Marlowe’s Doctor Faust had its fair share of popularity when it was first staged. However, the popularity gradually waned and by the end of the 17th Century; the play was barely known. The late 18th Century was characterized by a revival of the play. In fact, during the Victorian era, Doctor Faust provoked many critical and literary responses as theatre enthusiasts started appreciating the brilliance of the play more. The 20th Century also brought out heightened interest in the play. It was sought after by a lot of performers, and many scrambled to perform the titular role. It is now over 400 years since the play was penned down and even today, the play continues to enthrall new generations of actors, critics, writers and audiences. Its primary themes continue to charm audiences across worldly divides.
The original play has led to elicited many renditions throughout the years. These have been in both the cultural and artistic arenas. The story has been reconfigured to fit with various art and cultural pieces including poetry, paintings, songs, modern dramas, prose fiction, plays, films, television series and miniseries, video games amongst others.
The two primary themes in Doctor Faust are power and temptation. These are themes that without a doubt captivate all generations of audiences. In addition, Doctor Faust provides an insightful lens that can be used to examine the status of humankind, particularly its devotion to technology and knowledge, and the consequences of this unquestionable knowledge.
As mentioned, Marlowe’s Doctor Faust has had several renditions throughout the years, and these renditions have incorporated many variants. However, the play’s basic premise has not been changed. It involves a deal that has been struck with the devil for access to unlimited and forbidden knowledge and the calamity that ensues from this. This represents the theme of temptation that every human being has without a doubt been a victim of. The mystery of Doctor Faust also brings into light some of the decision that human beings, either collectively or individually make as forms of tradeoffs, where certain things are gained by the selection of one choice or path, and the consequent abandonment of another.
The various renditions of the play have all exhibited the consequences of such a deal where the devil always wins. These include renditions such as “Dealing with the Devil” which is short story written by Robert Weinberg and “Faust” which is written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”. In other adaptions, although the hero may escapes, the devil still somehow manages to emerge top. This is the case in the “Bearskin” rendition of the play.
The play also charms modern audiences because of the ease of the character’s fitting into the modern setting. This is particularly true for the main character and his seemingly endless obsession with knowledge, knowledge being something that even modern audiences hugely crave for. For instance, Doctor Faust in a modern could be a scientist, maybe a biologist, a neurologist or a computer scientist who would do anything to prove a certain theory or gain knowledge about a particular topic.
The theme of evil and darkness is another distinguishable aspect of the play that appeals to many audiences. Marlowe takes huge delight in evoking Dr. Faust as hero of evil and darkness. Things such as evil and good angels appeal to the audience as well as the constant references to hell. There is a lot of extravagance throughout the entire play, something that once again appeals to audiences. The battle between evil and good is not something new to modern audiences. This is why the exploration of this theme in Dr. Faust charms audiences this much. At the play’s beginning, Dr. Faust is torn between the two virtues of good and evil. He fully understands the consequences of the two and, therefore, one would think that he would obviously go for good. He however chooses to go with evil mainly because of his desire for worldly things. This theme resonates with the modern audience quite significantly since we are living in a world that is very materialistic. People are simply concerned about wealth, knowledge, and power and they have seemingly forgotten that in the pursuit of these things, they may lose their own. A modern audience of this nature would therefore be charmed with the play as it relates to their endeavors.
The above aspect is for instance brought into light by some recent film renditions of Dr. Faust. These include films such as “Bedazzled” and “Ghost Rider”. Another film in “Rosemary’s Baby” which involves a man selling his wife’s soul to the devil in return or wealth. All the mentioned renditions involve people making pacts with the devil in exchange for material things.
Over the years, performers have found a way of adapting the play to fit with the audiences of the time. For instance, a 19th century adaption of the play by Gounod had elements of a romantic opera, a genre that was famous at the time. A novel by Thomas Mann titled “Doctor Faustus” explores the relation of the artist to Nazism. Another adaption by Vaclav Havel titled “Temptation” explores life under the policy of communism. In modern times, the play has inspired even more stretched adaptations. For example, the play “Damn Yankees’ by Adler and Ross is about a baseball enthusiast who sells his soul to the devil to get a chance of playing with one of America’s premier baseball teams, “The Washington Senators."
As seen, the themes of knowledge, temptation are power play a very significant part in humanity. Since time immemorial, people have always been obsessed with power and knowledge. In the quest for knowledge and power, human beings are tempted to engage in unspeakable things or actions. This in spite of the fact that humans fully understand the consequences of their actions. These themes are fully represented in Marlowe’s Doctor Faust. The titular character sells his own soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. This is clearly something that resonates with all audiences especially the theme of temptation. Performers are clearly aware of this fact, and this is why the play continues to be hugely sought after as there is almost a guarantee that when staged, it will appeal to the audience.
Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. New York: Dover, 1994. Print.
Bell, Matthew. The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700-1840. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.
"Cambridge Authors » Marlowe: The Sources of Doctor Faustus." The Faculty of English. N.p., 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.
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