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The Devil, Not the Pope: Anti-Catholicism and Textual Difference in Doctor Faustus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2021

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Summary

FAUSTUS'S visit to Rome in act 3 of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus has rightly been seen as a turning point in the play's narrative: from seeking knowledge to seeking pleasure, from exploring astronomy to practicing statecraft, from high ambition to low humor. More recently, critics have focused on Rome itself as a destination for both tourist interest and religious difference, and on the B-text version of events as a potential reference to Giordano Bruno's treatment by the Inquisition. Particular attention has also been paid to the potential presence of censorship in the play, especially in this act. Despite this, little critical attention has been paid to these scenes’ relationship to Marlowe's primary source, the English Faust-Book, and the significance of the changes he made to the theological worldview of the play.

This is unfortunate because an examination of those changes, and of the differences between the A-text and B-text of Doctor Faustus itself, reveals that the Roman visit is far less anti-Catholic than it has been assumed to be. The changes in each version of the act point instead to a worldview that is primarily critical not of any one version of Christianity, but of a blinkered pursuit of denominational rivalries. Religious divisions are not reinforced, but criticized, as the devil—in the form of Mephistopheles and, to a lesser extent, Faustus—takes advantage of them to sow sin and death. This perspective on the Roman scenes of Doctor Faustus reveals the play not as an anti-Catholic polemic, but as an argument for unity in the face of evil.

The English Faust-Book's version of the scene in Rome is straightforwardly anti-Catholic. Faustus is brought to Rome and wishes to see the papal palace. When he does, he marvels at it, and particularly at the idea that the pope and his servants seem to him to be “like to himself “ as “followers of ungodly exercises,” and that they reap the same earthly rewards: “I thought that I had been alone a hog or pork of the devil’s, but he must bear with me yet a little longer, for these hogs of Rome are already fatted.”

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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