This article is about the play by Christopher Marlowe. For other uses, see Doctor Faustus.
The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is an Elizabethantragedy by Christopher Marlowe, based on German stories about the title character Faust, that was first performed sometime between 1588 and Marlowe's death in 1593. Two different versions of the play were published in the Jacobean era, several years later.
The powerful effect of early productions of the play is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them—that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance, "to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators", a sight that was said to have driven some spectators mad.
The Admiral's Men performed Doctor Faustus 25 times in the three years between October 1594 and October 1597. On 22 November 1602, the diary of Philip Henslowe recorded a £4 payment to Samuel Rowley and William Bird for additions to the play, which suggests a revival soon after that date.
The powerful effect of the early productions is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them. In Histriomastix, his 1632 polemic against the drama, William Prynne records the tale that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance of Faustus, "to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators". Some people were allegedly driven mad, "distracted with that fearful sight". John Aubrey recorded a related legend, that Edward Alleyn, lead actor of The Admiral's Men, devoted his later years to charitable endeavours, like the founding of Dulwich College, in direct response to this incident.
The play may have been entered into the Stationers' Register on 18 December 1592, though the records are confused and appear to indicate a conflict over the rights to the play. A subsequent Stationers' Register entry, dated 7 January 1601, assigns the play to the bookseller Thomas Bushnell, the publisher of the 1604 first edition. Bushnell transferred his rights to the play to John Wright on 13 September 1610.
The two versions
Two versions of the play exist:
- The 1604 quarto, printed by Valentine Simmes for Thomas Law; this is usually called the A text. The title page attributes the play to "Ch. Marl.". A second edition (A2) of first version was printed by George Eld for John Wright in 1609. It is merely a direct reprint of the 1604 text. The text is short for an English Renaissance play, only 1485 lines long.
- The 1616 quarto, published by John Wright, the enlarged and altered text; usually called the B text. This second text was reprinted in 1619, 1620, 1624, 1631, and as late as 1663. Additions and alterations were made by the minor playwright and actor Samuel Rowley and by William Borne (or Birde), and possibly by Marlowe himself.
The 1604 version was once believed to be closer to the play as originally performed in Marlowe's lifetime, simply because it was older. By the 1940s, after influential studies by Leo Kirschbaum and W. W. Greg, the 1604 version came to be regarded as an abbreviation and the 1616 version as Marlowe's original fuller version. Kirschbaum and Greg considered the A-text a "bad quarto", and thought that the B-text was linked to Marlowe himself. Since then scholarship has swung the other way, most scholars now considering the A-text more authoritative, even if "abbreviated and corrupt", according to Charles Nicholl.
The 1616 version omits 36 lines but adds 676 new lines, making it roughly one third longer than the 1604 version. Among the lines shared by both versions, there are some small but significant changes in wording; for example, "Never too late, if Faustus can repent" in the 1604 text becomes "Never too late, if Faustus will repent" in the 1616 text, a change that offers a very different possibility for Faustus's hope and repentance.
Another difference between texts A and B is the name of the devil summoned by Faustus. Text A states the name is generally "Mephistopheles", while the version of text B commonly states "Mephostophilis". The name of the devil is in each case a reference to Mephistopheles in Faustbuch, the source work, which appeared in English translation in about 1588.
The relationship between the texts is uncertain and many modern editions print both. As an Elizabethan playwright, Marlowe had nothing to do with the publication and had no control over the play in performance, so it was possible for scenes to be dropped or shortened, or for new scenes to be added, so that the resulting publications may be modified versions of the original script.
In the past, it was assumed that the comic scenes were additions by other writers. However, most scholars today consider the comic interludes, whoever wrote them, an integral part of the play. Their tone shows the change in Faustus's ambitions, suggesting Marlowe did oversee the composition of them. The clown is seen as the archetype for comic relief.
Doctor Faustus is based on an older tale; it is believed to be the first dramatization of the Faust legend. Some scholars believe that Marlowe developed the story from a popular 1592 translation, commonly called The English Faust Book. There is thought to have been an earlier, lost, German edition of 1587, the Historia von D. Johann Fausten (chapbook), which itself may have been influenced by even earlier, equally unpreserved pamphlets in Latin, such as those that likely inspired Jacob Bidermann's treatment of the damnation of the doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus (1602). Several soothsayers or necromancers of the late fifteenth century adopted the name Faustus, a reference to the Latin for "favoured" or "auspicious"; typical was Georgius Faustus Helmstetensis, calling himself astrologer and chiromancer, who was expelled from the town of Ingolstadt for such practices. Subsequent commentators have identified this individual as the prototypical Faustus of the legend.
Whatever the inspiration, the development of Marlowe's play is very faithful to the Faust Book, especially in the way it mixes comedy with tragedy.
However, Marlowe also introduced some changes to make it more original. He made three main additions:
He also emphasised Faustus' intellectual aspirations and curiosity, and minimised the vices in the character, to lend a Renaissance aura to the story.
The play is in blank verse and prose in thirteen scenes (1604) or twenty scenes (1616).
Blank verse is largely reserved for the main scenes while prose is used in the comic scenes. Modern texts divide the play into five acts; act 5 being the shortest. As in many Elizabethan plays, there is a chorus (which functions as a narrator), that does not interact with the other characters but rather provides an introduction and conclusion to the play and, at the beginning of some Acts, introduces events that have unfolded.
Along with its history and language style, scholars have critiqued and analysed the structure of the play. Leonard H. Frey wrote a document entitled “In the Opening and Close of Doctor Faustus,” which mainly focuses on Faustus's opening and closing soliloquies. He stresses the importance of the soliloquies in the play, saying: “the soliloquy, perhaps more than any other dramatic device, involved the audience in an imaginative concern with the happenings on stage”. By having Doctor Faustus deliver these soliloquies at the beginning and end of the play, the focus is drawn to his inner thoughts and feelings about succumbing to the devil. The soliloquies have parallel concepts. In the introductory soliloquy, Faustus begins by pondering the fate of his life and what he wants his career to be. He ends his soliloquy with the solution and decision to give his soul to the devil. Similarly in the closing soliloquy, Faustus begins pondering, and finally comes to terms with the fate he created for himself. Frey also explains: “The whole pattern of this final soliloquy is thus a grim parody of the opening one, where decision is reached after, not prior to, the survey”.
Faustus learns necromancy
In the prologue, The Chorus introduces the reader to Faustus and his story. He is described as being "base of stock"; however, his intelligence and scholarship eventually earns him the degree of a Doctor at the University of Wittenburg. During this opening, the reader also gets a first clue to the source of Faustus's downfall. Faustus's tale is likened to that of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when the sun melted his waxen wings. This is a hint to Faustus's end as well as bringing to the reader's attention the idea of hubris (excessive pride), which is represented in the Icarus story and ultimately Faustus'.
Faustus comments that he has mastered every subject he has studied. He depreciates Logic as merely being a tool for arguing; Medicine as being unvalued unless it allowed raising the dead and immortality; Law as being mercenary and beneath him; and Divinity as useless because he feels that all humans commit sin, and thus to have sins punishable by death complicates the logic of Divinity. He dismisses it as "What doctrine call you this? Que sera, sera" (What will be, shall be).
Faustus instructs his servant Wagner to summon Valdes and Cornelius, a famous witchcrafter and magician, respectively. Two angels, called the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, appear to Faustus and dispense their own perspectives of his interest in magic and necromancy. Though Faustus seems momentarily dissuaded, he is apparently won over by the Bad Angel, proclaiming, "How am I glutted with conceit of this?" ("conceit" meaning the possibilities magic offers to him). Valdes and Cornnelius declare that if Faustus devotes himself to magic, great things are indeed possible with someone of Faustus' learning and intelligence.
Faustus' absence is noted by two scholars who are less accomplished than Faustus himself. They request that Wagner reveal Faustus' present location, a request which Wagner at first haughtily denies, then bombastically reveals. The two scholars worry about Faustus being corrupted by the art of Magic and leave to inform the rector of the university.
That night, Faustus begins his attempt to summon a devil in the presence of Lucifer and other devils (although Faustus is unaware of their presence). After he creates a magic circle and speaks an incantation through which he revokes his baptism, a demon (a representative of the devil himself) named Mephistophilis appears before him, but Faustus is unable to tolerate the hideous looks of the demon and commands it to change its appearance. Faustus, seeing the obedience of the demon in changing its form, takes pride in his skill. He tries to bind the demon to his service, but is unable to because Mephistophilis already serves Lucifer, who is also called the Prince of Devils. Mephistophilis also reveals that it was not Faustus' power that summoned him but rather his abjuration of scriptures that results in the Devil coming in the hope of claiming Faustus' soul.
Mephistophilis introduces the history of Lucifer and the other devils while indirectly telling Faustus that Hell has no circumference nor limit and is more of a state of mind than a physical location. Faustus' inquiries into the nature of hell lead to Mephistophilis saying: "Oh, Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, which strikes a terror to my fainting soul".
The pact with Lucifer
Using Mephistophilis as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: he is to be allotted 24 years of life on Earth, during which time he will have Mephistophilis as his personal servant and the ability to use magic; however, at the end he will give his body and soul over to Lucifer as payment and spend the rest of time as one damned to Hell. This deal is to be sealed in the form of a contract written in Faustus' own blood. After cutting his arm, the wound is divinely healed and the Latin words Homo, fuge! ("Man, flee!") then appear upon it. Despite the dramatic nature of this divine intervention, Faustus disregards the inscription with the assertion that he is already damned by his actions thus far and therefore left with no place to which he could flee. Mephistophilis brings coals to break the wound open again, and thus Faustus is able to take his oath written in his own blood.
Wasting his skills
Faustus begins by asking Mephistophilis a series of science-related questions. However, the demon seems to be quite evasive and finishes with a Latin phrase, Per inoequalem motum respect totes ("through unequal motion with respect to the whole thing"). This sentence has not the slightest scientific value, thus giving the impression that Mephistophilis is untrustworthy.
Faustus then asks who made the world, a question which Mephistophilis refuses to answer (Mephistophilis knows that God made the world). When Faustus announces his intention to renounce magic and repent, Mephistophilis storms away. The good and evil angels return to Faustus: the Good Angel urges him to repent and recant his oath to Lucifer, but the Evil Angel sneers that Faustus will never repent. This is the largest fault of Faustus throughout the play: he is blind to his own salvation and remains set on his soul's damnation.
Lucifer, accompanied by Beelzebub and Mephistophilis, appears to Faustus and frightens him into obedience to their pact. Lucifer then, as an entertainment, brings to Faustus the personification of the seven deadly sins. Faustus fails to see them as warnings and ignores their implication.
From this point until the end of the play, although he gains great fame for his powers, Dr. Faustus does nothing worthwhile, having begun his pact with the attitude that he would be able to do anything. Instead, he merely uses his temporary powers for practical jokes and frivolous demonstrations to the nobility. Finally, with his allotted 24 years mostly expired and realizing that he has given up his soul for no good reason, Faustus appears to scholars and warns them that he is damned and will not be long on the Earth. He gives a speech about how he is damned and eventually seems to repent for his deeds.
At the end of the play, on the eleventh hour, Mephistophilis comes to collect Faustus' soul and Faustus is dragged off the stage to Hell by Mephistophilis and other devils even though Dr. Faustus tries to repent and beg for mercy from those devils. In the later 'B text' of the play, there is a subsequent scene [V.iii] where the three scholars discover his remains strewn about the stage: they state that Faustus was damned, one scholar declaring that the devils have torn him asunder, but they determine, because of Faustus' learning, to have him properly buried and mourned. Mephistophilis says to Faustus in the A text 'What are thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to die'
The Calvinist/anti-Calvinist controversy
The theological implications of Doctor Faustus have been the subject of considerable debate throughout the last century. Among the most complicated points of contention is whether the play supports or challenges the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination, which dominated the lectures and writings of many English scholars in the latter half of the sixteenth century. According to Calvin, predestination meant that God, acting of his own free will, elects some people to be saved and others to be damned – thus, the individual has no control over his own ultimate fate. This doctrine was the source of great controversy because it was seen by the so-called anti-Calvinists to limit man's free will in regard to faith and salvation, and to present a dilemma in terms of theodicy.
At the time Doctor Faustus was performed, this doctrine was on the rise in England, and under the direction of Puritan theologians at Cambridge and Oxford had come to be considered the orthodox position of the Church of England. Nevertheless, it remained the source of vigorous and, at times, heated debate between Calvinist scholars, such as William Whitaker and William Perkins, and anti-Calvinists, such as William Barrett and Peter Baro. The dispute between these Cambridge intellectuals had quite nearly reached its zenith by the time Marlowe was a student there in the 1580s, and likely would have influenced him deeply, as it did many of his fellow students.
Concerning the fate of Faustus, the Calvinist concludes that his damnation was inevitable. His rejection of God and subsequent inability to repent are taken as evidence that he never really belonged to the elect, but rather had been predestined from the very beginning for reprobation. In his Chiefe Points of Christian Religion, Theodore Beza, the successor to John Calvin, describes the category of sinner into which Faustus would most likely have been cast:
- To conclude, they which are most miserable of all, those climb a degree higher, that their fall might be more grievous: for they are raised so high by some gift of grace, that they are little moved with some taste of the heavenly gift: so that for the time they seem to have received the seed...But this is plain, that the spirit of adoption, which we have said to be only proper unto them which are never cast forth, but are written in the secret of God's people, is never communicated to them, for were they of the elect they should remain still with the elect. All these therefore (because of necessity, and yet willingly, as they which are under the slavery of sin, return to their vomit, and fall away from faith) are plucked up by the roots, to be cast into the fire.
For the Calvinist, Faustus represents the worst kind of sinner, having tasted the heavenly gift and rejected it. His damnation is justified and deserved because he was never truly adopted among the elect. According to this view, the play demonstrates Calvin's "three-tiered concept of causation," in which the damnation of Faustus is first willed by God, then by Satan, and finally, by himself. As Calvin himself explains it in his Institutes of Christian Religion:
- We see therefore that it is no absurdity, that one self act be ascribed to God, to Satan, and to man: but the diversity in the end and manner of doing, causeth that therein appeareth the justice of God to be without fault, and also the wickedness of Satan and man, bewrayeth itself to their reproach.
The anti-Calvinist view, however, finds such thinking repugnant, and prefers to interpret Doctor Faustus as a criticism of such doctrines. One of the greatest critics of Calvinism in Marlowe's day was Peter Baro, who argued that such teachings fostered despair among believers, rather than repentance among sinners. He claimed, in fact, that Calvinism created a theodical dilemma:
- What shall we say then? That this question so long debated of the Philosophers, most wise men, and yet undetermined, cannot even of Divines, and men endued with heavenly wisdom, be discussed and decided? And that God hath in this case laid a crosse upon learned men, wherein they might perpetually torment themselves? I cannot so think.
Baro recognised the threat of despair which faced the Protestant church if it did not come to an agreement of how to understand the fundamentals. For him, the Calvinists were overcomplicating the issues of faith and repentance, and thereby causing great and unnecessary confusion among struggling believers. Faustus himself confesses a similar sentiment regarding predestination:
- "The reward of sin is death." That's hard.
- ..."If we say that we have no sin,
- We deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us."
- Why then belike we must sin,
- And so consequently die.
- Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
- What doctrine call you this? Che sera, sera,
- "What will be, shall be"? Divinity, adieu!
Faustus includes a well-known speech addressed to the summoned shade of Helen of Troy, in Act V, scene I. The following is from the Gutenberg project e-text of the 1604 quarto (with footnotes removed).
- "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,
- And all is dross that is not Helena.
- I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
- Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack'd;
- And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
- And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
- Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
- And then return to Helen for a kiss.
- O, thou art fairer than the evening air
- Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
- Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
- When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
- More lovely than the monarch of the sky
- In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
- And none but thou shalt be my paramour!"
Another well-known passage comes after Faustus asks Mephistophiles how he (Mephistophiles) is out of Hell, to which Mephistophiles replies:
- "Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
- Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
- And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
- Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
- In being deprived of everlasting bliss?"
This quote comes from a translation of Saint John Chrysostom, and implies that the fallen angel Mephistophilis has both a deep knowledge of and longing for God, whom he still rebels against.
Themes and motifs
"Ravished" by magic (1.1.112), Faustus turns to the dark arts when law, logic, science, and theology fail to satisfy him. According to Charles Nicholl this places the play firmly in the Elizabethan period when the problem of magic ("liberation or damnation?") was a matter of debate, and when Renaissance occultism aimed at a furthering of science. Nicholl, who connects Faustus as a "studious artisan" (1.1.56) to the "hands-on experience" promoted by Paracelsus, sees in the former a follower of the latter, a "magician as technologist".
Mephistophiles is a demon whom Faustus conjures up while first using magic. Readers initially feel sympathy for the demon when he attempts to explain to Faustus the consequences of abjuring God and Heaven. Mephistophiles gives Faustus a description of Hell and the continuous horrors it possesses; he wants Faustus to know what he is getting himself into before going through with the bargain:
- “Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God
- And tasted the eternal joy of heaven
- Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
- In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
- O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands
- Which strikes a terror to my fainting soul!” 
However, Faustus believes that supernatural powers are worth a lifetime in Hell:
- “Say he (Faustus) surrender up to him (Lucifer) his soul
- So he will spare him four and twenty years,
- Letting him live in all voluptuousness
- Having thee (Mephistophiles) ever to attend on me” (Marlowe 15)
Some scholars[who?] argue that Mephistophiles depicts the sorrow that comes with separation from God. Mephistophiles is foreshadowing the pain Faustus would have to endure, should he go through with his plan. In this facet, Faustus can be likened to Icarus, whose insatiable ambition was the source of his misery and the cause of his plight.
The first television adaptation was broadcast in 1947 by the BBC starring David King-Wood as Faustus and Hugh Griffith as Mephistopheles.
Another BBC television version was broadcast in 1958 and starred William Squire as Faustus in an adaptation by Ronald Eyre intended for schools.
In 1961, the BBC adapted the play for television as a two-episode production starring Alan Dobie as Faustus; this production was also meant for use in schools.
The play was adapted for the screen in 1967 by Richard Burton and Nevill Coghill, who based the film on an Oxford University Dramatic Society production in which Burton starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy.
On 24 December 1995, BBC Radio 3 broadcast an adaptation of the play with Stephen Moore as Faustus, Philip Voss as Mephistopheles and Maurice Denham as the Old Man. A second adaptation was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 23 September 2007, this time with Paterson Joseph as Faustus, Ray Fearon as Mephistopheles, Toby Jones as Wagner, Janet McTeer as the Evil Angel and Anton Lesser as the Emperor.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a full radio adaptation of the play with Kenneth Welsh as Faustus and Eric Peterson as Mephistopheles and later released it on audio cassette (ISBN 978-0-660-18526-2) in 2001 as part of its "Great Plays of the Millennium" series.
Two live performances in London have been videotaped and released on DVD: one at the Greenwich Theatre in 2010 and one at the Globe Theatre in 2011 starring Paul Hilton as Faustus and Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles.
Doctor Faustus has raised much controversy due to its alleged interaction with the demonic realm. Before Marlowe, there were few authors who ventured into this kind of writing. After his play, other authors began to expand on their views of the spiritual world.
- ^Logan, Terence P.; Denzell S. Smith, eds. (1973). The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. p. 14.
- ^ abcChambers, Vol. 3, pp. 423–4.
- ^Chambers, Vol. 3, p. 422.
- ^Bevington and Rasmussen 72-73.
- ^Kirschbaum, Leo (1943). "Marlowe's Faustus: A Reconsideration". The Review of English Studies. 19 (75): 225–41. JSTOR 509485.
- ^Greg, W. W. (1950). Marlowe's Doctor Faustus 1604-1616: Parallel Texts. Oxford: Clarendon.
- ^ abNicholl, Charles (8 March 1990). "'Faustus' and the Politics of Magic". London Review of Books. pp. 18–19. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- ^Kendell, Monica (2003). Doctor Faustus the A text (A text ed.). United Kingdom: Longman. p. 1. ISBN 0-582-81780-3.
- ^Bevington and Rasmussen xi.
- ^ abChristian, Paul (1952). The History and Practice of Magic. 1. Nichols, Ross (trans). London: Forge Press. p. 428.
- ^Jones, John Henry (1994). The English Faust Book, a critical edition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-521-42087-7.
- ^Bellinger, Martha Fletcher (1927). A Short History of the Theatre. New York: Holt. pp. 207–13. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
- ^Tromly, Frederic (1998). "Damnation as tantalization". Playing with desire: Christopher Marlowe and the art of tantalization. University of Toronto Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-8020-4355-9.
- ^Cantor, Paul A (2004). "The contract from hell". In Heffernan, William C.; Kleinig, John. Private and public corruption. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-7425-3492-6.
- ^Leo Ruickbie, Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician (The History Press, 2009), p. 15
- ^The History of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor Iohn Faustus by P.F., Gent,
- ^Lohelin, James N. (2016). Marlowe: Doctor Faustus. London: Palgrave. p. 3. ISBN 978-1137426345. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
- ^Keefer, Michael (2008). "Introduction". Doctor Faustus: a critical edition. Ontario: Broadview. pp. 67–8.
- ^Frey, Leonard H. "ANTITHETICAL BALANCE IN THE OPENING AND CLOSE OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS." Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Saint Louis University, Saint Louis. 26 Mar 2009 <http://ezp.slu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=10044282&site=ehost-live> p350
- ^Dr. Faustus unabridged (Dover Thrift Editions)
- ^Bevington and Rasmussen 46.
- ^p. 157. Milward, Peter. Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources. University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
- ^p. 157-163. Milward.
- ^p. 249. Princiss, G. M. "Marlowe's Cambridge Years and the Writing of Doctor Faustus." Studies in English Literature 33.2 (1993).
- ^Honderich, Pauline (1973). "John Calvin and Doctor Faustus". The Modern Language Review. 68 (1): 1–13. doi:10.2307/3726198. JSTOR 3726198.
- ^5.5. Beza, Theodore. "A Brief Declaration of the Chief Points of Christian Religion Set Forth in a Table." 1575. Early English Books Online. 10 2 2007. http://eebo.chadwyck.com.
- ^p. 292. Stachniewski, John. The Persecutory Imagination: English Puritanism and the Literature of Religious Despair. Oxford University Press, 1991.
- ^2.4.2. Calvin, John. "The Institutes of Christian Religion." 1585. Early English Books Online. 10 2 2007. http://eebo.chadwyck.com.
- ^p. 510. Hyperius, Andreas. "A Special Treatise of God's Providence With an Appendix by Peter Baro." 1588. Early English Books Online. 10 2 2007. http://eebo.chadwyck.com.
- ^(Marlowe 14)
- ^(Snydre, Susan. "Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as an Inverted Saint's Life." Studies in Philology 63(1966): 565–577.)
- ^Hamlin, William M. (2001). "Casting Doubt in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus". Studies in English Literature: 257–75.
- ^Hamlin 258.
- Chambers, E. K.The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
- Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
- Marlowe, Christopher (1962). Bevington, David; Rasmussen, Eric, eds. Doctor Faustus, A- and B-texts (1604, 1616). Manchester: U of Manchester P. pp. 72–73.
Works based on Faust
This drama should be regarded as a skeletal structure of the play written by Marlowe, for the surviving manuscripts are so interspersed with comic scenes and the lines themselves so often revised according to whims of the actors that the original writing must be culled out of the surviving version.
Even so, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is worth reading and study because of the many remaining examples of the poet’s skill it contains. In addition to the adulterated poetry in this play there is also the problem of the tainted characterization and symbolism; for a while the personality of Mephistophilis is often caricaturized and while the exploits of Faustus are frequently rendered pure low comedy, still the Marlowe version of the two principal characters is evident in the sober and more consistent moments of the play. As an added contribution to existing Faustian literature, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is an artistic effort, although not comparable in-depth or scope to the treatment given to this theme by Goethe.
There is evidently more than what meets the eye in Doctor Faustus, otherwise, its story-element which is too brief and simple, has not by itself the power of creating a lasting impression and an abiding appeal. The play may have had an immediate interest to the people of the Renaissance age because it was written in and for that age, and also because Faustus typifies the genuine Renaissance passion for infinite knowledge. The play, it is true, is a typical Renaissance rendering of the story upon which it is based. But the fact that it is still a favourite of every reader of English drama in spite of three-and-half centuries of changing tastes and temperaments, proves that Doctor Faustus has its greatness not as a mere typical Renaissance play but as a play embodying eternal significance.
Faustus, the chief and central figure of Marlowe’s play, stands not for a character, not for a man, but for everyman. The grim tragedy that befalls him is not a personal tragedy, but one that overtakes all those who dare ‘practise more than heavenly power permits.’ The terrible conflict that rages in his mind is not peculiar to him alone, but common to all who waver between truth and delusion. The play presents not the conflict between man and man, but the eternal battle between the world-old protagonists—Man and Spiritual Power. And the battle takes place not in any known battlefield but in the invisible and limitless region of the mind. And the object of fight—not sceptres and crowns, not kingdoms and empires, but the knowledge of man’s final fate!
The mystery of life is an alluring and impenetrable one. Innumerable have been the attempts of scholars and scientists, poets and prophets, to pluck out the heart of this mystery. Yet baffling one and all, it continues to be a mystery. Part at least of this mystery is due to the perpetual conflict between good and evil—a conflict without beginning and end. The conflict is terrible, but in that very terror there is an irresistible fascination. It is such a fascination that the play of Doctor Faustus exercises on its readers. Faustus, the Teutonic and medieval sceptic, personifies disbelief in all its strength and weakness. Tired of what he calls barren knowledge, he deliberately seeks to learn and practise magic, magic that has been practised since the beginning of the history of thought by those who have chosen the wrong road. Blind in his blind determination, Faustus becomes deaf to the counsels of good that are constantly whispered into his ears by the Good Angel. Such is the power of Evil that when once it takes a man by the throat, it will not leave him until it strangles him. This kind of crucifixion which carries with it its own moral, cannot but make an appeal to the mind of man in all ages and countries. Sin working out its own nemesis, brings the catastrophe of the play into vital relation with human conduct. And who can resist its appeal?
And too, there is ever present in man an irrepressible temptation to reach that which is beyond his grasp, to conquer the infinite, to touch the impalpable, to see the invisible, to attain the impossible. In spite of examples from history, in spite of warnings and threats, man never gives up this instinct of his, never rests contented with what he has. He is forever eager to follow the dubious trail of some melting mirage of the mind and ready to stake his all, if necessary, in its pursuit’. Doubtful though of his success, he still throws his red gauntlet in the face of fate, defies chance and circumstance, and hopes to reach his goal. May be the roses of reward will not be his, but his surely will be crown of martyrdom. And both the attempts—the attempt to acquire forbidden things and the attempt to secure martyrdom have their fascinating appeal. And Faustus, as we know, is both the hero and martyr of forbidden knowledge.
The story of Doctor Faustus may be synoptically stated thus. There was once a German scholar, John Faustus by name. He was a Doctor of Divinity—excelling all ‘whose sweet delight disputes in heavenly matters of theology.’ Not satisfied with ‘learning golden gifts’, he took to the study of cursed necromancy. He was convinced that ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’, and that if he became one, all things that move between the quiet poles will be at his command. So he decided to enlarge his sphere of knowledge by cultivating magic. He conjured up Mephistophilis, servant to great Lucifer—‘arch-regent and commander of all spirits.’ Mephistophilis told Faustus that he could not serve him without Lucifer’s permission. Faustus then voluntarily offered to surrender his soul after twenty-four years, if during that period Mephistophilis promised to be his slave and did his biddings. Lucifer agreed, and demanded a promise executed in Faustus’ blood. Faustus did so and set out in quest of knowledge and pleasure, travelling about invisible. He had an aerial flight ‘seat in a chariot burning bright’, and visited Trier, Paris, Naples, Campania, Venice, Padua, Rome. By way of demonstrating his power and superiority, Faustus fooled the Pope, called up the spirits of Alexander and his paramour, provided grapes to the Duchess of Vanholt in mid-winter and, at the request of his scholar-friends, summoned the spirit of Helen of Troy—Helen whose face ‘launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium.’ At times Faustus was seized by the desire for repentance but the exhilaration of pleasure was too great, and the powers of Evil too strong. Finally, as the period of contract expired, Faustus made frantic appeals to God and Christ: but precisely at the stroke of twelve, he was borne away by the Devils to his everlasting doom.
As already mentioned Doctor Faustus consists only of scenes, of fourteen short scenes. Marlowe never cared to arrange them in Acts and Scenes according to the traditional manner. Some of the recent editors, have, however, attempted to do so. According to this arrangement the First Act consists of the first four scenes. The next two scenes constitute the Second Act. The seventh, eight and nineth scenes, with the Chorus preceding it, is the Third Act. Scenes ten, eleventh and twelveth with Bologue are marked off as the Fourth Act. The last two scenes form the Fifth Act.
Whatever argument we like and follow, the fact remains that the interest and appeal of the play does not in the least depend upon its division into Acts and Scenes, or Movements or Episodes. Lacking as it does structural unity and technical perfection, the play has the greater merit of unity of character. It is the dominating figure of Faustus that holds the play together and imparts to it such dramatic quality and emotional appeal as can never belong to it by any other method. As in Hamlet, so in this drama, the central personality himself is the play, a living play with living acts and scenes, and incidents and episodes. His adventure itself in the realm of knowledge is full of dramatic possibilities; and the conflict in his mind between his allegiance to the Devil and his desire to repent for it and seek God’s pardon is, of course, dramatic in the extreme.
Characterization in Doctor Faustus is, in general, weak and shadowy. Marlowe concentrates all his power of character delineation on Faustus. Mephistophilis too, gets his share, though to a much less degree. But all the other characters are faint and feeble. In fact, Marlowe seems to have designed these minor characters, Valdes and Cornelius, the scholars, the Old Man, the Good and the Evil Angels, in such a manner as to heighten the character of Faustus by contrast. “Each and all of these subordinate characters are dedicated to the one main purpose of expressing the psychological condition of Faustus from various points of view—the perplexities of his divided spirits, his waverings of anguish and remorse, the flickerings of hope extinguished in the smoke of self-abandonment to fear, the pungent pricks of conscience soothed by transient visions of delight, the prying curiosity which lulls his torment, at one moment, the soul’s defiance ‘yielding to despair, and from despair recovering fresh strength. To this vivisection of a ruined man, all details in gloomy scene contribute. Even the pitiful distractions—pitiful in their leaden dullness and blunt edge of drollery—with which Faustus amuses his worse than Promethean leisure until the last hour of his contract sounds, heighten the infernal effect.”
Despite defects Doctor Faustus is a great play and a great tragedy. A close examination will reveal to us how wonderfully Marlowe has succeeded in producing a work of art from the chaotic Northern and Teutonic Faustiad. The most striking thing that endows the play with a tragic unity is the character of the hero—whose mind is a battleground between the forces of curiosity and conscience. Marlowe’s indisputable merit consists in delineating with great tragic power the figure of a great tragic hero. Marlowe’s Faustus, scholarly and sceptical, defiant and desperate, combines in himself the characteristics of a medieval rebel and a Renaissance adventurer. It is the psychological study of this character that Marlowe draws with great mastery, and it is this that makes Doctor Faustus more a dramatic poem than a drama proper. The mental conflict of Faustus is presented with great tragic intensity, enhanced every now and then by the whispers of the Good and Bad Angels. We witness the course of this conflict with alternating moods of fear, pity, sympathy, and awe, till in the final scene when Faustus cries out his very soul, we just watch incapable of having any one particular feeling. Plot or no plot, Doctor Faustus engulfs the reader in the waves of tragedy that fret and foam in its serious scenes.