“Thou shalt knowen of oure privetee / Moore than a maister of dyvynytee”: Devils and Damnation in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus


Darragh Greene


This article makes the case that Chaucer’s treatment of devils, damnation, and hell in The Canterbury Tales resonates in Doctor Faustus. Although Marlowe’s play harks back to the morality plays of the late Middle Ages, Mephistopheles’ seriousness and intensity of character transcends that of any devil represented in medieval drama. Yet such qualities may be found in Chaucer’s representation of the yeoman-devil of The Friar’s Tale. This Chaucerian devil’s manner is suave and friendly, and just like Mephistopheles, he is an exploiter of words who takes a special interest in the force and binding implications of illocutionary acts for promises and curses. In addition, Faustus’s resolute questioning of Mephistopheles echoes that of the fictive summoner, who insistently questions the devil in The Friar’s Tale. In both cases, incautious curiosity leads to perdition. Other Chaucerian resonances in Doctor Faustus emerge via The Pardoner’s Tale, particularly in the correspondences between Chaucer’s Pardoner and Marlowe’s Faustus, including their intellectual vanity, overreaching pride, rhetorical skills, and contempt for conventional morality. Nevertheless, Marlowe’s treatment of sin and redemption differs from Chaucer’s; the article thus concludes with a brief discussion of this difference in relation to the The Parson’s Tale, considering how Faustus’s grim fate affirms a tragic vision of life inimical to Chaucer’s comic emphasis on the hope of salvation.

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