physical intercourse (the kiss), he irreversibly sinks into demoniality, that is the sin of committing bodily intercourse with devil. On top of that, the union with Helen ultimately makes the fragile balance between possible salvation and damnation definitively upset. Now Faustus cannot recover his soul anymore, because he has been robbed of it by Helen, and he can only look on Hell. 139 138 III.iii.92. 139 Kiessling, Nicolas, “Faustus’ Sin of Demoniality”, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 , 2 (1975), p. 205.
73 3. The Devil in Doctor Faustus and on the medieval stage It is highly likely that Christopher Marlowe, in writing Doctor Faustus , was strongly influenced by medieval drama. While we usually tend to think of mystery plays as a medieval phenomenon, evidence shows that they remained a major form of English public drama at least until the 1570s, and were still being performed when the first public playhouses were built in London 140 (beginning with John Brayne’s Red Lyon in 1567 and James Burbage’s Theatre in 1576). 141 At the start of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, full cycles or shorter adaptations of the same plays were being performed in over a dozen cities, and even after their suppression in the middle years of the reign, many cities still retained hopes for their revival. 142 For example, the Coventry cycle was last performed in 1579, but it came very close to being revived in 1591. Plays furthest from the centre of government resisted even longer: in Cornwall until at least 1602, in the Lake District up to 1605 (when England was already under James’s reign) and there was even an old man in Westmoreland who, as late as 1644, claimed that he had once seen a play on the crucifixion of Christ. 143 It is true that there are no records of similar plays performed in London in this period, but it is also true that this age saw a massive immigration movement on the part of those who had been brought up on that very type of drama, and who eventually became the audience of the new commercial theatres. Consequently we may reasonably infer that medieval drama provided the core of Elizabethan dramatic practice. 144 140 Cooper, Helen, Shakespeare and the Middle Ages: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered at the University of Cambridge, 29 April 2005, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 13. 141 Cox, p. 108. 142 Cooper, p. 13. 143 Cooper, pp. 13-14. 144 Cooper, p. 14.
74 Cooper states that, in spite of the importance of medieval theatre for the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we have lost the art of “seeing” the medieval in the Elizabethan. Medieval influences are in the background and apparently do not show up, so they almost never attract the comments of critics. We do not know whether in Kent (the county where Marlowe grew up) cycles and moralities were still being performed at the time of Marlowe’s childhood, but if he did not see them there was still the chance that that type of theatre might have reached him somehow. In particular, we can make a couple of hypotheses: Marlowe could have heard of or read medieval texts at university and/or there might have been a collective
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