1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5

  1. The scenes of vulgar and slapstick comedy in Doctor Faustus have often been regarded as a concession to the unrefined tastes of the "groundlings" in the public theater audience. News from Scotland and The Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor Faustus (on which Marlowe's play is based) also juxtapose farcical passages with moments of terror and torment.
    1. Why might low comedy be considered suitable in a story of sorcery? Can you think of other works which suggest a relation between the diabolic and the comic?
    2. Compare the selection from News from Scotland in which Doctor Fian summons a love-crazed cow with scenes from Doctor Faustus such as Scene 8 (NAEL 8, 1.1044–45), in which Robin and Rafe summon Mephastophilis. Do the scenes serve similar purposes? How would our experience of each text differ if such passages were lacking?
  2. News from Scotland and The Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor Faustus focus attention on the bodily mutilation that seems to signify a "damnable" death. In his own way, Thomas Beard also makes this connection in The Theatre of God's Judgments by calling attention to the symbolic appropriateness, as he conceives it, of the way Marlowe died.
    1. Consider the way in which the ending of the B-text of Doctor Faustus also expresses the soul's damnation through the correlative of the dismembered body. What is the effect in Scene 13a in the B-text of insisting on this physical correlative to the destruction of Faustus's soul? Is the cry "I'll burn my books" more moving (or less) in the B-text, where it is succeeded by the discovery of Faustus's dismembered limbs? Does the B-text ending intensify or diminish the powerful depiction of intellectual despair in the A-text?
  3. The overview to the Faustus topic makes a comparison between an excerpt from Thomas Preston's play Cambyses and one from Marlowe's Faustus. Though both passages deal with passionate love, differences between the two make clear the impact of Marlowe's writing on the British stage. In your own words, describe the differences you perceive between the two passages.
  4. The figures of Helen and Faustus reappear throughout the history of writing and film in English. Compare Marlowe's description of Helen with W. B. Yeats's in No Second Troy (NAEL 8, 2.2029).
  5. Research other tellings of the Faustus tale in literature, film, and music. You might start with the Internet Movie Database's thirty retellings of the Faustus story, including three based on Marlowe's play.

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page    
Home