Sunday, July 3, 2011

Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe

doctor faustus
christopher marlowe
premiered 1592
69 pages
completed 5/29/2011

read for: HSTEU305 (european witch trials)

*may contain spoilers*

Not marching now in fields of Trasimene / Where Mars did mate the Carthaginians, / Nor sporting in the dalliance of love / in courts of kings where state is overturned / Nor in the pomp of proud audacious deeds / Intends our muse to vaunt his heavenly verse.

A fifteenth century German, Georg Faustus, was a learned man with a reputation for magic. He studied at Heilderberg where he showed an interest in occult topics and was an example of the Renaissance magic tradition, a renewed interest in sorcery and other such learned magics. He was an actual figure around whom myths and legends have sense sprung up. Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is just one of many versions of this tale. In his play, Doctor Faustus is a learned man with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and power. He sees magic as the ultimate form of both and so makes a pact with the devil, his soul in exchange for twenty-four years of magical power. As the time for payment draws near, Faustus grows fearful and contemplates whether his damnation is inevitable or if its not too late to repent.

I read this for school, for my History of European Witch Trials class (which I kept accidentally referring to as simply my "witchcraft" class, as if I'd ditched the University of Washington for Hogwarts) and wrote a paper on it, so I was reading it for a very specific purpose. Rather than for enjoyment in the story, I was reading it as a text on Reformation belief in diabolism (demon worship) and the rejection of Catholic tradition. And in those instances, there is a wealth of information (enough to write an 8 page paper) from the deeper theological questions (if this is a Reformation text, is Faustus automatically damned for his diabolism or is there room for repentance?) to the more comically superficial (such as Faustus demanding Mephistophiles, his demon friend, appear to him as a Franciscan friar). Which is probably good, seeing as how otherwise, it's really kind of boring. Faustus is kind of a jackass. He didn't have enough depth to him to make me care why he chose to consort with devils. Not a whole lot happens, either. I wish when he got his powers he actually used them for something. Instead he did a few tricks and at one point traveled to Rome to screw with the Pope. But there was nowhere near twenty-four years worth of magical happenings. Not even twenty-four years of mischief.

I do think a good portion of my boredom comes from reading the text as opposed to seeing it performed. It's one thing to actually see devils carry him off to his fate at the end of the play, leaving the viewer without a concrete resolution (sometimes it just goes dark, sometimes screams are heard, and sometimes bloody limbs are thrown back on stage as if the demons tore his soul right out of his body), but reading nothing but sparse stage directions leaves a reader a little cold.

There's a faction of people who believe that Christopher Marlowe was the actual author of all Shakespeare's plays, and after reading this I have to believe those people are crazy (no offense if you're on of those crazies). There's a reason why Shakespeare is taught over and over, with whole classes devoted to nothing but his work, and why Christopher Marlowe is relegated to a week in my History of Witch Trials class.


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