July 11, 2009

Review: Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus
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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Petunia, You say in relation to the debate over whether Marlowe could be the hidden hand behind the name Shakespeare ;

"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."

No, you don't have to ignore the fact that Marlowe died too young, but you can look into whether the report of his death might have been a cover up for his escape from the Star Chamber which was an English version of the Inquisition.

Even Charles Nicholl (The Reckoning) the foremost expert on the circumstances surrounding Marlowe's death on the 30th. May 1593 when Marlowe was just 29, even he concluded the Coroners report, the main evidence, is a cover up.

Nicholl says it a cover up of a Murder, but if it covering something , why not Marlowe's escape?.

When you look at the powerful friends he had, when you see how reps. if these friends surrounded him on the day of his supposed death, when you think how valuable this guy was as a great writer and also as a spy for the Queen,then it's not hard to conclude, that the question is at least still open.

In any case, it's fun to read up on the topic. If you want to, go to the blog of Peter Farey and also that of Carlo DiNota. Or start with a look at my film on the subject, Much Ado About Something.

Have fun. Mike Rubbo

Petunia said...

Thank you for your time and your thoughtful comment. I have only a very cursory knowledge about the authorship debate. Honestly I am afraid to get into it because it looks so huge to me. There are so many sides to listen to and little enough evidence to prove anything. It's all very speculative. But I love Shakespeare no matter who actually put pen to paper. I will keep your recommendations at hand for when I can really dig into it.

C. B. James said...

I'm happy to see Marlowe get some play on the blogs even if you don't like him as much as I do. If I remember correctly from graduate school Faustus was not exactly finished when Marlowe died. Edward II is probably his best play, certainly the it's the one most frequently produced these days.

I did look them both up on Wikipedia and there seems to be some question of just when Shakespeare's plays started production. Some say as early as the 1580's which overlaps Marlowes career. Marlowe was one of the most successful playwrights of his day and clearly influenced Shakespeare. Had he lived, I think he might have given the bard a run for his money.

You can put me down as someone who believes he was murdered at 29 and that Shakespeare wrote all of his plays. Why bother with conspiracies when the plays themselves are so good and so worth reading?

Petunia said...

I did not know that Doctor Faustus was uncompleted. I read the play because it was on my teenager's reading list for school. I like to try to read what he is reading but I usually just read the small stuff. I am NOT going to read The Fairy Queen any time soon.

Zibilee said...

I once saw a beautifully rendered dress rehearsal of the opera based on this play. The costuming was stunning. I have not read the play though I probably should.