Media Adaptations

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Actor Richard Burton directed and starred in a 1968 adaptation of Doctor Faustus. The film is available on videotape from Columbia.

Marlowe Leads the Way, a filmstrip about the life and works of Christopher Marlowe, distributed by Eye Gate House, 1967.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Brooks, Cleanth, ''The Unity of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus'' in A Shaping of Joy Studies in the Writer's Craft, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972, pp. 367-80
Brooks responds to those critics who fail to see the unity of Doctor Faustus. Brooks realizes that if Marlowe's agreement with the devil damns his soul to hell, then the play, in structural terms, has no conflict, offers no possible dramatic development, and becomes merely "elegiac." Admitting the weakness of the play's middle section, Brooks believes that the sheer force of Marlowe's poetry holds the play together. Thematically, Brooks sees the play as exploring various types of knowledge: of the self, of the natural world, and of the divine. While Marlowe's treatment of this theme has medieval elements, Brooks describes his use of demonic apparatus in essentially psychological terms, noting that "the devils ... are always in some sense mirrors of the inner states of the persons to whom they appear."

Davison, Peter, "Doctor Faustus" in International Dictionary ofTheatre: Plays, edited by Mark Hawkins-Dady, St. James Press, 1992, pp. 187-89.
In a short but focused commentary, Davison identifies the exact moment of Faustus's damnation as that in which he kisses Helen of Troy Davison also usefully discusses the role of the Good and Bad Angels and of the Old Man.

Keeble, N. H., in Reference Guide to English Literature, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, St. James Press, 1991, pp. 1548-49.
Keeble provides background on the historical origins of the Faustus myth and shows how Marlowe may have been introduced to the original German story. Agreeing with critics who believe that Marlowe did not write the play's comic interludes (the middle acts), Keeble sees the subplots as the work of another writer, most likely Samuel Rowley. Keeble perceives as mistaken those who read Doctor Faustus as an anti-Christian play and views Faustus's self-deception as his tragic flaw. The play's fine ending contains Faustus's final soliloquy, which Keeble sees as ''one of the most powerful in all Renaissance drama."

Knights, L. C., "The Strange Case of Christopher Marlowe" in Further Explorations, Chatto & Windus, 1965, pp. 75-98.
Knights sees Marlowe's Doctor Faustus essentially as a play about desire and limitation. These can be destructive, as they are for Faustus himself but balanced properly, they result in a true understanding of reality. Knights describes Faustus's motivations as essentially immature, driven by "the perverse and infantile desire for enormous power and immediate gratifications." Knights does not trivialize this desire nor see it as inherently evil, for when it leads to a recognition of human limitation, this balance of desire and limit produces a mature understanding of reality. Faustus's fall results not from his desire, but from his refusal to accept human limitation.

Maxwell, J. C., Introduction to Complete Plays and Poems of Christopher Marlowe, Everyman, 1996, pp. VII xxvi.
In a short but thorough overview of Marlowe's writings, Maxwell presents biographical information, as well as thematic analyses of the author's work.

Sanders, Wilbur, in Shakespeare's Contemporaries: Modern Studies in English Renaissance Drama, edited by Max Bluestone and Norman Rabkin, second edition, Prentice-Hall, 1970, pp. 112-27.
Sanders sees Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a great, though flawed play with structural, aesthetic, and thematic inconsistencies. The "unity of Doctor Faustus is ... something that we have to create for ourselves," wrote Sanders, who has difficulty reconciling the play's strong opening and closing sections with its formless middle. Audiences must appreciate the magnificent poetic moments, which overlooking other poetry of "baffling banality, if not naivety." Finally, Sanders believes that the play mixes without successfully blending medieval and modern theological elements, particularly in regard to its conflicting images of Hell.


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Sources for Further Study

Brooke, Nicholas. “The Moral Tragedy of Dr. Faustus.” Cambridge Journal 5 (1952): 663-687. Focuses on the moral choices presented to Faustus. Attempts to incorporate the comic subplots in a unified reading of Renaissance dualism, which would render the play an aesthetic whole and a dramatic success.

Frye, Roland M. “Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: The Repudiation of Humanity.” South Atlantic Quarterly 55 (1956): 322-328. Frye is one of the few critics to identify Faustus’s lust for power—not sensuality or curiosity—as his most central and defining sin.

Greg, W. W. “The Damnation of Faustus.” Modern Language Review 41 (1946): 97-107. An early assertion that Helen of Troy and the other spirits evoked by Faustus are actually devils; Faustus’s damnation, therefore, is finally sealed by his outright demon worship. Greg also defends the play’s comic episodes, arguing that their triviality underscores the absurdity of evil.

Kirschbaum, Leo. “Marlowe’s Faustus: A Reconsideration.” The Review of English Studies 19 (1943): 225-241. Kirschbaum focuses on Faustus’s sensuality, his habitual substitution of lower values for higher ones. Nonetheless, this critic insists that the possibility of repentance is open to Faustus from first to last.

Kocher, Paul. Christopher Marlowe: A Study of His Thought, Learning, and Character. Reprint. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974. Sees curiosity as Faustus’s primary drive—a curiosity that does not recognize or honor the limitations placed by God on human inquiry. Kocher denies (against the philosopher George Santayana) that Faustus ever truly repents. In addition, he denies (against many critics) that Faustus is in any sense predestined to fall.

Levin, Harry. The Overreacher: A Study of Christopher Marlowe. 1952. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Examines the sources of the Faust legend and places them in the context of the fall of Lucifer from heaven. Examines the comic scenes to find in them a burlesque of the main plot.

Lucking, David. “Carrying Tempest in His Hand and Voice: The Figure of the Magician in Jonson and Shakespeare.” English Studies 85 (August, 2004): 297-310. Explicates the influence of the theme of magic in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus on such subsequent plays as Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Mizener, Arthur. “The Tragedy of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.” College English 5 (1943): 70-75. Treats the ambivalence toward knowledge in the Renaissance evidenced in Faustus’ tragic progress in the play. Examines reason versus faith and allies necromancy with the dark side of the latter.

Pettigrew, Todd H. J. “’Faustus . . . for Ever’: Marlowe, Bruno, and Infinity.” Comparative Critical Studies 2 (2005): 257-269. Argues that Faustus falls and persists in his damnation largely because, for all his learning, he fails to comprehend fully a punishment that will persist without temporal limits. In this way, he betrays a willed ignorance of the ideas of the Italian thinker Giordano Bruno, a contemporary of Marlowe.

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Historical and Social Context