The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus
By: Christopher Marlowe
Format/Source: Audiobook via LibriVox
Faustus, a brilliant scholar, sells his soul to the devil in exchange for limitless knowledge and powerful black magic, yet remains unfulfilled. He considers repenting, but remains too proud to ask God for forgiveness. His indecision ultimately seals his fate.
I first read this play back in 2013; Christopher Marlowe has been on my radar for some time, having learned that he was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. I never reviewed the play, and barely recalled my impressions of it, so I decided to re-read (well, listen) it again, particularly as I’ve exhausted the Shakespeare plays on my tbr pile at the moment 😉
Firstly, I remember thinking the first time I encountered this play how different it is from Shakespeare’s works (of course). The story is much darker, and is different thematically as it deals with the subjects of good and evil, satisfaction and ambition and humility/piety and the quest for knowledge. It’s easy to fall in league with the devil, and difficult to shed one’s pride to turn to God for forgiveness. Themes of atheism also plays a role here: Doctor Faustus, as we learn more about him, doesn’t believe in the nature of devils despite of his dealings with them, and yet at the end of the play I’m not quite sure what sort of message this play was going for thematically (or if there is one, really, save perhaps a cautionary tale about those who overreach themselves and end up falling far and hard back down (a common theme, it seems, with Marlowe’s works)).
Otherwise, this is a pretty weird-ass play to be honest; the devils are strange, kind of funny, but all in all weird and adds to the absurdity of what Faustus is in. There’s a bit of comedy somewhere in Act 3 (I sadly didn’t note down what scene though) when some fellows try to conjure some magic using Faustus’ book. It’s a nice break from the seriousness of Faustus’ situation, and did get a few chuckles out of me.
Overall, I’m glad to have revisited Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. It’s a complex play looking at the decisions made by a person and the dynamic between knowledge and humility, of ambition and overstepping your mark. It also looks at the human condition in a sense that it’s really all about the journey, we’re never really satisfied and are always looking for more (if this is making any sense at this point). It’s a grim outlook all in all, but nonetheless fascinating to listen or read through.