EARLY in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, the title character admonishes himself: “Faustus, begin thine incantations / And try if devils will obey thy hest” (B 1.3.5–6). In the play, devils indeed obey Faustus—for a price. While Marlowe's play is the most famous Elizabethan portrayal of devils, it is not the only early modern work to treat devils as substantial characters. Around the time when Faustus first appeared on stage, an unlikely Marlovian counterpart was at work. Anne Dowriche, a Puritan preacher's wife, whose preface haughtily notes that “Poëtrie [has] been defaced of late so many waies by wanton vanity,” published The French Historie in 1589. This poem, in the tradition of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, portrays the persecution of French Protestants during the Wars of Religion; Dowriche includes a remarkably vivid characterization of Satan, one that I argue can be fruitfully compared to the devils in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus.
These two authors make an unlikely pair: an obscure Puritan poet and a famously controversial playwright. Their works are in different genres, with different purposes, and, consequently, have different depictions of the devil. Marlowe's play has many devils, from Satan to lower-level minions; Mephistopheles falls somewhere in the middle of this hierarchy. Dowriche, on the other hand, focuses only on Satan himself. Marlowe's blank-verse play has frequent dialogues between Faustus and Mephistopheles; Dowriche's poem, employing the much-maligned poulter's measure, contains primarily monologues delivered by Satan to eager listeners. Marlowe's portrayal of devils is thus much more immediate and intimate, at least where the characters are concerned. While Faustus and Mephistopheles make a brief detour to interfere with the Pope's quarrel with the Holy Roman Empire, Mephistopheles is primarily concerned with Faustus's individual soul rather than with international politics. Dowriche's Satan, on the other hand, speaks most often to the heads of state in France, while Dowriche's narrator (a French exile) directly challenges England to “remaine … A Nurse to Gods afflicted flock”—i.e., persecuted Protestants (lines 97–98). In fact, Dowriche's dedication of the poem to her brother, Piers Edgecombe, a strong supporter of Protestant refugees relocating to England, suggests that Dowriche had a political as well as a religious purpose for publishing her poem. It is not surprising that two such different authors produced different depictions of the devil.