“Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.” (Herbie Hancock )

FAUSTUS. When I behold the heavens, then I repent,

And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,

Because thou hast depriv'd me of those joys.

MEPHIST. Why, Faustus,

Thinkest thou heaven is such a glorious thing?

I tell thee, 'tis not half so fair as thou,

Or any man that breathes on earth.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was written during the height of classic English drama and Christopher Marlowe was at the time the most competent playwright. He was born in 1564 and probably died 1593. Who was this charismatic figure?  

Little is known about Marlowe apart from myths which only sometimes are supported by facts. He came from a middle class family and attended Cambridge University. Men of the middle classes who rose to prominence were typical of the Renaissance. Marlowe was a freethinker. Many theories say he was a spy for the English spy network. England had a second to none spy network at the time. This was built to counter the threat from Catholic countries.   

He was a part of a group of young English free thinkers who were educated at Cambridge. Marlowe began his career as a playwright after university and became successful. The free thinking eventually provoked society. This led to persecution and a couple of Marlowe’s friends were accused and executed for heresy. Marlowe was taken to the Privy Council for hearing in 1593. Not much is known about Marlowe after this. He was killed a couple of days later in a bar brawl. The person who allegedly killed him had close contacts with Walshingham, a spy master in England. Walsingham was a friend of Marlowe.  Marlowe might have died in a bar brawl. There are scholars who believe the bar brawl was an arrangement for him to escape trial. He might have been killed by order of Walshingham. Some even suggest he continued to write under the pseudonym of William Shakespeare. The person who killed Marlowe was pardoned. 

Doctor Faustus contains many of the most radical thoughts in the English society at the 1500s. The main character is an academic who wants to do more than is humanly possible. Doctor Faustus feels he already knows everything that is possible and only magic can show him more. This makes him call on the devil.

The idea of heaven and hell was extremely alive at this time. Many of the scandalous thoughts in the play represent a small group of educated men who discussed atheism under the protection of powerful lords. This was among the most dangerous things you could do at the time.  This was only possible because of the reformation in England and the tolerance of the regime. English society was at the time very unstable and threatened by other countries. The crown feared for the fate of the new faith. Theatres were supported to help create an English culture. This made new thoughts possible but it also meant that the state needed stability. The crown had to be firm against radical new ideas and thoughts if they were discussed publicly but it tolerated it in the form of a play.

England was trying to survive as a Protestant country among hostile countries. Usually when a struggle like this happens there is a move towards religious hatred. The marvel of this struggle was that it did not give rise to religious extremism but a new support of culture. This climate of openness seems to have opened a small window towards individual freedom and the modern world.

Here is one of the most famous quotes in theatre:

FAUSTUS. Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium--

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--

[Kisses her.]

Her lips suck forth my soul:  see, where it flies

Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.

Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips


Marlowe (1604), The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/779

The Marlow Society (2012), http://www.marlowe-society.org/

Encyclopaedia Britannica, (2012) “Marlowe” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/365890/Christopher-Marlowe

Wikipedia (2012), “English reformation” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Reformation

Olof Nicolaysen is an independent researcher from Norway who is interested in the origins of our secular society.
Welcome to Uppsala Translations' language blog. Although our website is in Swedish we would like to invite guest bloggers from all over the world. Texts should be in Swedish or English and deal with language.

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Uppsala Translations

Hi folks! My name is Nabarun and I’m an Indian guy studying in Sweden. In this post I’ll talk about my experiences of being an Indian (Asian, not Native American) in Sweden and learning the language.

Nabarun means “Morning sun”. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Swedes I’ve met say that it sounds very spiritual. They refer to India as a spiritual country. Some people have posters or small statues of our gods at home as they think they look so cool. Does that offend me as an Indian? No, not at all! It’s totally fine to be interested in a culture and its religion without “buying the whole package”. I don’t blame anyone for liking our food either. I was happy to find some Indian restaurants here in Stockholm. Yum!

Young Western people come to seek mystical wisdom in India. I think they expect to see painted cows, women in colourful clothes and old men with long beards sitting cross-legged playing sitars in every corner of the modern cities. Maybe they think the air is vibrating with spirituality and that every word spoken sounds “deep”. Perhaps they think we Indians are totally altruistic. Although my native country has some of these features (in moderate doses) it's much more complex than that. Just like any other country it’s changing and becoming modern. Sorry if I disappoint some Swedes when I say that.

Well, so that is what some Swedes say about my country. In all I believe they have a positive picture of India, even though it's a bit too romantic. When I came to Sweden I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared to meet the warm summers. I thought it would be dead cold all the time. To my shame I came here with the stereotypical picture of Swedish blondes as I had heard they were easy to pick up and not very bright. Yes, I’m ashamed of that now. How ridiculous! I realise that. I’m a modern man and see woman as equal to man. So far I haven’t met one Swedish female who reminds me of that blonde stereotype. They all strike me as intelligent. Often they come across as tougher than Swedish males.  

Studying Swedish is tricky. Luckily I know English and that helps the learning process. I think Swedish is an unadorned and beautiful language. It’s an ordeal trying to handle languages that uses another alphabet than I’m used to. Maybe I’ll be able to write a new post in Swedish one day.

Nabarun (guest blogger)

Nabarun is 24 years old and comes from Delhi, India. Now he is in Stockholm, Sweden, studying and working.

Welcome to Uppsala Translations' language blog. Although our website is in Swedish we would like to invite guest bloggers from all over the world. Texts should be in English or Swedish and deal with language. 

Would you like to contribute with a post about language? Some ideas of topics: memories from studying language at school, literary writing, bilingualism, translation difficulties, tricky linguistics, problems you have encountered in the language field, etc, etc… 

Include a short bio. Remember to add your name (pseudonyms are ok too) and link(s) to your website(s) or project(s). 

Send texts to: info@uppsalatranslations.com