Pros: excellent dialogue, engaging themes, wonderfully written
Cons: none- though old British literature may not appeal to everyone.
Its a shame that Marlowes career was cut short due to his death from involvement in some bar fight. Marlowe is not nearly as prolific as Shakespeare was, but some scholars (namely my British lit professor and his sources) have considered him a playwright with the talent to have rivaled Shakespeares popularity if only he had lived longer.
Dr. Faustus is one of Marlowes greatest plays. It has been considered the most or least Christian play that Marlowe has ever produced, and the dichotomy of possibilities that Marlow manages to leave open for interpretation is stunningly executed. Dr. Faustus essentially is the epitome of the Renaissance man; he is a believer and lover of knowledge. As a doctor of his time, he delves into the knowledge of black magic, because he finds it something tangible, as opposed to the mysticism and mystery of Christianity, which is intangible. In doing so, he delves into the dark arts, and summons the devil in this rather eloquent but creepy Latin incantation and Mephastophilis, a minion of Lucifer, comes to bid his wishes. Dr. Faustus makes a deal with the devil by signing his own name in blood, trading his soul for 24 years of the devils powers. We often ask why, only 24 years, but the idea was that 24 years was nearly a full life time during the age this was written in, and would have been considered a rather long period of time. The play then summarizes his petty exploits with his powers, demonstrating what he does for those 24 years, and finishes in a last tragic, but questionably self-damning moment. With Dr. Faustus last hour is near, he must complete his end of the bargain, to be eternally condemned to the fiery depths of hell.
It might just sound like a very Christian play. Dr. Faustus basically played with black magic, and through it got burnt. But the ideas that Marlowe is trying to show are far more complex than that. Throughout the whole play, there is this constant psychomachia (battle of the mind) going on between Dr. Faustus always present option of seeking God and obtaining salvation, presented by the good angel, and an evil angel, whom convinces Faustus that he is already forever damned despite what he does. The psychomachia leave open numerous points of interpretation. Is Faustus the victim or the perpetrator of his own destiny? The plays shining moments, come when he cries out near the end:
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
the devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
O, Ill leap up to God! Who pulls me down?
Indeed, who does pull Faustus down? Is it the fact we all have sinned and are already condemned? Is religion folly for no matter what the condemned do, they will end up in hell? Or is it Faustus refusal to enter heaven entirely the act of his own free will? Marlowe masterfully executes this bewilderingly complex dialogue on religion through a play in such an entertaining and wonderfully versed manner. Dr Faustus is relevant just as so in our modern society, asking the never answered questions of religion.
The play is edited well by Roma Gill for modern interpretation. He smartly keeps the plays most powerful lines intact in their original Latin, unlike some other editors, whom translate such directly into the text. In addition Gill also explains a few keywords here and there so that readers arent left in the dark about some of the plays more obscure lines.
I highly recommend this book, British literature scholar or not, it is chock full of interesting ideas, eloquent speech, and filled with wit and creativity. In addition to that, it is quite short and readable in only a few hours. Perhaps better watched on a stage as it was meant to be, Dr Faustus was still a delight for me to read. Highly recommended to all literary fans, this is not a play to be missed.