Doctor Faustus: A Synopsis of Marlowe's Tragic Masterpiece

Brief Biography of Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe, a renowned Elizabethan playwright born in the same year as Shakespeare, was a prodigious talent of his era. Despite controversy surrounding his religious beliefs and rumors about his mysterious death, Marlowe's contributions to English drama remain significant, solidifying his place as a prominent figure in the literary canon.

Christopher Marlowe: A Maverick Playright

Historical Context of Doctor Faustus

Set against the backdrop of the Renaissance, "Doctor Faustus" reflects the evolving emphasis on individualism amidst the ongoing conflict between the Protestant English church and Roman Catholicism. Marlowe's unflattering portrayal of the pope and the theological undertones in the play mirror the religious tensions of the time, with Calvinism, a significant theological movement, adding further context to Faustus's eventual downfall.

Other Books Related to Doctor Faustus

Marlowe drew inspiration from the "Historia von D. Iohan Fausten," an anonymous German volume, to craft his own interpretation of the Faustus narrative. The Faustian motif, popularized by the tale of a pact with the devil for knowledge and power, has since become a recurrent theme in modern literary and artistic expressions.

Key Facts about Doctor Faustus

  • Full Title: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus
  • When Written: Approximated around 1592, coinciding with the emergence of an English translation of a German version of the story
  • When Published: 1604 (A-text) and 1616 (B-text)
  • Literary Period: English Renaissance
  • Genre: Elizabethan Tragedy
  • Setting: Wittenberg, Germany; Rome, at the pope's court; the court of Emperor Charles V
  • Climax: Scene 13, as Faustus's impending death and damnation draw near amidst his futile pleas for more time
  • Antagonist: While Faustus serves as his own antagonist, Lucifer's role as the embodiment of evil cements his status as the overarching antagonist

Extra Credit for Doctor Faustus

During a 17th-century performance of "Doctor Faustus," actors reportedly broke character and prayed upon the appearance of the devil on stage, underscoring the pervasive fear surrounding the play's supernatural elements. Additionally, the popularity of Marlowe's work can be attributed in part to Edward Alleyn, the celebrated actor for whom the title role of Faustus was tailored.

Study Guide

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