In exploring the ethical significance of the performative, if blasphemous, dimensions of the momentous events in Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, this essay deploys insights from an ancient Sanskrit manual on drama, Bharata’s Nātyaśāstra, and its early eleventh-century commentary by Abhinavagupta. Bharata states that the aesthetic ‘essence’ (rasa) of theater emerges out of the functioning of vibhāva (the stimulus, the determinant device that produces affect in the audience), anubhāva (the enacted response and bodily expressions of emotion), and vyabhiċāri bhāva (the minor, passing, and mixed bhāvas produced by the major sentiments). Is there a simultaneous bid for the performative as constituting ethical identity? If so, whose identity are we talking about — the portrayed character’s, the performer’s, or the viewer’s? Such are the questions that link this discussion of Marlowe and Shakespeare with Abhinavagupta’s gloss on the relevant passage in Bharata. Perhaps the early modern English stage had an intuition that was beyond the range of the discursive apparatus of Bharata or Abhinavagupta. It was the intuition that a performed moment of choice was more than fictive. It was constitutive of the ethical selfhood that accounts for Doctor Faustus being still such a disturbing play for viewers.


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pp. 40-59
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