Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
Perhaps the most natural play to read next would be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, published in two parts in 1808 and 1828. If Marlowe's play epitomizes Renaissance ideals Goethe's represents the unique values of the Romantic period. While both plays tell broadly similar stories, they have very different endings which warrant comparison.
In general, any works by Nathanial Hawthorne would make compelling follow-up reading to Doctor Faustus, but several short stories seem particularly appropriate. In "Young Goodman Brown," a newlywed walks off into the forest to discuss selling his soul to the devil. Though he decides against consummating the deal, he fears his wife has and spends the rest of his life unhappily aware of the corruption that seems to surround him.
Two other Hawthorne short stories raise the theme of forbidden knowledge, suggesting that the blind sacrifice of everything of value for science resembles a compact with the devil. In "The Birthmark," a man causes the destruction of his beloved by endeavoring to remove a tiny imperfection from her otherwise perfectly beautiful body. In "Rapaccini's Daughter," a father's efforts to create a daughter who is beautiful but poisonous also leads to the downfall of all involved.
In one of the first gothic novels, Matthew Lewis's The Monk, the main character completes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for escape from the Inquisition, though not escaping eternal punishment. Scandalous when published during the eighteenth century, in part because of its for-the-time explicit sex and violence, in part because Lewis was at the time a sitting member of Parliament and indicated so on the book's title page. Overall, fast-paced and suspenseful reading.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In plotting to kill their king, Macbeth and his wife metaphorically ''sell their souls'' in exchange for political power. Both Doctor Faustus and this play successfully explore the psychology of transgression, guilt, and punishment. Students also might compare the images of Shakespeare's witches with Marlowe's representations of sorcery.
In Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel Frankenstein, scientist Victor Frankenstein's search for the secret of human life leads to his destruction at the hands of the creature he creates. Here too, Victor exchanges everything of value in his life—friends, family, fiance—in a figurative deal with the devil that grants him the secrets of life.
In The Countess Cathleen, the title character exchanges her soul with the devil for food to feed the starving Irish. This short play by William Butler Yeats raises intriguing ethical issues. After all, a person who sacrifices all for humanity is a saint, not a sinner—but what if that sacrifice involves selling one's soul to the devil? In the end, despite Cathleen's bargain, heaven intervenes, and she ultimately eludes the devil's grasp.
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