Exploring the theme of manipulation in ‘Doctor Faustus: B Text’ and ‘Hideaway’

Doctor Faustus and Queens of the Stone Age’s 2017 song Hideaway are both texts which feature manipulative antagonists.

Playwright Christopher Marlowe takes readers of Doctor Faustus on a dark, dreary journey to hell. Amidst the religious upheaval of the 16th century, his tragic hero, an intelligent scholar, chooses to ditch his studies for something more dangerous. Faustus rejects religion and chooses to partake in necromancy instead, the study of dark magic.

Faustus is proud by nature, but this is heightened by Mephostophilis, the devil who he summons up early on in the play. There is no doubt that Faustus is chiefly to blame for signing his soul away in return for twenty four years of magical service from this devil. However, it is also true that Mephostophilis is largely responsible for manipulating Faustus into a debased sinner.

I also recently looked into a modern text which explores the same theme. Out of the albums released in 2017 was Queens of the Stone Age’s seventh album, ‘Villains’. This features a mixture of fast-paced, guitar heavy tracks with a couple of slower ones. Among this is Hideaway, a song which is from the point of view of a devilish figure. From the often overlooked point of view of a villain, listeners can discover his intent to find a victim that he will be able to influence.

So in what ways is Marlowe’s Mephostophilis a manipulator? First of all, he represents the traditional ‘Vice’ figure of Morality Plays. The ‘Vice’ figure, common in this 15th and 16th century play, would try and lure mankind into pursuing the devil. Indeed, he is keen for Faustus to sin as seen when he tries to persuade him by conjuring up gifts in order to please Faustus and when he encourages him to play tricks on the Pope.

I particularly like Queens’ expression of villainy. The mix of mesmerising lyrics: ‘New prey, soft and easy, entangled forever in my arms’ with the devil’s ulterior evil ambition for a ‘taste of flesh and bones’ portrays an evil character who tries to draw people in using crafty language.

The artwork for the band’s album can be closely scrutinized too. In a 2017 interview with Guitar World, frontman Josh Homme shared his thoughts behind the album cover which features an image of a devil covering Homme’s eyes. His answer: ‘Everyone feels like they’ve got the devil on their back, or everyone is worried about the devil. But what if that’s your good buddy?’ puts a spanner in the works: is the band’s devious devil misunderstood?

We can read Mephostophilis in a different light too, shifting the blame of Faustus’ demise on Faustus himself. The scholar’s intention to obtain power is deadly. It clouds his better judgement when he ignores Mephostophilis’ clear warnings and demands to steer clear from the hell that he is going to be sent to: ‘O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, Which strike a terror to my fainting soul’.

Alternatively, in Hideaway, the victim cannot think for himself. Unlike Faustus, the victim is not the one who conjures up the devil, but rather the devil is the one who seeks out ‘a pupil’. This tells us that whilst Faustus and Mephostophilis are both villains, Hideaway’s character is more of a victim who renders no control over the devil.

Homme goes on to talk about the inner devil that lives inside people. For him, the devil ‘is about cutting loose. Life is too short to let fear drive. Now is all you’re ever going to get.’ In this sense, maybe the focus shouldn’t be on the devil being an antagonist for manipulating other people, but how a devil manipulates a situation so that he is in control.

This is not to say that villains aren’t evil exploiters, as we’ve seen how Faustus is tempted to sin by one, but, there is not just this negative reading from the word. True, when we at first think of manipulation, we are tempted to think of something like the devil in Hideaway. But, Queens of the Stone Age teach us how the word represents thinking for ourselves. Queens’ song leaves us with a reminder to learn from the devil. This in turn can be integrated into our own lives: manipulation is a powerful tool which we can use to have control over our destinies.

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