Reapproaching Magic in the Renaissance

Jessica Leigh

One of the defining characteristics of Renaissance England is the constant conflict and interplay between traditional Christian values and new horizons of thought, invigorated by newfound interest in classical Greek philosophy and literature as well as rising socioeconomic mobility. Yet these two ideological modes do not always work in stark conflict, but rather are interwoven in the Renaissance struggle to place and define persisting old beliefs and traditions in the New World, and in addition, to do the same for new beliefs within the pre-existing Christian framework of society. Here, it becomes more important than ever to form new classifications around different systems of magic and the supernatural, even when they appear to blur the lines between pre-, anti-, a-, and purely Christian forms of magic and belief. Approaching magic thus becomes an act of probing the limits of human power and the ethical complexities of the supernatural, the outcomes of its usage and the morality of its existence dependent on its categorization. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Jonson’s The Alchemist all offer valuable insight into Renaissance theater as a forum for exploring the moral quandaries of magic and either reaffirming older beliefs found in medieval and ancient times, or forming subversive new attitudes. These three playwrights reassess medieval beliefs in magic as well as the rising Renaissance attitudes observed around them, not simply throwing out tradition but rather critically reworking these beliefs for their own time.

When analyzing how Renaissance playwrights presented changing ideas towards magic, we must first look at the earlier historical context of English culture and attitudes involving magic going back to the Middle Ages. As Michael D. Bailey points out in “From Sorcery to Witchcraft,” witchcraft was long condemned by clerical authorities in England, but was not always treated in the same extreme manner. Bailey explains that “The fully developed concept of witchcraft that held force throughout the years of the great European witch-hunts appeared only in the early fifteenth century,” and that, quite notably, they “burned out in the seventeenth century” (960). Thus as the Middle Ages progressed, concerns over magical practices reached a head, and yet, the violently condemning attitudes that defined the witch-hunts appear to have been significantly tempered during the time in which Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson wrote. The distinctions between different forms of magic is also important here, as even in the Middle Ages, sorcery referred to “the simple performance of harmful magic … suspicious at best” while witchcraft referred to a “fully developed stereotype” which “made possible the widespread anxiety and the sheer number of executions for this crime which took place during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (Bailey 962). While negative clerical and public attitudes towards magic were largely negative long beforehand, severe widespread negative action towards those accused of using magic was thus dependent on the classification of magic as witchcraft and therefore demonic. The importance of this categorization is also marked by the presence of magic as “an important and vital aspect of many areas of medieval culture,” evidencing that certain forms of magic could be seen as morally neutral or even outright acceptable, though Christian culture and theology influenced the increasing classification of more or all magic as being morally reprehensible over time, particularly as “the rise of various types of learned magic, including astronomy, alchemy, and spiritual and demonic magic” spread throughout the educated elites of Europe (Bailey 963). Anti-magic sentiment is, in this context, reactionary against a widespread culture of exploration into various forms of magic and their abilities to influence human life and fortunes for good or ill. This resulted in the “conflation, in clerical minds, of two very different magical systems,” meaning the negative grouping of outright demonic or morally dubious magic with the “widespread and diffuse system of common spells, charms, blessings, potions, powders, and talismans employed by many people at all levels of medieval society, including, it should be noted, many clerics” (Bailey 965). Consolidation of clerical power and a clear-cut condemning stance towards laymen taking supernatural power into their own hands to the detriment of the church was thus one of the core elements fueling negative overarching classification of magic, though the enactment of witch-hunts rested on the collaboration of society as a whole and a cycle of changing attitudes and actions supporting one another.

Yet as Bailey points out, the Renaissance became a time of philosophical realignment and open questioning of the issues surrounding practices previously deemed to be witchcraft. Lauren Kassell, whose works include a wealth of information relating to magic in medieval and early modern England, documents the radical shift in ideology during the 1600’s that called into question the dogmatic grouping of all forms of magic into one sinful category. For example, though first published in France in 1625, The History of Magick by Gabriel Naudé would afterwards make its way to England as a bold and clear-cut redefining of magical categories, aiming to “clear the ground of the false histories that had been written for the previous two hundred years” by arguing for certain forms of magic, natural philosophy, and mathematics to be recognized as licit once again, notably defending great thinkers such as “Zoroaster, Socrates, Roger Bacon, Agrippa, and ultimately Virgil, whose names had been sullied by the term magician” (Kassell, “All Was This Land” 107-108). While Naudé did not hold a positive outlook towards all forms of magic, it is telling that he was able to convincingly argue for a return to public acceptance of schools of thought and magic that once prompted burnings at the stake. Civil war and puritanism would later exacerbate concerns over witchcraft which directly conflicted with the surge of positive public interest in the occult, but during the early 1600’s, the tide was being turned towards peaceful curiosity and acceptance, even reinvigorated widespread belief in certain types of magic that constituted “natural magic, a divinely imparted art” (Kassell, “All Was This Land” 111). It is during this period of initial realignment, shifting for a time away from puritanical ideas and once more towards open exploration of knowledge and divine power, that the great Renaissance playwrights composed their plays dealing with magic in its different forms, entrenched in debates over sanctioned versus illicit magic.

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus deals with the moral classification of magic in a Christian framework and the limits of human power. Its namesake main character, Faustus himself, represents a boundary-pushing intellectual willing to explore all available forms of knowledge, as he boasts not only of his skill in medicine but also his familiarity with philosophy, history, and law. He is bold in his enthusiasm towards the newly invigorated study of magic and the occult, exclaiming

Lines, circles, schemes, letters and characters!

Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.

O what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honour, of omnipotence

Is promised to the studious artisan! (Marlowe 1.1.51-55)

Faustus’ ideas in this first scene appear impressive, holding within them the spirit of unquenchable curiosity that drove many intellectuals of his time and the daring to approach forms of magic deemed illicit. Indeed, real-world examples from the early 1600’s mirror this initial enthusiasm to explore different categories of knowledge that were previously held to be simple witchcraft or sorcery. For example, as Kassell also chronicles, the astrologer, alchemist, and physician Simon Forman created an enormous body of work on these various topics, “devoted several reams of paper and dozens of quills and bottles of ink to the study of alchemy and magic,” and documented his “pursuit of the secrets of nature in ancient texts, the alembic, and the streets of London … [amalgamating] numerous alchemical, magical, and medical traditions in a quest that his contemporaries would have called chymical, hermetical, Paracelsical, philosophical, iatrochemical, or spagyrical physic” (“Medicine and Magic” 160). Forman would have represented the ideal of a scholar of magic in the early seventeenth century, an example for Faustus to follow if not one of his fellows in spirit. Forman’s desire to reach groundbreaking medical discoveries through study and experiment, and even his ultimate goal of amassing enormous magical power through attainment of the philosopher’s stone, mirror some of Faustus’ early energy as he pushes aside his previous significant medical successes to proclaim, “Yet thou art still but Faustus, and a man. / Wouldst thou make man to live eternally, / Or, being dead, raise them to life again, / Then this profession were to be esteemed” (Marlowe 1.1.23-26). The type of power Faustus describes here is a popular interpretation of the potential powers of the philosopher’s stone, its attainment a conundrum approached with enormous passion by real-world Renaissance scholars who sought it for its supposed abilities to unlock near-unlimited alchemical power, making possible the curing of diseases, the indefinite extension of life, and even possibly necromancy. To this extent, Marlowe’s infamous titular character is right in line with the best the early seventeenth century had to offer in terms of scientific exploration and the reorganization of certain taboos into valid areas of study. However, where Faustus fails—and does so quickly—lies both in a critique of the inherent limits of human power and spirit, and in the importance of continuing to recognize the boundaries of licit studies in magic even in an era of revived openness to its varieties.

Faustus’ hubris, as well as his ignorance of the still-standing importance of Christian faith, calls into question the optimistic view of new Renaissance magicians and alchemists as morally righteous or even neutral from a Christian standpoint. His proclamations of desiring power over life and death, mirroring the abilities of the sought-after philosopher’s stone, quickly escalate into selfish unquenchable desire, arising not from a place of divine goodness but rather of personal interest. Furthermore, Faustus unknowingly self-imposes limits on his attainment of power via his character flaws; he moves from grand statements against Christendom to playing childish pranks and giving the Pope an offensive but ultimately mediocre knock in the head, accomplishing little to nothing he proclaimed himself to be pursuing. The grandiose, noble image of the boundary-pushing scholar is quashed by the image of a surprisingly childish man whose inner turmoil has led to his doom. Even his emboldened first speech becomes tempered by his flawed Latin and incorrect quotes, foreshadowing the incompleteness of his knowledge and his naivety in proclaiming his accomplishments. His interpretations of incomplete Biblical passages, ignoring the context, also draw attention to his lack of understanding of Christian philosophy. As Joseph Westlund notes in “The Orthodox Christian Framework of Marlowe’s Faustus,” there is an “irony” to Faustus’ behavior. Faustus is “reaching for the infinite with a very limited manner of thinking; despite his boundless imagination, Faustus is unable to recognize the validity of central Christian truths” (Westlund 192). As Westlund continues to point out, Faustus’ proclamation of the hopelessness of his situation, prompting an irreversible descent into sin, is one of ignorance: “He quotes only the first half of the familiar verse, and omits the crucial point that it makes: ‘For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23) … Faustus distorts his text to bring it into line with what he thinks is relevant to his own position” (194). In an overtly Christian world, it is fitting that Faustus’ unquenchable desire and inability to fully understand and/or accept Christian belief leads to his doom. This aspect of Faustus’ demise links his failings in character with issues of theology and the categorization of magic. The direct result of his incomplete belief is his pact with Mephistopheles and his oaths to Lucifer, the ultimate in unshakably illicit magic.

In Doctor Faustus, despair springing from a lack of understanding of God’s forgiveness is what allows Faustus to descend into illicit magic. Westlund argues of the progression of Faustus’ character in relation with despair and sin that “Faustus’ presumption in the first scene arises from his despair of salvation, and his continued presumption and life of sin lead him to an even greater despair in the final scene” (197). The ignorance, despair, and sin Faustus struggles through form a cycle, feeding into one another and compounding one another to the point that Faustus feels hopeless even in the face of divinely offered salvation via angels and the wise words of earthly Christians. Faustus faces damnation not only for engaging in magic, but for committing himself to an unrepentant life bound to explicitly illicit, anti-Christian practice and repeated denial of salvation. The reality of his devilish pact is in contrast with the lofty, even charitable goals he proposes in the first scene. While this distinction sets Faustus apart from devout Christian practitioners and scholars of astrology, alchemy, and other forms of licit magic and philosophy, it also serves as a powerful reminder that magical practice and the search for knowledge held the potential to be corrupted or skewed into the illicit if not approached with care and clear Christian awareness.

It is hardly the fantastical feats which Faustus achieves through magic that define the sin into which he descends. Rather, as Robert Ornstein argues, Faustus’ “astonishing adventures in sorcery” do not “in themselves sustain the essential drama of the hero’s progress toward damnation” (1378). I would disagree with Ornstein’s assertion that “the elements of the supernatural in other Elizabethan plays are merely literary, drawn from folklore and popular superstition, and allied to the fantasy of dreams rather than the speculations of philosophy” as, for instance, Shakespeare’s use of supernatural events such as Queen Margaret’s prophecies/curses and the ghosts which appear in the scene before Richard’s death are serious representations of divine justice defining the real world in Richard III. However, Ornstein’s further claim that “for Marlowe…the dream of transcendent or supernatural power has momentous intellectual seriousness” is undeniable in the face of the philosophical struggles of Faustus (1378). The comedic hijinks of Faustus’ magic do not define his doom, but rather the deeper philosophical implications of hopeless engagement with an inherently illicit form of magic. Furthermore, Faustus’ self-dooming defiance of heavenly law draws attention to the quandary that “inevitably man’s attempts at greatness must break against a universal order which is predicated on, and which demands, human obedience and denial” (1380). In a Christian society, there is no easy solution to Faustus’ ambition and unwillingness to put his faith wholly in God other than for Faustus to be damned and for the good masses to beware. Yet despite Faustus’ clear failings and even foolishness, an element of the almost admirable is present in his character, in his daring to seek out the limits of human potential and mastery of the earthly world. Indeed, were Faustus nothing but villainous, his story would fail to be tragic. Rather, Faustus is entrapped not only by his own earthly desires and persistent despair in the face of offered redemption, but also by a universal order that does—or must—punish Faustus’ curiosity for the supernatural. He exists in a world which has slowly learned again to accept meager tinctures, potions and charms, but allows control over one’s own destiny only through humble obedience and conformity to divine law, landing Faustus’ would-be radical self-realization firmly in the realm of the illicit. To simply praise Faustus, a sinner, or to ignore his ignorance would certainly go too far in Marlowe’s time, yet the outcome of the play leaves us with a telling note of sympathy as Faustus descends, terrified, into hell.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest may first appear to contrast heavily with Doctor Faustus’ treatment of magic-usage, as its most prominent and influential character, Prospero, wields enormous magical power arguably on par with or in some respects greater than that of Faustus. And yet the result is not his doom, but rather a neat resolution of the story’s conflicts. The categorical distinction of his magic is central here, as Ariel and the other spirits he uses to achieve his goals are not demons like Mephistopheles, and Prospero’s speech in relation to his magic references both pre-Christian mythos and a-Christian English folk beliefs:

Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves

And ye that on the sands with printless foot

Do chase the ebbing Neptune …

… and you whose pastime

Is to make midnight mushrooms. (5.1 33-39)

The references to elves, also known in folklore as faeries, and the Roman god Neptune, counterpart to the Greek Poseidon, paint a much more morally neutral image than that of Faustus’ form of sorcery. Both these schools of magic would have been known even in the Middle Ages, and before the increasing strictness of witch-hunt ideology, been seen as harmless references denoting either scholarly knowledge in the case of Roman mythology or simple allusion to widely accepted folk belief in the case of elves. Thus Shakespeare depicts a shift back to this stance from complete anti-magic dogma, allowing Prospero to employ licit forms of magic to benefit himself and others. Even despite his goals being in part selfish, and the incredible powers he attains far above and beyond those expected of a humble Christian man, he is spared the punishment Faustus endures for limitless overreaching and sin in consorting with devils. However, the categorization of Prospero’s magic is not wholly neat and simple, and his final abjuration of his “rough” magic points again towards the importance of humbleness and the possible immorality of magic used without limit.

Abjuring his magic, Prospero declares in continuation of his aforementioned references to the supernatural sources of his magic:

… But this rough magic

I here abjure; and when I have required

Some heavenly music—which even now I do—

To work mine end upon their senses that

This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,

Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,

And deeper than did ever plummet sound

I’ll drown my book (5.1.50-57).

Cosmo Corfield notes the critical debate over Prospero’s meaning in this speech, writing that “Critics divide over whether ‘rough’ directs a strong sense of disgust against the magic, or whether it is meant less strongly, merely indicating a provisional abjuration,” going on to offer the perspective that Prospero’s speech could denote that “His ‘project’ is simply undergoing a metamorphosis, and will be successfully attained through the subsequent exercise of more refined (less ‘rough’) means” (32). Firstly, the idea of Prospero’s “rough” magic being unrefined appears less likely given his significant accomplishments throughout the text. It is possible that his skills in magic could be further refined, particularly in the sense of fine-tuning, but Prospero’s awareness of his high level of magical achievement is evident. Furthermore, when determining the more likely meaning behind Prospero’s usage of the word “rough”, we should note both the dark undertones and potentials of Prospero’s magic, as well as his apparent motivations.

As Corfield also mentions, Prospero’s magic does not only blend morally neutral forms of the supernatural, but also contains a hinted-at undercurrent of the illicit, as “Shakespeare’s borrowings from Medea’s incantation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (the accepted source of the ‘Ye elves’ speech, lines 33-50) selectively stress the ‘dark side of Propsero’s art’” (32). In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Medea’s impressive power both directly involves immoral actions as well as encourages them; like Prospero, her power allows her to pursue revenge and escape from the done deed unscathed. Prospero avoids fully realizing this dark side to his magic, as he ultimately chooses reconciliation, but his initial plot for revenge implies the ability to warp even this neutral magic into evil. It is up to Prospero to cut off his usage of magic before he descends into Faustian sin, according to Corfield: “Instead of pursuing appropriate theurgic ends, he has chosen to ‘court’ the ‘auspicious star’ so as to pursue a revenge plot. He has misapplied [supernatural power] and, in light of this failure, must abjure it” (43). From this perspective, it is not the incompleteness or lack of skill in Prospero’s magic that causes him to turn away from it, but rather his own human failings and understanding of his moral responsibility. Unchecked magic opens the possibility for Prospero to act with cruel vengeance, like Ovid’s Medea, though he finally decides to turn away from revenge and to forgiveness instead. Before this shift in Prospero’s actions, the pursuit of revenge is “morally contaminating … As a revenger Prospero assumes the powers of godhead, setting himself up as a substitute for heaven” (41). In the Christian framework of Renaissance England, man seizing supernatural ability to dole out moral justice in the form of punishment is distinctly illicit as it puts aside faith in the ultimate judgment of God, attempting to take what is a theologically divine power for oneself. Thus Prospero’s plot to reclaim his throne and provide his daughter with her birthright status once more are acceptable even through the usage of magic, but it must be stopped before exacting punishment.

Prospero is able to maintain his status as a hero and morally acceptable magician, then, through turning to Christian forgiveness as well as cutting off future access to potentially dangerous magic in a humble act of self-denial. His original failure to rule properly because of his preoccupation with magic adds to this analysis, stressing the negative consequences of magic practiced without restriction and the final importance in Prospero’s character arc of his decision to move on from magic. The result is a look at magic which balances moderate fears of the negative potential of sorcery and Christian humility in regard to the earthly powers of man as a qualifying factor in acceptance of magic derived from a-Christian and pre-Christian systems. Because of this balance, no longer is Prospero the sorcerer to be burned at the stake like his late medieval predecessors, or cast into Hell like Faustus—rather, he is applauded as the main driving force behind The Tempest and the in-story creator of its happy ending.

Between periods of particular Puritan pressure reviving witch-hunt ideology—mainly during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I “and the period of the civil wars”—the study of alchemy boomed again, spurred by its relative safety from roughly 1600 to 1640 (Trevor-Roper xi). It was in the year 1610, in the midst of this period of excited study and relatively public discussion of alchemy that Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist was first performed. Public enthusiasm over alchemy had grown to such a height that, according to John S. Mebane, “it was a significant force behind movements for political and religious reform in the period” and had come to embody “a view of man as a divine creature who can learn to control the creative forces of nature… dependent on an unorthodox theory of private divine inspiration” (117). Alchemy was practiced with the goal of using a special, personal relationship with God to physically shape the world, and well-known alchemists proclaimed their goal to be “to perfect and purify what nature leaves imperfect” (Mebane 119). Through this area of study and associated pro-alchemic movements, the occult had become intertwined with Christian religiosity, and an unparalleled idealism towards approaching the world’s problems had arisen. This attitude is specifically what Jonson confronts in The Alchemist, questioning not only the excessive utopianism associated with alchemy and its supporters, but also the founding philosophical ideal driving the practice of alchemists—that is, their vision of man as being able to attain a demigod-like status through divine revelation. In the face of what posed itself as being an infinitely charitable pursuit, The Alchemist fires back with a portrait of roguish tricksters exploiting basic human folly and foolishness, and “the rhetoric of individualism and reform [becoming] the tool of a vicious megalomania” (Mebane 124). Both the self-proclaimed “alchemist,” his cohorts, and the gulls (fools) in the play satirically reflect Jonson’s criticism of real-world alchemists and their supporters, as well as the new form of self-serving, profiteering Renaissance individualism which alchemy was used to justify.

This dual charitable-idealism/megalomania is best demonstrated in the character of Sir Mammon, whose highly romanticized proclamations of his plans for use of the philosopher’s stone, once attained, start out as ultimate goals of utopian world-building and quickly shift into self-centered materialism and debauchery. Mammon begins to explain his desire for the philosopher’s stone by using conventional descriptive language on the matter: “The perfect ruby, which we call elixir … / Can convert honour, love, respect, long life, / Give safety, valour … / I’ll undertake, withal, to fright the plague / Out o’ the kingdom, in three months,” (2.1.47, 50-51, 68-69). However, he is fast to reveal the megalomaniacal desires that truly cause him to blindly go along with Subtle’s schemes, shifting from his initial apparent goal of serving others charitably to attaining “a list of wives, and concubines” (2.2.35) as well as an extensive list of fine material possessions. It becomes clear that the Christian spirit of charity supposedly driving alchemy and Mammon’s desire for the philosopher’s stone, as in his proclaimed goal of curing the plague, is only a passing justification for his true goals of revelry and riches. He is so blinded by his desire that even when Surly attempts to reveal the truth of Subtle’s scam, Mammon protests, “No, he’s a rare physician, do him right. / An excellent Paracelsian!” (2.3.238-239), comparing Face to the famous German alchemist Paracelsus, who had also written on the moral/religious philosophy backing his studies. Jonson’s other characters in The Alchemist, such as the humorously hypocritical Puritans, also showcase a similar form of deception that allows them, in turn, to be deceived, focused as they are on their own self-interests. Tribulation declares that his goal is overtly religious, stating, “For the restoring of the silenced Saints, / Which ne’er will be, but by the philosopher’s stone” (3.2.39-40), but in reality, it is wealth the Puritans seek. They are willing to excuse the attainment of it by any means, as Tribulation justifies it: “Casting of money may be lawful” (3.2.152). Their hypocritical self-interest allows them to be strung along by Subtle in his own wealth-generating plot.

Jonson’s criticism of the occult thus comes not from a Puritanical standpoint of fear of the demonic or sinful; the play in fact even criticizes Puritans who supported alchemy with the justification of ideal Christian spirit and goodly goals backing the pursuit of a stone promised to create infinite wealth and earthly immortality. Rather, Jonson points out the potential gulling of devious, even Machiavellian salespeople pushing supposed alchemical miracles, as well as the apparent egotism of backers who desired a Faustian level of power. In The Alchemist, alchemy itself is not presented as an illicit form of magic to be feared or punished like Faustus’ deal with the powers of Hell; rather, it is exposed as a con game playing off of gulls’ wishful thinking. Jonson’s take is refreshingly practical, not chastising the genuine goals of intellectual exploration held by many true alchemists of his time, but rather warning against its potential to be exploited, particularly in the bustling proto-capitalist urban streets of London. This surprisingly religiously-neutral approach to the theological/ethical debate over alchemy demonstrates a shift in public opinion towards the occult and breaches into new fields of knowledge and human power. Moving towards more pragmatic arguments of honesty and the realities of alchemy as business and away from the previously-unquestionable chastisement of the alchemical as demonic would lead to the practice of the scientific method as we know it, and open up the field of modern chemistry out of the basic knowledge of elements and chemical reactions garnered through alchemical experiments. For instance, after the events of the English Civil War and the collapse of the Protectorate, the newly-crowned Charles II would return from abroad with an alchemist in his court, showing that even despite its ties with political radicals and proponents of the Puritan revolution, alchemy had finally turned from a matter of enormous religious controversy into a vital field of study that was there to stay regardless of the powers in place and their distaste for their opponents’ philosophies. The Alchemist is therefore, despite its overtly negative take on alchemy as a sham, a step in the direction of innovation, condemning exploitation of alchemy as business and citing harmful attitudes involved with it, rather than hindering it through outright condemnation of the field as a whole. Despite the clear skepticism the play presents towards grandiose claims and the shady dealings of alchemists-for-hire, the arena of debate it opens is in contrast to previously-held extreme late medieval opinions of magic and therefore marks a step forwards in classification of the occult and public allowance of its practice.

The Renaissance is often posed neatly as a time period that ascended beyond the dogmatic orthodoxy of the Middle Ages; aforementioned medieval stances towards magic and extensive practice of witch-hunts are cited frequently. However, these three major Renaissance playwrights reveal that Christian philosophy remained enormously important. Socio-economic and political power shifts following the Late Middle Ages created a radically different cultural context in which to re-approach magical categorization, the limits of human power accessed through the occult, and studies into fields previously branded illicit. That infamous Renaissance spirit of enterprise is intermingled in these plays with the knowledge of moral limits. Faustus strays much too far outside the bounds of Christian morality, and becomes, in his own mind, lost to the ever-available hope of repentance; Prospero uses enormous a-Christian magic to craft anew a royal future for himself and his daughter, but must self-consciously reject that magic to be truly moral; alchemy largely ceases to hold innately sinful, anti-Christian connotations, but takes on a new controversy of the deceit by businessmen and hypocrisy of alchemy’s supporters. Rather than closing the book on medieval theological debates, these plays open up the arena for a new era and new discussions, helping to reshape philosophical views surrounding magic which would contribute not only to the ending of witch-hunts but also to the development of chemistry, all still within a Christian framework of ethics and belief in the divine.


Works Cited

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Corfield, Cosmo. “Why Does Prospero Abjure His ‘Rough Magic’?” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, 1985, pp. 31-48.

Jonson, Ben. The Alchemist. Ben Jonson: Four Plays, edited by Robert N. Watson, Methuen Drama, 2014, pp. 345-512.

Kassell, Lauren. “‘All Was This Land Full Fill’d of Faerie,’ or Magic and the past in Early Modern England.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 67, no. 1, 2007, pp. 107-122.

—. Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman – Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician. Oxford UP, 2007.

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Christopher Marlowe: Four Plays, edited by Brian Gibbons, Methuen Drama, 2011, pp. 463-588.

Mebane, John S. “Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: Utopianism and Religious Enthusiasm in ‘The Alchemist.’” Renaissance Drama, vol. 10, 1979, pp. 117-139.

Mendelsohn, J. Andrew. “Alchemy and Politics in England 1649-1665.” Past & Present, no. 135, 1992, pp. 30-78.

Ornstein, Robert. “Marlowe and God: The Tragic Theology of Dr. Faustus.” PMLA, vol. 83, no. 5, 1968, pp. 1378-1385.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Norton Shakespeare, 3rd ed., edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2016, pp. 1727-1788.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh. The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century. Liberty Fund, Inc., 1967.

Westlund, Joseph. “The Orthodox Christian Framework of Marlowe’s Faustus.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 191-205.


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