Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, Scenes 1-5: Discussion Ideas and Possible Paper Topics
1) The "Chorus" (sometimes Wagner, sometimes not specifically identified) plays a function that can be compared with the "Messenger" and "Doctor" characters in Everyman. When and why does Marlowe reach for this quaint theatrical device, and what does it suggest he is concerned about his audience's ability to follow the drama?
2) Because the "Wagner" actor may play all the "Chorus" parts, we might also read them as a chronological micro-drama of Wagner's personal commentary on the situation. If we do that, what does it show us about Faustus' servant? Does it make him "round," a character capable of growth, and if so, in what ways does he grow. What is it like to watch this play from Wagner's point of view?
3) In Scene 1, when Faustus considers and rejects all fields of study other than magic, his reasoning sometimes is sound, but at other times it suggests he is not thinking clearly. Consider his comments on medicine, and on theology, especially. Do they suggest anything about the powers he later ascribes to magic, especially anything magic cannot do? Does he have any faults in his understanding of his relationship to God?
4) The Imperialist dreams of world power which Faustus spins out with Valdes and Cornelius show up in later scenes (6-13) involving travel, exotic locations, and a sense of the planet as an exploitable set of resources. How does the play actually dramatize Faustus' real "Imperial" deeds when compared with those he imagines in Scene 1, and what might Marlowe be saying about those kinds of dreams of power?
5) In Scene 2, Wagner imitates his master, and imitates a "precisian" or Puritan. This capacity for mimicry suggests not only Count Canossa's ideal "courtier" in Hoby's translation of Castiglioni, but also the habits of actors and playwrights. Using either standard of behavior, would Wagner be considered a good courtier or a good actor? What might Marlowe be saying about either occupation's characteristic skills? See also Scene 4 in which Wagner imitates Faustus by taking on the "Clown" or country bumpkin as a servant in his conjuring experiment. How does this "servant of servants" comment on Wagner's character and the effects of magic on values?
6) In Scene 3, when Mephistophilis first is conjured, Faustus finds his shape too terrible and asks him to return in a changed shape, that of a Fransciscan friar. This starts a thematic pattern of "shapes vs. reality" in which Faustus seeks to control the external appearances of things while allowing their true natures to escape his control. In terms of his basic deal with Lucifer, how might that theme affect the outcome?
7) Faustus becomes Mephistophilis' "student" as the demon teaches him about the world via the books of magic and by speeches in which he answers Faustus' questions. Is Faustus a good student?
8) In Scene 5, we see numerous signs of Faustus' alienation from himself, first suggested by his address to himself in third person in Scene 1's first speech. The "Good Angel" and "Evil Angel" articulate elements of Faustus' personality, and the struggles Faustus' goes through regarding the "Deed of Gift" show how the internal "psychomachia" or "soul-struggle" is playing out, as well. What things tempt Faustus and what forces fight those temptations? Is it a fair fight? Or has Marlowe stacked the deck in favor of damnation?
9) The "Deed of Gift" raises the question we last heard in Everyman when Death asks the protagonist whether he thought life was his own to live: "Is not thy soul thine own?" (5.68). How does the answer to this question shape the play's enormous appetite for luxury goods and expensive powers? How much does a soul cost, and with what "currency" is it bought?
10) In Scenes 3 and 5, keep track of Mephistophilis as a kind of suffering "anti-hero," one who has fought and lost the battle Faustus is engaged in. Does he show signs of his ancient capacity for sympathy with another doomed soul? How does Marlowe dramatize the world view of a demon?