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Doctor Faustus: The A text
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on 29 November 2012
I had not been introduced to Marlowe's work (or, indeed, heard of the legendary playwright at all) until after taking the mammoth decision to start an Open University module. This was a Level 1 module for 60 credits; AA100 `The Arts Past and Present'. During the second week, we had the task of reading the play from this suggested A-Text version, alongside an audio track provided by the university. Having not studied for the past 4-5 years, I found the play initially hard to go by. But, of course, this is expected for a higher education student who has been away from academia for quite some time. My fellow students and I found this text to be a surprising read, and, reading from the perspective of an observer of the production, rather than the reader of a novel (or stage-play) helped to put the play into context.
Having not studied much Shakespearean literature, I found `Doctor Faustus' the perfect play to be introduced into the discipline of Renaissance English Literature, with its vastly complex and visionary characterisation. The character of Faustus, for me, is a living representation of the dangers pertaining to seeking knowledge beyond one's physical (and spiritual) capabilities. The Christian message is embedded throughout the play, as was suitably the norm during Marlowe's lifetime, of repentance, forgiveness and God's ultimate will.
The Pearson Longman edition is especially useful for the Open University student, as this is indeed the first set book for the aforementioned module for the humanities. It provides extensive details on the text and footnotes detailing the many idioms and contemporary translations of early-modern English. There are also many more sections on the life of Christopher Marlowe and his contemporaries, as well as notes on the period and life for the common Englishman during the Renaissance. There are some shocking revelations about his life and, ultimately, his death.
I am so glad that the Open University introduced me to this wonderful stage-play and its amazingly complex themes, but, most importantly, its writer. Now I am continuing on with Level 2 studies and have come across the likes of Charles Dickens et al, but Doctor Faustus will forever hold a special place in my literary heart. Additionally, not to miss is the film translation made famous by Elizabeth Taylor, the `Stage on Screen' DVD of the play recorded at London's Greenwich Theatre, and the upcoming Opus Arte production starring Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams from the BBC's `Doctor Who' television series).
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on 9 July 2016
Introducing a classic of literature that needs no real introduction seems somewhat pointless, except when it is newly adapted and published in a modern form in order to inform secondary school students and actors new to acting. This is such a book. An adaption by Geraldine McCaughrean of the Germanic myth of Faust.

Marlowe's version of this myth has Doctor Faustus - A student of excellence: becoming tired of such humble enterprises as philosophy, theology and science. He is looking for something worth his time. He decides on the occult and black magic. After consulting two of his friends (Valdes and Cornelius) who are magicians, he decides to summon a devil. He does so when he is alone by drawing a chalk pentagram and seeking the service of a Devil of Hell.

The devil Mephistopheles answers his call and swears to serve Faustus no matter the demand. Faustus asks for twenty four years of his every wish to be granted. This pact is made by signing a deed with his own blood: that after those twenty four years his soul shall be Satan's and Hell's. While trying to sign this contract with his blood (as the devil says it must be) it begins to congeal, and forces him to cut himself, and then Mephistopheles has to assist him to finish the contract. This very act makes it seem like Faustus' own body (or maybe even his soul) is resisting the choice because its consequences are not worth it.

The story then skips to the future. Faustus is now famous for his powers. He entertains kings and noblemen, earning the respect of all but a few people who distrust him as a charlatan. He deals with these people in a comedic fashion, giving them antlers and the like. But he also punishes them with the torment of Hell which makes us question what he has become. All the while he fails to notice these twenty four years are almost up.

During the entire story Faustus is being advised by his good angel and evil demon who he cannot actually hear, but narrates what the consequences of his actions will be. The angel screaming "Think of your soul! Don't turn your back on heaven.", while the Demon speaks over it with: "Damn it all to Hell! Do what you desire!". This demonstrates the choices he is making, and the duality of man and his desires mixed with what he should do (morality).

He is alone at his home when Mephistopheles informs him he only has an hour left. He dramatically speaks about how blind he has been, how he has rejected God and doesn't even deserve to ask for forgiveness. All the while begging for the contract to be voided. With a clock ticking to increase the drama and his heart beating so loud the audience can hear his panic: this scene never fails to throw up anxiety, and make you worry about Faustus as if you yourself are him regretting his life choices. This puts the audience in the shoes of the good angel and evil demon: judging his choices and showing our own bias.

This particular version is the B text: which can be shown clearly by the ending - Faustus is dragged off by the devil Mephistopheles with two hooks which are plunged into him. He is thus dragged to hell, or so it seems. When three fellow students of Faustus' university visit his house they find gloom, a mess and a body torn limb from limb. While the A text is far more ambiguous: Faustus is merely dragged away (presumably to hell) and nothing else is heard from him. His fellow students just find an empty, messy house with evidence of a struggle.

This adaption is unique in the way that it doesn't just tell the story, but has a twenty page section on writing and acting in order to refine people's abilities to absorb the play, and other abilities related to writing and play acting. Showing that the play is about choices and consequences, and the many ways that the play could have been utterly different. A study of the morality of the play and how Faustus can be seen in so many ways: weak, arrogant, knowing what he is doing, a victim of human flaw. It even imagines that Faustus is on trail and for you to write a defence/attack on him in order to free him from the contract, or for him to be punished with Hell. While all of this is useful for honing one's abilities, it also allows one to take even more from the play than you get from one simple reading. This all works together to show Marlowe's genius, and why this play is still performed to this day.
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on 22 May 2016
Delivery was super fast and perfectly timed, This was a required play as part of my English A2 college level syllabus and at first I was confused. I was really confused because I didn't understand what was going on. However as we got further into our analysis of the play, I found it rather enjoyable. The plot focuses on the fall of a scholar- a fall to the deepest pits of Hell. It shows the darkest parts of humanity through themes such as: vanity, immorality, thoughtlessness, a petty nature and a bid for power. Because Faustus becomes bored with all forms of human schooling, he turns to more mystical forms and in turn- for all his stupidity, falls. I did enjoy the play however, because in a cynical way it shows the truth of what humanity has become. It is a difficult read in the grammar and spelling of the language, which had not- in the time it was written- yet been standardized, however if you can get past that or get used to it, it is actually a decent story. Once I started it, I wanted to continue to see what mistakes Faustus could possibly make next.
It is relatable in the aspect that, most of us give into desire at some point in our lives- whether it be the junk food you've been craving or buying yourself something nice. Faustus shows that but on a much larger scale- giving up himself for the pursuit of knowledge and to hold power over others.
The structure is much harder to follow than that of The Tempest as it jumps through time and across the world in the scenes.
You can see Faustus' true petty nature and his imminent lack of power throughout the play, shown in the fact that he has to rely on another being to bring about the invocations of his desires. even when he thinks that by one stupid act, he has all the power in the world.
This play communicates the baseness of humanity- a pessimistic view on what the human race has come to and what human nature is ruled by.
I would recommend this play because it can teach you something about yourself, about how sometimes resisting desire is actually a good thing and that you need a real purpose behind everything you do- or you could potentially just be wasting your life.
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on 9 March 2018
Bought for university, a struggle to read but enjoyed it once I got the hang of the language (old English, think Shakespeare x10). It is worth re-reading when there isn't the pressure of a module/coursework against you. You can also get & watch the stage show which is awesome.
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on 1 October 2015
The Last Scene is quite rightly one of the most famous, and most dramatic in English Literature. It is powerful to read and I should think that it is even more powerful when staged. The beginning is a good start, leading up to the pact with Satan through the auspices of Mephistopholes, and we can see that he should not do it. However in the middle acts the story becomes silly, and although I appreciate how well Shakespeare used humour in his tragedies the invisible Faustus with the Pope is just stupid, and prevents me from giving the whole play five stars, which the beginning and end deserved.
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on 20 March 2013
Faustus is a great play by Marlowe. I used this in English Literature along side The Tempest by Shakespeare. They contrast hugely but there are also some similarities in how magic and fiction are used. This is Fiction for the time it was written and I enjoyed it- suprisingly! I was not expecting to like Faustus but I did. I was compelled by his character and felt the need to read on to find out what would happen to him. A great play which I would recommend to fellow play lovers and fans of fiction from another time. Also I recommend this to people who love reading about good and evil - angels and demons as well as sacrifice and personal gain. Good stuff!
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 February 2014
Bought for an Open University course that I was doing, it was listed as essential reading for the OU AA100 'The Arts Past and Present'
course. It provided all the information that I needed and was not too expensive - just make sure that if you're buying books for higher education that you buy exactly the right edition (as listed on your course details) or you may not have the same information as everyone else on your course.
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on 3 May 2016
I was inspired to read this book after watching the play in the West End so that is one good thing about going there. The play itself was gimmicky junk (in my opinion). I wondered how many of the 20 year olds in the theatre were there to internalise the wisdom of Christopher Marlowe or to see some Game of Thrones star drop his trousers. As they say education like youth is wasted on the young!
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on 25 July 2015
A helpful edition used for studying at college. The pages were glossy in this edition, but was still easy enough to make notes in the margins. This text also came with handy explanations of what some of the older language means and provides a good background knowledge of the text and its creator. A useful thing to have when revising especially, would order from this range again.
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on 13 November 2015
This is a fantastic edition, with the notes and timeline being extremely helpful to anyone studying the play for the first time. This only thing I think would make it better would be if it specified which script it is largely based on as I can't find is whether it is based on the A-text (1604) or B-text (1616) of the play. Other than that it's a must have for my bookshelf.
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