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Gardner, Helen. "Milton's 'Satan' and the Theme of Damnation in Elizabethan Tragedy."
English Studies ns., 1 (1948): 46-66. Shakespeare Navigators. <>

PAGE  49


not an act committed by mistake; it is not an error of judgment, it is an
error of will. The act is unnatural and so are its results; it deforms the
nature which performs it. The second idea is the irony of retributive
justice. The act is performed for an imagined good, which appears so
infinitely desirable that the conditions for its supposed satisfaction are
accepted; but a rigorous necessity reigns and sees to it that though the
conditions are exacted literally, the desire is only granted ironically,
and this is inevitable, since the desire is for something forbidden by
the very nature of man.1
     We are unfortunate in possessing Marlowe's greatest play only in an
obviously mutilated form; but in spite of possible distortion and some
interpolation in the centre, the grandeur of the complete reversal stands
out clearly. Apart from its opening and concluding choruses, which
provide an archaic framework, and the short closing scene in the 16l6
text, where the scholars find the mangled body of Faustus, the play
begins and ends with the hero in his study. in the first scene Faustus
runs through all the branches of human knowledge and finds them in-
adequate to his desires. Logic can only teach argument; medicine stops
short where human desire is most thwarted, since it cannot defeat death;
law is a mercenary pursuit, and divinity, which he comes to last, holds
the greatest disappointment: it is grounded in the recognition of man's
mortality and his fallibility. The two texts from Jerome's Bible insult
his aspiration: Stipendium peccati mors est, and Si peccasse negamus, falli-
mur, et nulla est in nobis veritas.
2 He turns instead to magic because it is

a world of profit and delight,
of power, of honour, and omnipotence.
He decides to "tire his brains to get a deity". The sin of Faustus here is

     1 Donne supplies us with a comment on the "omnipotence" of Faustus, the
"kingship" of Macbeth and the "marriage" of Beatrice-Joanna, when he says:
"For small wages, and ill-paid pensions we serve him (Satan); and lest any man
should flatter and delude himselfe, in saying, I have my wages, and my reward
before hand, my pleasures in this life, the punishment, (if ever) not till the next,
The Apostle destroyes that dreame, with that question of confusion, What fruit
had you then in those things, of which you are now ashamed? Certainly sin is not a
gainfull way; . . . fruitlesness, unprofitableness before, shame and dishonor after."
LXXX Sermons, p. 65.

     2It is worth noting that Faustus does not complete the text, which is familiar
from its use as one of the Sentences. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us: but, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and
just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

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