Faustian Tuition Fees
Before I start, I need to say this. Christopher Marlowe died after being stabbed in the head. If it were a knife through a cheek, or an eye socket, that would surely be how it was described, but nope, stabbed in the head. That means, the skull. That takes a fair bit of force. It was in a tavern, and really doesn’t sound like the average brawl over a bill. Poor lad wasn’t even thirty.
Some people think he was a spy. Cambridge didn’t want to give him his degree due to suspected (and at the time, illegal) Catholic leanings, but the queen’s privy council stepped in and said he should, as he had “done her majesty good service”. Hmmmm. Either him and Lizzy were closer than we know, or something else was going on. Although, there is no evidence, some people think he had been spying for the crown, infiltrating Catholic groups, and he was taken out because of this. Pretty exciting life for a playwright.
The play is based on the German folklore tale of Johann Georg Faust, a sixteenth century astrologer/alchemist who died by blowing himself up, and leaving a corpse so mutilated people said the devil must have had a go at it. He traveled with a horse and a dog, and the dog was known to turn into a snake, so you can see how the rumours started.
Mephistopheles is, according to scholars, a recent invention (1580-ish, that’s still recent to these people) as regards to demons, coming into the world through this legend. I wish British folklore had some recent-ish demons. Colin the demon. No, wait, Derek the demon, that sounds better.
People used to write, paint, and think about the devil a lot, (Milton, Dante, Bosch I’m especially looking at you). Lutheran and Calvinists believed the devil was God’s tool and in his power, and most people seemed to wonder why god allowed evil into the world. This question seemed to take up a lot of brain-space for people, more so than today. I suppose life was pretty grim and they didn’t have Youtube and videos of hamsters eating tiny pizzas to distract them from all the misery and child mortality. Or the tweets or Richard Dawkins to tell them it’s all made up, anyway.
Dr Faust doesn’t enter his Faustian bargain so he can do evil, he’s not even fussed about power, he wants knowledge. All the while he is getting this knowledge with the aid of his new buddy Meph, and watching the embodiment of the seven deadly sins dance about (minus Brad Pitt opening a cardboard box with Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in it), his servant Wagner has got himself a clown and they are breaking out the bawdy humour, same with Rafe and Robin, comedy characters to brighten up all the theological trauma. It’s all a bit confusing to swing from serious religious speeches to jokes about pretty wenches and other high-jinks.
In the end, the a host of demons carry Faust’s soul to hell (how heavy was it to warrant a host of pairs of hands? Marlowe makes it sound like getting a piano up the stairs) and just his limbs are left for his friends to bury. So, the moral of the story is, selling your soul for knowledge isn’t worth it, no matter how high tuition fees get.