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Enfers et délices à la Renaissance

 | 
Franck Lessay
, 
François Laroque

III - Enfers et délices : de Chaucer à Webster

“Why this is hell”: Marlowe and the devil’s pact

Richard Wilson

Abstract

Ce n’est certainement pas un hasard si Marlowe qui, dans toutes ses pièces, condamne ses personnages à s’enfermer derrière des barreaux qu’ils se sont eux-mêmes forgés, lui qui était si obsédé par l’acte de l’écriture, a porté au théâtre l’histoire de Faust qui reprend ces deux grands thèmes. En effet, la légende du XVIe siècle constitue la première version de la vieille histoire du pacte avec le diable où le contrat démoniaque est effectivement appliqué et où le signataire se trouve contraint par les termes stricts du texte. Dans toutes les versions antérieures, comme dans le conte médiéval de Théophile par exemple, la Vierge Marie intercède pour rompre le contract et libérer le signataire de ses obligations. C’est là la tradition que Shakespeare choisit de mettre en scène dans Le Marchand de Venise. Mais Marlowe, lui, semble se rattacher à la culture du contrat qui fait alors son apparition à l’aube du capitalisme dans sa façon tragique de mettre l’accent sur l’inviolabilité des contrats. Comme dans le cas des pactes sataniques cités à titre de preuve dans l’affaire des Diables de Loudun, le caractère implacable du Méphistophélès et du Lucifer marloviens atteste en effet d’une conscience nouvelle du démonisme de l’écriture. Les Guerres de Religions avaient ainsi donné naissance à une vague de serments de ce type, de sorte que le contrat que signe Faust ne semble guère différent du Contrat d’Association élaboré par le patron de Marlowe, Walsingham (n.b. : ministre de l’Intérieur d’Elisabeth et chef de sa police secrète), qui demandait aux Anglais de défendre la Reine sous peine d’être voués aux feux de l’enfer. On ignore si le dramaturge l’avait ou non signé, ou s’il en avait violé les termes. Mais on peut imaginer que c’est bien à cause de lui que Marlowe entendit sonner ses derniers coups de minuit, lorsque ceux qui l’avaient incité à signer vinrent lui réclamer leur dû.

Testo integrale

  • 1 Klaus Mann, Mephisto, trans. Robyn Smyth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), pp. 177-78.
  • 2 Marjorie Garber, ‘“Infinite riches in a little room’: closure and enclosure in Marlowe,” in Alvin (...)

1In Klaus Mann’s fable of art and power, Mephisto, when Hermann Göring attends the premiere of a new production of Goethe’s Faust in Berlin, he finds the play tedious,“up to the moment when Mephistopheles slips into Faust’s study”: but “as soon as Mephistopheles came into his own, the potentate began to take interest. The fellow was truly bewitching, and in his black costume with diabolical Pierrot mask he managed to be irresistible. He was both comic and imposing, yet his eyes occasionally turned deep and baleful, or blazed frighteningly, as when he said, What you may call the realm of sin, And nothing there but evil see, Is where I live and have to be. At this point, the prime minister nodded significantly.”1 Like his father, in Doctor Faustus, Mann located in the Faust story a primal myth of art’s demonic origins; but what grips the Nazi leader in his novel is the Faustian sensation of being “tied to a stake” to “fight the course” (Macbeth, V.7.1-2) in a hell from which there is (in Sartre’s phrase) No Exit. Likewise, it can be no accident that the definitive English version of the Faust story should be by the writer who, more than others, made the poetics of circumscription into a claustrophobic nightmare, when he had his characters wall each other up, and succeed in burying themselves, in confines from which there can never be escape. In every work by Christopher Marlowe, there is, remarks Marjorie Garber, the same mania for entrapment, as Dido’s grotto, Edwards dungeon, Barabas’s cauldron, and Tamburlaine’s coffin each enact the dramatisas Piranesian compulsion to “find closure in enclosure.”2 So, it was inévitable that this poet of imprisonment should discover in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus a consummation of his obsession with bondage, since the uniqueness of this legend is that, of all variants of the ancient story of the Devil’s Pact, the Faust narrative is the First to maintain to its bitter end the integrity of the contract unbroken. In every earlier version of the diabolic pact the bond is dissolved at the last moment, the signatory defaults, and Satan is deprived of satisfaction. No wonder, then, that Marlowe — who imaged roasting victims in a “brazen bull” as a pay-off for cramming “Infinite riches in a little room” (Jew of Malta, Pro, 24; 1.1-37) — should turn to this folktale, in which, because his agreement holds, there is no way out for the protagonist, and, as Mephistopheles warns him, no refuge from the Devil’s law:

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it. (Faustus, 1-3-76)

  • 3 See Harold George Meek, Johann Faust: The Man and the Myth, Oxford, Humphrey Milford 1930, p. 113.
  • 4 See H. Van Nuffel, “Le pacte avec le diable dans la litterature medievale,” Anciens pays et assemb (...)
  • 5 Miraculum St. Marie de Theophilo penitente; reprinted in R. Petsch (ed.), Theophilus: Mittelnieder (...)

2“Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,/A hundred thousand, and at last be saved”: what captured Marlowe’s incarcerating imagination in the Faust scenario, evidently, was the impossibility of release from a compact so inviolable that “no end is limited to damned souls” (V.2.78-81). The contrast could not be more pointed, however, between this dateless contract and those fragile instruments that seal the league with the Prince of Darkness in older versions of the tale, where the very weakness of the treaty expresses the wish-fulfilling fantasy of some sanctioned contempt of court. For if the idea of the Devil’s Pact does finally derive, as editors suggest, from Christ’s rejection, in Matthew, of Satan’s offer to join in a binding agreement,3 what unites the other pre-Faustian variants is the lawlessness with which Lucifer is cheated by the heroes, who, having accepted benefits from the deal, all contrive to repudiate its terms of repayment. Until Faust, that is to say, the pact only ever occurred for the folkloric pleasure of its cancellation by a higher authority than Satan’s. That there are no infernal pacts in classical or Norse mythology is due to the way, therefore, in which, as historians point out, its premise of a hierarchy of bonds meshed with the feudal System of homage.4 Thus, in the earliest taies, dating from the fourth century, Saint Basil intervenes to redeem the debt of eternal damnation incurred by a boy who signs a written contract with the Dark Lord to seduce a girl; and Saint Cyprian repudiates his pact in scorn, when the Devil only manages to enter a girl’s bedroom, without abducting her. Likewise, Old Nick is decisively outclassed in the most influential of all these stories, when, in the sixth-century legend of Theophilus, the Virgin Mary saves the clergyman from hell, after he prays to the Queen of Heaven on his deathbed to return to him the satanic pact with which he had built his fortune. To do so, she has to descend herself into the infernal regions and forcibly wrestle the written deed out of the claws of the Evil One; but, having stolen it, she deposits the document back on the cleric’s bed, allowing him the time to have it burned, die in peace, and so, cheat the poor Devil of his due.5

  • 6 Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 116-24; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (...)
  • 7 Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 127-30.
  • 8 Lazar, op. cit. (note 5), pp. 41-44.

3Charles Martel, Pope Sylvester II, the anti-Pope Honorius II, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Robert of Normandy, and a twelfth-century Dominican called Giles of Portugal, all had suspicion of a Devil’s Pact levelled at them on account of their inexplicable luck; just as the Theophilus theme percolated popular culture in tales like that of the student at Saint Andrew’s helped in exams by a ghostly tutor; or the monk who rose to be Archbishop on condition he forfeited his soul if ever he visited a place called “Slob”: the other name, Satan tells him (as he arrives there) of his home town of Ghent. Likewise, Francis Drake was said to have defeated the Armada with the Devil’s aid.6 What these stories have in common is the apotropaic desire to insure the fortunate against the consequence of their success, since in each case, Our Lady, the Queen, or in a Tudor chapbook, Friar Bacon, adjudicate to release the borrower from debt. Thus, a Spanish physician, Dr. Eugenio Torralva, was supposed to have enjoyed an identical career to his contemporary, Dr. Faustus, after striking a deal with a demon called Zekial, but was absolved by the Holy Office; while the Polish Faustus, Twardowski of Cracow, escaped from the Old One (who helped him to conjure the phantom of Princess Radziwill), when he clutched the cradle of a new-born babe.7 The Dark Lord may force his vassal to swear fealty, but since the social System in these stories is as feudal as a pack of cards, the knave is sure to be trumped by the superior status of the Virgin or her child. Significantly, however, the role of redemptor has to be enlarged as the plot evolves, so that, in the thirteenth-century drama by Rutebeuf, the Virgin fights Satan for possession of the contract on stage, while in other plays the devils surrender the deed only because Mary is such a shrew: “the sooner they are rid of her the better.”8 The idea of a trial of the human race dates from a fifth-century treatise where Christ pleads mercy against hell’s justice; but what is striking about the Devil’s Pact is how procedures to seize and nullify the contract became increasingly more formal as the narrative reflected the juridical struggle to accommodate capitalism within feudal institutions, until, as a “biography” of the Prince of Darkness recounts, Lucifer vs Mankind came to be a set case in medieval legal tomes to illustrate the clash between mercy and merchant law:

  • 9 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 86.

The trial of humanity usually takes place just after the harrowing of hell.
The demons hold a council and Lucifer complains that Christ has no right to take imprisoned souls. Sometimes the Devil claims that he has a right to the souls as a result of original sin. He retains an attorney... whose name is Belial. Belial goes before God the Father and demands a hearing in open court... When God the Father is judge, Christ is counsel for defense; when Christ is judge, the defense is undertaken by the Blessed Virgin, as advocate for humankind. This the Devil claims is unfair on the grounds of nepotism or because no woman can be a fit advocate in court... The Devil debates his case suavely and cleverly, pulling every legal trick, quoting and glossing Scripture. He pleads that his contract entitles him to the souls... But the judge decides in favour of humanity, on the technical grounds that the Devil has broken the contract, or because God’s mercy supersedes strict justice. Belial appeals the verdict, and the case is settled out of court, Belial receiving assurance that the demons will still be allowed to keep the souls of whatever sinners they can tempt, but not the souls of the just. In the end Belial returns disconsolately back into the mouth of hell.9

  • 10 Lazar, op. cit. (note 5), pp. 49-50.
  • 11 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 66.
  • 12 For the thirteenth-century tale of The Knight and the Jew, see Meek, op. cit. (note 3), p. 126.
  • 13 For the confusion of the pact with circumcision, castration and blood sacrifice, see Lazar, op.

4If the Virgin’s appeal for mercy became increasingly emotional, that was in response to the Great Adversary’s more mercenary face, when the judicial bias tilted, over successive retellings, steadily his way. As the foundation of a market economy, in other words, contract became ever harder for the nobility represented by the Virgin to escape, with its inheritance progressively more entangled in the placeless world of paper transactions and financial bonds. Thus, editors note a shift in the motive for dealing with the Old Man attributed to Theophilus, who sets out, according to a tenth-century nun, Hroswitha of Gandersheim, in quest of glory; begins, with Rutebeuf, to feel the economic pinch; and ends, five centuries later, in German plays acted on the eve of the age of Faustus, with only one question to put to the Regent of the Underworld: “Have you silver or gold?”10 And as the Devil’s hold on the debtor became more mercantile, so his agents multiplied. His names, are, of course, always legion, and folklorists explain that he is called “Old Horny, Old Hairy, Black Bogey, Lusty Dick, Dickon, Dickens, Old Nick, Old Scratch, Good Fellow, and Gentleman Jack,” as well as “Abbaton, Asmodeus, Tryphon, Sabbathai and Satanael,” in tribute to his multifarious forms; but whether as Satan, Lucifer, Belial or Beelzebub, the many faces of the Evil One which leer from stories of the Devil’s Pact must have been highly suggestive to a medieval audience of the multivalency of the invisible and ubiquitous new monetary hell.11 In these tales, the Holy Firm and its client are always outnumbered, until the courtroom is full of demons; but the key figure, cast from the start, is the intermediary who introduces debtor to Devil, and whose role in brokering the deal is so conspicuous that certain versions go simply by the title of The Knight and the Jew.12 As historians infer, the very notion of a pact signed in human blood, first staged by Rutebeuf, may originate in anti-semitic prejudice about circumcision; but it is the demonisation of the Jew as Devil’s broker that confirms this legend as a myth of the early money market, where the ghetto of Jewish usurers was crucial to the forbidden circulation of capital.13 And it is the original presence of the Jew as the commercial go-between which explains why, as the horror unfolds across centuries, fear is provoked more and more by the actual bond of security: the vampyric parchment or piece of paper onto which the Christian inscribes his signature, and which, as he writes, thirstily drinks up his blood:

Mephistophilis: Then, Faustus, stab thy arm courageously
And bind thy soul, that at some certain day
Great Lucifer may claim it as his own,
And then be thou as great as Lucifer.
Faustus: Lo, Mephistophilis, for love of thee
I cut mine arm, and with my proper blood
Assure my soul to be great Lucifer’s,
Chief lord and regent of perpetual night.
View here the blood that trickles from mine arm,
And let it be propitious for my wish.
Mephistophilis: But, Faustus, thou must write it in manner of a deed of [gift.
Faustus: Ay, so I will. But, Mephistophilis,
My blood congeals that I can write no more!
Mephistophilis: I’ll fetch thee fire to dissolve it straight. (1.5.49-61)

  • 14 Ibid., pp. 82-3.
  • 15 Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El Magico Prodigioso; see Meek, op. cit. (note 3), p. 116.
  • 16 R.H. Roberts, Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, London, Collins, 1959, pp. 308-9

5Fire, in the medieval legend, was brought in at the end, to destroy the Devil’s writing, with poetic justice, in his own element, and the tale typically concluded with the hero vowing likewise to burn his books. Thus, Hroswitha ends with Theophilus at Mass, where he displays the contract to the congregation and ceremonially lights it before their eyes. Other versions wring comedy out of the Devil’s precautions to keep the document safe, since from the instant the debtor signs, it is always this written agreement which is the object of the cosmic tug-of-war. Most of the action in the pre-Faustian stories therefore revolves around efforts to get the contract back, like the grim wit of the Bishop of Besançon at the beginning of the thirteenth century, who was bemused when the heretics of his region showed no evidence of demonic dealings, despite an ability to walk through flames and leave no footprints behind. Eventually, the Bishop commanded a priest who had been a magician to summon Lucifer, who revealed how they carried their deeds inside them, sewn up under their arms. So, the Bishop “ordered the heretics stripped, their armpits opened, and the diabolical contracts extracted,” before they were burned alive.14 This was truly contract cancelled by prerogative; but nothing shows the shift towards a capitalist mindset more than the way in which, after Faust, the arguments for abrogation themselves became contractual, like the case of Cyprian dramatised by Calderon, whose hero repudiates the pact in fury, after coercing Satan with a sword, when the Devil is unable to procure the girl.15 So, if Calderon’s play concedes that freedom to contract must be maintained, even in a patriarchy like Spain, the Evil One was now liable to be sued for breach of promise, as the jurist Robert Filmer wrote in 1653, since if requested to do something God prevented, “the Devil may lose his credit,” and failing to deliver, dishonour the agreement.16 The feudal attitude towards redemption still lingered, nonetheless, in counsel given as late as 1684 by the President of Harvard, Increase Mather, when he explained how to prise a contract from the jaws of the Serpent, and cited the recent victory of a student at Caen, who had signed a pact with blood in return for payment of debts, only to repent and beg the local Protestants to recover the document:

  • 17 Ibid, p. 189.

Hereupon the ministers resolved to keep a day of fasting and prayer in that very place of the field where the distressed creature had made the woeful bargain, setting him in the midst of them. Thus they did, and being with special actions of faith much moved to pray earnestly to the Lord to make known his power over Satan, in constraining him to give up that contract, after some hours’ continuance in prayer, a cloud was seen to spread itself over them, and out of it the very contract signed with the poor creatures blood was dropped down amongst them; which being taken up and viewed, the party concerned took it and tore it in pieces.17

  • 18 Marc Shell, Money, Language, and Thought: Literary and Philosophical Economies from the Mevieval t (...)
  • 19 See Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 117, 124 et 127-29.
  • 20 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 87-9.

6All contracts, in medieval law, had to be made in writing and authenticated under seal, but in these stories, to be voided, the Devil’s covenant has to be spectacularly destroyed. The reason must have to do with the type of bargain the Devil strikes, which is always a contract in which one party leaves a conditional deposit with another in return for an undefined return. In other words, the Devil’s bond is an elementary form of written credit. In his study of paper notes, Money, Language, and Thought, Marc Shell puts such transactions in cultural context, when he relates that Europeans for long remained fearful of all forms of symbolic credit, so that when Marco Polo reported from China “How the great Khan causes sheets of paper to be spent as money,” he explained the ease in which slips of paper were exchanged for purchases, even though they weighed a fraction of gold, as “alchemy”,18 For the uncanniness of writing, Shell remarks, is that though a coin is both symbol and thing, a scrap of paper is “virtually all symbolic,” while credit — “the extreme form of paper money” — divorces the sign from what it represents, and so seems to allow for transcendence of things. No wonder, then, that so many supernatural feats attributed to the Devil’s subscribers should themselves be acts of writing, like the publication of world news by Torralva and introduction of arabic numerals by Pope Sylvester; or that the pact should not only be signed in human blood, but sometimes drafted in bat’s blood, dried with magic powder, and sealed under ancient rings, on calfskin, or an entire bullock’s hide.19 In fact, the Devil had long been an avid letter-writer, though always as a commercial lawyer, when, starting with a few lines in twelfth-century chronicles, his “Letter” grew, by the time of his masterpiece, the “Epistola Lucifera” of 1351, into a satirical parody of the legal charter, in which the princes of the church were granted universal rights of extortion in a deed conventionally “dated at the centre of the earth in our shadowy kingdom, in presence of hordes of demons.”20 At the core of the Devil’s Pact, then, according to Shell, there lies the terror of the potential of credit to metamorphose things into hypothetical forms: like the ghost of Helen of Troy. And the fact that Faustus’s precursors fight so hard to regain and obliterate the document shows how threatening their culture found the concept he readily accepts, that once signed, such a paper is lost to the phantasms of exchange:

Faustus: Here, Mephistophilis, receive this scroll,
A deed of gift, of body and of soul:
But yet conditionally, that thou perform
All covenants and articles between us both.
Mephistophilis: Faustus, I swear by hell and Lucifer
To effect all promises between us both...
Speak, Faustus, do you deliver this as your deed?
Faustus: Ay, take it, and the devil give thee good of it. (1.5.24-117)

  • 21 Garber, op. cit. (note 2), pp. 11-13.
  • 22 Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver, London, Picador, 1987, p. 245.
  • 23 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, trans. anon., London, (...)
  • 24 Ibidem.

7 “Consummatum est: the bill is ended” (73): in Marlowe’s tragedy, once signed, sealed, and delivered, Faustus’s contract with the Prince of Darkness is pocketed by Mephistophilis, carried off (to be deposited, presumably, in a vault of hell), and never seen by either signatory or audience again. Faustus concedes from the outset that it will never be redeemed. As Garber has commented, Marlowe’s claustrophobic enclosures all point in this way to the ultimate trap constituted by language itself, since his plays show how “Once uttered, a phrase... conveys the speaker into the power of his hearers, whether on or off stage.”21 Primed on Barthes and Derrida, Garber’s updating reveals the Renaissance dramatist to be a post-structuralist avant la lettre, caging his protagonists in textual labyrinths of their own making, like the murderous messages “returned to sender” from Mortimer and the Duchess of Guise, which each rehearse “The Death of the Author’three hundred years before its time. What Umberto Eco derided as this “frenchified affectation for inscribing everything and seeing everything inscribed,”22 has been taken to its logical extreme in Garber’s essay which reasons that if these Elizabethan characters are literally inscribed in characters, as mere figures of written speech, then they are liable to be snuffed out with an article and wiped clean from the slate23. The influence here is Foucault’s notorious pronouncement, at the end of The Order of Things, that the figure of “man will be soon “effaced, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea; and Garber’s interpretation24 of Faustus is, indeed, as the “last man”, his identity a palimpsest of “Lines, circles, letters and characters,” to be scrawled and cancelled as instantaneously as the tattoo which scarifies and then vanishes from his arm. Prefaced with a quotation from The Jew of Malta — “The meaning has a meaning” (IV.4.106) — this is a reading that confirms the aptness of reviewing Marlowe’s stage — with its archives, inventories, despatches, letters, maps, and wills — as a theatre of the all-conquering word. For if Marlowe’s “characters” are all “effects of writing,” on this view, being composed, like Arcimboldo’s portraits, out of the hell of other people’s written words, then the meaning of their meaning so little is paradoxically that their own writing means so much:

  • 25 Marjorie Garber, ‘“Here’s Nothing Writ”: Scribe, Script, and Circumscription in Marlowe’s Plays,’ (...)

Faustus, Mortimer and Tamburlaine are all ultimately cancelled or slain by their own hands: by their handwriting, by their signatures, and by their seals...25

  • 26 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 81.
  • 27 Garber, op. cit. (note 25), p. 42.
  • 28 Peter Binsfeld, Tractatus, Munich, 1589), quoted in Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), p. 312.
  • 29 Ibid., p. 311.
  • 30 C. L’Estrange, Witchcraft and Demonianism: A Concise Account, London, Heath Cranton, 1933, p. 62.
  • 31 Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), p. 312.
  • 32 Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun, London, HarperCollins, 1994, p. 145.
  • 33 Quoted, Michel de Certeau, The Possession at Loudun, trans. Michael Smith, Chicago, Chicago Univer (...)

8If “the heart of the witch craze was the idea that witches signed a literal, explicit pact with Satan,”26 as Garber emphasises, this was because a “deed of gift of body and soul,” like the one which Faustus makes, is a paradoxical “resigning” of the Eucharist: “written in blood, substituting blood for ink, it superscribes Christ’s own testament of flesh and blood.”27 It can be no coincidence, therefore, that the First description of the pact as such a devilish inversion of the Last Supper dates from precisely the moment of the emergence, in the Faust legend, of the belief that it is indestructible. The idea that a pact is a blasphemous parody of communion, which mocks Christ’s covenant with His disciples, is said to have originated around 1525, in the verdicts of the witch-hunter Paulus Grillandus.28 Both Catholic and Protestant theologians, such as William Perkins, would adopt this definition, when they affirmed that “the ground of all witchcraft is a league or covenant made between the witch and the Devil, wherein they do mutually bind themselves to each other,29 leading to orders like that issued in the 1627 Advice to Grand-Jury Men to search zealously for parchment or paper and proof of signing in blood: advice followed by the witch-finder Matthew Hopkins, who collected testimony from twenty women admitting being party to contracts written by Satan.30 Other demonologists recorded evidence from those who stated how, when they sold body and soul to Lucifer, he squeezed their left hand “with such force he filled his own with blood pressed from their fingers.”31 And the obvious evidential problem in substantiating a working pact, where the proof belonged to the Devil, was finally solved through exorcism.Thus, the most infamous of all the attempts to construct evidence was also one of the few to dislodge a material document from the infernal archives. The 1634 trial of the cure of Loudun, Urbain Grandier, retrieved not only assorted “pacts” vomited by the nuns he was alleged to have seduced, including an undigested paper “stained with drops of blood and containing eight orange pips, a bundle of five straws and a package of cinders, worms, hairs and nail-parings,” but also a parcel that the demons claimed contained “the heart of a child sacrificed at a witches” sabbath, ashes of a consecrated wafer, and Grandier’s own blood and semen.”32 All endorsed, catalogued, and filed in the records, even these “proofs” were eclipsed, however, by the prosecution’s piece de resistance: a letter of allegiance and the actual contract between the priest and Antichrist, “found by the bishop beneath his soutane and next to his left foot” during the course of the exorcisms,33 with words spelled backwards, mirror-wise, penned in Latin, right to left, and subscribed with ideograms of the Lord of the Flies and no less than five of his arch-demons:

  • 34 Reproduced and translated in Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), pp. 317-18.

We, all-powerful Lucifer, seconded by Satan, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Elimi, Astaroth, and others, have today accepted the pact of allegiance with Urbain Grandier, who is on our side. And we promise him the love of women, the flower of virgins, the chastity of nuns, worldly honours, pleasures, and riches. He will fornicate every three days; intoxication will be dear to him. He will offer to us once a year a tribute marked with his blood; he will trample under foot the sacraments of the church, and he will say his prayers to us. By virtue of this pact, he will live appily for twenty years on earth among men, and finally come among us to curse God. Done in Hell, in the council of the devils. Notarised with the signature and mark of the chief devil, and my lords the princes of Hell. Counter-signed, Baalberith, Recorder of Hell.34

  • 35 de Certeau, op. cit. (note 32), p. 95.
  • 36 Philip Palmer & Robert More, The Sources of the Faust Tradition Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1 (...)
  • 37 Shell, op. cit., (note 18), pp. 90-1; Karl Marx, Early Writings, trans Tom Bottomore, London, Rout (...)
  • 38 Quoted, Shell, op. cit. (note 18), p. 3.
  • 39 Richard Ehrenberg, Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance, London, Jonathan Cape, 1928, (...)

9For Michel de Certeau, in his acid commentary on the case, this literally preposterous document reveals the insecurity within the heart of religion, as “by means of a sheet of paper, signed by the demon, hence perceptible and tangible to all,” the pact works “to hold together all the elements of a collapsing System... like a metal clamp.”35 Parson Grandier, who died in agony at the stake, might have sensed in such Marlovian concoctions, indeed, the diabolism of his true tormentor, Cardinal Richelieu; but the main question his Faustian compact poses is, how did early modem culture come to have such a literalistic belief in the omnipotence of the written word? How, that is to say, did the real Faustian myth — that once signed, a contract is inviolable — come to take such a grip on society’s imagination during Marlowe’s lifetime? The answer may lie in the provenance of the Faust story, which arose, literary historians tell us, in Southern Germany during the 1520s, in connection with a “magician” named Johannes Faustus of Wurtemberg.36 As the young Karl Marx recognised, when he wrote a monologue for Faust expounding the economic basis of Satan’s power, the pre-condition of the legend is belief in the demonic capacity of credit to “purchase all things and produce them for the purchaser;” so that when Faust dreams of having the strength of six horses, what he means is that “As an individual I am lame, but money provides me with twenty-four legs... I, who can have, through money, everything for which the human heart longs.”37 So it must be significant that the time and place of Faustus were the epicentre of one of the world’s greatest bull markets, when fuelled by American gold and Tyrolean silver, the south German economy soared in an inflationary spiral, as moneylenders themselves borrowed on ever-deeper credit, to satisfy the insatiable demand for capital of the global Hapsburg empire. Philip II declared the mystery of paper money beyond any human understanding;38 but that was because his father, Charles V, became the biggest debtor of all time, when from 1521 he borrowed colossal sums from the great Augsburg firm of Jakob Fugger, whilst to fund the Emperor’s wars, the Fuggers in turn raised huge loans on the Antwerp money market by means of bonds, or “Fugger bills,” which then circulated as currency “considered as safe as gold.”39 Dealing in these paper bonds then generated a future market, as brokers speculated on rising prices, exchange rates or European politics; but “Fugger bills” were finally secured by Jakob’s credit as nothing less than “God’s banker.” For the bank’s collateral was its business with the church, as the manager of Rome’s riposte to the Devil’s Pact (which likewise staked worldly goods against a spiritual afterlife): the trade in papal indulgences. Launched by Julius II to celebrate the year 1500, the Jubilee Indulgence guaranteed subscribers a remission of Purgatory in proportion to cash investment; but the benefit for the Fugger bank was an apparently inexhaustible supply of liquidity, with keys to a machine that came to seem, to Reformers such as Luther, truly demonic:

  • 40 Ibid., p. 73.

The Papal Pardoner was accompanied everywhere by the agent of the Fugger, who kept in his hands a key to the Indulgence chest. When the chest was full, it was opened in the presence of the Fuggers’ agent and its entire contents were then laid open to him and sent to the Fuggers’ counting-house in Leipzig. Finally, half the proceeds were paid over to the Curia by the Fuggers’ branch in Rome, and the other half was used to pay instalments of interest due on the money raised on the Antwerp market and loaned to the Emperor. Such was the business which led to the Reformation.40

  • 41 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.1.175: Norton Edition, eds. Stephen Greenblatt (...)

10In Marlowe’s tragedy, Faustus’s greatest miracle is to fly through the air, “sitting in a chariot burning bright, / Drawn by the strength of yoked dragon’s necks... From the bright circle of the horned moon, / Even to the height of Primum Mobile, / And whirling round with this circumference, / Within the compass of the pole, / From east to west... swiftly glide,” until he lands back in Wittenburg. Shakespeare’s demonic Puck puts “a girdle round the earth in forty minutes,”41 but no sooner has Marlowe’s hero returned home than “new exploits do hale him out gain,/And mounted then upon a dragon’s back,” he once again passes through “walls of flint, and deep entrenched” moats, as he transfers through Paris, Triers, Naples, and “thence to Venice, Padua and the rest,” until he is “conducted” by Mephistophilis “within the walls of Rome” (III. 1. 5-18; II. 2. 2-24). Though they captured Milton’s imagination, critics have been unimpressed by these satanic flights, and even more disappointed by the tricks Faustus perpetrates, after he penetrates the Vatican, “to cross the Pope” or “make his monks and abbots stand like apes,/And point like antics at his triple crown,/To beat the beads about the friars” pates,/Or clap huge horns upon the cardinals” heads (81-6). Even his later triumph, when he conjures the phantom of Alexander the Great for Charles V himself, fails to convince editors he makes the most of his bargain. But, interpreted in the light of the real flight of international capital through the magic of paper fund-transfers, this magician’s invisible circuit of Europe’s banking centres, at the expense of the Pope and service of the Emperor, looks like Marlowe’s metaphor for the placeless global money market, which began with those bills of exchange in the land of Faustus and Fugger. For what exhilarates this dramatist is clearly that with the new certainty of contract law, “The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,/The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned” (V. 2. 153-54). As the dock struck, and the creditors came, even for the German conjurers, when in 1557, with credit at Antwerp stretched to its limit, the Spanish crown went bankrupt, Philip II reneged on his father’s debts, the bills were called, the magic mountain collapsed, and the House of Fugger was ruined.

  • 42 Ehrenberg, op. cit. (note 38), pp. 118-19.
  • 43 Laura Stevenson, Praise and Paradox: Merchants and Craftsmen in Elizabethan Popular Literature, Ca (...)
  • 44 Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, London, Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, (...)

11In the autumn of 1546, the head of the great bank, Anton Fugger, had been visited by Charles V in his office, to request deferment of the expiry-dates on loans outstanding to the empire. According to the Fugger archives, “Master Anton answered him.. that he had no other means save the bills of His Majesty, which he called for and had torn up and burned, that His Majesty might see how jealous he was to serve him with all his substance.”42 This anecdote, doubted by economists, had been told of earlier Florentine moneylenders; yet the image of the merchant burning his agreement with the king, and releasing the debtor from obligation, does express the collective fantasy that haunts premodern culture, of a spectacular coup de théâtre which would redeem the world from contract. And in her study of “Merchants and craftsmen in Elizabethan Popular Literature,” Praise and Paradox, Laura Stevenson has shown how this dream lingered on the London stage, making Marlowe’s glorification of contract law the more anomalous. Thus, in the 1576 play, The Tide Tarrieth No Man, Greediness is condemned as a “vicious man who only seeketh his own gain,” for charging a dupe, Willing-to-Win-Worship, £40 on a loan of £30; in A Looking Glass for London, the Usurer is excoriated as “a covetous caterpiller” for penalising a signatory who repays on the hour, instead of before, as their bond specified; in A Knack to Know an Honest Man, the moneylender, Servio, is brought down by his own fraudulence; and in the 1598 farce, An Englishman for My Money, the banker, Pisaro, is forced to marry his three daughters to his debtors; a plot replicated four years later in The Fair Maid of the Exchange. As Stevenson comments, these dramas illustrate how much “the condemnation of usury continued to be attractive to audiences,” even though “between 1580 and 1620 almost all the citizens of London began to lend money at interest.”43 And there is a similar pattern in English devil plays, that all, apart from Faustus, confirm Ben Jonson’s title, The Devil is an Ass. In The Merry Devil of Edmonton, for instance, Peter Fabel fools a demon who comes to claim fulfilment of his contract; in If it be not good, the Devil is in it, the fiends are mocked; and in the 1607 melodrama The Devil’s Charter, the contract holds only because Satan and his debtor, the Borgia Pope Alexander, deserve each other. Jonson is typical, when he shows the “lesser devil” Pug “hopelessly outwitted by the cunning of mere mortals,”44 since this is a theatre that still yearns for the happy end envisaged by Portia, with the moneylender’s dictates routed in a gesture of overwhelming feudal bounty:

  • 45 William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, (III. 2. 297-312): Norton Edition (note 39).

What, no more?
Pay him six thousand ducats and deface the bond.
Double six thousand, and then treble that...
You shall have gold
To pay the petty debt twenty times over...
Bid your friends welcome, show a merry cheer.
Since you are dear bought, I will love you dear.45

  • 46 Ibid., IV. 1. 390; IV. 2. 1-2.
  • 47 Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Oxford: Clarendon, 1965, pp. 268 (...)
  • 48 M. Tigar & M. Levy, Law and the Rise of Capitalism, New York, Columbia University Press, 1977, pp. (...)

12Written some three years after Faustus, Shakespeare’s version of the Devil’s Pact tantalises us with this old solution, only to withdraw it, and return us to the universal law of contract. It ends, therefore, not with Portia’s magnanimous redemption of the bond, but her relish that, if the Devil quotes scripture, he can also be crushed by his own devices, and the last we hear of Shylock is being harried by attorneys to sign on the line of the “deed of gift” which liquidates his fortune: “Enquire the Jew’s house out, give him this deed,/And let him sign it.”46 In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare discloses how he has read enough of Marlowe to recognise that in a society where contracting is universal, the lady with the scales will never again step down from her pedestal above the courthouse, to break the bond and free us from the Devil’s lawsuit. For the age of Marlowe, as the historian Christopher Hill observed, was also the age of contract, and its thinking was dominated by an “all-pervading contractarianism.”47 English law had accommodated itself, that is to say, to the iron logic of Marlowe’s plot, as his hero fatalistically summarises it: “I writ them a bill with mine own blood, the date is expired: this is the time, and he will fetch me” (V. 2.69-71). It did so when it redirected contract cases from the royal prerogative to the courts of common law; systematically strengthened the grounds for an action against the contractor to enforce his liability; and even copied the Devil’s Pact, with the doctrine, in the year of Marlowe’s birth, that an agreement would be valid whenever there was an exchange of some “consideration” or deposit, which, as Mephistophilis insists, the Evil One prefers to take in blood: “For that security craves great Lucifer” (1.5.36). The result was that if Faustus had asked an English lawyer, as he asks the Devil’s advocate, where the contracts of a foreign broker (such as the Prince of Darkness) were enforceable, his answer would have been as Mephistophilis gives it: everywhere, for “this is hell, nor am I out of it.” As the Elizabethan judges ruled, contract was now so universal that, in the eyes of the law, and for the sake of the international markets, England could be deemed to include Paris, Amsterdam, or Venice; the fiction had to be maintained that Antwerp “was in the parish of St Mary-le-Bow, in the Ward of Cheapside, in the City of London;” and the plaintiff who stood in the English courtroom was recognised to be still in the continental bourse, nor was he ever out of it.48

  • 49 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, p. 198. See P.S. Atiy (...)
  • 50 John D. Cox, The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642, Cambridge, Cambridge University (...)
  • 51 John B. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1959, p. 377; John H. N (...)
  • 52 David Cressy, “Binding the Nation: the Bonds of Association, 1584 and 1696,” in Dellroyd J. Guth (...)

13Contracts entered under duress, declared the Civil War philosopher, Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan, “are obligatory. For example, if I Covenant to pay a ransom, or service for my life, to an enemy, I am bound to it. For it is a Contract, wherein one receiveth the benefit of a life; the other is to receive money, or service for it; and consequently... the Covenant is valid.”49 Nothing could be further from the grace of the Queen of Heaven who descends into hell to redeem Theophilus, than this bourgeois dogma of the irrevocability of even a Devil’s bargain. Hobbes was laying down the capitalist law at the high-tide of English contract; but the remorseless “contractarianism” of the seventeenth-century, with its Calvinist covenanters and royalist Sealed Knot, had been prefigured in the retributive economy of Marlowe’s Old Devil, who rises “from infernal Dis” to “view the subjects” of his monarchy with the eyes of Leviathan, and repossesses “Those souls which sin seals the black sons of hell,” at the instant their lease is due, and “The time is come/Which makes it forfeit” (V.2.1-7). This playwright, who made contract the basis of his plots, must indeed have had some diabolic knowledge, to foresee so eerily the specific hell of Hobbes; and to recent critics it does seem that there is an affinity between Marlowe’s hell and that “aggressive and unremitting competition” he entered with his scholarship to university, and that the fate of Faustus is also the plight of his maker, trapped in the ambiguous but lethal bargain struck with all its minions by “courtly power.”50 The shoemaker’s son was twenty when he would have been compelled to see his fortune in just such Faustian terms, because on October 19, 1584 his patrons, Walsingham and Burghley, drafted a direct legal challenge to “mischievous persons” moved “by the Devil to execute their malice” against the Queen, in the form of a Bond of Association that required its signatories to “pursue by force of arms as well as by all other means of revenge,” any who “devilishly sought to harm Her Majesty’s royal person,” and “never to desist from forcible pursuit against such persons to their utter extermination” Historians characterise this Bond as a resort to “Texan justice... lynch law... and a naked appeal to the most primitive instincts of its signatories”;51 but all over England Marlowe’s contemporaries queued to sign it in church meetings, six at a time kneeling bareheaded to make their marks. Nowhere more so than in the poet’s county of Kent, where subscribers ordered a duplicate to “remain in the country” to check abstentions.52 We do not know whether the writer of Faustus subscribed to the Bond to impress his masters, nor what he did to fall himself against its provisions. We only know that the man who signed his play, as if it were a pact, with the endorsement that as “The hour ends the day, the author ends his work” (Epilogue, 28), had an appointment to keep with those “pursuers” in Deptford, and that there his contract was duly terminated. Stabbed through the eye, he died screaming blasphemies. This was surely hell, and nor was he out of it.

Note

1 Klaus Mann, Mephisto, trans. Robyn Smyth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995), pp. 177-78.

2 Marjorie Garber, ‘“Infinite riches in a little room’: closure and enclosure in Marlowe,” in Alvin Kernan (ed.), Two Renaissance Myth Makers: Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 11-13.

3 See Harold George Meek, Johann Faust: The Man and the Myth, Oxford, Humphrey Milford 1930, p. 113.

4 See H. Van Nuffel, “Le pacte avec le diable dans la litterature medievale,” Anciens pays et assemblees d’etats, 39 (1966), pp. 27-43.

5 Miraculum St. Marie de Theophilo penitente; reprinted in R. Petsch (ed.), Theophilus: Mittelniederdeutches Drama in drei Fassungen (Heidelberg: 1908), and discussed in Moshe Lazar, “Theophilus: Servant of Two Masters: The pre-Faustian theme of despair and revolt,” Modem Language Notes (MLN): 87 (1972), pp. 31-50.

6 Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 116-24; Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1984, p. 82.

7 Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 127-30.

8 Lazar, op. cit. (note 5), pp. 41-44.

9 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 86.

10 Lazar, op. cit. (note 5), pp. 49-50.

11 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 66.

12 For the thirteenth-century tale of The Knight and the Jew, see Meek, op. cit. (note 3), p. 126.

13 For the confusion of the pact with circumcision, castration and blood sacrifice, see Lazar, op.

14 Ibid., pp. 82-3.

15 Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El Magico Prodigioso; see Meek, op. cit. (note 3), p. 116.

16 R.H. Roberts, Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, London, Collins, 1959, pp. 308-9

17 Ibid, p. 189.

18 Marc Shell, Money, Language, and Thought: Literary and Philosophical Economies from the Mevieval to the Modem Era, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 3.

19 See Meek, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 117, 124 et 127-29.

20 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 87-9.

21 Garber, op. cit. (note 2), pp. 11-13.

22 Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver, London, Picador, 1987, p. 245.

23 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, trans. anon., London, Tavistock, 1970, p. 387.

24 Ibidem.

25 Marjorie Garber, ‘“Here’s Nothing Writ”: Scribe, Script, and Circumscription in Marlowe’s Plays,’ in Richard Wilson (ed.), Christopher Marlowe, London, Longman, 1999, pp. 39-51.

26 Russell, op. cit. (note 6), p. 81.

27 Garber, op. cit. (note 25), p. 42.

28 Peter Binsfeld, Tractatus, Munich, 1589), quoted in Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), p. 312.

29 Ibid., p. 311.

30 C. L’Estrange, Witchcraft and Demonianism: A Concise Account, London, Heath Cranton, 1933, p. 62.

31 Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), p. 312.

32 Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun, London, HarperCollins, 1994, p. 145.

33 Quoted, Michel de Certeau, The Possession at Loudun, trans. Michael Smith, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2000, p. 97.

34 Reproduced and translated in Roberts, op. cit. (note 16), pp. 317-18.

35 de Certeau, op. cit. (note 32), p. 95.

36 Philip Palmer & Robert More, The Sources of the Faust Tradition Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1936, pp. 130-32.

37 Shell, op. cit., (note 18), pp. 90-1; Karl Marx, Early Writings, trans Tom Bottomore, London, Routledge, 1963, p. 191.

38 Quoted, Shell, op. cit. (note 18), p. 3.

39 Richard Ehrenberg, Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance, London, Jonathan Cape, 1928, p. 104.

40 Ibid., p. 73.

41 William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II.1.175: Norton Edition, eds. Stephen Greenblatt et al, Berkeley, Norton, 1997, p. 825.

42 Ehrenberg, op. cit. (note 38), pp. 118-19.

43 Laura Stevenson, Praise and Paradox: Merchants and Craftsmen in Elizabethan Popular Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 94-6.

44 Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, London, Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, 1926, pp. 306-7.

45 William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, (III. 2. 297-312): Norton Edition (note 39).

46 Ibid., IV. 1. 390; IV. 2. 1-2.

47 Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Oxford: Clarendon, 1965, pp. 268-69.

48 M. Tigar & M. Levy, Law and the Rise of Capitalism, New York, Columbia University Press, 1977, pp. 225-26.

49 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, p. 198. See P.S. Atiyah, The Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 39-44.

50 John D. Cox, The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 119-20.

51 John B. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1959, p. 377; John H. Neale, Queen Elizabeth I, London, Jonathan Cape, 1957, p. 274; Alison Plowden, Danger to Elizabeth: the Catholics under Elizabeth I, New York, Stein & Day, 1973, p. 204.

52 David Cressy, “Binding the Nation: the Bonds of Association, 1584 and 1696,” in Dellroyd J. Guth & John W. McKenna (eds.), Tudor Rule and Revolution, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 218-19 et 222-24.

Autore

Université de Lancaster
Professeur à l’Université de Lancaster en Angleterre où il dirige le programme d’études shakespeariennes. Il est notamment l’auteur de Will Power: Essays on Shakespearean Authority (1993) et de Secret Shakespeare: Studies in theatre, religion, and resistance (2003). Son dernier livre, Agent for England : Essays on Marlowe devrait paraître fin 2003.

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2003

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