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Dr. Faustus

by Christopher Marlowe

I recently participated in a workshop of this play with the Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, which consisted of a weekend of exploring the text, and basically, playing in a room with fun, talented people. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. This occurred smack dab in the middle of rehearsals for Great Divide so I was drawing parallels the whole time, since both plays deal so much with the threat of damnation. During the workshop, I had the ridiculous realization that I've never worked on Marlowe. I felt slightly guilty, cheating on my man Will Shakes, but I got over it when I remembered how awesome Kit is. ALSO, this play has one of the best stage directions I've ever read. More on that later.

We all know the story of foolish Doctor Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power. Damn Yankees, anyone? Great musical. I digress. Faustus is a smart man, so smart that he's bored, and looking for something to challenge him. When we first meet him, he is alone in his study, debating the inevitability of sin.

[He reads.] "Stipendium peccati mors est." Ha!
Stipendium, etc. The reward of sin is death. That's hard.
If we say that we have no sin
We deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us.
Why, then, belike we must sin and so consequently die.
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
Why doctrine call you this? Che sera, sera?
What will be, shall be? Divinity adieu!

Interesting to note here that Faustus takes into account only the first part of the Bible verse, "the wages of sin are death" and not the latter half "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Had he taken that into consideration he might not have been so easily swayed to the dark side. Of course, then we'd have no play. So, yeah.

After being visited by a good and bad angel, Faustus conjures the devil Mephistopheles, who ended up being my favorite character. In my opinion Mephistopheles, or Stoph as he was lovingly referred to in our workshop, has some of the most beautiful language in the play. When asked how it is possible that Stoph is out of hell, he responds:

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?

Mephistopheles is a complex character. It made me wonder about the man before the devil. He warns Faustus about the danger of his actions. There is nothing he won't do to get Faustus' soul, but he also has moments of near vulnerability that show he is more than just an evil entity. Stoph's description of hell left me feeling pity for the creature - the somber note with which he recounts the vast emptiness of his eternity is somehow lovely. Faustus asks him, "Tell me, where is the place that men call hell?" Stoph answers:

Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortured and remain for ever.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves
And every creature shall be purified
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.

I imagine that Ruth has read Dr. Faustus. Or better yet, Polly follows her around the house while she's doing chores reading passages out loud. I have to run that by Polly, the beautiful and talented Elizabeth Inghram. Anyway, now, I leave you with the stage direction!
[MEPHISTOPHELES and FAUSTUS] beat the FRIARS and fling fire-works among them, and so exeunt.
I mean, it's no Exeunt, pursued by a bear. but it's pretty good. I'm sure it's not hard to stage at all.

Tomorrow's Play: Sganerelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold by Moliere

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