This short play is based on a classic German legend about Faust, a scholar who makes a deal with the devil wherein he proposes to give his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and pleasure. In Marlowe’s interpretation, Doctor Faustus asks the Devil for twenty-four years of life during which time the demon Mephistopheles will do his bidding, in exchange for his soul, which will spend eternity in the fires of hell, and he signs his pact with Lucifer in his own blood to finalize the deal. Throughout the play, we see Doctor Faustus being pulled between his craving for power and his yearning for salvation, with the Good Angel urging him to repent and the Bad Angel encouraging him to fulfill his promise. Faustus chooses to keep to the path of sin for the privileges that power affords him, such as the ability to perform magic, and is taken to hell by Mephistopheles when his time on earth is expired.
Of course, there is much more that can be said about this play, but I am not a scholar and have found that Wikipedia gives a very interesting—and thorough—analysis of it. I did have a little bit of trouble understanding some of the Old English and numerous Latin quotes and expression, although these were translated in my annotated version. I was expecting a very serious, dark approach to this story, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was in fact treated with quite a lot of humour. I initially became interested in the legend of Faust when I was reading The Master and Margarita, forgetting all along that Bulgakov had based himself on Goethe’s Faust, written much later, but am glad I did read the classic Elizabethan interpretation first which will give me something to compare Goethe’s version to when I get to it.
I’ve recently been recommended a site offering an ever-growing selection of audiobooks from works in the public domain, which are read by volunteers. It’s completely free to download sound files from LibriVox.org. I’ve just gotten this play as read by an ensemble cast—I guess that’s the next best thing to seeing Marlowe’s text enacted on stage.