“Doctor Faustus”: Reading and Complicity (Jessica Chiba)

Reading the part of Faustus was more of a revelation than I had imagined. I was amused at just how much Faustus says ‘Mephistopheles, come!’ (and indeed by how much a Marlovian protagonist talks). But the real fascination was that it takes the idea of complicity to an entirely new level. Invoking devils using incantations, and reading out a solemn deed giving ‘both body and soul to Lucifer’ were incredibly powerful speech acts to perform. It’s almost disturbing how much it feels like one is actually summoning devils and giving away one’s soul. Reading it also made me notice the contrast between the intensity of the first scenes and the middle section more clearly, and brought home the pettiness of Faustus’ actions in his four-and-twenty years of being served by the devil. Then there’s the last scene, which exceeds the force of the beginning, and the power of the poetry is that it forces one to voice Faustus’ dread of the inexorable flow of time. The remarkable thing is the way that Marlowe paces his writing so that the long speeches are punctuated with exclamations and questions that carry the flow, and, when read, nearly puts one into the very state that Faustus is in. I was struck by how Marlowe’s poetry comes alive when spoken out loud.


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