By Christopher Marlowe
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, based on the German Faustbuch, was the first dramatised version of the Faust legend about a scholar’s dealing with the devil. While versions of “The Devil’s Pact” can be traced back to the 4th century, Marlowe deviates significantly by having his hero unable or unwilling to repent and paying the price for his arrogance.
The script was highly edited and rewritten after Marlowe’s death. Two versions of the play exist: the 1604 quarto, also known as the A text, and the 1616 quarto or B text. Many scholars believe that the A text is more representative of Marlowe’s original because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic spelling: the hallmarks of a text that used the author’s handwritten manuscript as a major source.
Doctor Faustus is German scholar who believes he has exhausted all areas of conventional knowledge and, like many of us, is still searching for the true meaning of life. He turns to magic in the hope that it will provide him with the knowledge he yearns for. After learning the fundamentals of the black arts, he summons Mephistoheles (a servant of Lucifer) and makes a pact with the devil. He is granted 24 years of power and access to limitless knowledge in return for his soul. Initially, it seems Faustus has made a good deal but the clock is ticking and, in spite of Faustus’ arrogance, he will not be able to conquer death – Lucifer will come for him and take what he is owed; Faustus’ immortal soul.
This production relies on the original A text – it is a story that remains timeless as it seems to sum up the Achilles’ heel of the human race; hubris. Through Faustus, Marlow reveals the extreme egotism of the human race which constantly forgets its place in the universe and refuses to learn from history. While such a resolute belief in our own brilliance has enabled us to rule the world, it will unfortunately be responsible for our eventual demise. Although written in the 16th Century, the play focuses on worthless greed and materialism. This reflects perfectly 21st Century Western societies. We live in a world that is self-serving and materialistic and, in the opinion of some, soulless – so many of us are willing to sell our souls for so little. Faustus sells his soul for nothing – everything he thinks he gains is nothing more than a trick of the eye; a sleight of hand or a figment of his own imagination. Ultimately, his sacrifice was not worth it.
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