webster, Dryden and Pepys
1. Discuss Mephistopheles’ role in Faustus’ eventual demise. How much is he responsible for Faustus’ eventual end, and how much is Faustus responsible?
It is impossible to separate completely Mephistopheles’ actions and Faustus’ eventual damnation to hell. However, one must take into consideration that had it not been Mephistopheles, then it would have been some other less demon working for Lucifer. Additionally, there exist two other, more compelling reasons to place the blame on Faustus’ own shoulders rather than Mephistopheles: Mephistopheles is bound by his position to accomplish this, and in so far as his personal opinions can relate to the situation, he does offer warning to the one who maintains the decision making: Faustus himself.
The chief support for the former argument regarding Mephistopheles merely working in his role as demonic spirit comes from a quotation early on in scene 3 (76-79). In answer to Faustus’ repeated questions regarding Hell, Mephistopheles somewhat tiredly replies, “Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God…am not tormented with ten thousand hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss?” This is quite important, though perhaps not so on its face. It speaks of a spirit that knows that his place is now in Hell with Lucifer and that his work to be done is now done for Lucifer’s purposes. One who has already experienced the possibility of eternal life with God in Heaven as opposed to his new reality fully understands, regrettably, that there is reason and purpose in both places. These responsibilities and burdens come with the territory. A spirit in Hell can no more deny that fact than can a spirit (some say angel) in Heaven. Each work for a master based upon their choice in life. None can deny that work. Mephistopheles is locked into this plan to serve Lucifer. He has no other choice. This is especially true in light of his further conversations in which he makes extremely clear to Faustus that his obedience cannot be fully to Faustus, but only in a limited fashion because ultimately his obedience belongs to Lucifer himself.
The second argument further diminishing Mephistopheles’ responsibility for Faustus’ eventual end is proven in the spirit’s admonition to Faustus to give more careful consideration before committing himself to following this path. Given the argument in the preceding paragraph, it is clear that one warning from Mephistopheles is more than ample proof. The thought alone that he personally warns the doctor is more than vital to this – due to his locked in role of service to Lucifer it is quite amazing that he would risk a word of caution of any sort to Faustus. There needs no repetition of this to excuse Mephistopheles from Faustus’ decision. One event of this sort is enough.
The proof of this warning comes clearly enough in scene 5 during a conversation with Faustus regarding the real presence of an eternally punishing realm of Hell (120-135). In particular this one simple line stands out: “Ay, think so still, till experience change thy mind.” This is as clear and concise warning that there could be. It is not as if Mephistopheles is philosophizing here. And Faustus, a doctor dedicated to reason would understand this. There is a vast difference between stating an opinion about something, and relating empirical, real experience. For some inexplicable reason, especially given Mephistopheles’ “job” as servant of Lucifer, this spirit takes the time to actually warn Faustus that he may want to reconsider his actions and choose repentance even at this late hour.
These two arguments then put the burden of Faustus’ demise much more heavily upon the doctor himself, and off of Mephistopheles. The spirit was acting in accord with his purpose, and he went out of his purpose even to warn Faustus. This is more than ample proof.
2. Examine the elements of the macabre in The Duchess of Malfi, and in doing so determine if the play is more of a farce or a tragedy.
Indeed the play The Duchess of Malfi is actually a tragedy. The elements used clearly demonstrate the seriousness of the play’s intent. This could be dismissed if it were not for the ultimate demise of the duchess herself. Had the duchess ultimately survived at the end somehow, then the macabre becomes the farcical and mere elements of dramatic irony or even of comedy. But this is not the case. Two of the elements of the macabre that stand out in particular are the use of astrology and its warnings of Antonio’s child’s early and violent death; and also Ferdinand’s wild, religious, exhortations of punishment for both the duchess herself and perhaps even her secret husband.
Act II, scene iii describes the first element of the macabre which is finally linked to the presence of tragedy. In it, is described how Bosola has found a paper that his friend Antonio dropped. In it Bosola reads that “a child’s nativity [astrology] was calculated” and that it “doth threaten a violent death.” It would appear from the contents that three things are true. First of all, Antonio has fathered a child with the duchess. Secondly, Antonio has sought out astrology to determine the future of his child. Thirdly, the portents are evil: the child will die early and violently.
Why are these things important and how do they spell out tragedy instead of farce for the play? First of all, one must always consider the ending of a drama to be able to read back through the text for proper meaning and information. If there is any doubt about the true meanings of these elements of astrology and doom, one only has to look at the finality of the situation. Astrology, at the time of the play’s events in real life, was seen not in the same light as we see it now. Astrology is now much more farcical, and less dramatic. However, in the context of the play, this pursuit was science, which put it directly in opposition to the church’s theology. This will ultimately play out in the character of Ferdinand, who represents fundamental, if somewhat outrageous, religious belief. And so, the presence of astrology here, as revealed by Bosola, already indicates that something quite apart from religion and faith, something instead sinister and macabre, is at work here. It will ensure the tragedy of the play’s ending.
Act II, scene v rounds out the discussion of the macabre, and its ultimate relation to tragedy instead of farce. Ferdinand, the duchess’ own brother, is using religious fervent beliefs to rant about killing her for her transgressions – that of having this Antonio’s child. One of his particularly chilling lines comes right in the middle: “Tis not your whore’s milk that shall quench my wild-fire, but your whore’s blood.” Could this really be satisfactorily treated as a farcical, not tragic statement? Due to the absolute hyperbole of the character, perhaps this could be excused. However, considering the fact that the duchess’ blood will be spilled in the end of the play completely reverses the picture. It becomes a strong portent of doom instead.
Often times the difference between tragedy and farce is a fine line that is hard to easily identify. Some elements that are used in two different plays can often create much different purposes and draw vastly different conclusions. Even macabre elements can be so utilized. However, in The Duchess of Malfi, it is readily apparent from reading the entire text that the elements of the macabre relate to tragedy. The presence of astrology, which was considered a black science by the church of the time, and its being tied to death in the play, and also the clear, if somewhat irrational, damning statements of violence in Ferdinand’s speeches and their being inextricably linked to the murder of the duchess complete the picture. These elements of the macabre, when seen in the light of the end of the play yield only tragedy, not farce.
3. Compare and contrast Dryden’s examination of London in his poem Annus Mirabilis with Pepys’ description of London in his Diary. Which author do you believe has a greater respect for his city?
Dryden and Pepys both were keen observers of the city of London, treating it as if it were in fact, their home towns. I say that because of the great familiarity each holds for the great metropolis (even at their time). They do not speak as if they were foreigners observing from afar, but of citizens with direct feeling, knowledge and passion for London – even though this weren’t necessarily true. And yet their differences of opinion are vast and clearly delineated.
Dryden himself, in the poem Annus Mirabilis is succinct about his views. He is not shamed by offering them. Quite the opposite is true. Right off, in his dedication to the city he writes, “To you, therefore, this year of wonders is justly dedicated, because you have made it so.” Such high praise is certain to convey the range of emotions that Dryden feels. There is no doubting the sincerity of the voice and the viewpoint. It simply cannot be construed in any other way.
An interesting and beautiful commentary on London also emerges and works metaphorically to describe Dryden’s affection for the city. “By viewing nature, nature’s handmaid art, makes mighty things from small beginnings grow,” he writes. He goes on to put this into the context of fishing, and other developments from small to large, but it is manifest that he is making an observation of this great and grand city that he has come to love, seeing it as having humble beginnings that have developed into such magnificence and glory. It is passion unbridled and shows a great love and respect for the city.
Pepys, however, converses this view somewhat. Perhaps this is somewhat unfair to categorize disrespect on his part for London, but that is really what strikes the reader when faced with certain entries from his Diary. One can assign intent and emotion to most personal entries such as found in a personal journal or diary readily, even if such judgments may by harsh. One such example of Pepys view comes from September 2, 1666. He writes, of being informed of a Great Fire in the city that, “being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep.” Now what is important here is that Pepys is quite aware that this is a great fire, not simply a small one. Even being disused to descriptions of such and limited in his personal experience, he does clearly relate that this conflagration was in fact a Great Fire. Moreover it was a Great Fire in the city of London. Anyone indicating this personal knowledge and awareness of the fact that then seeks to go back to bed is stating for the record their apparent disregard and lack of concern for the city at large. Surely, Pepys does not react with sorrow or even action. He simply does not mention the city’s demise. This doesn’t show a lot of love or respect for the city of London.
On 5 September 1666, Pepys does react somewhat emotionally to the news of further fire. He reflects that, “what sad sight it was by moone-light to see, the whole City almost on fire.” That being said, however, he merely goes on to discuss whether or not the French had some part in it, and also discusses how best to get out of the city before it fell to flames. It is only that one line in this day’s entry that regards his response as being in any way emotional. There just seems to be very little attachment to the city. His lack of regard for its final well-being and survival borders on the complete disrespectful side.
These indications from Dryden in Annus Mirabilis and Pepys in his Diary show two divergent points of view regarding an affection for the city of London, England. For sure, they respected the city in their parts. However, when it comes to which held the greater respect, it must be said that it is Dryden, in his fervent and emotional passion for the city and its history greatly trumps the rather philosophical observations of Pepys.
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