Christopher Marlowe, Scene 9 of the B-Text of Doctor Faustus

[Click on image to enlarge] Marlowe's Doctor Faustus suggests that there is something inherently spectacular and theatrical about both sorcery and statecraft. As many texts and illustrations of the time reveal, on a given day in Elizabethan London, actors, conjurors, and public hangmen might all be putting on the same sort of "show": the gruesome spectacle of decapitation.

In this excerpt from Scene 9 of the B-text of Doctor Faustus, Benvolio (the equivalent of the "Knight" in the A-text) conspires with his fellows to avenge himself on the magician by beheading him. The trick Faustus plays on them is similar to but more spectacular than the one he plays on the horse-courser in Scene 10 of the A-text (see NAEL 8, 1.1048-49). Benvolio's plans to display the conjuror's head to the public remind us that the audience would have been familiar with the sight of the severed heads of traitors mounted on pikes on London Bridge.

["I'll Have His Head"]

FREDERICK. Close, close, the conjuror is at hand,
And all alone comes walking in his gown.
Be ready then, and strike the peasant down.
BENVOLIO. Mine be that honor then. Now, sword, strike home,
For horns he gave, I'll have his head anon. >> note 1

Enter FAUSTUS with the false head.

MARTINO. See, see, he comes.
BENVOLIO. No words — this blow ends all.
Hell take his soul, his body thus must fall.
FREDERICK. Groan you, Master Doctor?
BENVOLIO. Break may his heart with groans. Dear Frederick, see,
Thus will I end his griefs immediately.
MARTINO. Strike with a willing hand. His head is off.
BENVOLIO. The Devil's dead, the Furies >> note 2 now may laugh.
FREDERICK. Was this that stern aspect, that awful frown,
Made the grim monarch of infernal spirits
Tremble and quake at his commanding charms?
MARTINO. Was this that damned head, whose heart conspired
Benvolio's shame before the Emperor?
BENVOLIO. Aye, that's the head, and here the body lies,
Justly rewarded for his villainies.
FREDERICK. Come, let's devise how we may add more shame
To the black scandal of his hated name.
BENVOLIO. First, on his head, in quittance of my wrongs,
I'll nail huge forked horns, and let them hang
Within the window where he yoked me first,
That all the world may see my just revenge.
MARTINO. What shall we put his beard to?
BENVOLIO. We'll sell it to a chimney sweeper. It will wear out >> note 3 ten
birchen brooms I warrant you.
FREDERICK. What shall eyes do?
BENVOLIO. We'll put out his eyes, and they shall serve for buttons to his
lips, to keep his tongue from catching cold.
MARTINO. An excellent policy. And now, sirs, having divided him, what
shall the body do?

FAUSTUS stands up.

BENVOLIO. Zounds, the Devil's alive again.
FREDERICK. Give him his head, for God's sake.
FAUSTUS. Nay, keep it. Faustus will have heads and hands.
I call your hearts to recompense this deed.
Knew you not, traitors, I was limited >> note 4
For four and twenty years to breathe on Earth?
And had you cut my body with your swords,
Or hewed this flesh and bones as small as sand,
Yet in a minute had my spirit returned,
And I had breathed a man made free from harm.
But wherefore do I dally my revenge?
Asteroth, Belimoth, Mephastophilis!

Enter MEPHASTOPHILIS and other devils

Go horse these traitors on your fiery backs,
And mount aloft with them as high as heaven,
Thence pitch them headlong to the lowest hell.
Yet stay, the world shall see their misery,
And hell shall after plague their treachery.
Go Belimoth, and take this caitiff hence,
And hurl him in some lake of mud or dirt.
Take thou this other, drag him through the woods,
Amongst the pricking thorns and sharpest briars,
Whilst with my gentle Mephastopholis
This traitor flies unto some steepy rock,
That rolling down, may break his villain's bones,
As he intented to dismember me.
Fly hence, dispatch my charge immediately.
FREDERICK. Pity us, gentle Faustus, save our lives.
FREDERICK. He must needs go that the Devil drives.

Exeunt spirits with knights.

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