Summary of Prologue:
The Chorus introduces Marlowe, the author, as a muse that is going to “vaunt,” proudly display, his “heavenly verse” (6). The reader is to be introduced to Faustus’ “fortunes, good or bad” (8). Faustus was born in Rhode, Germany. Faustus attended “Wittenberg” from which he was given a doctor’s name (13). Doctor Faustus excelled in “theology” (18). Doctor Faustus error in judgment caused his “waxen wings” to melt (20). Faustus fell into “devilish exercise” of black magic (22). With Faustus learned gifts, he set aside all hope of salvation as he sits alone in his study.
The Chorus enters, and it consists of a single actor, perhaps Wagner, servant-student for Faust. “Our muse,” poet, “intends to vaunt,” proudly display, “his heavenly verse” (6), “Not marching in the fields of Traisiment” (1). Lake Tasimene is the site of Hannibal’s victory over the Romans in 217 B.C. The Trasimene Lake or, as it is called today, Lago Trasimeno, is one of the large volcanic lakes in Central Italy. The Carthaginian general Hannibal, 247 to 182 B.C., was one of the greatest military leaders in history. Hannibal’s most famous campaign took place when he caught the Romans off guard by crossing the Alps.
Our poet intends to display his verse, not “Where Mars did mate,” where the Romans encountered the “warlike Carthagens” (2). The Romans met the Carthagens at Lake Tasimene in Central Italy. Carthagens are considered warlike because when wars ended they severely punish the defeated. The Carthagens originate from an ancient city in North Africa, the city of Carthage. Carthage was founded in approximately 814 B.C. Carthage is near present day Tunis in Tunisia.
Our poet will not provide his verse to persons “sporting in the dalliance of love,” sporting in the idle or frivolous action, playing or trifling with matters of love (3). Our poet will not give his verse “In courts of kings where state,” government, “is overturned” (4). As well, our poet refuses to vaunt his verse “in the pomp of proud audacious deeds” in a show held to be under the patronage of the Devil, transferred tacitly to those of the world, and associated with its vanities of proud daring and bold confidence of intrepid acts performed (5).
“Only this, gentle,” only these things noble and excellent,-“We must now perform” (7). We must perform the “form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad,” this is a tale regarding the fortunes of Faustus be them good or bad (8). The poet “appeals” to the audience to have “patient judgments” (9), and will “speak for Faustus in his infancy,” speak for Faustus starting at the beginning (10).
Doctor Faustus was “born of parents base of stock,” born of ordinary parents (11). Faustus was born “In Germany within a town called Rhode,” Roda (12). “At riper years,” when Faustus became of age he moved. Faustus moved to “Wittenberg” in Germany (13). Wittenberg is where Faustus “kinsmen chiefly brought him up,” blood relations mostly raised him (14). Faustus “profits in divinity,” profits as a divine being, god or deity (15). Faustus profits so much that “shortly he was graced,” shortly he was allowed to take his degree (16). Faustus was graced “with doctor’s name,” with a PhD (17). In school, Faustus “Excelling all, and sweetly can dispute,” excelling in all subjects with the ability to argue against, engage in active verbal contention and debate (17).
Faustus excelled “In th’ heavenly matters of theology” (18). Faustus excelled in theology, which is the study or science of God, nature and attributes of God, and relations of God with man and the universe. Theology is the science of all things divine, divinity. Faustus studies theology “Till swoll’n with cunning, of a self-conceit,” until filled completely with ingenuity, born of arrogance (19). Faustus studies theology until his “waxen wings,” wings made of feathers waxed to a framework (20); “did mount above his reach,” did soar above his ability (21), and “melting, heavens conspired his overthrow,” melting wax,, heavens or the sun caused his plunge to his death! (21) This story is an allusion to Icarus, who had waxen wings, but flew by means of wings made of feathers waxed to a framework to near the sun. The wax melted on the wings, and Icarus plunged to his death.
The heavens were angry at Faustus “For falling to a devilish exercise,” greed and wantonness (22). The heavens were also upset at Faustus because he was “glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,” greedy in obtaining the golden gifts of learning (23). As well, the heavens were mad at Faustus because he “surfeits upon cursed necromancy,” supplies an over-abundance of cursed black magic (24). To Faustus, “Nothing” is “so sweet as magic” (25). Faustus prefers magic “before his chiefest bliss,” before his hope for salvation (26). Faustus concentrates on magic as he sits “in his study” (27).
Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed. by Barnet, Sylvan. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1969.
Steane, J.B. Marlowe: A Critical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.
Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2nd ed. 1989. Lane Library, Ripon College, Ripon, WI.