Prologue: Chorus one

Synopsis of Chorus 1

The Chorus introduces the play – a tradition that stretches back to the time of ancient Greek theatre. The chorus was once a group of actors. Here, one voice places the play's action in context.

The Chorus tells us that the play is not about epic battles or the fate of men and women of power, but will focus on the fate of a scholar from a humble background. This reflects Marlowe's own life – he was a gifted young man who received his school and university education by gaining scholarships.

The use of the dignified metre of blank verse makes it clear that the play will deal with serious events and ideas.

Commentary on Chorus 1

fields of Thrasimene The battlefields where the legendary African general Hannibal achieved the apparently impossible feat of defeating the Roman army. The chorus claims that Hannibal was favoured by Mars, the god of war.

sporting in the dalliance of love Amusing himself with flirtations.

the pomp of proud audacious deeds The Chorus is anxious to distinguish this play from those that deal with war, politics or daring achievements.

Calliopeintends our Muse to vaunt his heavenly verse In the Classical world, the Muses were nine sisters who were goddesses of the literature and the other arts, who were believed to be the sources of artists' inspiration. The Chorus is probably invoking Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. The reference to the play's ‘heavenly verse' suggests both that it is heaven-sent by divine inspiration – and that it is also of high quality.

Not … Nor… Nor This rhetorical device of repetition emphasises that the play is not to focus on the standard themes of tragedy (the fall of a nobleman / king from fortune, as a result of a mistake or character flaw). These repetitions prepare for the next section of the speech, beginning ‘Only this'.

Germany … Roda … Württemburg Germany was a notable centre of learning at the time the play was written. Roda is the modern Stadtroda, near Weimar. In the B-text of the play, Württemberg is referred to as Wittenberg, which had a famous university. Martin Luther, whose radical ideas transformed the Church, studied there.

divinity Theology. Faustus' studies are at first conventional and the verb ‘graced' is used twice, suggesting that he is both adorned and rewarded for his work. There is also a strong undertone of the Christian idea of Grace. Other positive words, such as ‘profits' and ‘fruitful', support this sense of the value of Faustus' work.

Till swoll'n with cunning … his chiefest bliss The language changes here to reflect the changes in Faustus. Words associated with extremes and excess are used. He moves from ‘excelling all' in debates about ‘heavenly matters' to being ‘swollen with cunning'. Other phrases used from this field include ‘self conceit', ‘glutted', ‘surfeits' and ‘nothing so sweet'.

his chiefest bliss For a Christian this would be his belief in God and hope of salvation.

devilish exercise … learning's golden gifts … cursed necromancy … Nothing so sweet as magic The final part of the Prologue deals in contrasts between ‘chiefest bliss' and ‘magic'; ‘learning' and ‘necromancy'; ‘theology' and ‘devilish exercise'. More on magic and miracles?

Daedulus and Icarus his waxen wings An allusion to the story of Icarus, who was imprisoned with his father Daedalus in the Labyrinth which Daedalus had designed for Minos, king of Crete. Daedalus built for them both wings made of feather and wax, but Icarus ignored his father's warning and flew too near the sun. The wax melted, his wings disintegrated and he fell to his death in the sea. The story was used to illustrate the dangers of pride and over-reaching one's station in life.

More on Icarus: The fall of Icarus was and is often used by writers and artists to warn children and young people of the dangers of ignoring advice and being reckless. However, for adults, it also has the sophisticated idea of going beyond your limits – trying to do what is beyond the powers of mankind or is outlawed by the laws of Nature. ‘Falling' is the result.

The post-Romantic view of Icarus reads his story as a tragedy of lost promise. Icarus was the son of a skilled and intelligent man and he died because he was adventurous.

Investigating Chorus 1

  • In what ways does this Prologue prepare the audience for the next scene?
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