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80 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The English Faust
Not everybody knows Faust(us). But a lot do. Most readers know this tragic personnage who allied himself with the devil and finally paid the price for his betrayal of God from a famous play written by J.W. Goethe. It was him who wrote the most famous version of Faust's history. (If you want to know more about Goethe's work, please visit my reviewer page.) But he wasn't...
Published on October 9, 2000 by Dmitrij Gawrisch

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not completely satisfying
The story of Dr. Faustus is that of a supremely educated man seeking still more knowledge. The only way he sees to get what he desires is to make a deal with the devil. He signs his soul away for 24 years of service of one of Lucifer's servants, Mephistopholes. He thinks of repenting and there are friends and angels who try to persuade him, but he continues on his course...
Published on July 10, 2005 by Christopher Hivner


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80 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The English Faust, October 9, 2000
By 
Not everybody knows Faust(us). But a lot do. Most readers know this tragic personnage who allied himself with the devil and finally paid the price for his betrayal of God from a famous play written by J.W. Goethe. It was him who wrote the most famous version of Faust's history. (If you want to know more about Goethe's work, please visit my reviewer page.) But he wasn't the only dramatist who considered this lost magician worth a tragedy. Exactly 2 centuries and 1 year before Goethe published his work, a play by the Englishman Christopher Marlowe saw the light of the world.
Marlowe and Goethe are different personalities living in completely different times so that it's no wonder their plays vary in character. Goethe lived in prosperity and had all his life to think about subjects like human nature, social relationships, history and its influence on the present, love, religion and much more. He was a philosoph, and that's the reason why Goethe's "Faust" is sometimes difficult to understand because you have to dive under the surface of things to understand their true nature. Marlowe's work is different: This man was certainly very intelligent and knew a lot about the forces that moved the world, but, unlike Goethe, he didn't have a lifetime to think about one single play. You can imagine that Marlowe's "Faust" became more shallow, but still not shallow enough to be ignored by this imaginary institution we call World Literature. As a compensation, Marlowe's work contains more life and action in it, something I can't say about Goethe's. Both men were geniuses. In this review, I'd like to pay my tribute to the Englishman.
As stated above, the play tells the story of a medieval scientist who allies himself with the devil. The latter promises to serve the first in this world, whereas Faust must do the same in hell. The poor doctor doubts his choices because it's his soul being sold, still he follows the devil and has the time of his life. I beg your pardon, for I feel the need to return to Goethe to show you another important difference between both versions: Whereas Marlowe's Faust wants the devil to provide him with fun and all richness of the world (materialism), Goethe's alter ego feels the importance to be educated by the devil to get a complete picture of the world. At the end, Marlowe's Faust realizes that all experiences weren't worth his soul. He begs God to save him, but it is no longer possible. The devil tears his body apart and takes his soul with him to infinite sufferings.
The effect this play had on me was tremedous. Fascinated, I watched Faust's development. I particularly liked the 5th act where he realizes that all is finally lost. You can really feel his pain in those scenes; the effect is unbelievable.
So, if you want to be touched by human tragedy, I really advise you to read this book. It's done very quickly, so you needn't worry about the time it takes. If you want to make a step further and find additional material on Faust, read Goethe's "Faust 1" as well as Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus". It's a marvelous novel and the most modern narration based on the medieval German scientist named Johann(es) Faust(us).
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Retelling of the Faust Legend, September 30, 2000
By A Customer
In the Faust legend, a man by the name of Faust or Faustus sells his soul to the devil for twenty-four years of worldly power. This legend has been told many times over by such writers as Goethe and Mann, but no doubt the most famous retelling, and probably the best, is the play, Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
The most prominent influence on Marlowe's version of the Faust legend was the social upheaval during the time period in which it was written. Doctor Faustus was probably first performed in 1594, a time of tremendous change in Europe. The Medieval times were over and the Renaissance was beginning, however, influences of both times can be found in the play. Doctor Faustus is a transitional play where beliefs from both time periods intermingle, sometimes with disastrous results.
Doctor Faustus, himself, is a man torn between two traditions. He is a man with medieval beliefs, but renaissance aspirations. When he first attempts to conjure Mephistopheles, Faustus believe that Mephistopheles was forced to come by his (Faustus's) words. In response, Mephistopheles says, "for when we hear one rack the name of God, abjure the Scriptures and his savior Christ, we fly in hope to get his glorious soul." Mephistopheles has, of course, come of his own accord, because he feels that there is a soul to be had. He states this blatantly, yet Faustus is clouded by his old beliefs and also by his desires.
From a medieval point of view, Doctor Faustus can be looked upon as a morality play; a play about one man who aspires beyond his God-given place in the world. On the other hand, from a renaissance perspective, this play is a tragedy. The Renaissance was a time of individuality unlike the Middle Ages where a man was trapped in whatever social class into which he was born. Faustus is "an essentially good man" by Renaissance ideals who believes he has reached the end of human knowledge and is thus justified is using the black arts to further his knowledge. As in most classical tragedies, his downfall is complete and is due to his pride.
After Faustus makes his deal with Lucifer, the question must be asked: Is there any way back for him? Faustus believes he is damned at the moment that he signs his name in blood, although he has many chances to repent during the course of the play. The first chance comes after his first conjuring. He says, "O something soundeth in mine ear, 'Abjure this magic, turn to God.' Aye, and Faustus will turn to God again. To God? He loves thee not." Something is pleading for Faustus to repent, but Faustus remains firm in believing God has already condemned him. Each time the Good Angel appears is yet another chance for Faustus to repent, but the Evil Angel continues to threaten him if he even thinks about repenting. If it were not possible for Faustus to save his soul, then the Evil Angel and his demons would have simply left Faustus alone to cry out in anguish to God.
The final indicator that Faustus could have been saved at any point over his twenty-four year bargain is given by Mephistopheles, himself, as Faustus's fate is sealed beyond irrevocability.
Christopher Marlowe's brilliant retelling of the Faust legend springs not only from his own creativity, but from the times in which he lived. Marlowe's life and times allowed him to create the greatest retelling of one of Western cultures more timeless stories. When put to words, the legend seems so simple, yet its possibilities and implications, as Marlowe proves, can be nothing less than monumental.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a masterpiece, but close!, March 4, 2000
I do not feel Marlowe's "Faustus" is quite as good as his "Massacre at Paris" or "Edward II," but I still consider it an outstanding play. "Faustus" is very true to life in that many people can not stay behind the 'this far and no further point.' The opening is quite chilling as Faustus decides that the legitimate knowledge of this world is not good enough and he immediately decides to cross into forbidden territory even at the expense of his soul. To this day, I never have forgotten the chills I felt in 2.1 when Faustus signs the unholy contract. It is interesting that even after Faustus signs the contract, that he is presented with several oppurtunities to escape his fate: "Faustus, repent; yet God will pity thee" (2.2.12). But he can not give up the fruits of the contract. (His powers, having Mephostophilis at his command, etc.) After the chilling tension of the first 2 acts, Marlowe releases the tension for the next two acts by having Faustus perform several practical jokes (of an evil nature to be sure), but nevertheless it offers a release of tension while at the same time we can see how malignant Faustus has become. I once read that many people feel the 3rd and 4th act are way too silly and that they drag the play down. But I don't think this is the case at all. I can not help but think Marlowe was trying to point out that in all honesty, there was a worthless aspect of the fruits Faustus sold his soul for. Furthermore, Acts 3 and 4 help us to see the mentally disturbed side of Christopher Marlowe himself. In 5.1, Faustus has 1 final chance to avoid his fate, but he resolves himself to damnation after enjoying Helen of Troy. If I were a betting man I would be willing to wage that Marlowe is pointing out that sex is an ultimate driving force. To this day, I have never been able to forget the final soliloquy of despair in 5.2 followed by the demons carrying Faustus off to hell. Marlowe himself dedicated much of his life to blasphemy, and I can not help but feel he was coming to terms with the church and starting to realize he better cut it out or else. Not only is this an excellent play, but it also helps us to take a look at Marlowe himself.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "This word damnation terrifies not him", January 30, 2006
Christopher Marlowe is awsone. What other Renaissance writer was a freakin' spy? I mean, I like Shakespeare's plays and all, but as a person he's boring unless he's being played by Joseph Fiennes. I often pit two historical figures against one another in my mind, and I wonder what would happen if these two fought. If Shakespeare and Marlowe fought, Marlowe would bust out his super secret digital watch-that's secretly a laser-and he'd slice Shakespeare in half. Maybe `Speare would have a deadly quill like the Joker had in Batman, but a deadly quill versus a laser? I think we know who would win. I know the digital watch/laser is a bit silly because they didn't have digital watches back then, but at the very least he'd have an hourglass with a secret laser.

Reading Dr. Faustus I realize what a shame it is Marlowe died so early. Marlowe's ability to combine drama and comedy was light years ahead of Shakespeare's. It wasn't until the second half of Shakespeare's career that he started writing dark comedies, but Marlowe was interjecting his humor with a dark twist right away with plays like Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. If Marlowe hadn't dies so early (in a fight over who was going to pay the bill no less-freakin' cool!) then maybe there would have been two playwriting giants in London competing against one another. Just imagine the masterpieces that would have ensued. I bet they would have made King Lear look like A Comedy of Errors.

This is the second time I've read Dr. Faustus, and I had forgotten how anti-Catholic it is. The story takes place mostly in Wittenberg, Germany where Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 theses. The location already sets up the tenuous relationship between Protestants and Catholics. This relationship, obviously biased against Catholics, is further represented in the good angel and bad angel that appear to Dr. Faustus several times. The good angel repeats over and over to Dr. Faustus that he can repent at any time and come back into good graces, while the bad angel keeps on telling him it's too late. The obvious analogy is that the good angel represents the Protestant idea of justification by faith. Not surprisingly, one of the groups of people who Marlowe is rumored to have spied on were Catholics intent on overthrowing what they saw as England's Protestant government. Furthermore, the first thing Dr. Faustus does when he makes his famous bargain is to play a practical joke on the Pope.

Please, if you're Catholic don't let this turn you away from reading this beautifully written play. At times the mixture of slapstick comedy and high brow allusions are a bit uneven, but that was the nature of the beast back then. Marlowe had to play to the peasants as well as royalty.

The trick Marlowe plays on the audience is even greater than the trick played on Faustus. Marlowe actually gets us to care about Faustus by the end of the play. This is either a trick to show us how close every one of us is to making a Faustian bargain, or it's a trick to show us how unfair these religious traditions were. After all, what did Faustus do that was so wrong? He goes into the deal with plans for making himself a despot, and ends up using all of his power to fetch grapes for debutants and summon Helen of Troy so that others may see her beauty. (Dr. Faustus has "phenominal cosmic power," and all he can manage is playing a few practical jokes and impressing people with out of season fruits.) He's never punished for his bad acts, but rather because of who he pledged his allegiance to. Over the course of twenty-four years Faustus has actually become a somewhat better person if only because he recognizes his sins. His greatest crimes are nothing more than playing practical jokes on peasants. He's not perfect, but he's also not deserving of eternal damnation.

I see Dr. Faustus as a critique of religion. Others may find that it only reinforces their beliefs, and that's what makes the text so good. The Faustian bargain finds its way into literature time and again, but it means something different to each author; likewise, Dr. Faustus means something different to each reader.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "His waxen wings did mount above his reach", October 6, 2002
"Dr. Faustus," the play by 16th century writer Christopher Marlowe, has been published as part of the Dover Thrift Edition series. The brief introduction to this version notes that the play was first published in 1604, and also discusses its relationship to a German text from 1587 known as the "Faustbuch." In his play Marlowe tells the story of the title character, a scholar who is "swollen with cunning." Faust dabbles in the dark arts of "magicians / And necromantic books," and literally makes a deal with the devil. These actions drive the tragedy forward.
This play is a curious mixture of Christian theology, tragedy, slapstick comedy, and colorful pageantry. It moves along fast, and contains some really beautiful and stately language.
"Dr. Faustus" is ultimately a cautionary tale about human pride and ambition. I must admit that in the end I find it less satisfying than some of the other great tragedies of the Elizabethan era, perhaps because this play relies less on universal human issues than on a culturally-bound theological contrivance. Still, it's a noteworthy play that, I believe, still holds relevance for contemporary audiences. ...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My soul for profit, delight, and power., December 28, 2003
At age 29 Christopher Marlowe was apparently stabbed and killed in an argument over a tavern bill. In his short life he left a remarkable legacy of four great plays and exerted considerable influence on another young playwright, William Shakespeare. The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus, or simply Dr. Faustus, is the story of a brilliant scholar whose thirst for knowledge and power leads him to trade his soul to Lucifer.

As we first encounter Faustus, he is systematically dismissing further study of Aristotlean logic, Galen's teachings on medicine, Justinian's works on law, and the study of divinity; Faustus is already the acknowledged master of these subjects. Only the study of necromancy can offer him greater profit, delight, and power. Faustus through incantations summons Mephistophilis, servant of Lucifer, to negotiate a trade for his soul. Mephistophilis urges Faustus to reconsider, but Faustus is adamant: "Had I had as many souls as there be stars, I'd give them all for Mephistophilis." Faustus recklessly forges his agreement with Lucifer, his body and soul to be forfeit after 24 years of service from Mephistophilis.

Again and again Faustus calls upon Mephistophilis for delights and power and hidden knowledge. Mephistophilis obliges, and Faustus increasingly distances himself from God. Occasionally Faustus has misgivings and considers repentance, but fails to act, due partly to persuasion and threats from Mephistophilis - if thou repents, devils shall tear thee in pieces.

The intensity builds as Faustus repeatedly rejects God's offer of mercy and forgiveness, and we are never quite certain whether he will repent or not. Marlowe occasionally lowers the growing intensity by interspersing brief episodes of humor with tragedy, a convention quite familiar to Elizabethan audiences. I leave the ending as a surprise.

Christopher Marlowe's other works include his two part drama Tamburlane the Great, The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward II, King of England, and The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta.

I recently read Doctor Faustus, edited by Michael Keefer and published by Broadview Press (ISBN 0-921149-59-X). The detailed introduction, comparisons between the 1604 and 1616 versions, and source material make it a good choice for English literature majors.

The Dover edition is another good choice as it is quite inexpensive, but it offers only sparse footnotes.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror with a vengeance, June 21, 2000
I once read that "Dr Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe was a prime example of pre-Gothic horror, and I can put my name to that. The play has aspects of suspense, morality and tragedy, all couched in wondrous language. In its bare tragic tone, I think this story is the best one ever retelling the life of Faust. The "hero's" final mad soliloquy before being taken by the fiends is certainly among the strongest poetry I've read. I enjoyed it immensely, since it shook me to the depths of my soul. There is plenty of broad humour in the middle which kind of breaks the plot, but without it the tension might have been unbearable. If I could only write like this!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This should be required reading for life, August 21, 2002
By 
YiannisPhilippacopoulos (New Paltz, NY United States) - See all my reviews
I, like many English majors, was assigned this play for my English Lit I class thinking it would be more of an exercise than anything else. I was pleasantly taken off guard. I was surprised about how well I could relate to or at least empathize with the character of Faustus, in a play written hundreds of years ago.
Marlowe has a great sense of style in his writing which was ahead of his time, rivialing Shakespeare historically though slightly predating him. He shows a great sense conflict and tension throughout the plot and characters who are very much architypical of the human condition; the quest for forbidden fruit, dealing with own's own need to conquer, lust for greed, exhibiting vanity (the other of the seven deadly sins make appearances) and so on. There is a religious undertone to the play which is easy enough to follow without having much knowledge of Christianity, this play is easy to enjoy without considering much of the religious dogma which was inserted as a guide for the audience of the time.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the play is Marlowe's use of black humor as the reader will find that there is much comic relief spread throughout the play (mostly through other characters mocking Faustus in ways unbeknowst to him, and you yourself may be laughing alongside of them.) Marlowe's style could arguably be seen as a significant influence on Monty Python and other British comedies going back as far as Shakespeare. The play is very much in the vein of what we might consider modern day 'British humor'; dark, often bleak, obsurd, hysterical.
Dr. Faustus doesn't take long to read, is highly entertaining, and you may even get something extra from it by examing your own moral tendencies. Without a doubt the best piece of literature I've read last semester.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marlowe's Masterpiece., July 23, 2006
If you saw "Shakespeare In Love," you know this was the play of Marlowe's that was getting so much attention. (For that matter, I found this play better than "Romeo and Juliet," even though "Romeo and Juliet" was to become the big play at the climactic moment.) Moving on, we meet Dr. Faustus, and he decides that the legitimate knowledge of this world is not good enough. So, he decides to cross the line of 'this far and no further' by making an unholy deal. It is interesting that even Mephistophilis (the unholy agent of the devil) is drawn as a figure of sorrow and even tries to warn Faustus about what he is getting himself into. But Faustus is unreceptive to the truth and ignores Mephistophilis's warning. In a scene of shocking horror, Faustus even mocks Mephistophilis for trying to warn him of the dangers involved: "Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude" (1.3.85). Faustus makes an unholy pact and sells his soul for books that will offer knowledge beyond the point of 'this far and no further,' as well as significant magical powers. It is interesting that even after Faustus makes the pact, he is presented with several opportunities to escape his fate. But he can not give up the fruits of the pact. (His powers, having Mephistophilis at his command, etc.) Later, we see meet the 7 deadly sins. And Faustus's delight at them shows us his degeneration. In the 3rd and 4th acts, Faustus seems to let go of his quest for knowledge (for the most part) and indulges in practical jokes of an evil nature. There are some who feel that the 3rd and 4th acts are way too silly and that they drag the play down. But, I don't think this is the case at all. I can not help but think that Marlowe was emphasizing how worthless the fruits of the pact really were. (Nothing we could ask the devil for could equal the soul which Christ gave us.) Furthermore, in my opinion, we shouldn't be so surprised at Faustus's degeneration. He has made a pact with evil, and evil is basically degeneration through the service of one's self, depite how amoral and sick that service may be. It is our good side that encourages us to better ourselves, hopefully at least in part for the sake of others. The 5th act begins, and Faustus has one final chance to avoid his fate, but he resigns himself to damnation if he can 'enjoy' Helen of Troy. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Marlowe is emphasizing that sex often overrides our rational thoughts. (How many romance plays seem to defy reason?) The final scene where Faustus realizes that it is too late and hell awaits, is a scene of pure terror almost unparalled in literature. He moves from requests that can not be granted to the most imaginative escapes. The play ends with an appropriate warning to stay behind the line of 'this far and no further.'
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not completely satisfying, July 10, 2005
By 
The story of Dr. Faustus is that of a supremely educated man seeking still more knowledge. The only way he sees to get what he desires is to make a deal with the devil. He signs his soul away for 24 years of service of one of Lucifer's servants, Mephistopholes. He thinks of repenting and there are friends and angels who try to persuade him, but he continues on his course for the full 24 years.

This is a well written play and it is a bit creepy to put yourself in the position of Faustus and imagine selling your soul to the devil. My dissatisfaction comes from what I see as a weak motivation from Faustus and a thinness at the plotpoint of Faustus wrestling with what he's done. There wasn't as much of an internal struggle shown as I expected. For a play that has held up for 400 years I was expecting a little more depth.
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Doctor Faustus (Norton Critical Editions)
Doctor Faustus (Norton Critical Editions) by Christopher Marlowe (Paperback - February 11, 2005)
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