Magic and Poetry in Doctor Faustus (1964)
Magic is not only the subject of Doctor Faustus, it is the means by which the dramatic illusion generates power and conviction. As in Tamburlaine, Marlowe evidently conceives the stage as an area liberated from the limitations which nature imposes on the world around; the restraining conditions of probability here seem to be in abeyance, and Marlowe’s stage affords scope to realise the gigantic fantasies of his heroes. In Doctor Faustus the stage assumes the properties of a magic circle, within which dramatic spectacle is transformed into enchanted vision, and poetry is endowed with the power of conjuring spirits. We do wrong to feel, as many critics have done, a kind of embarrassment, or even intellectual superiority towards the necromantic elements in the play, for it is precisely through the business of magic that Marlowe effects the heightening and tension necessary to the tragic experience. Few would claim that the play maintains its tragic intensity throughout, or that a sense of structure was one of Marlowe’s strengths as a playwright.
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