Casting Doubt in Doctor Faustus
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It will come as news to no one that Doctor Faustus can be and has been deemed a sceptical play. More than a century ago, J. R. Green characterized Marlowe’s outlook as a ‘daring scepticism’ and claimed that Faustus was ‘the first dramatic attempt to touch the great problem of the relations of man to the unseen world, to paint the power of doubt in a temper leavened with superstition’. Fifty years later Una Ellis-Fermor called Faustus ‘perhaps the most notable Satanic play in literature’.1 And the varied testimony of Marlowe’s contemporaries — Robert Greene, Richard Baines and Thomas Kyd among them — reveals that both the man and his writings could be considered iconoclastic and profoundly irreverent: both susceptible to charges of ‘monstruous opinions’, ‘hereticall conceipts’, even ‘diabolical atheism’.2 True, the circumstances in which these allegations were sometimes made force us to question their accuracy. Yet there still exists an extraordinary congruence of contemporary attitude about Marlowe — about what we might call his scepticism. But what are the sceptical paradigms inherent in Marlowe’s great tragedy? How can we argue that the play exhibits pervasive engagement with early modern doubt?
KeywordsCasting Doubt Conventional Truth Philosophical Scepticism Imperative Mood Sexual Innuendo
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