Actors' Renaissance Season 2010

Discover More

Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens in the play
  • Dr. Faustus studies magic in his home in Wittenberg and is visited by a good angel who pleads for him to “lay that damned book aside” and an evil angel who exhorts him to “Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art.”
  • Two of Faustus’s friends and fellow magicians urge him to join with them to “make all nations canonize [them].”
  • Two scholars question Wagner, Faustus’s servant, about the Doctor’s activities, which they fear.
  • Faustus uses his art to conjure Mephistopheles, whom he questions and sends to Lucifer to arrange a trade: for 24 years Faustus will receive the services of Mephistopheles to “live in all voluptuousness” and, in exchange, Lucifer will gain Faustus’s soul upon his death.
  • Wagner notes that Robin (the clown) is “bare, out of service, and hungry”; Wagner asks Robin to be his servant and pupil, promising to teach him magic.
  • Mephistopheles returns from Lucifer with a contract that Faustus must sign in blood.
  • Faustus signs the contract, then questions Mephistopheles about hell; he asks Mephistopheles for books on spells, the planets, and all the plant life on earth; and he conducts and astrology debate.
  • As Faustus asks Christ to save his soul, Lucifer and Beelzebub arrive to “show [Faustus] some pastime…all the Seven Deadly Sins.” After the show, Faustus says “this feeds my soul”; Lucifer gives him a book and returns to hell.
  • Robin steals one of Faustus’s books and asks Dick to go away and conjure with him.
  • Wagner reports on the trip Faustus has taken to Olympus to learn more about astronomy.
  • Faustus travels to Rome to question the Pope.
  • Robin and Dick use their magic to play tricks on a Vintner.
  • Faustus meets with the German Emperor.
  • The “face that launched a thousand ships,” more magic, dismemberments, and the final hour ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first performed?
1593 or 1594.

2. Where was the play first performed?
At the Rose Theatre by the Admiral’s Men.

3. Who wrote it?
Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593), born the same year as Shakespeare, was the son of a shoemaker in Canterbury and earned a degree from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He had a meteoric career as a poet and playwright, was accused of heretical beliefs, may have been a spy, and was murdered in a tavern. The sensational elements of his life have inspired modern works of fiction about him, including Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning and Anthony Burgess’s A Dead Man in Deptford.

4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Marlowe’s daring imagination, contempt for convention, and magnificent use of blank verse clearly inspired Shakespeare’s early work and his influence appears as late as The Tempest, where Prospero is in some ways Shakespeare’s version of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Marlowe’s characters seem to inhabit a liminal space between the gods and man, while Shakespeare’s characters seem to inhabit our world. Marlowe’s characters speak to an audience with breathtaking eloquence; Shakespeare’s also talk to one another.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
Doctor Faustus with its themes of human aspiration and human will versus divine law is one of the central texts of Western literature and has long inspired other writers from Goethe (Faust) to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Bedazzled [1967]).

7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
Yes. There are two texts of the play, A and B. The A-text is more poetic and decorous; the B-text is more violent and spectacular, and our production uses those scenes from B. Since both texts are comparatively short, some scholars have theorized that the play is incomplete. They are wrong. Sell your soul to the devil for 24 years of power and part of what you learn is that time flies by. That is what the play’s brevity teaches.

8. What characters should I especially look for?
Faustus and Mephistopheles may be the first odd-couple, and in a weird way this is a buddy play. Also don’t miss Sloth, Gluttony, Anger, Envy, Pride, Greed, and Lust.

9. What scene should I especially look for?
The scene in which Faustus conjures up the devil is pretty good. Also, there’s the scene where he plays jokes on the Pope. Oh, and the scene in which he is beheaded and it grows back. And of course the scene in which he is dragged down to hell.

10. What is the language like?