doctor faustus

There is a Wittenberg University in Ohio that my cousin goes to and every time I hear about it, I try not to laugh because can you imagine a super-brilliant genius professor summoning demons and selling his soul to the devil….in Ohio.

The argument for a queer reading of Doctor Faustus is shaky, but there are still elements in the play that can be read through a queer lens, especially in light of the fact that evidence exists to suggest Marlowe himself had homosexual leanings. “Sodomy was linked in the popular imagination of the Renaissance with sorcery and heresy”, and indeed, Faustus is immediately entranced by Mephistopheles when he first conjures the demon. It is, in face, the promise Mephistophele’s servitude that helps to cement Faust’s decision to sell his soul, and he even goes so far as to say “had I as many souls as there by stars, I’d give them all for Mephistopheles”.

The two only grow more inseparable in the next scene, in which Faust passionately swears his allegiance to Lucifer by drawing up a contract in blood and saying that it is done out of his love for Mephistopheles. The demon responds with a strangely devoted aside to the audience: “O what will not I do to obtain his soul!” and the two dissolve into a hellish camaraderie of professions of devotion peppered by endearments such as “my Faustus” and “sweet Mephistopheles”. When Mephistopheles grows tired of Faustus’s obsession with the nature of heaven, he claims that the firmament is “not half so fair as thee or any man that breathes on Earth”, then quickly rationalizes this affectionate statement by posturing that heaven was made for men, therefore men must be superior.

One of the most compelling exchanges between devil and man happens when Faustus, newly sworn into Lucifer’s allegiance, demands that Mephistopheles produce him a wife, for he is “wanton and lascivious”. Mephistopheles scoffs at this request but brings him a wife all the same, a devil dressed as a woman. There’s something to be said for this trussing up of carnal desire in the gruesome, fulfilling garments of femininity, this broad gesture towards the closeted nature of sexual expression in the Jacobean period. When Faustus takes offence at the joke, Mephistopheles leads him away from the sacrament of marriage with a seductive “if thou lovest me, think no more of it” and promises that he will provide Faustus with a myriad of lovers “beautiful as was bright Lucifer before his fall”. With the human feminine out of the picture, Mephistopheles provides Faust with a lover in the conjured form of Helen of Troy, who is in all probability a devil in disguise herself since Faustus states later that it isn’t within the abilities of Hell to resurrect bodies of the dead or command their true spirits. In the end it is demons Faust is taking to bed night after night, demons whose gender is either presented as masculine or meaningless, and a demon who commands the heart of our tormented protagonist.

—  That One Time I Banged Out a Queer Reading of Doctor Faustus in Two Nights and Got a B on the Paper, by S.T.Gibson