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Imagine there's no heaven

  • Sep 28, 2010
Marlowe answered Lennon's dreadful and dreary supposition nearly 400 years in advance, and the disputation was over long before it started. As surely as there is a heaven, which Faustus could see but not reach, there is a hell that Faustus could enjoy but not escape.

Doctor Faustus is Marlowe's masterpiece, a shockingly live and relevant plea that burns off the page with terror, fear, love, pride, humor, and regret, I recently saw the play at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, UK, and set on a nearly bare stage, with un-amplified actors just a few feet from the audience,, and a few special simple effects, the raw power of Marlowe's writing and the inspired performance and staging left me emotionally drained and stunned. (If you are ever in Manchester the Royal Exchange Theatre is the perfect high-tech take on theater-in-the-round that must be experienced).

Interestingly and unlike my experience with Shakespeare, Faustus reads well, too. This edition is a student edition with notes on the vocabulary, performance, and history of the play. Marlowe was an exact contemporary of Shakespeare, but rose faster and died tragically young just as Shakespeare was remaking the theater and the language, and just before the King James version of the Bible turned orthodoxy into poetry for the vulgar tongue.

The plot of Faustus is simple to tell: the overreaching doctor sells his soul to the devil for a lifetime (24 years--as critic Christopher Ricks points out, a good long life in the times of the plagues) of self-indulgence. The central question of Faustus's reach--yes, John, there is a heaven, and most worthy  to be desired--and of his fatal bargain--there is as well a hell too terrible to contemplate for an eternity--can be summed up simply from this quote:

The Scholars: God forbid!
Faustus: God forbade it indeed, but Faustus hath done it.

(A-text, Act 5 Scene 2, Lines 39-40).

Like Icarius in the sky and Adam and Eve in Eden, Faustus yearns to taste the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Our lives will all end in physical death. Is our bargain any better than the one Fastus made and kept? Can I and will I repent?

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November 30, 2010
Sounds intriguing! Would you say it would be good reading for an intelligent, high school level student?
November 30, 2010
Yes, I think it would be perfect for a junior or senior level literature, theater, or even history class (you could build a good history curriculum around the references in the play and the history of Marlowe, Shakespeare, London, England, and the world--Faustus mentions the latest discoveries in science and exploration!).
December 05, 2010
Sounds great, I'll probably add it to our homeschooling curriculum for the future. Thank you!
September 28, 2010
Great hook! Got my attention to read the notes which were indeed thought provoking.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, normally known 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..."

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ISBN-13: 9780582817807
Editor: John O'Connor
Author: Christopher Marlowe
Genre: Play
Publisher: Pearson Education Limited
Date Published: 2003
Format: Paperback
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