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review 2017-11-17 20:10
I Do Repent, and Yet I Do Despair: "Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe, Simon Trussler
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe

For me, the key to Faustus is his interaction in Act V, Scene I with the "old man". The old man gives us Marlowe's theology:


Yet, yet, thou hast an amiable soul,”


—even after Faustus has made his deal with the devil and used the power he got for the previous 23 'years' and 364 'days', Faustus's soul is lovable. Just repent! Faustus replies:


Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch, what hast thou done?

Damned art thou, Faustus, damned: despair and die.”


Echoing the stories of Cain after his fratricide and Jesus on the cross, Faustus insists on his damnation. The old man contradicts him:


“Oh stay, good Faustus, stay thy desperate steps.

[. . .

…] call for mercy and avoid despair.”


The old man leaves, and Faustus speaks out his dilemma:


“I do repent, and yet I do despair.”


Mephistophilis calls Faustus a "traitor", and "arrest[s his] soul / For disobedience" — don't doubt the keenness of Marlowe's irony, or sarcasm —, and Faustus repents of his repentance —irony! sarcasm! —, and gets his final wish, to see "the face that launched a thousand ships". While he's going on about how he'll "be Paris" and get Helen—does Faustus not remember how that turned out??—, during his poetry the old man returns to the stage. When Faustus leaves, intoxicated with sexual love for Helen, the old man, before defying the devils who've come to take his body to fire (but not his soul), says of Faustus:


“Accursed Faustus, miserable man,

That from thy soul exclud'st the grace of heaven,

And fliest the throne of his tribunal seat.”


Faustus doesn't crave knowledge: he goes through the catalogue of human expertise at the beginning of the play and finds, study by study, their futility, and turns to "necromantic books": "A sound magician is a demi-god."



If you're into 16th century literature, read on.

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review 2016-10-28 21:34
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor…
Doctor Faustus and Other Plays (Oxford World's Classics) (Parts I and II) - Christopher Marlowe,Eric Rasmussen,David M. Bevington

Out of Marlowes collected works I only read the play Doctor Faustus (for all of you, who are more familiar with Marlowe, I read the A text).


I actually liked the beginning and the ending, but overall the play itself just lacked something, at least in my opinion, and as a reader you are quite rushed through it. As ridiculous as it may seem to say, but the worst part of the whole play for me was the character of Faustus. He was weirdly indecisive and extremely inconsistent and unfortunately, Mephistopheles wasn’t able to come into his own throughout the whole play, so I guess those are the main problems I have had with this text.


To be fair, this play was probably written at some point towards the end of the 16th century, so it is understandable, that a great part of it consists of Faustus and Mephistopheles talking about the geocentric worldview and the movement of all those crazy spheres and so on, but come on...that is really the only thing you would ask, if Mephistopheles was to answer all of your questions?

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review 2015-04-15 00:00
Doctor Faustus
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe description
“Hell is just a frame of mind”

When you finish reading Doctor Faustus, you become extremely confused and you keep asking yourself a crucial philosophical question: Are we born good or evil? And that leads you to another question: What is the purpose of existence? Then, you find yourself obligated to answer an overwhelming question: Do we understand God correctly?


When we go back in time to Adam and Eve, we know that their first sin, which resulted in their banishment from Heaven, was the hunger for forbidden knowledge. Faustus committed that very same sin. He made a deal with Lucifer and ate voraciously from the tree of knowledge. However, we should ask ourselves: What is forbidden knowledge?

I believe that forbidden knowledge is that kind of knowledge that makes us feel superior to others. The knowledge that inspires us to treat people as if we were gods, and they are our slaves. Francis Bacon once wrote: “Knowledge is power” and I think it is clear that craving for power was the one and only motivator for Faustus's handing his soul over to the devil. But here's the rub: in order to gain that power, Faustus has to give it all away—to Lucifer. Ultimately, the power Faustus dreamt of could never be his. That is what Faustus didn’t understand. That is the reason behind Faustus’s suffering all through the play.

The everlasting struggle between good and evil in Doctor Faustus clearly represents the fact of the human vulnerability. The idea of Good and Bad Angels in Doctor Faustus indicates that we all are both good and evil. the Good angel represents Faustus's desire to repent, and the Bad Angel, his desire to keep right on sinning. Unfortunately, this fierce battle between good and evil within all of us will never end, and this woeful fact is reflected in life itself.


Through all of Faustus’s travels, Faustus just could not escape the subject of religion. Yet while religion follows him, step-by-step on his slow journey to eternal damnation, we cannot help but think that Faustus never gets how important religion really is in his life, or the role it will eventually play in the fate of his soul. Nevertheless, I think that Faustus’s religious indifference is partly justifiable.

When we study history, we understand how cruel and pitiless the church was. Christianity in the 17th century showed deep conflict. The Age of Enlightenment grew to challenge Christianity as a whole, generally elevated human reason above divine revelation. This conflict is highly reflected in Doctor Faustus, and it took so many forms.

The most frequent form of conflict with religion represented in Doctor Faustus was Faustus’s desperation of God’s forgiveness. I believe that religious institutions were highly responsible for this. They encouraged people’s desperation by being so selfish and power thirsty and by portraying God, not as a merciful and loving God, but as a vengeful and blood thirsty God. I think that this particular kind of conflict is a recurring pattern that exists in all religions: a grandeur idea with loathsome and revolting interpretations.


We are vulnerable, weak, and pathetic human beings, we commit sins and we have a deep and hidden passion for the forbidden. In my opinion, we should not damn Faustus because of what he did. Nevertheless, we should read Faustus as if we were reading ourselves. That is the beauty and the importance of literature, it confronts us with our real selves and it gives us the opportunity to experience the consequences of our parallel-selves’ mistakes and to learn from them.

In Act IV Scene V, When Faustus said: “What art thou Faustus, but a man condemned to die?” he was not actually talking to himself; rather he was talking to us – readers. We were born, we live, and eventually we will die. Therefore, we should listen to Faustus and learn from him instead of cursing him.

I believe that Faustus's fall has been caused by his choice to believe that he's damned. That causes him to refuse to repent, and refusing to repent is the one sin that's truly unforgiveable.

Even though there are many reasons for every one of us, just like Faustus, to lose his faith and his confidence in God, but there is still a small and powerful light inside of every one of us mysteriously leading us to the right path. Faustus did not lose that light, but his tragedy was that he was not courageous enough to support that small weak light in order to overcome the huge darkness inside of him.


If you think about it, the thing that tempts someone to sin is different for every person. For Faustus it was knowledge, but for some people, it might be money, or a special social position, or even something as trivial as food craving!

Therefore, the lesson to be learned from Faustus's fall turns out to be bigger than just a warning against forbidden knowledge.

I highly recommend this play :)

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review 2015-02-17 15:43
Doctor Faustus-A cautionary tale
Doctor Faustus - Christopher Marlowe,Sylvan Barnet

While everyone may not know the actual play of Doctor Faustus, almost everyone knows of the concept of selling your soul to the devil.  That's exactly what Doctor Faustus does in exchange for 24 years of knowledge and power.  He has big plans for what he can do as the smartest, most powerful man in the world.  He can put the rightful leader back on the throne in Germany.  He can protect Germany from invaders.  He can cloth all the students at his university in silk.  (I wasn't sure what the point of that one was!)  He can know all the secrets of the universe.  Mephistopheles can be his best buddy. 

Only as the years go on, that's not exactly what happens.  Yes, he has power and knowledge but somehow all the wonderful things he planned to do with it never get done. He ends up using his power of invisibility to play pranks on the Pope.  He plays tricks on common people he meets just to vex them.  He wants accolades from the aristocracy and so become little more than a party clown for them instead of doing all the wonderful things he believed he would do. 

Faustus never seems to actually realize that Mephistopheles isn't his best buddy.  He seems to think they are just kicking around the world together having a good time.  He doesn't seem to believe that in the end, yes indeed, Mephistopheles is going to take him to hell as the agreement they made said he would.  Many people throughout the play tell Faustus to repent and ask forgiveness from God but he never does.  He seems right on the verge of it at times but never crosses that line.  He always backs away from asking forgiveness.  At the end, he says that he is too wicked for God to forgive but it comes across as boasting, not regret. In fact, the whole play seems to be about Faustus' arrogance. 

This play is set in an interesting time because it's the beginning of the Renaissance and Marlowe was not a Christian and yet, this play seems to be saying that man should not try to grasp higher than his station.  That seems to go against what the Renaissance was all about.  It's a fascinating play with so much room for thought and interpretation.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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review 2014-05-02 16:36
Doctor Faustus - Thomas Mann,John E. Woods

My initial reaction to being done this book is relief. Like the other Thomas Mann book I've read, I've found this a slog at times. It was one where I had to give myself permission to read around 20 pages a day and no more, or else I never would have sat down with it in the first place. But despite that, despite how long it took me to read, and how I was never quite eager to get back to it, I am glad I read it. A difficult read, but still, a worthwhile one.

Someone else pointed out just a little while ago that the title itself is a spoiler for the book. The extent to which it is a Doctor Faustus retelling is not overt, except for a few points. But I think that's not so much a spoiler as it is a foreshadowing. We need that knowledge to loom over every moment of the book, to know that it is inevitably leading somewhere dark, to keep urgent and pressing. Otherwise, it's the fairly straightforward story of a composer.

But, of course, it's not. It's also the story of Germany, and German politics and intellectual thought, and the deal the country made with the devil for a sense of destiny, of strength, of mastery. Adrian is that deal made flesh, but Germany continues down its path in the background.

More than anything, this book made me wish I knew the first thing about classical music or criticism. I'm sure anyone who does will get more from the long descriptions of Leverkuhn's compositions and how they were radical. I found them interesting, but came out of them still befuddled. Without that background, I was totally at sea. But these sections made me wish I knew more, rather than wishing they'd been skipped, so there's that.

Then there's the nature of the relationship between Adrian and the narrator. It's exceptionally close, to be sure. But what struck me is how little we know about the narrator's wife. If the book is about Adrian Leverkuhn, the wife of the narrator gets but a handful of mentions over the entire huge span of the book, and only physically appears in two scenes. And then, she has no lines or actions. It's this giant omission of a woman who shares his life from the story being told that is so striking. I don't want to over-psychoanalyze and wonder if it mirrors Mann's own life, and his known struggles with his sexuality, but the presence-but-absence of the wife is striking.

Right, the plot. This is the story of Adrian Leverkuhn, celebrated but not prolific composer, as told by his boyhood friend. It is the story of his withdrawal from the world, his contraction of a venereal disease, his deal with the devil, and his dissolution. It's also the story of the literary and intellectual community of German in the interwar years, arguing with each other while celebrating the new turns the German state has taken. Except for the narrator, who sees the looming danger for both his friend and his nation, without the ability to do anything about either.

I feel like I've only scratched the surface of this book, but even the surface was worthwhile. I'd be interested to read it again in a few years, and see what that did to my understanding. Without that musical training, though, I just don't know if there are bits I'd ever get.

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