MSA at MLA, 2013

Papers in the session were devoted to Doctor Faustus, The Massacre at Paris, and The Jew of Malta

615. Marlowe and His Others

Program arranged by the Marlowe Society of America

Saturday, 5 January 2013

5.15-6.30 p.m., Liberty B, Sheraton

Presiding: Paul Menzer, Mary Baldwin College; President, Marlowe Society of America

1. “Sensing Massacre’s Others,” Patricia Cahill, Emory University

This paper addresses the “others” of The Massacre at Paris, a text that, in its mangled form, is itself alien within the body of Marlowe’s dramatic works. At first glance it would seem to be easy to identify the “others” of Massacre: for a predominantly Protestant audience, the Catholics who carry out the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre would surely count as strangers. Yet, I want to re-think the category of otherness in Massacre so as to demonstrate how the play invites playgoers to feel self-estrangement. Specifically, I suggest that, just as the play depicts a massacre victim invited to put on the poisoned gloves of another, so, too, the play’s re-visiting of the 1572 events may have enacted a kind of sensory assault on early modern audiences who were asked to identify in unsettling ways with the victims of massacre. In discussing this sensory assault, I argue that sensation is by its very nature incommensurate with boundaries, and I also draw on scholarly insights into the senses as having a peculiar relationship with time. Calling attention to the play’s performance of sensory dangers and temporality gone awry, I show Marlowe’s exploration of massacre as an event that cannot be neatly confined. Indeed, I argue that encrypted in the play’s opening scene’s invitation to a “hearing of the mass” is Marlowe’s summoning of the audience to the acutely terrifying experience of experiencing the “soundscape” of massacre. Through its sensory performances, so I ultimately propose, Marlowe’s drama insists upon the permeability of playgoers’ bodies and thus the failure of the most basic categories of otherness.

2. “Stranger to Profit: The Anti-Capitalist Jew of Malta,” James J. Marino, Cleveland State University

Marlowe’s Barabas encloses “infinite riches in a little room” but he never manages to exchange his riches for anything of value. He makes only a single purchase in The Jew of Malta, buying the slave Ithamore, but that purchase is a failure; Barabas cannot securely command Ithamore’s labor. Instead, Ithamore’s blackmail demands reverse the conditions of chattel slavery; instead of purchasing unlimited service for a discrete initial fee, Barabas risks paying endlessly for a discrete initial period of service. A play obsessed with money presents money as worthless; there is nothing for Barabas to buy. Barabas is not the mercantile capitalist that he appears, and his dangerous Otherness does not spring from his wealth. He plays the subversive, destructive Other in the marketplace as in the rest of Malta, a menace to business as to security and peace. He initially strives not to expand his wealth but to concentrate it so thoroughly that it loses its exchange value, entombed in “priceless” objects whose full worth can never be redeemed. Later he focuses on the destruction of economic value at any cost to himself, in a parodic reversal of mercantile practice. Most tellingly, he works to destroy his daughter Abigail’s value upon the marriage market, first by ordering her into a nunnery and then by murdering her suitors; he describes her as a diamond to be bargained for, but is intent on losing his bargain. And given another prize beyond market value, the governorship of Malta, he seeks to throw it away as quickly as possible, whatever it costs him.

3. “Dr. Faustus’ Leg,” Genevieve Love, Colorado College

 This paper uses Faustus’ horse-courser scene to anchor an account of the play’s various articulations of theatrical ontology. A number of the play’s theatrical effects are allied with conjuring, that is, with bringing things into being. Andrew Sofer notes the play’s use of conjuring to evoke the threat and thrill of theatre: “Faustus’s spells enact theatre’s potential to escape from the character’s (and actor’s) control and unwittingly bring into being that which it names.” As Sofer goes on to explain, conjuring, performative speech, “mirror[s] the ontological ambiguity of performance itself.” Does conjuring, does theatre, engage in “representing” or “doing”? Faustus also includes theatrical effects that might be said to reverse the energy of conjuration: effects of dematerialization, decorporealization, disappearance. The horse-courser scene focuses on disintegration: the horse purchased from Faustus “vanishes,” transformed into a “bottle of hay”; when the horse-courser attempts to rouse the sleeping Faustus to confront him about his loss, the offstage decorporealization of the horse is echoed by the (supposed) disaggregation of Faustus’ body, as the man “pulls Faustus by the leg, and pulls it away.” Here, the effects and power of theatre emerge not from bringing-into-being but from a challenge to the coherence of being. The threatened failure of bodily integrity, as well as Faustus’ deployment of a prosthesis, appeal to a discourse of physical disability. How do the brief suggestions of both amputation and prosthesis in the horse-courser scene shape the play’s notion of theatrical presence? What is the relationship between those forms of histrionic power that conjure, and those that disintegrate, being?