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The Aesthetics of Antichrist

From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe

John Parker

Publication Year: 2007

In Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe wrote a profoundly religious drama despite the theater's newfound secularism and his own reputation for anti-Christian irreverence. The Aesthetics of Antichrist explores this apparent paradox by suggesting that, long before Marlowe, Christian drama and ritual performance had reveled in staging the collapse of Christianity into its historical opponents-paganism, Judaism, worldliness, heresy. By embracing this tradition, Marlowe's work would at once demonstrate the theatricality inhering in Christian worship and, unexpectedly, resacralize the commercial theater.

The Antichrist myth in particular tells of an impostor turned prophet: performing Christ's life, he reduces the godhead to a special effect yet in so doing foretells the real second coming. Medieval audiences, as well as Marlowe's, could evidently enjoy the constant confusion between true Christianity and its empty look-alikes for that very reason: mimetic degradation anticipated some final, as yet deferred revelation. Mere theater was a necessary prelude to redemption. The versions of the myth we find in Marlowe and earlier drama actually approximate, John Parker argues, a premodern theory of the redemptive effect of dramatic representation itself. Crossing the divide between medieval and Renaissance theater while drawing heavily on New Testament scholarship, Patristics, and research into the apocrypha, The Aesthetics of Antichrist proposes a wholesale rereading of pre-Shakespearean drama.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-6


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

With the advent of a commercial theater in London, traditional drama was dying, or already dead. Almost completely destroyed were the plays that had staged the miraculous lives of saints or explained the Catholic sacraments as a certain avenue to posthumous benefits. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am firstly grateful to Beatrice Kitzinger, whose research assistance has been indispensable to this book’s completion. Other friends and colleagues who took the time to comment on my work have also been a great aid: Ilana Blumberg, Sophie Gee, Erik Gray, John Heon, and Mike Magee all lent a hand at various stages. ...

Note on Texts and Translations

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pp. xv-xvi


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: After Strange Gods: The Making of Christ and His Doubles

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pp. 1-42

Antichrist appears by name first in the Johannine epistles and not again for about a hundred years.1 By then a lot had happened. To flesh out the figure certain passages in scripture, originally unrelated, had to be connected. Extrapolation ran rampant. ...

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1. Lying Likenesses: Typology and the Medieval Miracula

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pp. 43-86

Despite a lot of variation in the commentaries, from the earliest of them onward Antichrist was frequently recognized as the supreme adversary and herald of the final days in part by resemblance to the true Christ. “For the deceiver,” writes Hippolytus, “seeks to liken himself in all things to the Son of God” (Antichrist 6 [GCS 1:7–8; ANF 5:206]). ...

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2. Blood Money: Antichristian Economics and the Drama of the Sacraments

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pp. 87-138

Prior to Christian scripture redemption in Greek meant to free by cash payment. The way we might redeem an old heirloom from hock, money back then could purchase human life. It freed prisoners of war, for example, or convicts. In the case of temple slaves, you had to pay the gods—or, what comes down to the same, the temple priests. ...

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3. Vicarious Criminal: Christ as Representative

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pp. 139-182

Legend has it the group of writings now loosely called the Septuagint first came into being when Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–46 BCE) resolved to place in his library at Alexandria every text then in existence.1 The story of his resolution became especially popular among later Christians for explaining how they had inherited a Greek Old Testament ...

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4. The Curious Sovereignty of Art: Marlowe’s Sacred Counterfeits

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pp. 183-246

Two future adversaries and scholars of Antichrist overlapped at Cambridge, probably unknown to each other, in the 1580s. One attended Jesus College, the other Corpus Christi. As one was getting his bachelor’s, the other received a master’s. Afterwards they might both have taken the orders toward which their training inclined them, but only one did. ...


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pp. 247-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463549
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801445194

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1