“A classic that never dies. . . ”
Faustus’s story serves as a warning to those who would sacrifice righteous living for earthly gain. But Marlowe’s play is also a deeply symbolic analysis of the shift from the late medieval world to the early modern world — a time when the medieval view that the highest wisdom lay in the theologian’s contemplation of God was yielding to the Renaissance view that the highest wisdom lay in the scientist’s and statesman’s rational analysis of the world around them. Caught between these ideals, Faustus is both a tragic fool destroyed by his own ambition and a hero at the forefront of a changing society. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe thoughtfully examines faith and enlightenment, nature and science — and the terrible cost of the objects of our desire.
Study Guide -- Scene-by-scene questions. To be done as students read the play. Kinda proud of these.
“Helen” Passage for annotation, explication, etc.
Faustus Overall -- Discussion Questions that focus on the play as a whole.
Citing Evidence -- Students are required to cite evidence (specific details and textual evidence onlhy) for five statements/extracts about the play. A sample Evidence Extract is also available for the statement, “Faustus is foolish.”
The Over-Reacher -- Focus on Marlowe’s use of hyperbole with a slight deconstructive bent. Harry Levin’s excellent The Over-Reacher, a critical biography of Marlowe, is worth hunting down.
Creative Writing -- a baker’s dozen.
Connections -- theme statements to provoke discussion.
Critical Analysis -- asks students to apply a definition of “tragedy” to Doctor Faustus.
Possible Theses -- best for a longer essay, written and revised mostly outside class.
Ancillary Poems for Enrichment --
Text of the Play -- Assignments here are based on the Signet edition.
Laying the Foundation Vocabulary -- 292 words and definitions.
Study Questions -- In order, mostly at a recall and comprehension level. Good for reading checks as well.
Crossref.it.info -- This British site includes extensive background and three video scenes for analysis (with worksheets, including text, below). Introductory worksheets on the Role of Comedy, Elements of the Gothic, the Seven Deadly Sins, and Marlowe’s Style. These include excellent challenging group activities.
Randy Newman’s Faust: With Newman as the Devil and James Taylor as God, this modern rock opera really rocks. In his modern adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, they fight for the soul of Notre Dame student Henry Faust, played by The Eagle’s Don Henley. Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt guest. The cynical narrative is long and winding, but the songs stand on their own, especially “Bleeding All over the Place,” “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” “Life Has Been Good to Me” and “Feels Like Home.” YouTube highlights.
Other Modern Musical Interpretations:
Classical Musical Interpretations:
Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Schubert,
Schumann, and Wagner -- to name a few bewitched by the Legend.
And, of course, there is Gertrude Stein’s “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights,” her libretto for a modernist opera, drawing upon both Marlowe and Goethe. YouTube has several clips, but the Temptation Scene from a French production and Concordia University’s Trailer are intriguing.
None of these are mine, but each could be useful. Three offer an overview of Marlowe’s life and give a background to the play -- Marlowe 1, Marlowe 2, Marlowe 3. Others present the Faust Legend and analyze the character of Mephistopheles.
Dramatis Personae -- Who’s Who in the Play
Barrons Book Notes (in Word .doc form) -- excellent character and plot analysis
Stage on Screen -- This British company provides stage productions on DVD, with an extensive accompanying guide of more than 60 pages. Filmed 2009 performance. Website includes four video exerpts. £19.99 or $31.00. Love mine!
The short cartoon, Danse Macabre, music by Camille Saint-Saëns, available originally from PBS, sets the mood of the play, though it is not part of the play itself.
Doctor Faustus -- The infamous Richard Burton / Elizabeth Taylor version (1968) actually has redeeming qualitiues. perhaps because Nevill Coghill helped adapt the play for the screen. The last scene in which Hell opens underneath Faustus’s study makes up for the endless and inappropriate multiple scenes with Taylor.
Bedazzled -- This comic adaptation parallels the Faustus story. Made in 1967 and remade in 2000, the most useful and entertaining aspect of each tale is the Seven Deadly Sins psychomachia.
The movie posters may be the best part of the remake.
Although Jan Švankmajer’s Faust does not accurately portray the plot, it imaginatively utilizes the legend, borrowing and blending elements from the story as told by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe with traditional folk renditions. Distinctly Modernist, Absurdist, and Kafkaesque feel, the tone is dark but humorous.
OK, time to spare -- try I Was a Teenage Faust (2002), made for Canadian TV by ShowTime, with Robert Townshend and Morgan Fairchild. Goethe’s Faust.
The Faustus Legend has inspired many artists, though not all are specific to Marlowe’s play. Many of the visual representations of the Faust story make excellent introductions to the play. From the original “cover” illustration to the latest theatre production poster, the tone is set for a play that remains relevant.
Each individual illustration can be used as a simple writing prompt, focusing on visual literacy --
“What is the effect of the illustration and how is that effect is produced?”
Or use the OPTIC guidelines for writing about visual texts.
Visual Versions: Enjoy more than sixty illustrations of the Faust story -- book covers, movie posters, theatrical playbills, even comic books.
Artistic Interpretations: These ten pieces of art span 400 years of the legend -- etchings, drawings, paintings, and sculptures.
Movie Clips also present a unique opportunity for visual literacy. Each could be used to introduce the play or evaluated as a fair or unfair representation of the play after reading. Or, of course, use the OPTIC guidelines or prompt above.
Updated 15 June 2019.
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