The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
has afforded a marvellous interpretive challenge to Christian humanists who feel they should discover Marlowe to be endorsing a nice, decent kind of god.
However, my argument should suggest another plausible Christian reading. Elizabethan orthodoxy would make Faustus’s damnation more challenging than most modern readers might expect, by denying that Faustus had a choice anyway: it would regard Faustus, not as damned because he makes a pact with the devil, but as making a pact with the devil because he is already damned. ‘Before the foundations of the world were laid’, it says in the seventeenth of the Thirty-nine Articles, ‘he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen.’ And Faustus, an Elizabethan might infer from his blasphemous, dissolute, and finally desperate behaviour, exemplifies the fate of the reprobate. The article continues: ‘So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.’ In Kyd’s
The First Part of Hieronimo
(c. 1585), the villainous Lazarotto declares himself just such a person:
Dare I? Ha! ha! I have no hope of everlasting height; My soul’s a Moor, you know, salvation’s white. What dare I not enact, then? Tush, he dies.