by Christopher Marlowe
The young Dr. Faustus was of lowly birth but was awarded a doctorate because of his profound knowledge. But he is not satisfied with the knowledge of this world anymore. He decides to learn necromancy, black magic. In order to gain a thorough understanding of this subject he makes a pact with Lucifer, knowledge for his soul.
For those who don't know about the Shakespearean authorship debate, it is speculated that Shakespeare was not actually the author of the plays attributed to him. Christopher Marlowe is one of the possibilities thrown around as the real author of Shakespeare's plays. You have to ignore the fact that Marlowe was dead before Shakespeare's first play was produced to come to this conclusion but some say Marlowe faked his own death. This doesn't seem likely to me. At least, it seems like you have to do more logical gymnastics to come to this conclusion than you have to to say that Shakespeare really wrote his own plays. But that's a debate for another time.
The language of Doctor Faustus was much like Shakespeare, difficult to understand at times, but I didn't think it held the same magic behind it that I've seen in Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night's Dream, Taming of the Shrew, and others that I've read. It certainly wasn't as funny. It was just about the pact made with Lucifer and then 20 years later when Lucifer returns to claim Faustus' soul. As Faustus is making decisions about selling his soul and again about turning back for salvation, there are the good angel and the wicked devil sitting on his shoulders advising him. The tension of the play is all at the end when we watch to see whether he will go to Satan or to God.
It was an interesting play. It was controversial during its time and, I'm sure, for a while after. It was based on the German legend of Faust who sells his soul to the Devil in order to gain more knowledge. I would rank it just below The Merchant of Venice. Of the Shakespeare that I've read so far Merchant is my least favorite, which isn't saying much since I love anything Shakespeare. But Doctor Faustus was in no way a bad play. It was thought provoking and solemn. The attempts at levity were lost in the depth of the main plot. But, as most plays are, it was short and so worth the effort to squeeze it in for an understanding of history, drama, and the issues of the time.