Sunday, January 1, 2012

That Old Devil Belimoth

Scholarly consensus on whether the 1604 or 1616 quarto of Doctor Faustus best represents Marlowe’s original version of the play has swung back and forth over the years. The two texts - known as the ‘A’ and ‘B’ texts, respectively - differ quite significantly. The B-text is about 600 lines longer overall, mainly due to additional lines in Acts 3 and 4.

In his diary for 22 November 1602 Philip Henslowe noted payment of £4 to William Birde and Samuel Rowley for ‘adicyones in doctor fostes’. The simplest explanation for the additional lines in the B-text is that they are these 1602 additions by Birde/Rowley. The majority of late nineteenth and early twentieth century editors accepted this, and consequently gave primacy to the A-text as being closer to Marlowe’s original text. However, the B-text gained scholarly ascendancy in the mid twentieth century, largely through the efforts of Kirschbaum and Greg, who argued that the A-text was a ‘bad quarto’  of the more authoritative B-text. In the last decade or so, the scholarly pendulum has swung back to the A-text, and although there is some dissent,  the B-text is now generally regarded as a revised version of Doctor Faustus, with the additional lines having little or no Marlovian authority.

One of the more notable differences between the A and B texts of Doctor Faustus is that the B-text contains a few devils not present in the A-text. Called 'Belimote', 'Argiron' and 'Asterote', these devils appear in Act 4, Scene 1, summoned by Faustus to punish three gentlemen, Benvolio, Frederick and Martino, for their mockery of him. In Scene 2, Belimote and Asterote (now called ‘Belimoth(e)’ and ‘Asteroth’) reappear to execute Faustus’s further revenge. Belimoth, in particular, is singled out to punish Martino ("Go Belimothe, and take this caitife hence, And hurle him in some lake of mud and durt").

Despite much speculation, the source of the name ‘Belimoth’ in the B-text eluded scholars until very recently. However, Michael Keefer noted in 2007 that "the author of this scene appears to have derived these names…from one or another of the grimoires from which Reginald Scot mockingly quotes in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584)" [Michael Keefer (ed.), Doctor Faustus, Second Edition, Broadview Press (2007), 202]. The name ‘Belimoth’ actually appears in Scot’s book (as one of three names used "To speake with spirits"), so it doesn't really seem necessary to postulate, as Keefer does, that the Belimoth reference in the B-text was derived directly from a grimoire. Since Scot’s work was published in 1584, the name Belimoth could simply have been lifted from The Discoverie of Witchcraft itself.

The name ‘Belimoth’ appears in only one other work from the period: The Tragical History, Admirable Atchievments and various events of Guy earl of Warwick. If this were all, we could probably just mark it down as ‘curious’ that Guy shares this rare name with the B-text. However, the Belimoth link is far more substantial than this. There are very strong verbal parallels between the passages in which Belimoth appears in Guy and the B-text, which make it virtually certain that one text has influenced the other in some way. The passages where these parallels occur  are shown below:

Faustus B-text
But wherefore doe I dally my reuenge?
Asteroth, Belimoth, Mephostophilis,
[Ent. Meph. & other Diuels.]
Go horse these traytors on your fiery backes,
And mount aloft with them as high as heauen,
Thence pitch them headlong to the lowest hell:
Yet stay, the world shall see their miserie,
And hell shall after plague their treacherie.
Go Belimothe, and take this caitife hence,
And hurle him in some lake of mud and durt:
Take thou this other, dragge him through the woods,
Amongst the pricking thornes, and sharpest briers,
Whilst with my gentle Mephostophilis,
This Traytor flies vnto some steepie rocke,
That rowling downe, may breake the villaines bones,
As he intended to dismember me.
Fly hence, dispatch my charge immediatly.

Guy of Warwick
Sultan. O speak Zorastes, what Divel or Man is that,
which in his Fury confounds such heaps of men?
Zorast. My Lord I cannot tell, but this I know,
neither Turk nor Saracen can withstand his blow,
our Souldiers fly like chaff before the Wind,
and none can stand against his Conquering sword.
Sultan. Canst thou not tell me what he is?
nor by thy Magick charmes confound the slave?
Zorast. I can do both as you shall streight behold;
Bellemoth, Asteroth Ascend.
Spirit. Quid me vis?
Zorast. I charge thee tell me truly who it is,
that in his rage confounds and spoiles our men.
Spirit. 'Tis Guy of Warwick that is hither come,
of holy zeal to see his Saviour Tomb.
Zorast. But never shall he see that Marble Grave,
go Bellemoth, and in a fierce flame,
hoyse him aloft into the vacant Air,
and throw him headlong into the Neighbouring Seas.

There can be little doubt that these passages are connected. The words are not identical, but they are consistently close thematically and verbally: ‘Go Belimothe’/‘go Bellemoth’; ‘fiery backes’/‘fierce flame’ ; ‘mount aloft’/‘hoyse him aloft’; ‘pitch them headlong’/‘throw him headlong’. It surely cannot be coincidence that in the only two plays from the period that mention Belimoth at all we also have such close verbal parallels.

That there should be such strong verbal connections between Guy and Doctor Faustus is not in itself remarkable. Marlowe’s play was one of the most famous of the period, and it would not be surprising to see allusions to it in Guy. What makes the connection intriguing is that all the connections are to lines that exist only in the B-text. This has potentially significant implications for our understanding of the provenance and dating of both Guy and the B-text. If, for example, the Belimoth lines in Guy are an allusion to Doctor Faustus, and the corresponding Belimoth lines in the B-text are the Birde/Rowley additions of 1602, then Guy cannot have been written any earlier than 1602. This would mean, of course, that my dating of Guy to 1598 (or, at the latest, 1601 when Dekker’s Satiromastix was entered in the Stationers' Register) is simply wrong.

No doubt, many would be happy to accept this conclusion. However, the implications are wider than just my dating being wrong.  Under this interpretation, all datings of the play to the 1590s or earlier (Harbage, Cooper, Duncan-Jones etc) would be wrong. This is not impossible, but before making such a drastic conclusion we should look more closely at the assumptions behind this particular interpretation.

Firstly, it is assumed that the shared Belimoth lines are due to Guy alluding to Faustus, rather than the other way round. This is a  natural assumption: Faustus was famous, Guy was not, and I have argued myself that the latter play seems to go out of its way to allude to other works, notably Mucedorus and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Nevertheless, many a famous play has borrowed lines from an obscure one (and no play is famous at the time of writing, anyway),  so we can certainly not rule out that the direction of influence for the Belimoth lines could have been from Guy to the B-text. On balance, though, it seems a reasonable assumption that the Belimoth lines in Guy allude to, or borrow from, Doctor Faustus.

Secondly, although there is currently a general consensus that the additional lines in the B-text are the Birde/Rowley additions of 1602, this does not bind us to the assumption that all the additional lines in the B-text  were the original work of Birde/Rowley. Keefer, in particular, has argued against such an assumption. While agreeing that the B-text is generally a revised version of the more authentic A-text, he puts forward evidence that some of the lines in the B-text  preserve readings earlier than those of the A-text [Michael Keefer, ‘The A and B Texts of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus Revisited’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, June 2006, 227-257].

If it turns out that Guy is indeed a play from the 1590s or earlier, it will have the important implication that the Belimoth lines in the B-text cannot be the original work of Birde/Rowley in 1602, since the corresponding lines already existed in Guy. While it would be possible that the lines originated in Guy, and Birde/Rowley borrowed directly from that play, the more likely scenario would be that Guy and the B-text were referencing a common source: a version of Doctor Faustus earlier than that of the A-text, but preserved in the B-text.