Donne’s Desire to Die

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Now I know with finals coming up we can all share a little bit of wanting that sweet, sweet, bliss of death if it will at least mean that we finally get more than three hours of sleep or so that we can skip that Ochem final, but John Donne really has us beat when it comes to wanting to die. This man led a tough life from the start. His father died when Donne was four and he lost two sisters and several other relatives. Of course it didn’t help that he was a Catholic, but even then this isn’t too much reason to die. He was even fine through his stint in university, attending both Oxford and Cambridge but failing to gain degrees from either because he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. Even then, Donne pushed onward, suffering his brother’s death while attending law school. Then something sorta strange happened, he uprooted himself and traveled Europe for a little while, even fighting against the Spanish alongside Sir Walter Raleigh. People are pretty unsure of why he decided to do this, maybe to take a break from England Protestantism for a bit, but what’s important is what happens next.

       Donne came ban-engraving-of-john-donneack and fell in love with a lovely girl by the name of Anne More. Of course this is where his luck begins to change for the worse. He elopes with her, but is later arrested and thrown in jail along with his love. A minister marries them officially there but the father of the bride refuses to accept it and therefore refuses to hand over her dowry. While married he had many children and it is not with their life, but their death that Donne’s obsession was revealed. With his wife he had twelve children but just over half of them survived, driving Donne into an ever deepening despair, pondering suicide as the escape from his misery, “I flatter myself with this hope that I am dying too, for I cannot waste faster than by such griefs” -John Donne. It was in the throes of this despair that he wrote Biathanatos, his defense of suicide, almost an attempt to absolve himself of what he might do despite the strict Catholic teachings against it. Donne tried to support his view by claiming that Christ committed suicide by voluntarily going to the cross, and therefore in the effort of all Christians to be Christ-like, suicide is acceptable. Of course it must be worth noting that by this point his Catholic upbringing failed him completely and he made the switch to the Church of England.donne-shroud

       From here on Donne was consumed with death. He wrote many poems and other works, often having a running theme of dying and death spread among the more “normal” works. Mere weeks before he died, despite extreme illness he gave a sermon titled Death’d Duel, that in many ways reflected all of his ideas of death and dying intertwined closely with his faith. Even closer to death, convinced by a friend, Donne hired a portrait painter to paint him before death. Surprising everyone (which really shouldn’t have been a surprise at this point) he was ready for the painter with a shroud pulled tightly around him so that he could have a picture of what dead him would look like. It got even weirder when he then set that portrait by his bedside so he could look at it everyday and get excited that he would die soon.

So the moral of the story here is that no matter what sort of tests you got coming up you can’t beat John Donne’s crappy life, and even after his defense of suicide he still didn’t kill himself!




The Beard Tax of 1535 (and today?)

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Before you ask: yes, that is exactly what it sounds like. In 16th century England, King Henry VIII placed a tax on beards. In fact, it wasn’t simply a flat tax, whether one had only a little stubble or a massive case of wizard face, but instead it was an emblem of wealth. The fine increased with status: the closer to the king, the higher the tax (which was actually pretty fair for Henry considering, well, it’s Henry VIII.) Of course, for himself, he was exempt from the tax despite his whiskers. It’s assumed that he possibly introduced this weird tax in order to raise funds for the kingdom, or he might have simply imposed it just for funsies. Who knows? It is debated whether or not this claim is true, as there is not much straightforward evidence to support the case. However, despite it’s unnecessary nature, the fine was not one of the craziest things Henry ever did.

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The tax apparently did not last very long, but was however later reinstated by none other than his daughter Elizabeth I, the dress code queen herself. Despite loving to adorn herself, Elizabeth was known for implementing a dress code on her country in order to keep the classes from mingling and in order to save money on luxurious cloth. Implementing a levy on beards is not totally surprising coming from her. Her law was that if a beard was older than two weeks old it needed to be paid for. Here is the proclamation from the Virgin Queen herself noting which nobles could wear what, in case curiosity strikes.

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The most fascinating point of interest, however, is not that this tax existed, but that an English barber in today’s society wants to put a tax on beards. He literally heard about the Henry’s tax and thought, “You know what? That sounds like a good idea. Let’s bring that back.” (Not a direct quote). The plan that he wants to introduce is one which puts a £50 fine on smaller beards and a £100 fine on bushy beards in order to reduce the deficit. The question is, where is the line drawn? What constitutes a modest beard or a wilder one? What makes the difference between £50? In the same article that explains Anthony Kent’s beard tax plan, beards have apparently “become one of the hottest fashion accessories for men in the past few years,” but beards are not a new trend? I applaud the guy for his creativity but I seriously believe that men will throw a fit before paying extra money to have a beard.

Some examples of today’s beard trends (via a Google image search):

Image result for trendy beards 2016 Image result for trendy beards 2016 Image result for trendy beards 2016 Image result for trendy beards 2016

My personal favorite trend is the glitter beards:

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Marriage Made in Hell: John Milton’s Love for Divorce


When your husband is twice your age and still hasn’t outgrown the pretentious writer phase, it might be time to untie the knot.

But with the Anglican Church peering down its nose at your personal life, such a feat is out of the question. With little choice, you pack your bags and head to Mom’s for a night or two. . . Or three years. Meanwhile, hubby’s left out to dry, hanging by the still-legally-tied knot. But instead of incessantly chasing back after you, he takes the fight to the Man – and wins (sort of).


Starting in 1643, respected official and talented poet John Milton wrote a series of tracts advocating for divorce and went toe-to-toe with the Westminster Assembly (think: a churchy Parliament), raising no small amount of sand; most of his contemporary scholars were foaming at the mouth. However, somewhere between his position and charisma, he managed to sway the Assembly; as a result, they enacted the Westminster Confession of Faith, legalizing divorce only if a spouse left or cheated.

Through the four tracts (The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, The Judgment of Martin Bucer, Tetrachordon, and Colasterion), Milton declares that divorce should be an option for couples who simply aren’t compatible on a personal level. He shattered the traditional view of marriage as a means to an end (legitimate fornication and thus procreation) and instead offered a picture of it as a gateway to a happier life. He argues that good marriage provides a fulfillment and peace of mind not found in the single life, but when partners drift on the rocks or don’t see eye to eye, it drains all enjoyment from life. In other words, if you liked it and put a ring on it, then you should be able to take the ring off when it starts to cut your circulation.


So a 17th century Englishman disagrees with the church and respects individual feelings? This must’ve come from some great philosophical epiphany, right? Wrong.

In 1642, Milton married his first wife, Mary Powell. She was around 16, and he was 35 – cue the reality TV producers. Mary left him shortly afterwards and returned to her family, living with them for the next 3 years. The circumstances of their marriage and her reasons for leaving are unclear; what we do know is that Milton made a few attempts to get her back, all of which failed miserably. Cue Drake and The Script.

After a healthy dose of moping, Milton grew frustrated with the fact that he was still married to a woman no longer under his roof. Thus followed the realization that this could happen to any poor sap in his shoes, and so he started the tracts. In short, a single man (pun slightly intended) moved the mighty hand of the Anglican Church because he was salty about being dumped.

Some scholars opine that Paradise Lost is dotted with hints of Milton’s hang-up with breakups, especially through his portrayal of Adam and Eve. Indeed, it harmonizes well with the pervasive motif of separation throughout Milton’s life, considering his involvement in the English Civil War and the subsequent influence on his magnum opus. Regardless, he made a robust case for a necessary institution that has now become an American tradition. So now, when the repressed memories of your parents’ custody battle come back to haunt you, be sure to thank Milton.






Blindness Couldn’t Stop John Milton

“To be blind is not to be miserable; not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable.” –John Milton


Even when John Milton was a young boy he enjoyed staying up late into all hours of the night to read books by candlelight alone. Later in life he began to experience severe headaches. Caused by the candlelight reading? Eyestrain perhaps? What about a life full of writing? I guess that it was only destined for Milton to love reading the way that he did. His father was a scrivener, which meant it was his job to be able to read and write. Milton’s actions eventually caught up with him and resultedcandle in loss of eyesight. Milton was completely blind by the year 1652. However, the precise cause of his blindness is unknown. We can only speculate. However, an alternative to how Milton lost his sight is that he worked so tirelessly for the Puritan and Oliver Cromwell cause he wrote himself blind. Milton wrote a series of pamphlets advocating for radical politics, some of his better-known topics being divorce and freedom of speech. GOOD THING these ideas are no longer radical. As Milton spent so much of his time defending his beliefs of divorce, freedom of speech, and populism he steadily lost his eyesight until he was totally blind. But truthfully, it could have just been glaucoma.

Although Milton couldn’t see, this didn’t stop him from writinghoughton_ec65-m6427p-1667aa_-_paradise_lost_1667. At this time Brail hadn’t even been invented but Milton still wrote. (How impressive.) Of course he had help from aids, most notably Andrew Marvell. Many of his greatest pieces were published after his blindness, including Paradise Lost. He is also noted for speaking out about his blindness and even writing poetry about his loss of sight.

It’s obvious that blindness couldn’t stop John Milton…but gout could. Gout is a disease that causes pain in the smaller bones of ones’ feet, usually around the big toe. The pain comes from a build up of uric acid deposits, which results in painful arthritis. Gout can be referred to in many different ways such as “big toe disease.” Interestingly enough, gout has also been referred to a “rich man’s disease” because gout is caused by a rich diet. Gout results from a diet that is rich in meat and alcohol is a major cause of flair ups associated with the disease. It is clear that Milton was eating and drinking well because in November of 1674, at the age of sixty-six, Milton died in his own home of complications due to gout. Today, there is a memorial in Milton’s memory that is placed in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. So– he’s sort of a big deal.

food___meat_and_barbecue_meat_and_wine_047752_So, keep John Milton in mind next time you’ve sat in front of the computer for hours on end straining your eyes. It might affect your sight more than you know.

You might also want to think of Milton next time you have a juicy steak or a glass of wine.



More about John Milton:

Ben Jonson Definitely Killed A Man


Whenever the name ‘Ben Jonson’ is brought up in a conversation, ‘duelist extraordinaire’ is probably the last thing that comes to mind.  But that’s exactly what he was, and he got away with it too.



Jonson was a British poet and playwright who was born on June 11th, 1572 in Westminster. He was raised by his mother and stepfather, a master bricklayer, in Westminster and attended the Westminster school as a child, learning from some of the greatest classical scholars of the time. After deciding not to go to university, Johnson became a bricklayer himself for a short period of time, followed by a brief stint in the British Army, where he served in the Netherlands. In 1594, Ben married his wife, Anne Lewis, and began his work as a playwright and actor. He finally caught his first big break in ’98 as a playwright with his play Every Man In His Humor, which opened merely days before his infamous duel with actor Gabriel Spenser.

Though the reasons behind the duel remain unknown to this very day, rumor has it that it was Spenser that initiated the duel with Jonson on September 22nd, 1598 in Hoxton Fields in Shoreditch. Looking back at the duel, Jonson admitted that Spenser even had the longer sword, a large advantage in traditional sword-fighting. However, as we all know, what matters most isn’t merely the length of one’s sword, but the skill with which one uses it. After Spenser was able to use his larger sword to land a light wound to Jonson’s arm, but Jonson then was able to counter and kill Spenser with a 6 inch gash to Spenser’s right side.



Immediately after the duel, Jonson admitted to the murder and was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey. He pleaded guilty to the crime, and likely would have been executed by hanging had he not exercised the legal ploy of the “benefit of clergy.”

The benefit of clergy was a right to each “clerk” (a member of the clergy that is below the priest) accused of a capital offense to be granted immunity from punishment in secular courts. This was commonly used in Jonson’s time as a means for mitigating harsh criminal law for a layman convicted of a capital offense, as Jonson was, by considering them a clerk and giving them clerical immunity if he could prove that he could read, most often the 51st Psalm. Jonson was able to recite a few of these lines in court, and so was able to make a valid claim to the benefit of clergy. Because of this he was tried as a clerk, and as a result his punishment was reduced from likely execution to forfeiture of property and the branding of his left thumb.

After the duel and its following trial, Jonson went on to become one of the most prominent playwrights in all of Britain, second only to William Shakespeare, much to Jonson’s dismay. He was as famous as Shakespeare in their day, and was famous for his witty remarks and engaging in verbal debates at pubs, such as the Mermaid Tavern. Because Jonson only had one prominent play at the time of his duel with Spenser, Every Man In His Humor, and that play had its first performance merely days before the duel, Jonson’s trial received little literary and cultural attention.  Had this duel occurred at the height of Jonson’s prominence as a playwright, however, the trial would have likely received enormous national attention and coverage.

Though many would revert to stereotyping Jonson as a fat poet with a big appetite, in reality he was so much more: a man who enjoyed the occasional fight to the death, and one who had a penchant for bar arguments and fights. The man, the myth, the legend; he was Ben Jonson.






All is Fair in Beer and Bar Tabs

Christopher Marlowe, born just two months before William Shakespeare, was a playwright of the Elizabethan period whose life has remained a mystery to the literary world. To supplement the mystery, many stories and rumors have arisen about the happenings of Mister Marlowe, perhaps the most noteworthy of which surrounding his death; according to some, it all ended in a bar fight- if you’re going to go out, go out with a bang, I suppose.


The “official” story states that it all went down on the evening of May 31st, 1593 when an argument broke out between Marlowe and three other gentlemen (Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skires, and Robert Poley) over who would be responsible for paying their bar tab. Now, we college students love free beer as much as the next guy, but not even the most frugal of frat stars would engage in the battle that followed this drunken debacle.


The day had been relatively uneventful up until the bar tab debate: the four men had met up, eaten, and played backgammon before returning to the room where the fateful argument broke out. Ingram Frizer had been sitting at a table with Poley and Skires while Marlowe relaxed on a bed before abruptly leaping up, snatching Frizer’s dagger, and inflicting several wounds to Frizer’s head.

In his own defense, Frizer took the dagger and turned it on his enemy, giving Marlowe the fatal blow to his right eye. Being stabbed anywhere sounds pretty terrible, right? Now imagine death via a stab to the eye… TO. THE. EYE.


I’m just going to let that sink in for a second. Are you cringing yet? Good.

In a time where daggers, knives, and swords were just basic accessories to your every day outfits, no one was overly surprised at the events of the night and blamed much of the fuel behind the argument on drunken debauchery. Frizar was deemed innocent by the coroner who believed his need for self defense. While the alcohol most likely provoked the impulsive actions of Marlowe to grab the dagger and initiate the battle, the mysteries of Mr. Marlowe only grow more and more bizarre as allegations of life as a (terrible) spy seemed to play a role in his death.


While the official investigation, as told above, blames the fatal argument on a drunken fight between acquaintances, it seems that things may not be quite so simple. Each of the three other men present for the event of Marlowe’s death were linked to powerful leaders in the world of espionage. Could this freakshow stabbing have actually been a means of a political assassination or was it simply an alcohol-induced “accident”? Like much of the life of Christopher Marlowe- the world may never know.






Poets and Ale and Food – Oh My!

If you do not know of Ben Jonson, well you should. As a poet in the 1600’s during the Renaissance era in England, he put a twist on his writing. You would find detail visions lurking within his writings of the food that was placed before him. I mean, who doesn’t love a good meal – am I right?


Ben Jonson was born into poverty in 1572. His father died before he was born and his stepfather was a bricklayer. After deciding to trade in his education to follow in his stepfather’s footsteps, that as well as his education ended when he decided to fight with English forces. One could easily think this may be a cause for his slight obsession with food. From the poem Inviting a Friend to Supper to To Penshurst we see detail images of the food. Again, who doesn’t love a good meal, yet, who sits down at night to write in their diary about their day and writes a page and a half on one meal? I’m not too sure. Maybe that’s why it is called a diary. Anyways, I digress.

Some examples of what Jonson was trying to portray to his reader goes a little like this:

“Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air, and new as are the hours.
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape, and quince, each in his time doth come;
The blushing apricot and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.”
To Penshurst

I’m sorry, but I have never read something so passionate about food. This is almost a love letter to food if you look at it that way. He is going on and on about how wonderful every bit of this meal is and is going to be.

“A waiter doth my gluttony envy,
But gives me what I call, and lets me eat;
He knows below he shall find plenty of meat.”
To Penshurst

One thing that I found to be completely thought provoking was Jonson’s use of the waiter within the poem. Apparently, the waiters serving for the wealthier people would get their meal from the leftovers after the feast or party. So, it is easy to say that then Jonson rolled up in there the waiters might be a little distressed by his size. Yet, within To Penshurst Jonson is explaining that the waiter does not even care how much Jonson wants to eat because it is so luxurious that there is going to be more and the servants won’t go hungry. They will indeed get their meal.

So, what the heck did the food that Jonson was looking at actually look like? I am almost positive it did not come prepackaged in a Chick-fil-a container or a happy meal box like we are so accustomed to today.

The wealthy people during the Renaissance would obviously eat better than those of the lower classes. The wealthy and nobles definitely enjoyed having huge feasts with lots of fancy dishes. This was also a way of showing off their wealth to their friends in a sense. Like the peasants and lower classes, the wealthier class ate soups and broths, but these soups were spiced with exotic spices and often sweetened with sugar, this part was not as easy for those of lower classes to obtain. The rich ate more meat, duh. A huge sign of wealth was what meat you were eating. It showed that you had the means to go out and hunt or have someone hunt for you, OR you actually had the money to purchase said meat. They would have large roasts of beef, stag, or pig. What is probably the most interesting thing about the meat was that it would be visual as well. Most of the time, the center piece of the table would be a pig or other meats of sorts displayed in a grand way. You know how the pig would have an apple in its mouth in the center of the table? Yeah, think of that.


At weddings, festivals, and large feasts the food could get interesting (more interesting than pigs with apples in their mouths? No way!). Often, considering we are still talking about those with wealth, they would eat large game birds like swans, peacocks, or cranes; these meats would also be displayed in beautiful and wondrous ways as stated before. After cleaning and cooking the birds, they would often reattach the feathers for decoration. Have you ever watched The Tudors? If not, shame on you. If yes, continue reading. Remember when Henry VIII gives his French frienemy Francis I a gift of food? Think of this for feasts. (SPOILER ALERT: freaking BIRDS fly out of this pastry!! How sick is that?) Also, another cool thing to visualize in the Tudors, is when Henry is eating the swan. Very similar to what we are talking about here. This was also a time for lots of meat to be eaten such as mutton, chicken, pheasant, venison, rabbit, turkey, and ham.



“The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus” and Galileo’s Trial

By Mattie Green

When reading Dr Faustus’ conversation with Mephastophilis about astrology, it immediately reminded me of one of the biggest scientific controversies of all time: Galileo’s proof of the Heliocentric model. It made me wonder if Marlowe wrote some of the play as a commentary of Galileo’s discoveries. Everything seemed to add up to that being the case (Faust getting questions about astrology answered by a demon, references to the Catholic approved Geocentric model, etc.) except for one very important detail: Marlowe’s Dr Faustus was first performed in 1592, and it wasn’t until after 1600 that Galileo’s research became known to the Roman Catholic Church. So why does the story of Dr. Faustus sound so similar to Galilfaust-creepeo’s  trial?

It starts with a man, one Johann Georg Faust (aka John Faustus, Georgius Faustus Helmstet, Georgius Sabellicus, Georgius Helmstetter… well, you get the point… Faust was a man of many names). This man was the, shall we say, inspiration for the book The History of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Dr. John Faustus, which was then adapted into The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Marlowe. The real life Faust is believed to have gone to Heidelberg University from 1483 to 1487, and traveled Germany for the next 30 years as a physician, philosopher, professor, alchemist, magician, and astrologer (though he also became well known as a trickster and fraud, and was even denounced by the Church as a “blasphemer in league with the devil”). His death was dated to around 1540, and it was rumored that he died during an alchemical experiment gone wrong, which led to the myth that the devil had come to collect him. These rumors spread, and by around 1570 Faust was somewhat of a legend in Germany.

And so The Faustbook was born, er, written in 1587, and translated into The History the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Dr. John Faustus about a year later. Marlowe adapted it into play form soon after, and that, too, was extremely popular.

However, the Dr. Faustus’ character was adapted as well, and ended up being much different from the man he was based on. In the play, he seems like an agreeable fellow, except he badly misinterprets a passage from the Bible and comes to believe that he will go to Hell no matter what. I found this change in the character extremely interesting. Why would Marlowe go to the trouble of making Faust more likable when the audience would probably already know Faust messed up… big time?

The main reason I could think of was to create a hope of redemption for the character… similar to the scholars telling Faustus to repent to God and get out of going to Hell. Faust could have been redeemed, but he held onto his misinterpretation of the Bible, and that led him to his fate. It acted as a warning that misinterpreting the text could be a deadly mistake.


Prior to Galileo’s discoveries, it was widely believed that the entire universe rotated around Earth (the Geocentric model, above). The Church played a large role in the acceptance of this model, as the Bible itself was believed to contain evidence of the earth being the center of everything. Throughout the Bible there are references to “Earth standing still”, which, at the time, the Church took quite literally, instead of how we say “the sun sets or rises” instead of the Earth turning. Even the Dr. Faustus in the play believes in the Geocentric model,

“Come Mephastophilis, let us dispute again,

And reason of divine astrology.

Speak, are there many spheres above the moon?

Are celestial bodies but one globe,

As is the substance of this centric earth?…

But tell me, have they all one motion, both

situ et tempore [in position and time]?…

But tell me,

hath every sphere a dominion or intelligentia?”

All of Dr. Faustus’ questions to Mephastophilis about astrology relate to geocentric model ideas: that all planets and stars are one big globe, with earth at the center, revolving around the earth together, or even being moved or guided by angels. The most interesting thing about their conversation is the fact that Mephastophilis seems to be avoiding the questions and giving half-hearted answers, which Dr. Faustus catches on to: “These slender questions Wagner can decide: Hath Mephastophilis no greater skill?”. This scene seems to be a demonstration of sorts that the already accepted Geocentric model is more accurate than anything a demon could tell you, like only the Church has the true answers…even to astrology.

Which brings us back to Galileo.


When Galileo started to discuss his astrological findings and published his book, Sidereous Nuncius, the Church basically saw it as an attack on the Bible, going against the literal meanings of the words written. Galileo wasn’t the first to suggest a Heliocentric model, but, with the help of his trusty refracting telescope, he discovered Venus has phases and Jupiter has moons of its own, which were highly indicative of the Heliocentric model being correct. In 1616, the Inquisition declared Heliocentrism to be heretical, banning all books that supported it, and ordering Galileo to back off the topic entirely. However, in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which was a big hit. Since it largely supported Heliocentrism, the Inquisition tried Galileo and sentenced him to “indefinite imprisonment”, so he basically lived under house arrest for the rest of his life.

So, though I thought originally that The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus might have been an indirect commentary on the Galileo controversy, demonstrating the “evil” of astrology and science, it was written as a parody of the real Faust’s life. Overall, the greatest similarity between The History of Dr. Faustus and the Galileo Trial was that both Dr. Faustus and the Church misinterpreted the Bible which, in Dr. Faustus’ case, led to his death, and, in the Church’s case, led to the banning of the Heliocentric model and condemnation of Galileo. It wasn’t until 1822, when it was pretty well known that earth wasn’t the center of the universe, that the Church lifted the ban on Galileo’s books, and not until 1992 that the Vatican made a public apology, clearing Galileo’s name.



“By Placing the Sun at the Center of the Solar System”. History of Astronomy. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <>

“Catholic Church Apologizes to Galileo”. N.p., 14 Sep. 2008. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>

“The Galileo Controversy”. Catholic Answers. N.p., 10 Aug. 2004. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>

“The Magician, the Heretic, and the Playwright: Texts and Contexts”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. N.p., N.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. < english/nael/16century/topic_1/faustbk.htm>

“What Galileo Actually Proved and Disproved”. The New York Times. N.p., 17 Nov. 1992. Web. 5 Nov. 2016.< proved-and-disproved-595492.html>

Zweerink, Jeff, Dr. “Understanding the Galileo Trial.” RTB 30. N.p., 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>


Image Citations

Galileo Galilei. Digital image. The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>.

Johann Georg Faust. Digital image. Alchetron. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>.

Old Geocentric Model. Digital Image. MHSP. 27 Jul. 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <>


Special Effects in Elizabethan England: It’s No Avatar, but Not Too Bad Considering the Technological Limits of the Era

By Kate Sims

So, imagine: you’re a peasant sometime in the mid-1600s, and you’ve got an extra penny and some spare time. You could spend that penny on some extra food to make sure your kids don’t starve, but Willy Shakes is putting on a play pretty soon, and you’ve heard his stuff is good. Not, like, Marlowe good, but good. You put your penny in the box and get herded with all the other groundlings right in front of the stage. It’s hot, and you’re forced to stand, and the guy next to you (like RIGHT next to you, these people were packed in tight) smells kinda like fish, but before you can decide to cut your losses and head out, the play starts. And from act one, it captivates you. People descend from the sky, smoke creeps up through the floor, decapitated heads talk, thunder booms in the theatre though there’s not a cloud in the sky. One man stabs another, and blood bursts from his chest. People appear and disappear. Music plays, though there are no instruments visible. You go home and can’t stop talking about the amazing sights you saw that day.


Yeah, something like that.

To a common person in the 1600s, the special effects seen in theatres like The Globe and Blackfriars Playhouse would have been quite the sight to see. For your modern 21st century viewer? Not so much. Not when we’ve seen Dementors suck the souls out of people on the big screen.


What kind of special effects would you expect to see on an Elizabethan theatre’s—like the famous Globe Theatre’s—stage?

Stage + Set

Theatre stages around this time were usually five feet off the ground, which left plenty of room underneath the stage for all sorts of fun tricks. With trapdoors, actors could disappear and reappear with ease or rise from the ground like a demon rising from Hell, which, consequently, is what they called it. The “Hell” part of the stage was also used for clothes changes and sometimes held musicians. Smoke could come out of the trapdoors, creating a misty scene or indicating magic was being used. Usually, the smoke was a mixture of different salts—depending on what color they wanted the smoke to be, limited to mostly red, black, yellow, or white—and alcohol, which was then burned.

On the flip side, “Heaven,” was comprised of false ceilings above the stage. From there, actors could be lowered by ropes to make dramatic entrances. Backgrounds could be raised and lowered for scene changes.


And check this out:


This diagram is of a trick probably used in Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. If you ever need to have a decapitated head talk, this is the way to do it! Without, you know, using actual magic.


Shakespeare’s plays were filled with all sorts of violence. Sword fights, suicides, stabbings. In order to display the gruesome deaths or wounds depicted, before the show, the actors cast lots to decide who in their troupe would actually get stabbed and die that night. Talk about dedication to the arts!

Just kidding.

For the most part, they used handkerchiefs soaked in animal blood to indicate a mortal wound. More ambitious troupes would fill a sheep or ox’s bladder with blood and hide it underneath the actor’s clothes so that when he got stabbed, it’d spurt blood everywhere. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d pay a penny to see that. (But think about the smell! Probably not worse than the guy standing next to you.)


Theatrical troupes also used sound effects to set the scene. Thunder could be simulated by rolling a cannonball across the floor or by waving a piece of sheet metal or by beating drums. Firecrackers sometimes went off to recreate battlefield noises or whenever a devil appeared (sound familiar?). To top it off, actual cannons would be fired during productions, usually when an important figure entered the scene or before a significant act.

And I’m sure you’re thinking: “Firecrackers? Cannons? In theatres built with wood and straw? I’m sure that never led to a horrible tragedy ever.”


Oh. Right.

On June 29, 1613, during Henry VIII, a cannon went off in the Globe Theatre, and a stray spark set the thatched roof on fire. The entire theatre burned down within two hours, with no recorded casualties. Although, there is an account of a man whose pants caught flame. Luckily, he had the idea to douse the flame with his bottle of ale. Yeah. We’re not really sure how that worked, either.

So, the next time you’re at a movie, and you hear an explosion, you can thank people like Phil Tippet and Greg Cannom. Because of them, your pants will not catch on fire.



The Man, The Myth, The Marlowe

By: Theresa Connolly


Literary figures produce works that change and shape us, works that make us consider new things and think deeply, works that transcend their time. It is easy to forget however, that the creators of these literary masterpieces were people themselves, who had troubles and life experiences all their own. Christopher Marlowe lived for only a short 29 years, but his contributions to English Literature have far outlasted his short lifespan. His revolutionary poetry and literary techniques make him a legend in the literary world. Yet, his life story was nothing short of legendary as well.


Christopher Marlowe was born to John and Catherine Marlowe in the year 1564. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but he was baptized on February 26th of that year. His father was a shoemaker, so Marlowe was not raised in nobility. Yet, he was very well educated as a youth, attending King’s school, and then receiving a scholarship for Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. He became a poet and playwright, creating works such as “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” and “The Jew of Malta”. These works, and his other pieces, were extremely popular, and earned reverence from the public, and Marlowe’s fellow scholars.


Though, Marlowe’s interesting exploits expand beyond just his literature. During his years at college, he was often absent for long periods of time, with little explanation. These absences were longer than the sanctioned times prescribed by the university, and sometimes, Marlowe disappeared for up to 32 weeks. Also, Marlowe was reported to have spent a lot of money on food and drinks at this time, more than he would have been able to afford with his scholarship.


The theory behind these strange actions is that Marlowe was secretly a spy. Marlowe is believed by many to have been a secret agent for Queen Elizabeth I. This theory, though seemingly outlandish, was further validated when Marlowe tried to apply to get his master’s degree. He was first denied, (as rumors had spread that he was a Catholic sympathizer) but was then granted his degree after the Queen’s privy council interceded. The privy council stated that Marlowe “had done her Majestie good service, & deserved to be rewarded for his faithfull dealinge….” (Poetry Foundation par. 2) He was then immediately granted his degree. So what was this “good service”? Many scholars believe that this service was Marlowe’s espionage in the name of the Queen.


Espionage was not Marlowe’s only life choice that was unorthodox for the time. He was also an atheist, and was most likely homosexual. In addition, he was mysteriously involved in two separate murders, though the circumstances of both are unknown.


The mystery shrouding his life also applied to his death, as many scholars are uncertain about the motives behind his murder.


The short story is this: Marlowe was out with some friends at a bar, when he became involved in a fight with a man named Ingram Frizer. The argument got heated, and Marlowe grabbed a knife, and stabbed Frizer. Frizer then retaliated by stabbing Marlowe above his right eye, killing him.


This story seems to be a simple one, yet, there are many theories to why Frizer killed Marlowe. A few weeks earlier, Marlowe had been arrested for suspicion of being an atheist. During a time of strong protestant religious fervor, this was an act of heresy. Yet, Marlowe was released soon after his arrest. And a few days after his acquittal, he was killed.


So, was it Elizabeth I who ordered his death? Many scholars and theorists say yes.


The fact that Marlowe had such a short yet turbulent life shows that his experience was great. Without such experience, he might not have been able to produce such well-constructed stories. If his life had been longer, and he had been able to go on more adventures, we can only imagine the kind of literature that he would have produced. If he had not died, he could have become even more famous and revered. If Christopher Marlowe had not been killed, the age that is marked by the contributions of Shakespeare might have been remembered as the age of Marlowe.


Further Resources:



Black, Joseph. “Christopher Marlowe.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Pr, 2010. 402-03. Print.

Conradt, Stacy. “The Mysterious Death of Christopher Marlowe.” Mental Floss., 30 May 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016.

Feingold, Michael. “Street Fighting Man.” New York Times, 29 Jan. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2016.

Honan, Park. “Who Killed Christopher Marlowe?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 21 Oct. 2006. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

Poetry Foundation. “Christopher Marlowe.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2016. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

Ross, David. “Christopher Marlowe Biography.” Britain Express., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.


Image Citations: Doctor Faustus. Digital image., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.

Christopher Marlowe Image. Digital image., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.