Marlowe's anatomy of desire

Shepard, Alan Clarke, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kirsch, Arthur, Department of English, University of Virginia

Klaus Theweleit's analysis of the cultural artifacts of the Freikorps, German fascists between the first and second world wars, provides a theoretical frame for this study of the nature of desire in Marlowe's major plays.

I demonstrate that Marlowe's characters always experience desire as an historically- and culturally- determined force, and that his plays interrogate the various languages of desire by which society constitutes and reconstitutes itself. Marlowe's inquiries have a faustian sweep: marriage, platonic friendship, capitalism, asceticism, witchcraft and Catholicism all come under his scrutiny.

The playwright exposes these languages as insidiously destructive. Although they promise a character the satisfaction of desire through obedience, in fact they provide no exit from the dialectic of law and desire: they never forfeit their control over the individual who submits: instead, they reproduce their own power by inculcating in the characters fantasies that prove to be self-destructive.

In the bleak Marlovian world, there is only one escape from the repression of culture--the path of the soldier-male (as Theweleit calls fascists), whose genocidal efforts destroy culture itself. In Marlowe's vision, one either kills civilization, a la Tamburlaine, or one submits, as do all Marlowe's other characters. Soldier-males survive. The others pay with their lives.

This study maps out Marlowe's bleak vision, from Tamburlaine, through Edward II and The Jew of Malta, to Doctor Faustus.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Marlowe, Christopher -- 1564-1593 -- Criticism and interpretation, Desire in literature
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