A New Date for Marlowe’s Faustus

An example of how the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) may work in plays:

Consider Marlowe’s Faustus (1604)…

R. M. Cornelius (Christopher Marlowe’s Use of the Bible, 1984) notes the friar’s dirge “Cursed be he that stole away his Holiness’ meat from the table …” is an allusion to Deut 27:15-19: “Cursed be the man that …”.

Interestingly, the BCP’s ‘A Commination Against Sinners’ also contains a reading from Deut 27:15-26, i.e. “the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners”. We know said Commination is heard on the First Day of Lent (Ash Wednesday).

The friars sing their dirge on St. Peter’s Day (per the 1616Q, the feast actually celebrates St. Peter’s chair) which occurs on Feb 22nd. Question: Why is the friars’ dirge so similar to the ‘Commination Against Sinners’? Does Marlowe intend his audience to recognize such?

So why does Faustus snatch the Pope’s plate of meat on St. Peter’s Day (a feast day)? Because in the year 1604, Feb 22nd (Roman feast day) is a meat-less Feb 22nd First Day of Lent in England. Surely, Marlowe’s audiences would have gotten that joke!! Funny!!

Of course, Marlowe dies in 1593 so a joke based on the year 1604 doesn’t work, now does it, nevermind the fact that Feb 22nd in England is actually March 3rd in Rome per the Gregorian calendar.

But if we stay w/in Marlowe’s lifetime, in 1589 the First Day of Lent occurs on Feb 12th in England (which would be Feb 22nd in Rome based on the Gregorian calendar). It should be noted both Feb 12th (Julian) and Feb 22nd (Gregorian) occur on a Wednesday giving us a Roman Feb 22nd (Gregorian) feast day vs. an English Feb 12th (Julian) meat-less day which justifies Faustus’ removal of the Pope’s meat. Hilarious!!

The above should be seen as an example of how the BCP calendar (as well as the calendar change) can work in plays and perhaps how it may offer a composition date. Perhaps Marlowe’s Faustus was written closer to 1589.

© 2016 All Knitwits Reserved.

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About knitwitted

Goofette and troublemaker
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