Doctor Faustus – Analysis
I. The play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlow was first published in Manchester by Manchester Publishing in 1588, no information about the play’s first production date was found.
II. Doctor Faustus is contrived of the following: Faustus, a man well learned in medicine and other knowledge’s known to man is dissatisfied with where his life is heading so he calls upon the Lucifer and His accomplice, Mephistophilis, to teach him the ways of magic. They agree to be his tutors only if Faustus will sell his soul to Lucifer and be His after 20 years. Faustus agrees and goes through trying times where he is unsure of his decision and considers repenting but then is persuaded again and again that the magic powers of the Devil are far more satisfying than the powers of Heaven.
III. Faustus is portrayed as a very individual character. He changes and is shaped by the events that happen all around him. Everything he does affects his future outcome. For example his decision to give up his studies of medicine were very un-stereotypical of a character that is studying to be a doctor to do. Even more so is his decision to take upon the necromantics of the devil. He says, “Then read no more; thou hast attain’d that end: A greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit.” (1.11) He believes that he has learned enough information about all the great things of the world and there is nothing left to study that will intrigue him as much as magic will. His curious personality affects the play because his decisions determine the plot. For example the Seven Deadly Sins entice him so he becomes convinced not to repent his sin. This characterizes him as gullible, curious and adventurous. He becomes obsessed with his magic and he absolutely loves having the powers to do anything he pleases. An example of this is when he conjures up Helen. He knows he can do whatever he wants without reservation so he chooses to conjure the woman who launched a thousand ships. This shows that not only is he gullible, curious and obsessed but also Faustus only wishes for the best in whatever he does; the best that will please him.
Mephistophilis is the opposite of Faustus. Mephistophilis is the stereotype of the typical conniving Devil’s assistant. He is always pressuring Faustus to listen to his “bad angel” and act upon his desires instead of his intellect. Mephistophilis’ personality influences the entire plot also, but in a different way than Faustus’. His personality influences everything Faustus does. He will do anything to keep Faustus in believing that sinning is good and in turn it affects Faustus’ decisions and choices. Mephistophilis is very aware about what is going on around him; he does not miss a detail. That is why he knows how to manipulate people, especially Faustus, into giving him what he wants.
IV. The language of this play is in literary prose. Since it was written well before 1830 colloquial prose is automatically ruled out. The dialogue in this play is more the thoughts of the characters instead of their actual words. For example Faustus says, “Faustus, begin thine incantations, And try if devils will obey thy hest, Seeing thou hast pray’d and sacrific’d to them.” (1.29) Here is alone on stage talking to himself. Normally people when alone do not talk to themselves, but Marlow uses that time to tell us what Faustus is doing, it keeps us informed. These words seem to be less natural because they sound like Faustus’ thoughts instead of his actual dialogue. An example of stage direction with in the dialogue is when Mephistophilis says, “Faustus, thou shalt: then kneel down presently, Whilst on thy head I lay my hand, And charm thee with this magic wand.” (1.120)
V. As stated before, most of the stage directions are written within the dialogue of the script. The few stage directions in parentheticals are only the entrances, exits, and exeunts: “Damn’d be his soul for ever for this deed! [Exeunt all except FAUSTUS and MEPHISTOPHILIS” (1.135) Occasionally, especially during the scene involving the Pope we find the occasional “I pledge your grace. [Snatches the cup.]”. and “Nay, then, take that.
[Strikes the POPE.]” (1.145). Each of these types of stage directions lead to a better understanding of the action of the play. If the stage direction is in the dialogue the audience not only hears what the action is but they also get to see it take place. If the stage direction is in parentheticals then the director had an idea of what Marlow wants the scene to look like.
VI. This play, depending on the director’s choices, can be technically difficult to produce if he or she want it to be, but it does not need technicality. The play could be done with a minimal set or it could be a huge production with several lighting techniques, elaborate props, backdrops, and effects. The bare stage production may not be as interesting to the modern playgoer however, because of the old English form of language and drawn out speeches. To be interesting to the modern playgoer addition of effects will keep him or her interested. However if the director chooses minimal set the scenic requirements are two areas designated on the acting space. The first being to represent Faustus’ home and the second being to represent the rest of the outside world. A desk and chair will also be necessary for Faustus’ office and also for the Vatican. Personal props will also be needed such as a wand and books.
Costuming can be flexible with this production whether it is modernized or traditional and elaborate or minimal. For example Mephistophilis can be costumed in the stereotypical Devil’s accomplice attire (red or black, perhaps horns and a cape) or could look like a normal man from that time period. It works either way because it depends on how the director wants to portray him. If he or she wants him to be more conniving and mischievous perhaps he will dress him stereotypically, if he or she wants a more laid back, intelligent seeming Mephistophilis then perhaps modern dress would be fine. Faustus on the other hand is not that flexible with his costuming needs. He should be costumed in the typical male clothing for that era throughout the entire length of the play with slight variations. At the start of the play he is stressed and unhappy, perhaps his clothes will not be washed or they may be untidy and un-tucked, but as the play progresses and he becomes more and more sure of himself and the money and fame gets to him he can take on newer, more colorful and more refined clothes for the time period but nothing too elaborate. Costuming for the other characters should be rather simple because they are not on stage for the length of time that Faustus and Mephistophilis are and we do not get a chance to see them grow and change with the story. The only exception to this could be the Seven Deadly Sins who can be dressed rather elaborately because they are sent to entice Faustus and colorful and exotic costuming may portray that well.
Lighting is a major aspect of this production as a whole. No matter what the set is like the lighting will set the mood, location, and emotion of the scene. The lighting must emphasize the action on the stage and it distinguishes between locations and scenes. The entrances of Lucifer, Mephistophilis, the Seven Deadly Sins, Helen, and Faustus’ capture by Hell can each have their own lighting that emphasized the mood of the scene and the individuality and status of the character. Several different and equally effective options for this are possible. Different colored gels (perhaps red for Lucifer), strobe lights and spotlights could be used to make this effects.
Sound for this production is a crucial element, not so much as lighting but important nonetheless to add to the entire portrayal of the play. Sound effects can be used at the entrances of Lucifer and Mephistophilis and also of the Sins. In the text it says: “Thunder. Enter LUCIFER, BELZEBUB, and MEPHISTOPHILIS.” (2.240) Thunder and other similar sound effects such as screams, wails, moans, and spooky music can be used at Faustus’ end. Also, small sound effects could be applied when Faustus is performing his magic in order to emphasize the trick.
VII. The best type of theater for this production would be the three-quarter thrust stage. There is a good amount of dialogue consisting of only two or three people that can easily be put in the thrust. The Sins could present themselves not only to Faustus but also to the audience on the thrust. This would make the audience more involved in the action of the play. Also, the Good Angel and the Bad Angel can converse with Faustus in a very effective way if it were performed on the thrust.
VIII. I think this play would be a very fun piece to direct and produce. There are so many different things that I could play around with and experiment with to make a production enjoyable to many people and teach them the story of Doctor Faustus. It should definitely be produced either in a traditional or modern setting. If it were to be produced in a modern setting it should not stray to far from the playwright’s original intentions. I went to see this play produced at UMASS last semester; it was what prompted me to read the play for this analysis. I walked out of the theatre totally confused about what had just saw and so did the person that I went to see it with. The director changed so much of the script and altered the playwright’s intentions so much that the entire production was a fast whirlwind of confusion with random things thrown in. It was not until I read the play did I understand what some of those things were. I believe if this play is to be produced modernly the language can be changed to modern English but the plot should stay the same without many alterations. We need to see the entire story in order to understand exactly what is going on. We can do this by changing some of the characters to more modern people of today’s society that the audience can relate to; such as instead of Faustus conjuring Helen he could conjure a popular supermodel instead. Modernizing in this way would give a better understanding to the audience of what the play is about and what the story line is.