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The Fall of Man
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe
Member Name: MI9to5
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe
Advantages: A stimulating read
Disadvantages: Won't suit everyones reading style
Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe was one of the texts that I had to read for my English degree last year and one of only a few that I actually fond myself enjoying somewhat.
Before I picked up the text, which is a play, I already knew quite a bit about because of the allusions made towards it in John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, which I had read the year before. This on its own should be a testimony to the play and the cultural impact that its performance and subsequent publication had. It is however its authors predecessor's (Shakespeare) works that are most well known.
Christopher Marlowe is himself however quite a character. He was born in Canterbury in 1564 and studied at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge achieving an M.A. Degree. He wrote numerous plays many of which are often viewed as being better than those of Shakespeare but unfortunately he died in May 1593 at the age of 29 and so never had the ability to produce the mass number of works that Shakespeare did. His death however is probably the most intriguing because he was stabbed in the eye in a tavern brawl at Deptford 12 days previously a warrant had already been issued for his arrest after Thomas Kyd under torture professed that some heretical documents belonged to Marlowe.
I know that the above may not be relevant per sae to the play but in my opinion it is important to understand the author of a play especially those produced in the Elizabethan era.
Doctor Faustus was first performed in the period between 1592-1589 and was somewhat popular with the audiences that viewed it. The plays religious stance however is often seen as ambiguous and maybe that it why it took such popularity and also why it remains popular today. The play itself tells the story of Doctor Faustus who in return for immense knowledge sells his soul to the devil and therefore undertakes a tragic downfall.
The play begins with the chorus telling us what the play is all about and explaining that this isn't a play about bloody war, courtly love or wide exuberance but about a man born to lower class parents. Even in this introduction however we are given hints as to the final outcome of the tale as the story of Icarus (who flew to close to the sun) is alluded to.
This introduction like the rest of the play is written in blank verse (most of the time) and is easy to follow for most people. Personally I find Doctor Faustus for easier to comprehend and manage than any of Shakespeare's plays and on top of this the play is also in my opinion far more interesting from a literary and cultural perspective.
The rest of the play challenges the ideas of heaven and hell as well as those of knowledge, science and power, which were exceptionally prominent when the play was first performed. The ongoing battle between good and evil is however what prevails over all the other themes, which include sin, death, magic, knowledge and demons. The combination of all these themes gives us a very multi-layered play, which at the time was quite a risk. Few writers besides Marlowe had the courage to tackle such issues in the open air and to depict the downfall of man. After Faustus however many more writers take up the gauntlet and began to write about how easily man can fall.
The play is in my opinion a fantastic piece of literary work and one text that I think should be more widely known than it is. In my respects it encapsulates the thinking of an entire historical period and highlights the many in-head struggles that were ravishing England. If you only read one play in your life then I strongly suggest that it be this one. Shakespeare's plays are good don't get me wrong some are fantastically lyrical to read but for me none of them have the impact of Doctor Faustus.
'Doctor Faustus: 'Gentlemen, farewell. If I live till morning, I'll visit you; if not; Faustus is gone to hell.' (1.14.84-85)
Summary: A play that tells us a lot about the age it was written in
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