Essays and Criticism
Entertainment and Edification in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus
Schmidt holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and is an author and educator. His essay discusses Marlowe's play as both entertainment and edification.
Most people have wanted something so badly that, in moments of desperation, they imagined they would do anything to have it. Most learn to balance their desires with reality while a few people act on those desperate imaginings. Still, drama offers the possibility of exploring the implications of such impetuous actions, at least as experienced by characters in the play. In Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, the main character decides to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for twenty-four years of absolute power. Part of the pleasure of reading or seeing the play comes from the viewer putting themselves in Faustus's predicament and imagining how they would respond to similar temptations. Marlowe's story also illustrates the Renaissance's prevalent belief that art should "teach and delight," that is, be entertaining while simultaneously presenting a morale.
Stories of people who bargain with the devil in exchange for worldly goods abound. These can be literal exchanges, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown" or W. B. Yeats's "The Countess Cathleen." This concept can also be treated thematically, as it is in such works as William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Herman Melville's Moby Dick. These tales illustrate, without...
(The entire section is 1828 words.)
The Damnation of Faustus
In the following essay, Greg examines several aspects of the hero's downfall in Doctor Faustus, particularly how Faustus's pact with Mephistopheles leads not to a rise in grandeur and power, but to mere worldly gratification. Ultimately, the critic claims, Faustus "commits the sin of demonality, that is, bodily intercourse with demons." The quotations are taken from Greg's own collation of the 1604 and 1616 quarto editions of Doctor Faustus.
An English literary scholar and librarian, Greg was a pioneer in establishing modern bibliographical scholarship. Combining bibliographical and critical methods, he developed an approach to editing Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists.
When working lately on the text of Doctor Faustus, I was struck by certain aspects of the story as told in Marlowe's play that I do not remember to have seen discussed in the editions with which I am familiar. I do not pretend to have read more than a little of what has been written about Marlowe as a dramatist, and it may be that there is nothing new in what I have to say, but it seemed worth while to draw attention to a few points in the picture of the hero's downfall, on the chance that they might have escaped the attention of others, as they had hitherto escaped my own.
As soon as Faustus has decided that necromancy is the only study that can give his ambition scope, he seeks the aid of his friends Valdes and Cornelius, who...
(The entire section is 4771 words.)
Faustus Put On by the Federal Theatre
In the following review of a 1937 production of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, which originally appeared in The New York Times on January 9, 1937, Atkinson illustrates how the manner in which the play is staged enhances its effectiveness. Atkinson maintains that the result of the masterful staging in this production "is a Dr. Faustus that is physically and imaginatively alive, nimble, active—heady theatre stuff.''
As drama critic for The New York Times from 1925 to 1960, Atkinson was one of the most influential reviewers in America.
Although the Federal Theatre has some problem children on its hands, it also has some enterprising artists on its staff. Some of them got together at Maxine Elliott's Theatre last evening and put on a brilliantly original production of Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, which dates from 1589. If that sounds like a schoolbook chore to you, be disabused, for the bigwigs of the Federal Theatre's Project 891 know how absorbing an Elizabethan play can be when it is staged according to the simple unities that obtained in the Elizabethan theatres. Every one interested in the imaginative power of the theatre will want to see how ably Orson Welles and John Houseman have cleared away all the imposing impedimenta that make most classics forbidding and how skillfully they have left Dr. Faustus, grim and terrible, on the stage. By being sensible as well as...
(The entire section is 711 words.)