Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

This introductory guide to one of Marlowe's most widely-studied plays offers a scene-by-scene theatrically aware commentary, a brief history of the text and first performances, case studies of key performances and productions, a survey of screen adaptations, and a wide sampling of critical opinion and further reading.

Table of Contents

1. The Text and Early Performances

Abstract
The textual history of Doctor Faustus is one of the most vexing problems in early modern theatre studies. The play exists in two distinct versions, both of which went through several editions. Neither was printed until more than a decade after Marlowe’s death, and both were probably written, in part, by someone other than Marlowe.
James N. Loehlin

2. Commentary: The Play in Performance

Abstract
Like any play, Doctor Faustus exists only partly on the page of a printed book. It was written for performance, and in performance it takes on a rich and complicated life. Countless decisions that go into staging a play: the casting of roles; inflection of lines; movement of actors; choice of costumes, properties, music, and special effects. In Doctor Faustus these staging decisions range from broad interpretive questions about the meaning of Faustus’s damnation to technical challenges like the representation of the Seven Deadly Sins. And even when all of these decisions are made, each performance still unfolds differently in the live, intimate communication of actors and audience.
James N. Loehlin

3. Intellectual and Cultural Context

Abstract
Marlowe was a controversial figure in his own lifetime and has remained one since. His plays, with their subversive and aspiring heroes, are inevitably read alongside his own short and stormy life. As well as being a successful poet and playwright, he was allegedly an atheist, a homosexual, and a spy, and he died violently in mysterious circumstances at the age of 29. Like Faustus, Marlowe seems to have been a man of dangerous beliefs, religious skepticism, and sensual indulgence; like Faustus, he became, in his death, a moral emblem for his contemporaries. A brief sketch of his biography will provide context for important documents relating to his life and death.
James N. Loehlin

4. Key Performances and Productions

Abstract
Although Doctor Faustus was one of the most popular plays of the early modern stage, it can hardly be said to have been performed at all from the closing of the theatres in 1642 until the eve of the twentieth century. When Puritan authorities put an end to dramatic performances in England in the run-up to the civil war, they made an irrevocable break in the traditions of the Renaissance theatre. There was no drama performed publicly in England for a generation, until the Restoration of Charles II. The theatres that opened in 1660 were very different from those of the early modern period, with female actors and perspective scenery only the most obvious changes. Tastes had changed and memories had faded during the 18 years when there was no theatre in London. Marlowe’s star had waned, and his most famous play, which had remained popular for decades after his death, was now mainly a vehicle for music, dance, and comedy, and would not be revived in its own right for more than 200 years.
James N. Loehlin

5. The Play on Screen

Abstract
Like Marlowe’s other plays, Doctor Faustus has had relatively little life on the screen. While there are many treatments of the Faust legend on film, Marlowe’s play has not attracted filmmakers. The only major cinematic version of Doctor Faustus is that starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (1967), based on the Oxford stage production by Nevill Coghill. The innovative Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer made a 1994 film Faust that incorporates Marlowe’s play into a visually arresting modern version of the legend, featuring puppetry and stop-motion animation. The 2011 production from Shakespeare’s Globe has been released on video in a version filmed before a live audience. With the increasing interest in Marlowe’s work along with the proliferation of alternative, more widely accessible methods of videography, it may be hoped that screen versions of Doctor Faustus may become more numerous and varied. In the meantime, the existing versions all have interest for students of the play.
James N. Loehlin

6. Critical Assessments

Abstract
Important topics in Faustus criticism have included the uncertainties around the two texts; the theological questions surrounding Faustus’s failure to repent; the relationship between Marlowe’s allegedly transgressive beliefs and the play’s value system; and the play’s inheritances from medieval dramaturgy. In a way, these issues all relate to the central question of how we assess Faustus: as a justly damned sinner or a heroic Renaissance Humanist. Judgments of Faustus, in turn, are often rooted in judgments of Marlowe.
James N. Loehlin
Additional information