Monday, 18 August 2014

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (3/5)

First published: 1604
Page count: 104

The back says: The Tragical 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.

I say: I have been meaning to read this play for the longest time, and now that I have, I wish I had done it much earlier – before I read other interpretations of the same story, because this was very underwhelming. 

Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for anything he wants for 24 years with Mephistophilis, one of the devil’s henchmen, as his servant. His wish is granted, but during that time he doesn’t really do anything of importance, just lecturing to people and visiting heads of state.

He does play a joke on the Pope that offered some comic relief.

[Spoilers – highlight to read] At the end of his 24 years, Faustus starts regretting eternity in hell and tries to repent in order that God will forgive him and allow him into heaven. This doesn’t happen and the play ends with Faustus being taken into hell.

What bothered me the most was the language – the play was written at the end of the 1500’s – which was archaic and cumbersome. It wasn’t hard to understand, just not what I am used to. Having said that, there are a few passages that were quite beautiful. Like when Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he is out of hell and he replies:

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

I must admit I found it rather surprising that Mephistophilis would try to talk Faustus out of entering the deal with the devil, but it gives the play a deeper meaning beyond the simple one I have always presumed.

Another thing that I didn’t care for was that whenever Faustus was questioning his faith or considering repentance, a good and a bad angel would appear and plead their cases. This felt contrived and, again, probably because I have seen it done so many times it merely annoyed me.

What is left are the play’s literary and philosophical merits, which I don’t want to get into on this blog. More than the play itself I gained more from reading about it and pondering the question of selling one’s soul to the devil.

So, 3/5 because of its literary importance (the play itself would otherwise get a 2).

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