Dr. Faustus, Day 4

Dr. Faustus, Day 4

Dr. Faustus on the Stage

Marlowe’s play has a rich and enduring stage history. It was his most successful play and was performed many times throughout the 1590’s and into the early 17th c. until the closing of London theatres in 1642.  As was typical of presentational theatre, the play was performed in a minimalist fashion that would lend itself well centuries later to the modern sensibilities of early 20th century experimentalist and absurdist theatre.  Accounts from these early performances emphasize how frightened audiences were by the sight of the devil and the “clapping” of thunder.  When theatres reopened, the play continued to be revived successfully throughout the Restoration, though it was then adapted to fit the elaborate operatic style typical of tragedies during this period.  There was a lull in revivals during the 18th century that lasted until the 19th century popularity of Goethe’s Faust, which renewed interest in its Marlovian predecessor. From that time to the present, Marlowe’s drama has remained a staple of repertory theatre as well as an influence on other works of literature and film.  I would love to have seen Orson Welles’ 1936 revival, which was apparently hugely successful. Welles himself played the part of Faustus.  In 1950 he took his production to Paris and jazz vocalist Eartha Kitt appeared as Helen of Troy.

When I imagine casting a performance of the play today, I see Jeremy Irons as Faustus.  British, middle-aged, lean.  What do yo think?  And who might be a good Mephistopheles? Rupert Everett? Jack Black? (I’ve always envisioned him as a good candidate Iago, too.)

And how should the good and evil angels be dealt with? Should they be performed by actors on stage or heard but not seen, using voiceover? And how would the two different options influence our perception of Dr. Faustus’ character?

The Brooklyn, NY based theatre company, Drama of Works, known for its puppet mastery, recently staged Dr. Faustus.  Check out the clip below of the procession of the Seven Deadly Sins in act 2, scene 3.    


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