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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent set of notes - don't forget to read the play, 17 Mar 2010
This review is from: AS/A-Level English Literature: Doctor Faustus Student Text Guide (As/a-Level Student Text Guides) (Paperback)
A word of caution needs to be delivered about all study notes - they won't answer the question for you, they won't pass your exams for you. Read the play in conjunction with them, use the notes to stimulate ideas and questions, not to find answers. Good notes should fuel your enthusiasm as well as your knowledge.

With that caveat safely out of the way, what needs to be said about this AS/A level guide? Well, first of all, it does precisely what it says on the label - it's a guide for 6th year studies at secondary school, and may translate into a useful resource for 1st year university. That's the level it's pitched at. The more sophisticated or prestigious your level of study, the more you will need to supplement these notes with more extensive reading and research.

This volume opens with some 40 pages of background notes on Marlowe, his Canterbury, his life and works, the basics of the Elizabethan theatre, a quick introduction to the Renaissance, magic, the Faust legend, and a critical history of the play's staging. All this is clearly laid out, concise, informative - but don't imagine you've acquired really in-depth knowledge of such a vast range of subjects; this is your starter for 10, enough background to give you an intelligent perspective on the significance and place of the play, enough background for you to build solid foundations for further study.

The book now moves on to 13 pages of scene summaries - a useful set of notes to remind you of the overall structure and dynamic of the work, something you can and will refer to if you're studying the play in any depth. Further pages explore the various characters, themes, imagery, and specific aspects of the play, concluding with a glossary of literary terms and concepts. And the book will conclude with a couple of specimen essay questions.

The real substance of these notes may well lie in the 60 or so pages which explore the structure and body of the play. There's certainly enough here, when taken in conjunction with you reading the text at least twice, to stimulate your knowledge and understanding of the work. Getting to grips with an Elizabethan drama can require a bit of archaeological skill - you have to dig for meaning, understand the play at different levels, and garner enough knowledge to be able to step back and see the big picture.

I have to admit, I am no great fan of 'Doctor Faustus'. Study of the text is best achieved in conjunction with a viewing of the play in performance (and, if you're tempted to watch the Burton film, well, it's interesting, but ...). This book certainly helped me get to grips with the play - it was never going to persuade me to love it - and, taken in conjunction with, say, the York Notes guide and a good, annotated text, this will give you a substantial grounding in Marlowe's play, era, and place in literary/theatrical history. It will not, however, pass your exams for you. And I'm sorry, but I have to repeat that.

And that's, perhaps, excuse to flesh out a final word of warning. You are not the only person to read this study guide (or York Notes, etc.), and your examiner will be well aware of the content and arguments of the various guides on the market. Don't expect to simply regurgitate what you find on the pages of this book and get a significant mark. This is a guide - a good guide book can help you find your way round a strange city, but it won't do the walking for you. Use these guides to get a perspective, find your own vision of the play, and feed your own enthusiasm and ideas by further reading. And, no, I can't guarantee you'll enjoy the play, I surely didn't, but there are aspects of it which intrigued me, and these notes helped me find interests and themes which stimulated my awareness. Overall, they provided me with essential background information and a clearer understanding of the text, and I don't suppose you can ask more than that.
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