Demonic Temporality in Marlowe’s <i>Doctor Faustus</i>

  • Katherine Walker University of Nevada Las Vegas


“Demonic Temporality in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus” argues that demonic beings and their temporal experiences serve as useful ways to conceptualize human beings existing in multiple timelines in Marlowe’s play. Plotting Satan’s histories in the Bible, demonology, and the ars moriendi tradition, the essay trace how early modern authors attempted to outline precisely how demonic temporality differed from humanity’s own constricted timescapes. Marlowe’s play, however, undercuts any confidence that early modern readers might have gained from these traditions, and I show how Mephistopheles furthers Faustus’s flawed conception of time as strictly earthly. Mephistopheles, too, is bound by certain temporal demands, particularly when he is forced to arrive upon the clowns Robin and Rafe’s ludic conjurations. Ultimately, Mephistopheles manipulates Faustus’s sense of temporality altogether, and the magus only learns at the very end of the play the true import of “everlasting” and Mephistopheles’s role, his experiences, within that sense of infinitude. In staging an aborted death scene that echoes the first half of ars moriendi texts, Marlowe’s disengagement from the genre rests on differences in understanding demonic temporality.