Faustus: Good Angel, Bad Angel, Parma and Politics

Ken Eckert's photo of Huntingdon Library's (huntington.org) 'Faustus' manuscript. (2008)
(From Ken Eckert, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

A year and three weeks ago, I started writing about Marlowe’s “Faustus” play: “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.”

Three months later, I’d finished three more. Then in May, 2021, “Faustus” moved to my mind’s back burner; before falling off the metaphorical stove.

My “Marlowe’s Faustus” series isn’t the only project I’ve let slip. I talked about that and other pandemic-prompted perturbations last Tuesday.

Last April, I said I’d probably look at Faust’s GOOD ANGEL and EVIL ANGEL,” the prince of parma,” and maybe grapes next time; so that’s where I’ll pick up.

Taking those items in reverse order —

Faustian Grapes and Groceries

From the 'Faust' collection, central library, German Classic, National Research and Memorial Sites, Weimar.After giving the Duke of Vanholt an enchanted castle in the air, Faustus had Mephistophilis fetch out-of-season grapes for the Duchess.

That’s a little past the play’s halfway point, I don’t remember why I said I would discuss grapes next time. Which is now this time. Never mind.

These days, I could get ripe grapes in winter at a grocery; but this was the late 15th century, so those grapes impressed the Duke more than the floating castle.

Late 15th century? Marlowe’s play opened in the 1590s, but it’s based on legends inspired by Johann Georg Faust’s colorful career, about a century earlier.

By the way, about “Mephistophilis:” today’s usual spelling is Mephistopheles, but in Marlowe’s play it’s Mephistophilis, so that’s the form I’m using.

And the moral of the Faustus-Vanholt affair is that grocery grapes are a Satanic snare, so we should boycott Safeway.

With what seems like 57 varieties of crisis du jour in my news feed, and a mix of impassioned agreement and denial in my corners of social media — a disclaimer may be in order.

I don’t hate grocery grapes. I’m not anti-Safeway. Really!

Scott Adam's 'Dilbert' strip: Dogbert's Good News Show. ('We'll all die!')But I remember the days when communist threats were rampant.

Then everything caused cancer, all the fish in the sea were gonna die, and global warming became climate change. Meanwhile, wannabe prophets were selling End Times Bible Prophecies at odd intervals.

With a little encouragement, and an appalling lack of hope, I could assume that folks are so gullible that they’ll believe anything.

On the other hand, I’ve yet to hear or read faith-based denunciations of produce. Maybe some bogeymen are simply too silly for effective fearmongering.1

And that’s another topic.

An Impressive Wish List

A frontispiece for 'Historia Mundi Naturalis,' by Pliny the Elder, published Sigmund Feyerabend, Frankfurt am Main. (1582) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permissionFaustus delivers his first speech after GOOD ANGEL and EVIL ANGEL make their first appearance.

More about them later.

Faustus is giddy — he says “glutted with conceit,” since this is an Elizabethan soliloquy — at what he expects from using “that damned book.”

It’s an impressive wish list. Faustus sees himself “resolved…of all ambiguities;” with spirits fetching him gold and pearls, searching “all corners of the new-found world for pleasant fruits and princely delicates.”

There’s more, including “strange philosophies” and what we’d call state secrets these days.

Then, after imagining himself ordering all-new silk wardrobes for students, Faustus turns his attention to national defense.

“…I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass,
And make swift Rhine circle fair Wertenberg….
…I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,
And reign sole king of all the provinces;
Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war,
Than was the fiery keel at Antwerp-bridge,
I’ll make my servile spirits to invent….”
(“…Faustus…,” Marlowe (1604, From The Quarto Of 1616) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce (1870))

Marlowe wrote “Faustus” for an English audience.

But, although Marlowe kept his title character’s German roots in mind, he re-imagined the setting as contemporary Europe. Or maybe decided that anachronisms didn’t matter.

J. G. Faust was earning his reputation in the early 1500s, so he’d have known about Amerigo Vespucci’s confirmation of the Columbus reports and subsequent scramble for territory and wealth in the “New World.”2

The “fiery keel at Antwerp-bridge” is another matter.

Names, Labels and History

'Pontis Antwerpiani fractura' illustration from Famiano Strada's book (possibly 'De bello Belgico decas secunda'). (1647)) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permissionJ. G. Faust had been dead for decades when England’s Elizabeth I unofficially subsidized Federigo Giambelli’s design and construction of hellburners.

This was a little under two decades into the Eighty Year’s War. Or Dutch War of Independence, depending on who’s talking.

At any rate, what we call Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were the Habsburg Netherlands; held by the Holy Roman Empire’s House of Habsburg.

Then, in 1549, they were rebranded as the Seventeen Provinces. Starting in 1556 the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs were in charge, so they were the Spanish Netherlands.

At least some residents revolted in 1568, which led to the Seven United Provinces and the Dutch Republic. Then the Spanish Southern Netherlands became the Austrian Netherlands and the French First Republic got its slice of the pie in 1795.

1566 propaganda print, celebrating faith-based vandalism. FromRijksmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.At some point, we started saying the Eighty Years’ War was one of the European wars of religion.

Again depending on who’s talking, these religious wars started with the Knights Revolt in 1522.

They included the German’s Peasant War (1524-1526), Tudor conquest of Ireland (1529-1603), Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Düsseldorf Cow War (1651); before ending with the Toggenburg War (1712).

“European wars of religion” is a catchy label, and fits nicely with the era’s faith-based propaganda; but I’m impressed at how often religious fervor just happened to support the upper crust’s territorial and/or economic ambitions.

Or, in the German Peasant War fiasco, for example, had been inspired by grass roots dissatisfaction with the status quo.3

The Fiery Keel at Antwerp-Bridge: Hellburners

Destruction of a pontoon bridge during the siege of Antwerp, llustration from Famiano Strada's 'Histoire de la guerre des Païs-Bas.' (1727 edition) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission
(From Famiano Strada/Romeyn de Hooghe/Lamberecht Causé, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Siege of Antwerp, 1584-1595, destruction of pontoon Bridge.)

Antwerp was and is a city on the River Scheldt, linked to the North Sea by the river’s Westerschelde estuary.

Alexander Farnese blocked Antwerp’s access to the sea with a pontoon bridge.

And now, finally, getting back to hellburners, Faustus and anachronisms.

Bankrolled by England’s Elizabeth I, Italian engineer Federigo Giambelli built two hellburners for the Dutch defenders: fire ships packed with massive explosive charges. Fire ships, expendable vessels set ablaze, had been used for centuries. Packing them with explosives was, I gather, an innovation.

The first hellburner fizzled, doing little damage; but when the second exploded, it disappeared: along with a fair fraction of the Farnese’s soldiers, a block house and part of the bridge.

So, that’s “the fiery keel at Antwerp-bridge.”

Alexander Farnese was Duke of Parma; but there was an Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma: A. Farnese’s grandson, and other Dukes of Parma.

Since Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, was born after Marlowe wrote “Faustus,” he couldn’t have been the play’s Prince of Parma.

My guess is that Marlowe didn’t particularly care whether or not he got A. Farnese’s title right, as long as that first soliloquy sounded right. In any case, A. Farnese, Prince of Parma, was what an OpenLearn resource called “an Elizabethan hate-figure.”

Invading England was on the “prince of Parma’s” to-do list, but after several storms, battles and a royal speech, what was left of the Spanish Armada returned to Spain.4

Several ships from that fleet went down not far from where a number of my Irish forebears lived, and that’s yet another topic.

Angels, Real and Imagined

Unknown artist's copy of Matthaeus (Matthäus) Merian the Younger's illustration for Ezekiel, chapter 1's 'chariot vision.' (1670)To begin with, angels aren’t human: at all.

Sometimes they look human, like the two who told Lot to head for the hills. (Genesis 19:129)

Sometimes they look sort of human, like the ones in Ezekiel’s vision: aside from having four wings, four faces, hooves like a bull’s and being covered with eyes. (Ezekiel 1:421, 10:12)

The “figures in the likeness of four living creatures” are Cherubim, the same sort of angel represented on the Ark and in Solomon’s temple. (Ezekiel 1:5, 10:110:19; Exodus 15:18; 1 Kings 6:23; 2 Chronicles 3:10; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2130)

Their descriptions don’t exactly tally, which could bother me; but doesn’t, since I realize that angels — again — aren’t human. Not even close. So, given given their nature, literally “accurate” physical representations aren’t possible.

On the other hand, angels are more like us in some ways than, say, rocks.

We’re both free-willed creatures, persons who can decide what we do or don’t do. But we humans are free-willed creatures who are body and soul, matter and spirit, made “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:2731; Catechism, 355-373, 1730-1742)

Angels are free-willed creatures, too; but they’re made with spirit, not spirit and matter. One more point: “angel” is their job. They’re servants and messengers of God. “Spirit” is their nature. (Catechism, 328-336)

The spirits we call angels are the ones who decided that serving God is a good idea.

Others, including and particularly the one we call Satan, decided that they’d oppose God. That’s a ‘down’ side to free will. Even the best free-willed creature can decide to opt for evil. (Catechism, 391-395)

Cherubim, Putti, Space-Time and Language

James Tissot's 'Vision de Zacharie (The Vision of Zacharias).' (ca. 1890) via Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Finally, a few points about angels in general, how they’re imagined and how I talk about them —

One of the cherubim is a cherub. So one of Ezekiel’s figures “in the likeness of four living creatures” is a cherub.

That sort of cherub is not the overweight kid with wings occasionally appearing on Valentine’s Day cards and sentimental 19th century prints.

Cupid and company are putti, ancient Rome’s visual symbol for groovy passions like having an adolescent crush on someone.

One Putti is a putto, Donatello’s generally implicated in reviving and rebranding putti in the 14th century; and although I recognize their appeal, I’m glad that artists like James Tissot didn’t join several fashionable bandwagons.5

Earlier, I said that “angels decided,” past tense: which reflects where their decisions began affecting us.

But I live in space-time, and my native language has three or a dozen tenses, depending on who’s talking. None of them adequately express an act performed by creatures who, although they can interact with those of us who are currently in space-time, don’t live here.

I suppose I could say “angels decide,” but using present tense strikes me as implying an existence in time, and that’s yet again another topic.

Good Angel, Bad Angel: Dichotomous Duos, Dramatic Dialog and Comic Relief

Animated GIF derived form Walt Disney Pictures/Feature Animation's 'The Emperor's New Groove.' (2001) via tenor.com/used w/o permission.Now, at last, GOOD ANGEL and EVIL ANGEL!

They’re only onstage four or five times: depending on whether or not I count “Re-enter GOOD ANGEL and EVIL ANGEL” as a separate appearance.

Anyway, the dichotomous duo show up after Faustus talks about becoming a demigod and sends his servant Wagner to bring his “dearest friends” Valdes and Cornelius. With friends like those, he doesn’t need enemies, but I’ll leave that for another day.

FAUSTUS: “A sound magician is a demigod:
Here tire, my brains, to gain a deity.”

GOOD ANGEL. “O, Faustus, lay that damned book aside,
And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul,
And heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head!
Read, read the Scriptures:—that is blasphemy.”

EVIL ANGEL. “Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art
Wherein all Nature’s treasure is contain’d:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.”
(“…Faustus…,” Marlowe (1604, From The Quarto Of 1616) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce (1870))

Then, having offered Faustus strongly contrasting advice, GOOD ANGEL and BAD ANGEL leave.

Four centuries later, GOOD ANGEL/EVIL ANGEL analogs are often played for laughs. Even when they’re actually delivering dramatic dialog; advocating long-term survival on the one hand, and attractive immediate outcomes on the other.6

This is where I could mourn the decline and fall of practically everybody, the imminent collapse of civilization, and at least imply that everyone should be as miserable as I am.

But I won’t.

Partly because I’ve noticed that even comic-relief shoulder angels sometimes do their dramatic duty.

Shoulder Angel Origins and Tying Up Loose Ends

'Reefer Madness' (1936, released 1938-1939) theatrical release poster. (1972)And partly because I think making points with the ham-handed anvilicious moralizing of such dramatic works as “Reefer Madness” is a bad idea.

Assuming, of course, that the author isn’t writing with tongue firmly in cheek, with intent to either entertain or mock.

I’m pretty sure Marlowe didn’t have comic relief in mind with his GOOD ANGEL and EVIL ANGEL. I’m also quite sure that he didn’t invent that dramatic convention.

The idea of folks having two angels with very different agendas goes back at least to “The Shepherd of Hermas,” written in the second century; or maybe the first.

The author was St. Paul, or a brother of Pope Pius I, or someone else.

“The Shepherd of Hermas” was popular in Christian circles from the second through fourth centuries.7 But these days it’s mostly nerdy folks like me who talk about it.

Here’s the “two angels” line in “The Shepherd….”

“‘…There are two angels with a man–one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity.'”
(“The Shepherd of Hermas,” Second Book: Commandments, Sixth Commandment HOW TO RECOGNISE THE TWO SPIRITS ATTENDANT ON EACH MAN, AND HOW TO DISTINGUISH THE SUGGESTIONS OF THE ONE FROM THOSE OF THE OTHER, CHAPTER II. (probably second century A.D.) Roberts-Donaldson translation, via earlychristianwritings.com)

We meet Valdes and Cornelius right after Faustus talks about a brass wall for Germany and “the fiery keel at Antwerp-bridge,” so that’s where I plan on picking up next time.

Now the usual links: my Marlowe discussions to date, plus a ramble about hubris, storytellers, cautionary tales and — weather control, of all things.

1 Making sense, more or less:

2 People and current events, a half-millennium back:

3 “Faustus” in context:

4 A little history:

5 Art, mostly:

6 A dramatic convention:

7 Making a point:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Faustus: Good Angel, Bad Angel, Parma and Politics

  1. So the description of the angel in Ezekiel’s vision is more or less the basis for all those secular “Biblically accurate” angel memes, then? Also, while we still should remain polite and humble, we really should keep our expectations low when it comes to ourselves understanding God, huh? I mean, I guess it would make it kinda easier to receive how God goes beyond our expectations, too, right?

    • 🙂 More or less. And agreed.

      I haven’t dug into it, but I suspect I’d find more meme fodder in Revelation.

      Although I didn’t mention it today, The Ezekiel vision’s imagery draws heavily on Mesopotamian beliefs and artistic conventions. Which isn’t surprising, since that’s what folks in that part of the world during that era were familiar with.

      Also agreed: knowing a little about angels should help us keep polite and humble. And serve as a stepping-stone toward understanding how much – and how little – we can understand about God. 😉

      • Ooh, that vision imagery drew from that? Reminds me of the different depictions of Jesus and Mama Mary across cultures as well. So I guess true Biblical accuracy is in how well God works despite and through our scraps, then? XD

        Also, I guess we can ask that if we can’t handle a little, then how can we handle a lot, right?

Thanks for taking time to comment!