The Tragic Law
lunes, 8 de octubre de 2012
The Tragic Law
In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe shows all the sensitivity to the theological and symbolic implications of this legend that one would expect from a former student of divinity. Having denied God's love and grace, Faustus becomes enchanted with stellar gods and mythological fables and commits himself to a demon whose name, Lucifer, is that of a Babylonian tyrant in 'Jerome's Bible' (Isa.14:12; Doctor Faustus, I.i.38); he is easily persuaded that 'Marriage is but a ceremonial toy' (II.i.147), and finally seals his damnation by embracing the succubine Helen. But Marlowe's great achievement was to have seized on the legend's core of universal truth and tragic irony. What his play communicates with terrible force is that there can be no such thing as autonomy of action in the real world: every act either confirms an existing bond or creates a new one; it has binding consequences and is a deed in two senses of the world. Thus the tragic design of Doctor Faustus turns on the appalling peripeteia whereby the rejection of a bond whose grant of limited freedom (the freedom of the sons of God) has begun to seem intolerably constricting and servile leeds not to liberty and power but to a condition of claustrophobic and degrading servitude: the hero becomes the deed's creature, a prisoner of what he himself has willed.
This tragic law is operative in plays as diverse as Macbeth, Othello, The White Devil, and The Changeling, its presence signalled by the symbolism of the demonic pact or marriage, or by the Marlovian pun on 'deed' and 'will'. Even in the pagan context of King Lear its presence is keenly felt at the outset. The 'hideous rashness' (I.i.150) which thrusts Lear into 'the tyrannous night' (III.iv.147) involves a ritual abjuring of love, grace, and benison (I.i.265), a brutal attempt to prevent a marriage of true minds, and an act of fatal submission to the will of two women who seem to fetch their nature from 'the mysteries of Hecat and the night' (l. 109).
Nevertheless the paradigm of ordered and disordered relationships that deeply affects Renaissance tragedy as a whole is the cosmological and not the theological one. The bonds undone in Lear are not—or not primarily—those between men and gods. As in The Spanish Tragedy, they are familial, matrimonial, and national bonds, as well as the bonds of service and hospitality; and, as in Kyd's play, their universal model is the union of contrary elements in a just and fruitful relationship where individuality and mutuality are simultaneously acknowledged. here the sign of catastrophe is the sudden eruption of a fiery, primordial hatred which would consume its opposite or consign it to the void: 'No contraries hold more antipathy / Than I and such a knave'; 'as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this for ever' (II.ii.82-3; I.i.114-15). Here too the experience of Hell is the discovery that a human bond of incomparable value has been violently and irrevocably broken: 'Thou'lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never' (V.iii.306-7).