Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Doctor FaustusDoctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic for a good reason, not just because it’s really old. I could see this being a good book to read in a book club, it’s not too long and there’s tonnes to discuss about human nature, religion, temptation, forgiveness, repentance, sin, and on and on and on.

I especially appreciated the extras in this edition. A historical timeline of Marlowe’s life, with world events and other famous publications, notes on the text and other versions of the play, an interview with Ralph Alan Cohen, who directed a stage production of Doctor Faustus in 2000, and an interview with Andreas Teuber, who played Mephistopheles in the 1967 film version starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Teuber is apparently phenomenal and now that I’ve read his interview I kind of want to see the movie just to see his treatment of the role. Though apparently the expansion of the role of Helen of Troy significantly alters the feel of the original and is somewhat problematic. In Marlowe’s version, Faustus is seduced by his desire for knowledge, experience, and power. But in the film, Helen of Troy is used to persuade him into the bargain with Lucifer. The change in motivation loses something unique in Marlowe’s text, in that Faustus isn’t originally led astray by sex. It’s more interesting to have the subtext that maybe there are things we shouldn’t know and if knowledge is power and power corrupts does knowledge also therefore corrupt? These are still pertinent and interesting questions for our time, and I prefer Marlowe’s version to the 1967 film rendition. Regardless of that, both those interviews were very insightful and opened up, at least for me, a whole extra world of interpretation into Faustus’ motivations, Mephistopheles’ personality, and alternate readings of the text. Like I said, there’s good reason why this story has been so popular for so long. I don’t want to discuss the plot very much, because I believe this story will have the greatest impact if you have no idea how it ends until it actually does. Then you can run through alternate scenarios to your heart’s content. Marlowe created believable, realistic characters who will be emulated and riffed on for decades to come. Definitely track down a copy and read this book.

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