The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (Preface, Notes, and Glossary Included)

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (Preface, Notes, and Glossary Included)

by Christopher Marlowe

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Overview

The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe, based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. Doctor Faustus was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe's death and at least twelve years after the first performance of the play.

No Elizabethan play outside the Shakespeare canon has raised more controversy than Doctor Faustus. There is no agreement concerning the nature of the text and the date of composition, and the centrality of the Faust legend in the history of the Western world precludes any definitive agreement on the interpretation of the play.

The play is in blank verse and prose, depending on the version: 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 that does not interact with the other characters but rather provides an introduction and conclusion to the play and gives an introduction to the events that have unfolded at the beginning of some acts.

Along with history and language style, scholars have critiqued and analyzed the structure of Doctor Faustus and its effects on the play as a whole. 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”.

As a prologue, the Chorus tells us what type of play Doctor Faustus is. It is not about war and courtly love, but about Faustus, who was born of lower class parents. This can be seen as a departure from the medieval tradition; Faustus holds a lower status than kings and saints, but his story is still worth telling. It gives an introduction to his wisdom and abilities, most notably in academia, in which he excels so tremendously that he is awarded a doctorate. During this opening, we also get our 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 indeed a hint to Faustus's end as well as bringing our attention to the idea of hubris (excessive pride) which is represented in the Icarus story.

Faustus comments that he has reached the end of every subject he has studied. He appreciates Logic as being a tool for arguing; Medicine as being unvalued unless it allowed raising the dead and immortality; Law as being upstanding and above him; 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).

He calls upon his servant Wagner to bring forth Valdes and Cornelius, two famous magicians. The Good Angel and the Bad Angel dispense their own perspective of his interest in Satan. Though Faustus is momentarily dissuaded, proclaiming "How am I glutted with conceit of this?", he is apparently won over by the possibilities Magic offers to him. Valdes declares that if Faustus devotes himself to Magic, he must vow not to study anything else and points out that great things are indeed possible with someone of Faustus's standing.

Faustus's absence is noted by two scholars who are less accomplished than Faustus himself. They request that Wagner reveal Faustus's present location, a request which Wagner haughtily denies. The two scholars worry about Faustus falling deep into the art of Magic and leave to inform the King.

Faustus summons a devil, in the presence of Lucifer and other devils although Faustus is unaware of it. After creating a magic circle and speaking an incantation in which he revokes his baptism, Faustus sees a devil appear before him. The play continues from here.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940015705232
Publisher: Balefire Publishing
Publication date: 09/15/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 125
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Christopher Marlowe (26 February 1564 – 30 May 1593) was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian until his mysterious early death.

Marlowe greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year as Marlowe and who rose to become the eminent Elizabethan playwright after Marlowe's death. Marlowe's plays are known for the use of blank verse, and their overreaching protagonists.

A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason for it was given, though it was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemy—a manuscript believed to have been written by Marlowe was said to contain "vile heretical conceipts". On 20 May he was brought to the court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until "licensed to the contrary." Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether the stabbing was connected to his arrest has never been resolved.

As with other writers of the period, little is known about Marlowe. What evidence there is can be found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been described as a spy, a brawler, a heretic and a homosexual, as well as a "magician", "duellist", "tobacco-user", "counterfeiter" and "rakehell". J. A. Downie and Constance Kuriyama have argued against the more lurid speculation, but J.B. Steane remarked, "it seems absurd to dismiss all of these Elizabethan rumours and accusations as 'the Marlowe myth'".

Whatever the particular focus of modern critics, biographers and novelists, for his contemporaries in the literary world, Marlowe was above all an admired and influential artist. Within weeks of his death, George Peele remembered him as "Marley, the Muses' darling"; Michael Drayton noted that he "Had in him those brave translunary things / That the first poets had", and Ben Jonson wrote of "Marlowe's mighty line". Thomas Nashe wrote warmly of his friend, "poor deceased Kit Marlowe". So too did the publisher Edward Blount, in the dedication of Hero and Leander to Sir Thomas Walsingham.

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