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The Drama of a Revolutionary

1. Faustus is a collective image of a revolutionary of the times (of bourgeois revolutions). V. Zombart, in his work "Technology in the epoch of early capitalism" writes: "General tendency of the epoch, or at least 15, 16, and 17th centuries, was towards getting to know the world; this was a "Faustinian" trait of the epoch... Hazy tendency towards knowledge combined itself with uncertain tendency towards transformation, new life forms, new Worlds; this tendency has found its expression in travels of the times, and in dreams about new state forms, as in Drake and Raleigh, as well as in Moore, Companella and others".  Christopher Marlowe wrote about Faustus in 1593, during the pre-revolutionary crisis of the English society. Hence, it is interesting to observe main outlines of this drama.

2. Revolution is a massive upheaval of the lower strata of society. In the drama of Marlowe ("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus"), we read: “Now is he born of parents base of stock”. This was true of almost all poets of the times of Renaissance: “Spenser’s father was a tailor, Shakespeare’s a dealer in farm commodities, Johnson’s stepfather a bricklayer, Milton’s father a scribe, and Marlowe’s a prosperous shoemaker”. About political activists of the epoch of the English revolution, Henry Buckle writes the uprising was an explosion of a democratic spirit. It was a political movement, whose religious form was Reformation. Just like Reformation was not supported by cardinals and archbishops, but people who occupied lower positions in the church, so the English rebellion was supported by the very "dregs" of society. This was the upheaval of the foundation of society. John Archer, in his 1641 pamphlet "Personal rule of Christ on Earth" writes that the saints who will rule the Earth, at the second coming of Christ, are the poor. Christ will first speak from the crowd of common people. God will use simple people to announce his coming kingdom.

3. Up to a certain moment a revolutionary can develop within the framework of the old society. Thus, we read about Faustus that he was an excellent student of theology and excelled others in the art of disputation. For this he has gotten a doctor's degree. But then comes a feeling of dissatisfaction and a crisis. Faustus says about himself: “… since I began to study and speculate the course and order of the elements, I have not found through the gift that is given from above any such learning and wisdom that can bring me to my desires. And for that I find that men are unable to instruct me any farther in the matter …”. If a person is to remain in the old framework, the revolutionary within him/her perishes. This happens almost to everyone in their teenage years. The alternative is to jump outside the framework.

4. A revolutionary strives to become a universal person. Here is a biographical note about Sir Walter Raleigh (whose poem, "The Lie", we cited above): “Among all the restless, fervid, adventurous spirits of the Elizabethan age, perhaps there is none so conspicuous for those characteristics as Sir Walter Raleigh. A soldier from his youth; at an early period connected with the great maritime movements of his time; ever of the first, if not the first, to fully conceive the idea of colonization and to attempt to realize it, and at the same time taking an active - too active - part in the party intrigues and contentions of a court where the struggle for place and favor never ceased raging, yet amidst all his schemes and other enterprises, noble and ignoble, finding leisure also for far other interests and pursuits; capable of a keen enjoyment of poetry; himself a poet of a true and genuine quality, - he is in a singular degree the representative of the vigorous versatility of the Elizabethan period.” Raleigh was "a Renaissance man".

5. Universal mind of a revolutionary leads him towards negation of old institutions. Faustus of Marlowe says about his education:

This study fits a mercenary drudge

Who aims at nothing but external trash

Too servile and illiberal for me

6. Systematic negation of the old leads towards appearance of new knowledge. For example, Faustus of Marlowe creates a new calendar based on revolutionary world view of Copernicus (i.e. that the Earth rotates around the Sun, and not the Sun around the Earth, as the Bible says). Faustus says: “we think that the sun runneth his course and that the heavens stand still: no, it is the heavens that move his course and the sun abideth perpetually in his place.”

7. A revolutionary is characterized by his making fun of the important, and not so important, people of his time. In the drama of Marlowe, we see that Faustus became invisible with the help of devil and plays practical jokes on the Pope. Then we see that he exposes to public laughter a knight with horns on his head. The people who serve the feudal lords appear in the drama as apes and dogs. (Russian fable writer Ivan Krylov (1769-1844) has turned to images of animals to criticize the czarist society around him. Pink Floyd also wrote songs about “dogs” that serve “the pigs”, in the album “Animals”, 1977. According to Wikipedia, this is  “a scathing critique of the social-political conditions of late 1970s Britain”).

8. Life within the old society becomes intolerable, with time. The mind of a revolutionary is filled with sufferings and contradictions. Faustus says about himself:

I do repent, and yet I do despair:

Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast!

What shall I do to shun the snares of death?

Necessity to escape these contradictions leads to revolt. Devil says to Faustus:

Revolt, or I’ll in piecemeal tear thy flesh.

9. A revolutionary struggles for total power. Devil says to Faustus:

All things that move between the quiet poles

Shall be at thy command: emperors and kings

Are but obeyed in their several provinces

But this dominion exceeds in this

Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man ..."

10. However, if a revolutionary stops his struggle against the old world, he is bound to die instantly. This we see most dramatically in the "Faustus" of Goethe:

Faust: A marsh extends along the mountain-chain

That poisons what so far I’ve been achieving; Were I

that noisome pool to drain, ‘Twould be the highest, last achieving.

Thus space to many millions I will give

Where, though not safe, yet free and active they may live.

Green fertile fields where straightway from their birth

Both men and beast live happy on the newest earth,

Settled forthwith along the mighty hill

Raised by a daring, busy people’s will.

Within, a land like Paradise; outside,

Up to the brink may rage the mighty tide,

And where it gnaws and would burst through or sap,

A common impulse hastes to close the gap.

Yes, to this thought I hold unswerving,

To wisdom’s final fruit, profoundly true:

Of freedom and of life he only is deserving

Who every day must conquer them anew.

Thus here, by danger girt, the active day

Of childhood, manhood, age will pass away.

Aye! such a throng I fain would see,

Stand on free soil among a people free.

Then might I say, that moment seeing:

“Ah, linger on, thou art so fair!”

The traces of my earthly being

Can perish not in aeons- they are there!

That lofty moment I now feel in this:

I now enjoy the highest moment’s bliss. 


                (FAUST sinks back the Lemurs take him up and lay him on the ground.


Mephistopheles: Him could no pleasure sate, suffice no bliss,

So wooed he ever changeful phantoms’ favour.

The last vile, empty moment- this!

The poor wretch wished to hold it fast forever.

Him who against me stoutly held his stand,

Time conquers- here the old man lies in sand.

The clock stands still


Chorus: Stands still! No sound is heard.

The clock’s hand falls.


Mephistopheles: It falls, ‘tis finished.

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