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“In both plays, the characters get the punishment they deserve.” (Faustus & Enron)

Both Marlowe’s ‘The tragic history of the life and death of Doctor Faustus’ and Prebble’s 2009 ‘Enron’ are alike in the deserved punishment of the plays’ protagonists as they both present a didactic message of the consequences of pride and gluttony over the resistance of temptation and respect for socially accepted morality. However, the playwrights’ portrayal of the sufficiency (or lack thereof) of Faustus’ and Skilling’s punishments differ, due to the playwrights’ divergent focus of the characters’ rejection of personal responsibility and social responsibility, respectively, both relative to a external force of socially accepted morality force, i.e. God or the law.

Both Marlowe and Prebble are alike in their punishment of characters due to the central didactic warning of the consequences of pride and gluttony and consequent overreaching aims of power, status and wealth. Due to their willfully immoral and excessive behaviour, they are both ultimately responsible for their actions and thus deserving of their punishment. For example, in the chorus, Marlowe establishes Faustus as being “grac’d with doctor’s name” as an academic in “th’ heavenly matters of theology”. Marlowe’s word choice of “grac’d” emphasises Faustus’ lowly born status and reinforcement that he should be grateful to God for his position and knowledge of theology. Yet, Faustus believes his achievements are of his own free will as opposed to God’s intervention, which leads him to be “swollen with the cunning of a self-conceit”. Marlowe uses the adjective “swollen” to evoke Faustus’ gluttony of knowledge, while the self-inflicted noun of “self-conceit” portrays Faustus as deceiving himself to keep intact his pride; a second personification of the Seven Deadly Sins and rejection of gratitude to God. As Faustus tragically believes he is his own free agent, he becomes “glutted with learning’s golden gifts” and believes it acceptable to lust after overreaching and omnipotent knowledge beyond 17th-century theology through “necromantic books”. Marlowe’s frequent use of a semantic field of excessiveness, in this instance gluttony of knowledge and pride of self, acts as a guiding moral compass for the 17th-century Christian audience who would be horrified at Faustus’ portrayal as the “personification of the pride of will and eagerness of curiosity” (Hazlitt) that transgresses the laws of Protestant doctrine by selling his soul to the Devil in return for omnipotent knowledge. Perhaps, Marlowe’s inclusion of the pitfalls of Faustus’ autonomous Self and thirst for knowledge beyond medical scholastic thought reflects the Church’s fear of the rise of Humanism and the beginnings of scientific thought that Faustus embodies. Marlowe’s portrayal of Faustus’ tragic flaws of pride of self and gluttony of knowledge is the prerequisite of his heretical aims of overreaching that Marlowe symbolises in the comparative allusion to Icarus in Faustus’ “waxen wings” being “above his reach”. Thus, Faustus’ willful pride and gluttony and consequent overreaching aims are what initiate his “devilish fall” and eventual deserved punishment of eternal damnation.

Prebble’s punishment of Jeffrey Skilling is similarly deserved due to all-consuming pride, gluttony and consequent wilful ignorance of the immorality of his overreaching aims and actions much like Faustus. For example, Skilling himself admits that his and Enron’s aim is “to change the world”, portraying a tragic hubristic grandeur that leads to him to resulting in corrupt business practices and consequent punishment, reflecting the fact that Skilling is reminiscent of a “Marlovian over-reacher” as stated by Billington. Furthermore, in this opening scene, Prebble uses the dramatic device of “three mice men” who are “feeling their way with sticks” as an allusion to the Three Blind Mice, a nursery rhyme deriving from a story of the Oxford Martyrs who were executed for “blindly” believing in Protestant teachings over Catholic doctrine under Mary I. In this light, Prebble likely included this dramatic device within the Enron advertisement to suggest that Skilling himself is blinded by his own gluttonous aims of wealth, power and status much like Faustus; with Prebble imitating the chorus of ‘Dr Faustus’ that provides a justification of why the characters’ punishments are deserved due to this gluttony and pride. Furthermore, Prebble could also be alluding to the fact that those who surround Skilling are turning a blind eye to his corrupt and immoral actions, referring to Andy Fastow and Ken Lay, and also suggesting that they also deserved punishment. The peak of Skilling’s hubris is presented by Prebble through his arrogant and similarly self-centred belief that “Ha! I’m Enron”. In this instance, Hazlitt’s comment that Faustus is the “personification of the pride of will” also applies to Skilling with the false belief that his and Enron’s achievements are all but his own, wilfully ignoring the work of the thousands below him as well as the business laws he must abide by. A comparison can thus be made between Skilling’s hubristic rejection of the moral business practices within the law with Faustus’ rejection of the natural order and doctrinal morality and laws of Christianity in favour of their self-serving worldview that is driven by their pride. Therefore, Prebble’s punishment of Skilling is similarly deserved due to his “Marlovian over-reaching” that is driven by his wilful pride and gluttony.

The extent of whether Faustus is deserving of eternal damnation is often contested as Marlowe presents Faustus as “both victim and executioner” (Cole). For example, right from the first scene, Faustus is victim to his tragic misinterpretation of Romans 6:23, falsely believing that “The reward of sin is death, that’s hard.”. Marlowe uses the comma separated short clause of “that’s hard.” to emphasise Faustus’ wavering acceptance of the scriptures, with the forceful full stop acting as a sign of his infantile rejection of consequent punishment of sin. Marlowe likely chose to prematurely end the sentence within Romans to invoke both shock and a tragic sense of pity within the audience as the Christian population would be well aware that Faustus did not read the end of the sentence and thus did not realise that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. This establishes Faustus’ warped view that sin is irredeemable, making him unable to gain salvation and forgiveness from Christ and gain “eternal life” through the repentance of his transgressions. In this light, it perhaps is true that this opening scene is a metaphor for the interpretation of the bible in an “ultra-Calvinist manner” (Eriken), with Faustus consequently believing that his fate is predetermined as irredeemable by God, the Author of Evil, stating that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” and believing that consequently all of humanity “must die an everlasting death.” Marlowe’s hyperbolic emphasis of an “everlasting death” reflects the Calvinist belief that, due to the human condition of original sin, we are all unable to attain salvation through Christ of our own will. Marlowe warps illusion and reality by later revealing in Act 5 that this initial scene was a lie similar to Faustus’ own “self-conceit”, with the Devil explaining it was he who “turned the leaves and led thine eye”, with “leaves” referring the pages of the bible and “led” suggesting that Faustus’ misinterpretation of Romans 6:23 was not of his own will but a manipulative rouse to lead him closer to giving into his gluttonous and hubristic temptations. Perhaps, to appease Anglican-ruling James VI and I, Marlowe included this allusion to Calvinist doctrine as a trick of the Devil to deter the Anglican theological status quo of the populous away from such increasingly influential beliefs that are a threat to the Reformed Church of England, similarly to the mocking of the Catholic Church in other scenes. Despite this, his role as his own executioner is greater by wilfully ignoring many warnings and chances of salvation, i.e. the blood congealing on his arm, the Good Angel begging him to read the scriptures, and the Old Man’s plea for repentance. For example, as Faustus’ time draws near, Marlowe uses the character of the old man as a symbolic last chance of salvation, Consequently, as Marlowe presents Faustus’ tragic fall as one of self-damnation, he is thus deserving of his punishment, perhaps ironically reflecting a Christian message of personal responsibility to resist the temptation of worldly pleasures in light of the gluttonous and hypocritical church seizures during the Protestant Reformation in the name of combating the greed and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Prebble presents Skilling as a hedonistic character similar to Faustus, leading him to a deserved punishment of a 24-year prison sentence and a $45 million fine. Although Prebble’s presentation of Jeffrey Skilling is also one of all-consuming hubris, gluttony and consequent wilful ignorance of the immorality of his actions, Skilling is less humanised than the ‘every-man’ of Faustus. Instead, Prebble portrays Skilling as lacking any empathy throughout the play in his aggressive and entitled demeanour, telling having no internal conflict of self-doubt, regret or despair as is with Faustus, and even having no remorse for the consequences of his actions during the Senate trial scene despite 4,500 people having lost their job along with a total of $1 billion in pensions. Similarly to Marlowe, Prebble’s didactic social commentary was also likely influenced by gluttonous historical events, most evidently the relevance of the consequences of a lack of social responsibility following the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Thus, Prebble portrays Skilling’s punishment as insufficient due to the wider-reaching consequences of his actions as opposed to Faustus’ self-contained destruction.

In conclusion, both Marlowe and Prebble portray Faustus’ and Skilling’s punishment as deserved through a didactic warning against the consequences of pride and gluttony. Despite questions of the extent of manipulation of Faustus leading to his downfall, it is his own hubris and lack of personal responsibility, ignoring the Good Angel’s and Old Man’s pleas for repentance and denying himself salvation, thus the responsibility of his actions ultimately lies on him. Conversely, there is no question of Skilling’s responsibility due to his vulgar and remorseless attitude unlike Faustus’ conflicted character, with Prebble villainising him and raising questions as to whether or not his punishment was enough for his socially reckless crimes that he is unsympathetic towards. Despite differing messages of personal and social responsibility that is respective to the plays’ contexts, both Faustus and Skilling favour hedonism and egocentrism over the external morality of God and the law. Thus, Marlowe and Skilling provide a similar didactic message that punishment is deserved in rejection of morality in favour of gluttony and pride.

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