The First New A-Text Edition of Doctor Faustus

[First published in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology 86. 3 (1987): 402-04.]

Review of Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus: The A-text, edited by David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham (Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1985)

Christopher Marlowe, having studied for six years at Cambridge, seems not to have loved academics. He made dark comedy out of the murder of one of the most famous professors of his century (“... I say Ramus shall dye: / How answere you that? your nego argumentum / Cannot serve, sirra: kill him”). It might then be surmised that he would have found amusing the sometimes confused efforts of modern textual critics to establish a satisfactory text of his best-known play—the subject of which is of course the damnation of another more seriously muddled scholar.

Several decades ago the major textual problems in Doctor Faustus—those of the relative authority of the 1604 and 1616 quartos (termed by scholars the A- and B-texts), and of the relations between them—appeared to be more or less resolved. The A-text was denounced by Leo Kirschbaum in 1946 as a “bad quarto,” disfigured by memorial corruption, and in 1950 his arguments were massively supplemented by the superb parallel-text edition of W. W. Greg, who dated the B-version of the play to within a year or two of Marlowe's death in 1593, identified the A-text as a reduced form of this version, and proposed that the B-text, when conflated with certain obviously superior readings preserved in A, would represent something close to the form in which Doctor Faustus was first performed. Most of the editions which we and our students now use are based upon these arguments.

But in 1973 Fredson Bowers demonstrated that most of the passages unique to B are derived from a revision (which Greg presumed to have been lost) that was carried out in 1602 by two hack writers at the behest of Henslowe, the theatrical manager. In 1975 a brilliant article by Constance Brown Kuriyama made a strong case for the relatively greater authenticity of the A-text, including even its comic scenes, and in 1981 Michael Warren argued that with Doctor Faustus (as with King Lear) we should content ourselves with the exploration “of two quite separate and different plays ... each attributed to Marlowe”—an exploration which would obviously be facilitated by the existence of a critical edition of the A-text.

My own less stirring contribution to the debate, published in this journal in 1983, ended with a call for a new edition of Doctor Faustus based upon the A-version of the play. But, regrettably, the edition of Ormerod and Wortham is so seriously flawed that the invitation must remain open. Their introduction is in many places unsatisfactory; the theories about the texts of the play which it enunciates are in important respects ill-considered; and in their editorial decisions they have fallen victim to what Greg, in a seminal essay, termed “the tyranny of the copy-text.” To which it must be added that both text and notes are marred by errors. Marlowe's ghost, unfortunately, can be expected to derive further sardonic pleasure from this edition of his play.

There is a subtle but important difference between editing the A-text of Doctor Faustus and producing an A-version edition of the play. In the first case, one is committed to something close to a reprint of the 1604 quarto, modernized perhaps, as in the present instance, and incorporating the occasional reading from B, while avoiding any actual conflation of the A and B texts. In the second case, one would be able to recognize the greater authenticity of that form of the play preserved in the 1604 quarto without also conceding complete authority to what is obviously a defective text. Thus, while taking account of the corrupt state of the A and B texts, of their divergent ideological tendencies, and in particular of the compelling evidence that B is both an extensively revised and a systematically bowdlerized text, an editor could take A as copy-text, and yet admit B as having substantive value both in parallel passages where A's readings seem defective, and also for purposes of comparison in places where A's comic scenes appear to be out of sequence.

The former procedure could be justified by appealing to the need for an accessible reading text of the 1604 quarto (specialists are already well served by the Scolar Press facsimile and by Greg's parallel-text edition). But Ormerod and Wortham prefer to make the stronger claim that wherever B offers superior readings in parallel passages, “these can be put down to intelligent editorial emendation rather than access to a supposed manuscript by Marlowe” (p. xxviii). This opinion, reminiscent of Kirschbaum's no less extreme denigration of A, rests upon equally shaky foundations. In the chorus to Act 3, for example, A lacks fourteen lines which are present in B and which display none of the stylistic traits characteristic of the 1602 revisions. Ormerod and Wortham do not print these lines, having identified them, one must suppose, as editorial emendations.

The view that B is a wholly nonsubstantive text thus seems untenable. It would appear rather that while A and B do in certain respects form an ancestral or monogenous series (B is in part derived from the 1611 reprint of A), the relationship is also a collateral one: they have in many respects the features of a polygenous group derived by different paths of transmission from a lost common ancestor.

Their failure to engage with these complexities leaves Ormerod and Wortham wedded to the worst deficiencies of the A-text: a clowning scene which apparently has two distinct endings, and which, together with another clowning scene, is placed between the chorus to Act 4 and the scene in the imperial court which that chorus introduces. (An editor who felt free to consult the placing of the corresponding scenes in B would be able quickly to restore them to their proper setting: the first should follow the episode of the seven deadly sins, with which it dovetails neatly, and the second belongs after the scene in the papal court.) The same “tyranny of the copy-text” that makes Ormerod and Wortham prefer “terminine” (A: 670 in Greg's lineation) to B's “termine,” and to refuse an obvious emendation like “silk” for “skill” (A: 122), would seem also to have dictated the absence of act or scene divisions in this edition. The point is a debatable one, but their dismissal of the possibility that the play has a five-act structure takes no note of G. K. Hunter's essay on the subject, or of the evidence provided by the choruses, and by the act and scene divisions in 1 and 2 Tamburlaine, the only plays of Marlowe's which were printed during his lifetime.

In some of these largely theoretical issues my own judgments may appear contentious. This edition, however, also features many other less ambiguous errors. In the text itself one observes the misprint “Constanttinople” (p. 107), and the curious adoption of “Mephistophiles,” the spelling of Marlowe's main source, for a name that in the A-text is either “Mephastophilis” or “Mephastophilus” (and once, as in the B-text, Mephostophilis”): a minor point, until in a note on p. 46 we are informed that line A: 466 contains the reading “Mephostophilus.” (It doesn't.) Elsewhere, the notes are more radically untrustworthy as a guide to quarto readings. In A: 278 Ormerod and Wortham print the generally accepted emendation of A. E. Taylor (“Quin redis” in place of “Quin regis”), but ascribe it to the B-text, where this and the two preceding lines do not occur. More venial slips like “consenseus” for “consensus” (p. xlvii), and “Publius Syrus” for “Publilius Syrus” (p. 48) further reduce one's confidence in their work.

Nor does the introduction to this edition furnish evidence that these editorial faults are balanced by profound scholarship or good critical sense. In alluding to the origins of the legend, Ormerod and Wortham show themselves to be unaware of Frank Baron's important studies, Doctor Faustus from History to Legend (Munich, 1978) and Faustus: Geschichte, Sage, Dichtung (Munich, 1982), and their speculations on the relevance of St. Augustine's Contra Faustum could be replaced by a reference to J. P. Brockbank's 1962 monograph. They seem not to recognize the degree to which Renaissance demonological literature is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions: it makes dubious sense to claim that the A-text is “orthodox” with respect to “Christian writings on witchcraft,” while B is “startlingly heterodox” (p. xxv). The more important question of the relations of the A and B texts of Doctor Faustus to the Calvinistic theological orthodoxy of Elizabethan England is largely neglected, while a discussion of Renaissance magic digresses rapidly into a competent but almost wholly irrelevant disquisition on numerology: the writings of Cornelius Agrippa, which are drawn on here, might have been more profitably mined in an analysis of Marlowe's sources for the first scene of the play, where Faustus aspires—but not on account of his numerological learning—to be “as cunning as Agrippa was” (A: 150).

One could go on at greater length in this vein. But it may suffice to say that this edition seems in several respects premature. To borrow George Kane's assessment of his own early work on the controversial Kane-Donaldson edition of Piers Plowman, Ormerod and Wortham appear to have been “deluded by the 'ideal' of conservative editing.” The lapses in their editorial theory and practice are not sufficiently balanced by other interpretive merits to make this an edition that one could recommend to students of Marlowe's play.

Making Sense of the Primary Source of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

When the German magician, humanist, alchemist, astrologer and fortune-teller known variously as Georgius Sabellicus Faustus, Doctor Georg Faustus "the great sodomite and necromancer," or more simply as Faustus, or Faust, expired some time around 1539, neither he nor his contemporaries could have imagined that within fifty years a wildly sensational (and wholly fictive) account of his life would become a best-seller across much of north-western Europe. 

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The First New A-Text Edition of Doctor Faustus

[Christopher Marlowe] made dark comedy out of the murder of one of the most famous professors of his century ("I say Ramus shall dye: / How answere you that? your nego argumentum / Cannot serve, sirra: kill him"). It might then be surmised that he would have fund amusing the sometimes confused efforts of modern textual scholars to establish a satisfactory text of his best-known play--the subject of which is of course the damnation of another more seriously muddled scholar.

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The A and B Texts of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus Revisited

[I]t can now be said with some degree of assurance that the current orthodox view of the A text--that it was printed from the authorial manuscript of Marlowe and a collaborator--is not adequately supported by the textual evidence. Moreover, since the B text is at some points clearly of substantive value, allowing us to correct lacunae and other deficiencies in A, the no less orthodox view that has no textual authority [...] must be rejected.    

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‘Fairer than the evening air’: Marlowe’s Gnostic Helen of Troy and the Tropes of Belatedness and Historical Mediation

Forgive the interruption, but is there a scholar anywhere who does not respond to this Wittenberg man's notion of his alma mater in flames, or cannot take pleasure in imagining one or two close colleagues at the heart of a similar conflagration? But the thought of long-haired Achaeans running bronze-clad through Wittenberg, spearing astonished academics in the streets of their plundered and burning city, is perhaps not uppermost in Faustus's mind.   

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Text, Apparatus, History

One of the oddest pieces of Shakespearean commentary written during the past century is an extended dialogue by one William Bliss, published in 1947, which contains on its first page an urbane denunciation of Shakespearean commentators as “the ultimate nadir of human foolishness." If in this regard the book invites description as a self-subverting artifact, in other respects as well it is a thoroughly paradoxical performance. 

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Self-Image and Spectacle in Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus

[Presented as a conference paper at the XXXII Colloque du Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance (Université de Tours, France, 29 June-8 July 1989), this essay was first published in Spectacle et image dans l'Europe de la Renaissance, ed. André Lascombes (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), pp. 103-34.]


The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence.

Guy Debord, La société du spectacle1


Faust. What meanes this shew? speake Mephostophilis.
Meph. Nothing Faustus but to delight thy mind, 
And let thee see what Magicke can performe.

Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (B: 475-77)2



However one interprets Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the lines I have quoted here come at a critical moment in the play. With a resonant blasphemy—Consummatum est—Faustus has signed his pact with Lucifer. But when his own blood appears to form an inscription on the arm from which he has drawn it, he is reduced to a state of dithering terror:

Homo fuge, whither should I flie? 
If unto God hee'le throwe thee downe to hell, 
My sences are deceiv'd, here's nothing writ: 
O yes, I see it plaine, even heere is writ
Homo fuge ... (A: 518-19, B: 467-69)

My purpose in juxtaposing Faustus’s anxious question and Mephostophilis’ blandly reassuring answer about the meaning of “this show” with Guy Debord’s diatribe against the non-stop electronically-mediated spectacle by means of which power is exercised and maintained in our own social order is to highlight a tension, at once ideological and formal in nature, in those tragedies of Christopher Marlowe with which I will be concerned here. For although the spectacle which Debord wished to analyze is very much a phenomenon of the electronic age, Elizabethan England was also, if in a quite different manner, “une société du spectacle”—one in which power legitimized and reproduced itself through progresses, civic processions and pageants,3 through public rites of celebration and of punishment, through an appropriation of the potentially subversive popular forms of carnivalesque festivity4, and finally through such overtly fictive forms as the court masque and the various dramatic genres which flourished on the public stage. But while the public theatre undoubtedly served, on balance, to legitimize constituted authority, its products amounted to something far removed from what Debord naively calls a “laudatory monologue.” Dialogic in its very form, the theatre also became a site of contestation, a public space in which the pageants of authority could be interrogated (“What meanes this shew?”), and in which its discourse could be represented as traversed by contradictions and ambivalence.

By the early seventeenth century the genre of tragedy, as J. W. Lever observed, had become one in which “man’s inborn freedom, his natural state of equality, his right to rebel against tyrants, were canvassed as vital issues.”5 Tragedy participated in what Franco Moretti describes as “the deconsecration of sovereignty”;6 and its challenge to religious orthodoxy, Jonathan Dollimore has argued, “generate[d] other, equally important subversive preoccupations--namely a critique of ideology, the demystification of political and power relations and the decentring of ‘man’.”7 But some two decades earlier, at the moment when this genre was being shaped—in reaction, as the Prologue to the first of Christopher Marlowe’s Two Tragicall Discourses of Mighty Tamburlaine, the Scythian Shepheard would have it, to the “jygging vaines of riming mother wits, / And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay” (lines 1-2)8—a deeply ambiguous subversion of power and authority, both civil and religious, was already being essayed. Marlowe’s 1 and 2 Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus are in a sense totalitarian plays; they are (to borrow Debord’s words) portraits “of power in ... its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence.” But in another sense they give away the show—in the Tamburlaine plays, by exposing the “scenicall strutting,”9 the manipulations of image and spectacle by which a would-be monologic authority constructs and legitimizes itself; and in Doctor Faustus by revealing what the puritan divine Thomas Beard was shortly to call The Theatre of Gods Judgements to be an intolerable edifice.10 In the lines which I have quoted as a second epigraph, Mephostophilis attempts to close down Faustus’s question as to what the demonic spectacle which he has just witnessed means: “Nothing Faustus,” he says, “but to delight thy mind, / And let thee see what Magicke can performe.” As I shall argue, however, Doctor Faustus is not itself a closed spectacle; the question “What meanes this shew?” resonates in the theatre even after the last lines of its epilogue.



My approach here to Marlowe's 1 and 2 Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus will take the form of an exploration of certain aspects of the relation between image and stage spectacle. Twenty years ago Catherine Belsey offered a suggestive analysis of what she punningly called "the subject of tragedy.” My subject is also the subject—or rather, since dramatic spectacle and imagery are alike a matter of the representation and self-presentation of human figures on stage, the construction of an imaged subjectivity. I shall be concerned with three closely-related aspects of the construction of subjectivity in these plays: with the emblematic tableaux which are a prominent feature of the stage-spectacle; with another kind of spectacle which, since it is a matter of verbal imagery, I shall call “virtual”; and with the obsessive self-definitions by which the protagonists contribute to their constitution as subjects within the dramatic spectacle.

These Marlovian subjects invite one to construe them in what I would suggest is a double—perhaps also a duplicitous—manner. They can be understood, in a Coleridgean sense, as active agents in whom the self “becomes a subject by the act of constructing itself objectively to itself”—and at the same time, in Catherine Belsey’s words, as figures “held in place in a specific discourse,” of whom it can be said that “In so far as signifying practice always precedes the individual, is always learned, the subject is a subjected being, an effect of the meanings it seems to possess.”11 As Belsey goes on to say, subjectivity is discursively produced. But the discourse of drama is specular as well as verbal. Subjectivity is also an effect of the dramatist’s specular organizing of the gaze—that of the spectators as well as that of the stage figures, who construct themselves and are constructed through their capacity to hold themselves and others up to inspection, and through their function as spectacle (at once actual and imagined) in the eyes of others. It is thus in large part through the interaction of self-image and of spectacle (both actual and virtual) that the doubleness of which I have spoken becomes evident.

The most obvious point of contact between image and spectacle in these plays is provided by their recurrent emblematic tableaux—“sights of power,” as Tamburlaine calls them,

Wherein as in a mirrour may be seene,
His honor, that consists in sheading blood,
When men presume to manage armes with him. 
(1 Tamb. V. ii, 2256, 2258-60)

Such moments occur also in Doctor Faustus, but as ‘sights’ of what Constance Brown Kuriyama, in a helpful portmanteau coinage, has termed “omnimpotence”12: one thinks, for example, of the magus gazing with horror at the bloody inscription on his own arm; or of the terrifying appearance, in response to his appeal to Christ, of a demonic trinity.

The imagery, here, is actual: we are looking at costumed bodies on a material stage. But on another level, that of poetic imagery, one can speak (misappropriating a term from optics) of “virtual” spectacle—of representations which, for all their vividness, are verbal constructions alone, and are realized as spectacle only in the imagination of the beholder. On this level, it is relevant to observe that the poetic imagery of these plays insistently reflects, not the organic components of the cosmos (where other Elizabethan writers found a reservoir of social and behavioural norms, a structure of natural law and natural morality), so much as its astronomical, elemental, inorganic and daemonic constituents. This imagery thus contributes both to the notorious interpretive reticence and ambivalence of the dramatic spectacle, and also to one’s sense of Marlowe himself as an extremist—as a writer, that is, who in giving voice to the discursive extremes of his era never appears to suggest with any conviction the possibility of a centre which might give them coherence, and in which they might meet and be reconciled.13 Marlowe’s subjects move through a polarized, de-centred world of warring elements, glittering artifacts, and fetichized objects of desire, “heaven and earth the bounds of [their] delight” (Dido, I. i, 31). The intermediate order of organic nature, of normative analogies to organic processes, and of an attendant network of natural law, is in most scenes conspicuously absent.

As Clifford Leech remarked, drawing attention to their constructed rather than mimetic nature, Marlowe’s characters are “sick elementals” on a “rhetorical stage.”14 This hint can be elaborated: Tamburlaine is sick because he is elemental; and Faustus, because of the nature of his confinement “Within the bowels of these Elements, / Where we are tortur’d, and remaine for ever” (B: 511-12). And what Leech called a “rhetorical stage” is another way of talking about that virtual spectacle the interaction of which with actual spectacle contributes largely to the representation of subjectivity in these plays.

I shall be also be concerned here with a related aspect of the linkage between image and spectacle—one which arises out of the protagonists’ own language. Tamburlaine and Faustus (who are themselves central stage images in the plays which bear their names) are represented, and present themselves, in a succession of different attitudes. We witness in both figures a process of rhetorical self-fashioning. But how, and from what elements, do these images construct themselves? A principal clue is provided by their obsessively self-referential language.

Tamburlaine presents himself through third-person self-reference as a talismanic object: his elemental constitution makes him an operator of a kind of ambiguously astrological or daemonic magic for which Marlowe’s principal source, I will suggest, lay in Ficinian interpretations of the Hermetic Asclepius. The constitution of this reified subjectivity is mirrored in the stage images, the “sights of power,” to which Tamburlaine refers.

Faustus, in contrast, may experiment with a Tamburlainean third-person rhetoric. But the habitual, indeed characteristic, mode of speech by which his dramatic identity is constructed is second-person self-address. The initial effect, of a split between the active self who delivers the quasi-Agrippan declamatio invectica of the first scene, and the passive silent self who in some sense stands in need of these persuasions, quickly modulates into something rather different: a Calvinistic trap of self-authenticating predication in which Faustus’s despairing self-definitions (“What art thou Faustus but a man condemn’d to die?” [B: 1546]) are validated by the fact that he cannot cease from making them. The mirror in this case is an internal one, of a kind described by Fulke Greville in one of his Caelica poems as a “fatal mirror of transgression”; and the magic involved is not transitive, but subjective.15 However, the ‘sights of omnimpotence’ in which this predicament is objectified are again directly linked to a rhetorically-produced self-image. Here, as in Tamburlaine, the stage spectacle corresponds to and is produced by the rhetorically-constructed self-image of the protagonist.



An interplay between what I have called actual and virtual spectacle is one of the structural principles of the first part of Tamburlaine the Great. Shortly after his first appearance on stage, Tamburlaine reveals the warrior’s armour which has been concealed beneath his shepherd’s garments:

Lie here ye weedes that I disdaine to weare,
This compleat armor, and this curtle-axe
Are adjuncts more beseeming Tamburlaine.
(I. ii, 237-39)

The emblematic gesture, with its suggestion that Tamburlaine is no more a protector of flocks and herds than his followers are the “silly country Swaines” (243) that they appear to be, is quickly supplemented by Techelles with an explanatory simile which amounts to another, virtual emblem:

As princely Lions when they rouse themselves,
Stretching their pawes, and threatning heardes of Beastes.
So in his Armour looketh Tamburlaine:
Me thinks I see kings kneeling at his feet....

Shortly thereafter, Tamburlaine responds to Zenocrate’s and her attendant lords’ pleas for their release with a speech which, envisioning her in a position of power and authority, attended by a hundred Tartars “Mounted on Steeds, swifter than Pegasus,” and drawn by “milke-white Hartes upon an Ivorie sled” (289-90, 294), obscures the fact of her captivity. But with the arrival of the Persian general Theridamas, Zenocrate is made part of a quite different tableau. Standing beside his three captives (whom one might imagine to have remained in a suppliant posture), and backed by his supporters, Tamburlaine declares: “I hold the Fates bound fast in yron chaines, / And with my hand turn Fortunes wheel about...” (369-70). Zenocrate has for the moment become an image of the forces over which her captor claims mastery. And the treasure looted from her, the “golden wedges” which Tamburlaine has ordered to be laid out so that “their reflexions may amaze the Perseans” (335-36), complements the image of himself as one who enjoys divine favour and protection: “See how [Jove] raines down heaps of gold in showers, / As if he meant to give my Souldiers pay” (377-78).

Tamburlaine’s improvisations, which include a re-interpretation of his initial gesture of self-revelation—

Jove sometime masked in a Shepheards weed,
And by those steps that he hath scal'd the heavens,
May we become immortall like the Gods
(I. ii, 394-96)

—are of course brilliantly successful. The eloquence of a man who, to the Persian court, was no more than a “sturdie Scythian thiefe” (I. i, 44) is now compared by the Persian king's chief captain to that of a god: “Not Hermes Prolocutor to the Gods, / Could use perswasions more patheticall” (I. ii, 405). (Hermes, one may want to recall, was also the patron of thieves.) Tamburlaine’s reply, “Nor are Apollos Oracles more true, / Then thou shalt find my vaunts substantiall” (407-08), is at once another vaunt and an expression of the operative principle of his rhetoric. He substantiates his vaunts, not as yet by deeds, but by supplementing their virtual spectacle with the material spectacle of staged tableaux. Thus the piled-up heaps of Zenocrate’s gold, interpreted as evidence of divine favour, ‘substantiate’ the hyperbolic claim of the immediately preceding lines:

Draw foorth thy sword, thou mighty man at Armes,
Intending but to rase my charmed skin:
And Jove himselfe will stretch his hand from heaven,
To ward the blow, and shield me safe from harme. 
(I. ii, 373-76)

When it comes to deeds, a similar interplay of actual and virtual spectacle is evident. The farcical battlefield scene in which Tamburlaine returns the crown, the emblem of sovereignty, to Mycetes, “the witty King of Persea” (II. iv, 686), but only so that he can wrest it from him again once his victim is properly “hem’d with armed men” (701), becomes a model for his treatment of Mycetes’s brother. Having in the next scene invested Cosroe with the crown of Persia, Tamburlaine is so struck by Menaphon’s exit line—“And ride in triumph through Persepolis”—that he bids Cosroe return “to war with us, / That onely made him King to make us sport” (II. v, 754, 805-06). The imagined spectacle of a triumphant entry into the Persian capital is the hinge which links Tamburlaine’s destruction of two kings, the regal clown Mycetes and the king-for-a-day Cosroe, who is reduced by this repetition of Tamburlaine’s gesture of giving and taking away to the stature of a saturnalian mock-king.

But none of this should be taken to suggest that Marlowe is inviting a moral condemnation of his protagonist. For even if the playwright can be seen as foregrounding the verbal and specular rhetoric by means of which Tamburlaine imposes himself, he is at the same time engaged in a thoroughgoing mystification of authority. This takes the form of a recurrent emphasis upon the subjecting power of the heroic gaze, which exerts a projective power over what it beholds and establishes its possessor as irresistible in a sense at once military and erotic. Mycetes tells Theridamas: “... thy words are swords / And with thy lookes thou conquerest all thy foes” (I. i, 82-83). The first encounter between this Persian hero and Tamburlaine is an erotic duet in which, it would seem, their eye-beams (like those of Donne’s lovers in “The Ecstasy”) become twisted and entwined. Standing face to face, they construct one another through third-person address as heroic objects of desire:

Ther. His looks do menace heaven and dare the Gods,
His fierie eies are fixt upon the earth,
As if he now devis'd some Stratageme:
Or meant to pierce Avernas darksome vaults,
To pull the triple headed dog from hell. 
Tamb. Noble and milde this Persean seems to be....
With what a majesty he rears his looks.... 
(I. ii, 352-57, 360)

Tamburlaine’s “strong enchantments” overcome Theridamas, who is, he confesses, “Won with thy words, & conquered with thy looks” (419, 423).

In the following scene this power of enchantment in one whom Cosroe describes as “the man of fame, / The man that in the forhead of his fortune, / Beares figures of renowne and miracle” (II. i, 456-58), is explained by Menaphon in a bizarre literalizing of his master’s metaphor:

                          ... twixt his manly pitch,
A pearle more worth, then all the world is plaste:
Wherein by curious soveraintie of Art,
Are fixt his piercing instruments of sight:
Whose fiery cyrcles beare encompassed
A heaven of heavenly bodies in their Spheares:
That guides his steps and actions to the throne,
Where honor sits invested royally....
(II. i, 465-72)

These qualities, it would seem, make it possible for Agydas to divine from Tamburlaine’s wrathful eyes, “That shine as Comets, menacing revenge” (III. ii, 1059), the inevitability of his own death—and they enable Tamburlaine, shortly before his own death, to defeat a whole army, “Like Summers vapours, vanisht by the Sun” (2 Tamb. V. iii, 4509), merely by showing his face.



This strange figure whose eyes encompass a kind of celestial microcosm would seem to be in some way related to that microcosmic man whom Giovanni Pico della Mirandola described in his Heptaplus as recapitulating, like the tabernacle of Moses, the entire structure of the cosmos by which he is contained. There are, for Pico, three worlds: the sublunary, the celestial, and the supercelestial—and also “a fourth world in which are found all those things that are in the rest.” As an inverse metonymy of the universe, this fourth world, man, is thus in a position to dominate the order of nature.16

Marlowe appears to be making a defiantly secular appropriation of Pico’s quasi-mystical ideas. But the “soveraintie of Art” which allows Tamburlaine to satisfy his thirst for sovereignty may suggest that the playwright also made use of other closely related materials in constructing this virtual image of his protagonist.

Like other exponents of the Renaissance Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition, Pico was intrigued by the teachings concerning human dignity and spiritual rebirth or deification which recur in the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, among them the Asclepius. 17 The Hermetic Asclepius, however, also alludes to another kind of god-making: Hermes claims that the power and force of man are exemplified by his capacity to fashion animated statues which, endowed with sense and spirit, can perform marvels, predict the future, provoke and cure diseases, and apportion misery and happiness to us according to our desserts.18 These earthly gods, he explains, are made by invoking demons or angels and introducing them by means of sacred and divine rites into statues which already incorporate certain natural virtues; the idols then “have the power to work both good and evil.”19

Pico’s older contemporary Marsilio Ficino (whose Latin translation of other Hermetic texts had prompted a surge of interest in this wholly legendary Egyptian sage), understood the Asclepian statue-making as a species of astrological magic,20 and as being closely related to Hermes’s divinely-inspired teachings about deification. On occasion, indeed, Ficino seems deliberately to be obscuring any distinction between the two forms of god-making—as when, in a commentary on the pseudo-Dionysius’s account of the ascent to God, he describes the divine image in man as a statua Dei.21 Another Italian writer, Ludovico Lazzarelli, was more explicit still in conflating Neoplatonic and Hermetic doctrines of deification with the daemonic statues of Hermes.22

That Marlowe’s representation of Tamburlaine as a daemonic force draws upon notions such as these may be suggested by the remarks of Tamburlaine’s enemies. Meander believes that "Some powers divine, or els infernall, mixt / Their angry seeds at his conception: / For he was never sprong of humaine race" (II. vi, 820-22), and Ortygius is unsure whether he is a "God or Feend, or spirit of the earth, / Or monster turned to a manly shape, / Or of what mould or mettel he be made..." (826-28). 

But Tamburlaine’s trajectory is also determined by his elemental composition. In contrast to Cosroe and his companions, all of whom “have suckt one wholsome aire / And with the same proportion of Elements, / Resolve...” (II. vi, 836-38), Tamburlaine explains himself in terms of elemental strife:

Nature that fram'd us of foure Elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspyring minds....

He is, as Cosroe says, a “fiery thirster after Soveraingtie” (842). Theridamas, drawing upon the same elemental analogy, declares any man “That mooves not upwards, nor by princely deeds / Doth meane to soare above the highest sort” to be "grosse and like the massie earth” (883-84, 882).

The predominance in Tamburlaine of the element of fire accounts both for the “terrour” of “his threatning lookes” (2 Tamb. V. i, 4135), and for his uninterrupted victories and violent tyranny. He himself describes his vermillion siege tents as threatening

              ... more than if the region
Next underneath the Element of fire,
Were full of Commets and of blazing stars,
Whose flaming traines should reach down to the earth.... 

His fiery nature, however, is also the principal cause of his death. Sixteen lines after the end of the speech in which, ordering his men to burn “the Turkish Alcaron, / And all the heapes of supersticious bookes, / Found in the Temples of that Mahomet, / Whom I have thought a God” (4284-87), Tamburlaine challenges Mahomet to take vengeance on him, and tells his soldiers to “Seeke out another Godhead to adore, / The God that sits in heaven, if any God” (4311-12), the Scourge of God feels himself “distempered sudainly” (4329).

Marlowe, the one-time theological student, has prepared the moment carefully. Those in the audience who wish to see blasphemy receive its due punishment are rewarded—if, that is, they are willing to accord divine status to the Prophet of Islam. But this notion of retributive justice is promptly challenged by the purely naturalistic explanation superimposed upon it by Tamburlaine’s doctor:

Your vaines are full of accidentall heat,
Whereby the moisture of your blood is dried,
The Humidum and Calor, which some holde
Is not a parcell of the Elements,
But of a substance more divine and pure,
Is almost cleane extinguished and spent.... 
(2 Tamb. V. ii, 4476-80).

The import of this medical jargon seems clear enough. Amyras laments that heaven has consumed its “choisest living fire” (4644). But the fiery Tamburlaine is, rather, a self-consuming artifact: the immediate cause of his death is the inopportune arrival of Callapine with yet another army, in the specular dispersal of which Tamburlaine exhausts his “martial strength” (4512). Having established himself as a reified subject in large part through his habit of third-person self-reference (“... sooner shall the Sun fall from his Spheare, / Than Tamburlaine be slaine or overcome” [1 Tamb. I. ii, 371-72]), the Scythian objectifies himself again in confessing his own mortality: “... this subject not of force enough, / To hold the fiery spirit it containes, / Must part...” (2 Tamb. V. ii, 4561-62).



One way of explaining the insistent blasphemies of 2 Tamburlaine in particular might be to suggest that Marlowe was deploying a mystification of political tyranny in a kind of displaced subversion of the increasingly evident religious tyranny of the Anglican church.23 But the inexorable rise of the daemonic, elemental protagonist of these plays, culminating in his equally inevitable death, is paralleled by the organization of actual and virtual spectacle in these plays in a manner which may point to a less positive conclusion.

Acts Four and Five of 1 Tamburlaine are largely concerned with the siege of Damascus—and with the representation of a crescendo of degradation and violence. This is organized in terms of the colours white, red, and black—which signify that while on the first day of a siege Tamburlaine will accept a peaceful submission, on the second day surrender will be followed by the slaughter of “any that can manage arms” (IV. i, 1429), and after that by the massacre of the whole population. On the first day (so the messenger says), Tamburlaine wears “on his silver crest / A snowy Feather spangled white ... / To signify the mildnesse of his minde” (1422-24). In this mood, with a speech that moves from hubris to bloody-mindedness (“Now cleare the triple region of the aire, / And let the majestie of heaven beholde / Their Scourge and Terrour treade on Emperours. / .... / Then when the Sky shal waxe as red as blood, / It shall be said, I made it red my selfe” [IV. ii, 1474-76, 1497-98]), Tamburlaine steps over Bajazeth, his footstool, onto his throne.

He appears next, dressed “al in scarlet” (IV. iv, s. d.), in a banquet scene which begins with bloody threats against the defenders of Damascus and devolves into an exchange of cannibalistic taunts and furious counter-curses with the caged and starving Bajazeth and Zabina. Bajazeth tells Tamburlaine he “could willingly feed upon thy blood-raw hart” (IV. iv, 1649-50); he is invited to pluck out his own (“twill serve thee and thy wife” [1652]), to eat scraps from Tamburlaine’s sword point, and to carve up his wife before she falls “into a consumption with freatting, and then she will not bee woorth the eating” (1688-90). “How now Zenocrate,” Tamburlaine asks his own consort, “dooth not the Turke and his wife make a goodly showe at a banquet?” (1696-97). Observing her response to be less than animated, he offers music to cheer her up—“If thou wilt have a song, the Turke shall straine his voice” (1702-03)—but promptly dismisses her request that he show mercy to her native land and to her father’s city.

This sequence comes to a climax in a scene which begins with another refusal of mercy. Tamburlaine, now “all in blacke, and very melancholy” (V. ii, s. d.), responds to the belated but very eloquent pleadings of the first of the virgins of Damascus with a sadistic lesson in the workings of virtual spectacle:

Tam. Behold my sword, what see you at the point? 
Virg. Nothing but feare and fatall steele my Lord. 
Tam. Your fearfull minds are thicke and mistie then,
For there sits Death, there sits imperious Death,
Keeping his circuit by the slicing edge.
(V. ii, 1889-93)

Virtual spectacle, however, is as subject to the rhetorician’s whim as defenceless women are to the mass-murderer’s. Having commanded the virgins to visualize “imperious Death” seated on his sword-tip, Tamburlaine at once declares that

... I am pleasde you shall not see him there,
He now is seated on my horsemens speares:
And on their points his fleshlesse bodie feedes.

As his monstrous play with words makes clear, the fleshless body of this virtual image is about to substantiate itself in a phallic violation of the virgins’ flesh:

Techelles, straight goe charge a few of them
To chardge these Dames, and shew my servant death,
Sitting in scarlet on their armed speares.

They will ‘see’ Death feeding on the blazon of their own blood.

With Zenocrate’s semblables reduced to “slaughtered carcases” (1912) and hoisted up onto the city walls, their murderer launches into an impassioned apostrophe—inspired by the dishevelled beauty of his beloved herself, who “like to Flora in her mornings pride, / Shaking her silver treshes in the aire, / Rain’st on the earth resolved pearle in showers” (1921-23). He declares that Zenocrate’s sorrows, though caused of course by his own refusal to call off the assault, “lay more siege unto my soule, / Than all my Army to Damascus walles” (1936-37). A dehumanizing aestheticism permits the roles of victor and victim to be reversed: “What is beauty saith my sufferings then?” (1941; emphasis added). “Ask the ‘slaughtered carcases’ of Damascus,” would be one possible reply.

It could be said with some confidence that most contemporary spectators and readers of the play would react in a similar manner to the violent excesses of this sequence. But the rhetorical function of Tamburlaine’s soliloquy appears to be to complicate, if not altogether to block, such a response. “If all the pens that ever poets held, / Had fed the feeling of their maisters thoughts, / And every sweetnes that inspir’d their harts...” (1942-44): Tamburlaine is in full flight. Are we likely to perceive this second use of a metaphor of feeding as tainted by the first (which precedes it by less than fifty lines), or by the Scythian’s cannibalistic taunts at his banquet? And if our answer to this or similar questions about the inversions worked by the aestheticism of Tamburlaine’s long soliloquy is an affirmative one, is that because the play-text offers us a position from which to resist the daemonic violence of his specular and spoken rhetoric, or is it rather because we feel sufficiently alienated from this play to want to read it against the grain? In the latter case, is that alienation an effect of the text, or an effect rather of our historical distance from it?

I suspect that such matters as these are not capable of being securely resolved. And yet the play-text may contain a clue as to the anticipated response. The nearest approach to a critical perspective upon Tamburlaine’s doings in this scene is provided by Zenocrate. But although she reacts with horror to the accumulation of “bloody spectacle[s]” (2121), she is also drawn into complicity with the man who is responsible for them. Tamburlaine’s “sights of power,” the corpses of his victims, “grace [his] victory” (2256); so also, in a different manner, does Zenocrate, who “consent[s] to satisfy” (2281) his wishes, and is crowned by him at the end of the scene. It is arguable that this sequence (like the similarly constructed sequence of the siege of Babylon and the conqueror’s fatal illness in 2 Tamburlaine) is designed to draw the audience into a similar attitude of complicity. Is Marlowe then exposing barbarism or participating in it? The lapidary ironies of Hero and Leander reveal him as the most exaggeratedly civilized of the Elizabethan poets; does the aestheticized savagery of the Tamburlaine plays make him also the most grotesquely sadistic writer of his age?



Doctor Faustus offers, in certain respects, a reversal of these patterns. This play is masochistic rather than sadistic; its protagonist a victim rather than a tyrant. Tamburlaine, I have argued, constructs himself through an interplay of actual and virtual spectacle in which he is made to appear, both by self-referential language and by quasi-choric commentary, as an irresistible force, at once elemental and daemonic. Faustus, in contrast, speaks not so much of himself as to himself, and the actual and emblematic spectacle in Doctor Faustus creates a recurrent impression of passivity, of a subject enclosed and penetrated by the discourse of the Other. Faustus is a passive spectator of the pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins and of the other daemonic images, Alexander the Great and Helen of Troy, summoned up by Mephostophilis. He is, moreover, visually framed by the Good and Evil Angels, whose words come to him as though from within. In the first scene of the play, the persuasions of the Evil Angel—“Go forward Faustus in that famous art, / Wherein all natures treasury is containd: / Be thou on earth as Jove is in the skie” (A: 106-08)—are of the same order as those which Faustus has already directed at himself, and the same might be said of the Good Angel’s exhortations five scenes later.

On the level of virtual spectacle, similar effects are evident, for unlike the linear and projective imagery of the Tamburlaine plays, that of Doctor Faustus is insistently reflexive and circular. As Mephostophilis reminds his questioner, “this centricke earth” (B: 606) is enclosed by larger structures:

As are the elements, such are the heavens,
Even from the Moone unto the Emp[y]riall Orbe,
Mutually folded in each others Spheares,
And jo[i]ntly move upon one Axle-tree....
(B: 607-10)

Faustus’s visits to the papal and imperial courts are preceded by an ascent into this structure:

From the bright circle of the horned Moone,
Even to the height of Primum Mobile:
And whirling round with this circumference,
Within the concave compasse of the Pole,
From East to West his Dragons swiftly glide....
(B: 785-89)

Another kind of circularity subsequently becomes apparent: Faustus feels a need to return to his own starting-point, for

the restlesse course that time
doth runne with calme and silent foote,
Shortning my dayes and thread of vitall life,
Calls for the payment of my latest yeares,
Therefore sweet Mephastophilis, let us make haste to Wertenberge.
(A: 1134-39)

Having completed the circuit of his travels, and that of his twenty-four years, Faustus strives in his last hour to arrest the “ever mooving spheres of heaven” (A: 1453). But he is compelled to admit that “The starres moove stil, time runs, the clocke wil strike, / The divel wil come, and Faustus must be damnd” (A: 1460-61).

It is, however, most distinctly through his habit of self-address that Faustus creates an image of himself as a doomed man. Like Tamburlaine, he regularly has his own name on his tongue. But the Tamburlainean third person, by which the Scythian hero reifies himself as an invincible talismanic object, is alien to Faustus. His initial efforts in this mode may indeed seem promising (although one notices that he works himself up to the third person through a preliminary self-address):

Is to dispute well Logickes chiefest end?
Affoords this Art no greater miracle?
Then read no more, thou hast attain'd that end;
A greater subject fitteth Faustus wit.
(B: 37-40)

But when the proud display of his declaration to Mephostophilis—“Learne thou of Faustus manly fortitude, / And scorne those joyes thou never shalt possesse” (A: 330-31)—is promptly followed by an offer to surrender his soul to Lucifer, the absurdity of this stance becomes evident. A Tamburlainean rhetoric is clearly incompatible with the predicament of one of whom we were told, before ever clapping eyes on him, that “His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And melting heavens conspirde his overthrow” (A: 22-23).

Indeed, in contrast to Tamburlaine’s self-assurance, which is solidly connected to the elemental constitution that makes his vaunts substantial, Faustus’s first soliloquy exposes a subtle division between the speaking voice and the mute self which it so confidently addresses: this rhetoric conveys the compound image of a man who is at once the active, wilful subject addressing himself with such energy, and the passive subject who in some manner stands in need of these brash persuasions. As I have argued elsewhere, this first scene, in which Faustus fulfils the intention announced in his opening lines, of “level[ling] at the end of every Art” (A: 34), also manages to suggest that he is simultaneously moving towards another externally determined end—that of the Calvinist reprobate.24 The language with which he tempts himself is also, it would appear, the language of a daemonic Other.

Faustus’s habitual, his characteristic mode of speech is apostrophic self-address: “Settle thy studies Faustus...” (A: 31); “Now Faustus must thou needes be damnd...” (A: 438); “what art thou Faustus but a man condemnd to die?” (A: 1169); “Accursed Faustus, where is mercie now?” (A: 1329); “Ah Faustus, / Now hast thou but one bare hower to live, / And then thou must be damnd perpetually...” (A: 1450-52). This mode of self-address is, very largely, what constitutes his dramatic identity—and it does so in terms of an introjection of eschatological awareness, an increasingly powerful recognition of what is in store for him. At the same time as they enact a split between a perverse wilfulness and a strangely passive selfhood, his self-reflections also construct a trap of self-authenticating predication. The despairing self-definitions of Faustus would cease to be true if he could only cease from making them; but conversely, he could only cease from making them if they were not true—or rather, if he were not constituted as a subject by this very pattern of apostrophic self-address.

This rhetorical pattern is the precise equivalent of Greville’s “fatal mirror of transgression”: the tormented daemonic self-image which this internal mirror offers “bears the faithless down to desperation.”25 Faustus’s rhetoric, moreover, produces a kind of vertigo: he is pulled towards eternal torment by terror and disgust, as well as by delight—by the seven deadly sins, as well as by Helen of Troy. An eschatological awareness burns up through even his most fevered attempt at forgetfulness: Helen’s “sweet imbracings” are to “extinguish cleane” (A: 1352) the motions of penitence and despair that have wracked him, but the very language of the escapist fantasy which he constructs around her expresses through its inversion of gender and of subjection his actual relation to this spirit: “Brighter art thou then flaming Jupiter, / when he appeard to haplesse Semele...” (A: 1372-73).

Another more powerful inversion may suggest that the subject constructed in the first part of the play is, in its last scene, being taken apart before our eyes. Faustus in his first soliloquy aspired to beget in himself the powers of a god: “A sound Magician is a mighty god: / Here tire my braines to get a Deity” (A: 92, B: 89). He is alluding to that deification or rebirth which so interested Renaissance magi like Ficino, Pico, and Agrippa.26 But in his last speech, in what sounds like a kind of prayer, he cries:

You starres that raignd at my nativitie,
whose influence hath alotted death and hel,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist,
Into the intrailes of yon labring cloude,
That when you vomit foorth into the ayre,
My limbes may issue from your smoaky mouthes,
So that my soule may but ascend to heaven....
(A: 1474-79)

He is reduced to an abject attempt to surrender his bodily integrity in a disgusting reversal of birth; having once aspired to “rend the cloudes” (A: 89), he now begs for physical dissolution in their entrails.



I have suggested that Marlowe’s 1 and 2 Tamburlaine leave contemporary audiences and readers no secure way of determining whether our recoil from the protagonist is a response intended by the dramatist or merely an effect of our historical distance from him. Doctor Faustus presents an analogous problem: is this play, as Leo Kirschbaum insisted, “wholly conventional in its Christian values and ... in no sense iconoclastic,” or is it rather, as Jonathan Dollimore argues, subversive and radically interrogative?27

It would be most interesting to know, in the case of Tamburlaine, what exactly were those “fond and frivolous Jestures, digressing (and in my poore opinion) far unmeet for the matter,” which the publisher Richard Jones excised from the text, lest they “proove a great disgrace to so honorable & stately a historie....” One might surmise that, like the Calyphas episode in 2 Tamburlaine IV. i, these passages would have undermined the totalitarian fantasy which the ‘honourable and stately’ text we possess seems, for the most part, to legitimize. (There may, that is to say, be a connection between Jones’s apparent approval of “the Scythian Shepheard ... that became so great a Conqueror, and so mightie a Monarque,” and his distinction between the “matter of worth” which contributed to this image of Tamburlaine and the “graced deformities” which—at the very least—must have deflected the audience’s attention in other directions.)28

In the case of Doctor Faustus, however, such speculations are unnecessary: an analysis of its textual history makes it possible to understand both this play’s subversive qualities and the manner in which these were suppressed by early seventeenth-century revisers and by mid-twentieth-century textual critics. To state the matter as briefly as possible: Marlowe’s play reverses the crushingly homiletic orientation of its principal source, The Historie of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor John Faustus (c. 1592)—not indeed by glorifying Faustus, whose pretensions are undermined through a sequence of mordant ironies, but rather by insistently implying that his wilfulness has itself been willed by higher powers.29 The intimate manner in which the protagonist’s damnation is unfolded makes a detached judgment of him difficult, and the absence of that moralistic authorial condemnation which in the prose Historie and its German original had masked the issue of predestination puts into question the nature of the divine power whose interventions shape the action.30 This play proved disturbing: the revision to which the text was subjected in 1602 turned it back, with a massive injection of grotesqueries and of moralistic commentary, towards the homiletic shape of the Faustbooks; and either at that point or in 1606, after the Act of Abuses outlawed blasphemy on stage, the theological harshness of the play was blunted by further revisions.31 Mid-twentieth-century textual critics, however, led by Leo Kirschbaum and Sir Walter Greg, and motivated more by their commitment to a distinctly twentieth-century liberal Christianity than by the textual evidence, argued that the resulting form of the play was very close to the Marlovian original—which was thus not so much a tragedy as an orthodox morality play, a Renaissance Everyman.32

A properly contextualized reconstruction of the textual history of Doctor Faustus can help to restore a sense of the continuities which exist—alongside all the differences—between this play and 1 and 2 Tamburlaine. The most basic of these resides in the playwright’s apparent determination to controvert, to subvert, or at the very least to expose the tyrannical workings of that divine sovereignty which was so central a feature of the Calvinist orthodoxy of Elizabethan England. Whatever we make of their political orientation, it is clear that 1 and 2 Tamburlaine put into circulation a radically anti-theistic discourse:

Come let us march against the powers of heaven,
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signifie the slaughter of the Gods.
(2 Tamb. V. iii, 4440-42)

T. S. Eliot described the remodelling of this virtual image in Faustus’s last soliloquy as a “triumphant success”33:

O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me downe?
See see where Christs blood streames in the firmament,
One drop would save my soule, halfe a drop, ah my Christ,
Ah rend not my heart for naming of my Christ,
Yet wil I call on him, oh spare me Lucifer!
Where is it now? tis gone....
(A: 1462-67)

One wonders whether Eliot appreciated the extent to which this agonized vision, and Doctor Faustus as a whole, challenges the kind of religious orthodoxy for which he himself became a spokesman.

Another kind of continuity resides in the manner in which, in Doctor Faustus as in Tamburlaine, Marlowe manipulates the reponses of his audience. I take just one example: the concluding chorus, which most critics have understood as imposing an orthodox closure upon the play. But listen to these lines:

Cut is the branch that might have growne ful straight,
And burned is Apolloes Laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man:
Faustus is gone, regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Onely to wonder at unlawful things,
whose deepenesse doth intise such forward wits,
To practise more than heavenly power permits.
(A: 1510-17)

The last four lines consist of two syntactically parallel clauses. What is there here to prevent a first-time listener from attaching the second of these clauses to the same grammatical subject as the first (to Faustus, that is, rather than to “things”)? The result would be a momentary misconstrual of the retrospectively available sense of this passage which may seem scarcely possible to anyone who already knows the text. But a listener who, on first acquaintance with this forked path, takes the wrong choice in construing it and finds herself in a cul-de-sac, can only correct her error by recognizing that “such forward wits” are not to be identified with “the wise.” To conflate the two, even momentarily, is to find oneself stumbling between the two stances which these lines emphatically separate—between a dangerous empathy, scarcely avoidable after Faustus’s last speech, with one forward wit, and the negation of that empathy in a complacent self-identification as one of the wise. But the contagious possibility of such a conflation is built into the syntax of these closing lines. As a deliberate trap, one wonders, or an accident of syntax?

To conclude my own text, I repeat Faustus’s question: “What meanes this shew”? It means, mon semblable, hypocrite auditeur, that we are being manipulated by a master of dramatic spectacle and poetic imagery. But to what extent we are being invited to challenge a theological and political totalitarianism, and to what extent we are being manoeuvred into complicity with it, Marlowe leaves for us to decide.




1  Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Exeter: Rebel Press, 1987), section 24.

2  My quotations from Doctor Faustus are from Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts, ed. W. W. Greg (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). They are identified by the text from which they are drawn (A refers to the edition of 1604 and its reprints in 1609 and 1611, B to the substantially revised edition of 1616), and by their line numbers in Greg's parallel-text edition. For a statement of the principles governing my use of the A and B texts, and for analyses of the relative authenticity of the two versions of the play, see my articles “Verbal Magic and the Problem of the A and B Texts of Doctor Faustus,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82 (1983): 324-46, and “History and the Canon: The Case of Doctor Faustus,” University of Toronto Quarterly 56.4 (1987): 498-522, esp. 505-15, and my edition of the play: Christopher Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus”: A 1604-version edition (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1991), xi-xxii, lv-lxix. In all of my quotations from Renaissance texts, u/v and i/j have been silently altered to conform with modern usage.

3  Louis Adrian Montrose remarks that “Popular and liturgical ceremonial forms were appropriated by the secular authorities; they were transformed into exclusive celebrations of the monarchy or the urban elite. Such ceremonies of power and authority are epitomized by the Queen's occasional summer progresses outside the capital and her annual Accession Day fêtes at Westminster; and by the annual procession and pageant for the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London” (“The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology,” Helios 5.7 [1980]: 59).

4  See Peter Stallybrass, “'Wee feaste in our Defense:' Patrician Carnival in Early Modern England and Robert Herrick's 'Hesperides',” English Literary Renaissance 16.1 (Winter 1986): 234-52.

5  J. W. Lever, The Tragedy of State: A Study of Jacobean Drama, intro. by Jonathan Dollimore (2nd ed.; London and New York: Methuen, 1987), p. xix.

6  See Franco Moretti, “The Great Eclipse: Tragic Form as the Deconsecration of Sovereignty,” in his Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms, trans. Susan Fischer, David Forgacs and David Miller (Revised ed.; London and New York: Verso, 1988), pp. 42-82.

7  Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Brighton and Chicago: Harvester and Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 4.

8  My quotations from Marlowe's plays, with the exception of Doctor Faustus, are taken from The Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. C. F. Tucker Brooke (1910; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), and are identified by act, scene, and line numbers. (Tucker Brooke's lineation is continuous throughout 1 and 2 Tamburlaine, and elsewhere throughout each play.)

9  The words are Ben Jonson's, from his Discoveries : see Discoveries (1641), Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1619), ed. G. B. Harrison (London: Bodley Head, 1923), p. 33.

10  Orthodoxy has its revenges: Marlowe himself appeared as an exhibit in Beard's The Theatre of Gods Judgements (1597). After recounting Marlowe's death in an attempt “to stab one whome hee ought a grudge unto,” Beard adds: “The manner of his death being so terrible (for hee even cursed and blasphemed to his last gaspe, and togither with his breath an oath flew out of his mouth) that it was not only a manifest signe of Gods judgement, but also an horrible and fearefull terrour to all that beheld him” (qtd. from Marlowe: The Critical Heritage 1588-1896, ed. Millar Maclure [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979], p. 42).

11  Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. George Watson (1956; rpt. London: Dent, 1971), ch. xii, p. 152; Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), p. 5.

12  Constance Brown Kuriyama, Hammer or Anvil: Psychological Patterns in Christopher Marlowe's Plays (New Bunswick, N. J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 95, 110.

13  Wilbur Sanders, in The Dramatist and the Received Idea: Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), criticized Marlowe for lacking “a firmly-grounded centre of consciousness from which to conduct his exploration of human life” (pp. 139-40)—a remark which ignores the possibility that Marlowe's writings may have been deliberately anti-foundationalist and de-centred. The study which most adequately explores this possibility is Simon Shepherd's Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (Brighton: Harvester, 1986).

14  Clifford Leech, Christopher Marlowe: Poet for the Stage, ed. Anne Lancashire (New York: AMS Press, 1986), p. 214.

15  See Caelica, XCIX, in Selected Writings of Fulke Greville, ed. Joan Rees (London: Athlone Press, 1973), p. 44.

16  Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Heptaplus, in Cesare Vasoli, ed., Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Gian Francesco Pico, Opera omnia (2 vols.; 1557-1573; facsimile rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), vol. 1, sig. A4v: “Est autem praeter tres quos narravimus quartus alius mundus in quo & ea omnia inveniantur quae sunt in reliquis, hic ipse est homo....” I have studied certain implications of this notion of man as an inverse metonymy of the universe in “The World Turned Inside Out: Revolutions of the Infinite Sphere from Hermes to Pascal,” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 21 (1988): 303-13.

17  The importance of Pico's debt to this text can be quickly demonstrated. At the outset of his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, he proclaims the marvellous nature of mankind, and quotes from Asclepius 6. (See Pico, De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno, ed. Eugenio Garin [Florence: Vallecchi, 1942], p. 102; and Corpus Hermeticum, ed. A. D. Nock, trans. A. J. Festugière [4 vols.; 2nd ed.; Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1960], pp. 301-02.) But Pico then asks why we should not admire the angels and the blessed choirs of heaven more than man. He answers this question with his famous re-telling of the story of the creation, in which he identifies man's divinely-accorded indeterminacy, his capacity for self-fashioning and deification, as the basis of his dignity. But this is little more than an expansion of the well-known passage (Asclepius 5-6) from which he had quoted at the outset. Pico's handling of the matter is thus duplicitous: he undoubtedly knew that the answer to the problem posed for him by Hermes's celebration of human dignity is provided by Hermes himself. But the manoeuvre allows him to put Hermes's words (or something very like them) into the mouth of God himself.

18  Asclepius 23-24; Corpus Hermeticum vol. 2, pp. 325-26: “Species vero deorum, quas conformat humanitas, ex utraque natura conformatae sunt; ex divina, quae est purior multoque divinior, et ex ea, quae intra homines est, id est ex materia, qua fuerint fabricatae.... —Statuas dicis, o Trismegiste? —Statuas, o Asclepi. Videsne, quatenus tu ipse diffidas? statuas animatas sensu et spiritu plenas tantaque facientes et talia, statuas futurorum praescias eaque sorte, vate, somniis multisque aliis rebus praedicentes, inbecillitates hominibus facientes easque curantes, tristitiam laetitiamque pro meritis.”

19  Asclepius 37, Corpus Hermeticum vol. 2, p. 347: “... proavi nostri ... invenerunt artem qua efficerent deos. Cui inventae adiunxerunt virtutem de mundi natura convenientem eamque miscentes, quoniam animas facere non poterant, evocantes animas daemonum vel angelorum eas indiderunt imaginibus sanctis divinisque mysteriis, per quas idola et bene faciendi et male vires habere potuissent.”

20  Ficino derived authority from this statue-magic for the idea that, just as aerial demons can be attracted into statues, so also stellar influences and spirits can be drawn into material forms (see Ficino, De triplici vita [In agro Caregio, 1489], sig. h7v, r1r-v). Brian Copenhaver remarks that he allowed the Asclepian statue-magic to colour his interpretation of Plotinus's metaphysics (see Copenhaver, “Astrology and Magic,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988], pp. 275-79).

21  Ficino, Opera omnia (2 vols.; Paris, 1641), Comm. in orationem Dionysii de Trinitate, vol. 2, p. 7: “Si fecit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam, certe est in homine statua Dei, quamvis aditamentis abscondita.”

22  A conflation of this kind is evident in Ludovico Lazzarelli’s Calix Christi et Crater Hermetis, which was printed by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples in his edition of the Hermetic Pimander and Asclepius (Paris, 1505). For an account of Lazzarelli’s conflation of these two forms of god-making into a Hermetic-Christian mystery of spiritual rebirth, see D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958; rpt. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 67-71.

23  Archbishop Whitgift had since 1583 been enforcing uniformity within the Anglican church. John Penry, brought before the Court of High Commission as a dissenter in 1588, was, he wrote in his Appellation (1589), “threatned very bloodily” and told by Whitgift that “ere you depart the court we will finde sufficient matter to emprison you, and if you refuse the oath, to prison you shall goe” (Albert Peel, ed., The Notebook of John Penry 1593 [London: Royal Historical Society, 1944], “Introduction,” p. xiii). Rearrested in March, 1593, Penry was hanged on May 29. (It may be no more than coincidence that Christopher Marlowe appeared before the Privy Council on May 20, four days before Penry's condemnation, and that he was killed on May 30.)

24  See my article “Misreading Faustus Misreading: The Question of Context,” The Dalhousie Review 65.4 (Winter 1985-86), 511-33. In the following three paragraphs I am combining material first sketched out in this article (p. 515), in “History and the Canon,” 513-14, and in “Right Eye and Left Heel: Ideological Origins of the Legend of Faustus,” Mosaic 22.2 (Spring 1989), 82.

25  I am quoting from the first ten lines of Caelica XCIX, in Greville, pp. 43-44:

Down in the depth of mine iniquity,
That ugly centre of infernal spirits
Where each sin feels her own deformity
In these peculiar torments she inherits,
Deprived of human graces and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

And in this fatal mirror of transgression
Shows man, as fruit of his degeneration,
The error's ugly infinite impression,
Which bears the faithless down to desperation....

26  On this subject, see my article “Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia,” Renaissance Quarterly 41 (1988), 614-53.

27  Leo Kirschbaum, ed., The Plays of Christopher Marlowe (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1962), “Introduction,” p. 102; Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy, pp. 109-19.

28  Works, ed. Tucker Brooke, p. 7. It is of course possible that the material Jones cut was not part of what Marlowe wrote, but rather gags interpolated by the actors. But even if this were so, it would remain the case that the plays which London audiences knew in the late 1580s contained a comic counterweight to tyranny that is lacking in the published text. Which, in this instance, would be the ‘original’ text: the one which audiences had seen acted, or the one ‘restored’ by Richard Jones’s editorial attentions? The arguments of Jerome McGann in A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), ch. 3, are relevant here.

29  See Paul R. Sellin, “The Hidden God: Reformation Awe in Renaissance English Literature,” in Robert S. Kinsman, ed., The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1974), pp. 147-96, esp. 177-86; Robert G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgements (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1976), pp. 39-66; Martha Tuck Rozett, The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 209-46.

30  See my analysis of the Good Angel’s lines in “Misreading,” 520-21.

31  This narrative is based upon the following considerations. We possess two distinct substantive texts of the play, first printed in 1604 and 1616 respectively. The 1616 text incorporates the revisions for which the theatrical entrepreneur Henslowe paid in 1602; see Fredson Bowers, “Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973), 1-18; Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus : The Supposed Originality of the 1616 Text,” English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975), 171-97; and my article “Verbal Magic.” When the revised text became available, the actors presumably discarded the text they had previously been using, which would thus have become available for printing: this would explain the entry in the Stationers’ Register in 1602, and the edition of 1604. (Only a single copy of this edition survives; there may have been an earlier edition of the same text in 1602 or 1603.) The evidence for the ideological orientation of what are probably further (post-1606) revisions is discussed in my edition of Doctor Faustus, pp. xlv-lxix.

32  The work of Greg, in particular, is analyzed in the articles cited in note 31; see also Michael J. Warren, “Doctor Faustus: The Old Man and the Text,” English Literary Renaissance 11 (1981), 111-47.

33  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (3rd ed., 1951; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 1976), p. 122.    

Mars and the Carthaginians (Doctor Faustus, Prologue, line 2)

[First published in Cahiers Élizabéthains: études sur la pré-renaissance et la renaissance anglaises 38 (October 1990): 61-64. Several typographical errors have been corrected, but the text has not otherwise been altered.]


The word mate in the second line of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus“Not marching now in fields of Thracimene, / Where Mars did mate the Carthaginians” (A: 2-3)1—has been a source of continuing embarrassment to commentators on the text. One obvious sense of the word was recognized in 1850 by Alexander Dyce when he glossed it in his edition as meaning “confound, defeat.”2 The Oxford English Dictionary, similarly, cites these lines as an instance of the common though long obsolete usage of “mate” in the sense of “overcome, defeat, subdue.” Yet whatever Mars may have done to the Carthaginians at Lake Trasummenus in 217 B.C., he did not prevent them from crushing the Roman army led by Caius Flaminius and killing its general. Could a poet who had himself graced “the fruitfull plot of Scholerisme” (A: 17) have forgotten the elementary fact that this battle was one of Hannibal's most resounding victories?

To evade this awkward possibility, Francis Cunningham proposed, in his edition of 1870, that the word must mean “to marry”: Mars mated the Carthaginians in the sense of espousing their cause.3 But A. H. Bullen in 1885, followed by A. W. Ward in the second, third, and fourth revisions of his edition of the play, dismissed Cunningham's conjecture as implausible. As Ward wrote in 1901, “so paradoxical a use of the word is extremely doubtful, and ... it is safer to suppose the poet's memory to have been at fault.” He himself glossed “mate” as “match, pit himself against,” and quoted Henry VIII, III. 2. 272-74 (“That in the way of loyalty and truth / Toward the king, my ever royal master, / Dare mate a sounder man than Surrey can be”) in support of this interpretation.4

The view that Marlowe somehow confused victors with victims in the first two lines of Doctor Faustus reappears in the Complete Plays and Poems edited in 1976 by E. D. Pendry and J. C. Maxwell: “mate” is there glossed, though hesitantly, as “abash” or “defeat.”5 Most twentieth-century editors, however, have preferred to follow Cunningham in rescuing Marlowe from the imputation of forgetfulness. F. S. Boas wrote in 1932 that “If the reading is right, 'mate' appears to mean 'enter into alliance with'.”6 This opinion, adopted by John D. Jump (1962), by Roma Gill (1971), and most recently by David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham (1985), was ingeniously expanded in 1969 by J. B. Steane: “Mars 'mated' the Carthaginians ... in the sense that he entered into them: he was on their side and with his spirit in them they won (cf. Lady Constance on Fortune: “Sh'adulterates hourly with thine uncle John,” King John, III. 1. 56).”7

In the mean time, W. W. Greg had in 1950 suggested another possibility. Rejecting both Cunningham's proposal and Boas's paraphrase of it with the remark that “there seems no close parallel for such a use,” he returned to the lines cited by Ward from Henry VIII, where, in Greg's view, the word in question “has the sense of 'rival' or 'cope with'. This would involve taking Mars as equivalent to the military power of Rome, and such an interpretation seems, indeed, reasonable.”8

The argument is clumsy, however, since in this instance the military power of Rome failed utterly to cope with the Carthaginians, and could only in an ironic sense be said to have rivalled the army by which it was nearly annihilated. Greg's conjecture may thus seem to be a roundabout way of admitting the Marlovian ignorance or forgetfulness which it attempts to mask. But the interpretation seems to have been more convincing than the argument in its support: the gloss of “cope with” was adopted by Leo Kirschbaum in 1962, though with a question mark, and that of “rival (in military prowess)” by Irving Ribner in 1963.9

Arguments based upon the widely varying uses of the word “mate” by Marlowe's contemporaries—most of these are represented in the conjectures of modern editors surveyed above—cannot lead us to dismiss any of these interpretations as wholly unlikely. One might wish then to believe that even here, in his opening lines, Marlowe is announcing the irreducible ambiguity of a play in which, not solely because of its textual instability, modern critics have found widely divergent and even mutually contradictory patterns of meaning. But it seems just as likely that Marlowe either knew or did not know that the battle to which he was alluding was a stunning Carthaginian victory, and that the allusion reflects either his knowledge or his ignorance.

Nowhere, oddly enough, in all the glossarial activity traced above, is there evidence of anyone's having stopped to ask why in the first place Mars should feature in an allusion to the battle of Lake Trasummenus. Yet if one considers where Marlowe would have read about this battle, the answer is obvious: in Livy (as also in Plutarch's derivative and shortened account), the battle is said to have been preceded by terrifying portents, such as that Roman soldiers had been struck by lightning, or that their weapons had spontaneously caught fire;

... that glowing stones had fallen from the sky at Praeneste; that at Arpi bucklers had appeared in the sky and the sun had seemed to be fighting with the moon...; that the waters of Caere had flowed mixed with blood, and that bloodstains had appeared in the water that trickled from the spring of Hercules itself...; that at Falerii the sky had seemed to be rent as it were with a great fissure, and through the opening a bright light had shone; and that lots had shrunk and that one had fallen out without being touched, on which was written, “Mavors [an archaic form of 'Mars'] brandishes his spear;” that in Rome, about the same time, the statue of Mars on the Appian way and the images of the wolves had sweated; that at Capua there had been the appearance of a sky on fire and of a moon that fell in the midst of a shower of rain.10

Livy writes that the fears prompted by Hannibal's rapid descent into Etruria after the battle at Trebia were augmented by these prodigies. Given the prominence of Mars among them, it would be easy to interpret the whole sequence of portents as an expression of the war-god's collaboration with the Carthaginians, and to conclude (in the B-text variant of Marlowe's words) that “Mars did mate the warlicke Carthagens,” either in the sense of matching or allying his power with theirs (OED, v.2, 2), or in that of equalling or rivalling them (OED, v.2, 1) in their destruction of the Roman army.

One can thus believe, without strain, that Marlowe knew very well who triumphed “in the fields of Thrasimen” (B: 2)—and that, unlike his modern interpreters, he drew this knowledge from primary sources. It may be added that the notion of divine collaboration with human actions to a destructive end seems to recur in the outline of “the forme of Faustus fortunes” (A: 9) which immediately follows:

So soone hee profites in Divinitie, 
The fruitfull plot of Scholerisme grac't, 
That shortly he was grac't with Doctors name, 
Excelling all, whose sweete delight disputes
In heavenly matters of Theologie, 
Till swolne with cunning of a selfe conceit, 
His waxen wings did mount above his reach, 
And melting heavens conspirde his overthrow. (A: 16-23)

Divine grace, though unmentioned, is slantingly implied by the jingle of “grac't ... grac't”—and then cancelled by the heavens' conspiracy. Of course, this re-imagined fall of Icarus, which to some readers may seem a direct insinuation of divine intervention, can also be interpreted as a purely conventional locution.11

But conventions are not without meaning: the word conspirde cannot be wholly stripped of its powers of insinuation. And thus before Faustus commits apostasy in his turn to magic, and long before he mates, and is mated by, the “heavenly Helen” (A: 1351), the suggestion has been implanted that his destructive “selfe conceit” somehow supplements, or is seconded by, or mated with, a divine impulse tending towards his final destruction.

What might otherwise seem a sterile quibble over the meaning of a single word in the opening lines of the prologue may thus be dignified by the likelihood that this word offers us a first intimation of one of the central structures of meaning in Doctor Faustus.




1  Quotations from this play are taken from W.W. Greg, ed., Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus 1604-1616: Parallel Texts (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), and are identified by Greg's line numbers; in my quotations u/v and i/j are silently modernized. I have quoted here from the 1604 or A-text of the play. The 1616 or B-text reads: “Not marching in the fields of Thracimen, / Where Mars did mate the warlicke Carthagens” (B: 2-3).

2  Alexander Dyce, ed., The Works of Christopher Marlowe (1850; rpt. London: Routledge, c. 1858), p. 79.

3  Francis Cunningham, ed. The Works of Christopher Marlowe (1870; rpt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1889), p. 139.

4  A. W. Ward, ed., Marlowe: Tragical History of Dr. Faustus; Greene: Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (4th ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901), p. 124. Ward identifies the passage from Henry VIII as III. 2. 2-4 and prints royalty for loyalty; I have quoted from R.A. Foakes, ed., King Henry VIII (Arden Shakespeare; London: Methuen, 1968), p. 115.

5  E. D. Pendry and J. C. Maxwell, eds., Christopher Marlowe: Complete Plays and Poems (1976; rpt. London: Dent, 1983), p. 530.

6  F. S. Boas, ed., The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1932; rpt. London: Methuen, 1949), p. 55.

7  John D. Jump. ed., The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (The Revels Plays, 1962; rpt. London: Methuen, 1974), p. 4; Roma Gill, ed., The Plays of Christopher Marlowe (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 335; David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham, eds., Dr Faustus: The A-Text (Nedlands, W.A.: University of Western Australia Press, 1985), p. 2; J. B. Steane, ed., Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), pp. 590-91.

8  Greg, ed., Parallel Texts, pp. 295-96.

9  Leo Kirschbaum, ed., The Plays of Christopher Marlowe (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1962), p. 483; Irving Ribner, ed., The Complete Plays of Christopher Marlowe (New York: Odyssey, 1963), p. 357.

10  Livy, Historiae, ed. B.O. Foster (Loeb Classical Library; 13 vols., vol. 5 (London and New York: Heinemann and G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1929), XXII. i. 8-12: “Augebant metum prodigia ex pluribus simul locis nuntiata: in Sicilia militibus aliquot spicula, in Sardinia autem in muro circumeunti vigilias equiti scipionem quem manu tenuerat arsisse, et litora crebris ignibus fulsisse, et scuta duo sanguine sudasse, et milites quosdam ictos fulminibus, et solis orbem minui visum, et Praeneste ardentes lapides caelo cecidisse, at Arpis parmas in caelo visas pugnantemque cum luna solem, et Capenae duas interdiu lunas ortas, et aquas Caeretes sanguine mixtas fluxisse fontemque ipsum Herculis cruentis manasse respersum maculis, et Antii metentibus cruentas in corbem spicas cecidisse, et Faleriis caelum findi velut magno hiatu visum, quaque patuerit ingens lumen effulsisse; sortes adtenuatas unamque sua sponte excidisse ita scriptam: 'Mavors telum suum concutit;' et per idem tempus Romae signum Martis Appia via ac simulacra luporum sudasse, et Capuae speciem caeli ardentis fuisse lunaeque inter imbrem cadentis.” Plutarch's version of these events appears in his "Life of Fabius Maximus"; cf. Plutarchi Vitae, ed. T. Doehner (2 vols.; Paris, 1846-47), vol. 1, pp. 208-09.

11  The punctuation of the B-text encourages such an interpretation: “His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And melting, heavens conspir'd his over-throw” (B: 21-22). But there is no reason to prefer this reading to that of the A-text.