|The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus|
Date: April, 2004 — Book
The story of Dr. Faustus is well known, if not the particulars. Faustus bargains with the devil and exchanges his soul for twenty years of earthly powers, with the demon Mephistopheles as his familiar. Marlowe's is the most famous treatment of the subject; he was a contemporary of Shakespeare, though he died before the age of thirty, knifed through the eye in a tavern brawl.
In Marlowe's tale, Faustus, a learned and studied scholar, is nonetheless a petty man. He doesn't believe in the soul, so he feels free to bargain it away. And instead of using his powers for large and grand events, he does pranks and party tricks. He could have the world and he prefers to numb his mind with demon shows, to turn invisible and steal his enemies' food, to have payback for slights. When Ashland put this show on this summer, they portrayed Faustus as the ultimately unsocialized geek, who is distracted by pretty toys until it is far too late to repent. He believes in his books to the exclusion of looking at life.
It's a morality play, of course, and Faustus is take into Hell at the end. It may read very stilted and stylized to modern eyes. But a good production (such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's) is well worth the price of admission, and one can contemplate the meaning of turning your back on the good for trifles.