Monday, December 5, 2016

Play Project; Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Please turn in your homework (see previous post for details). Please turn in your Hamilton scripts as well. Before you do, you should know the major characters, plot, and author of this musical. Take some notes, then turn in your script. You will be tested on the plays we have read in this course. We're over 15 at this point. More to come.

LAB: 1

Please continue working on your play projects. Before the end of period 1, please read the packet/handout on Christopher Marlowe and Doctor Faustus. A good idea would be to annotate these articles and keep notes during our reading about key concepts and script craft.

Go to the library and pick up the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. We'll take a quick Shakespeare survey too.

Unsure of how my colleagues cover Shakespeare each year (and whether or not you come from a tradition that includes the study of Shakespeare) it's my duty to give you a little info.

Theater as we know it as being performed in a typical PLAYHOUSE (or theater) didn't occur until 1576. It was James Burbage who built the first playhouse in the Elizabethan period called, wait for it..., "the Theater"--a permanent building dedicated to showing plays for commercial interest.

Before then, plays were generally performed in courtyards and inns or guild houses. Private showings for the nobles or upper classes would be commissioned in indoor theaters.

Actors joined an acting company. Shakespeare, for example, first belonged to the Chamberlain's Men, then to the King's Men (after Elizabeth's death). Only men were allowed to act in the Elizabethan theater--a hold over from Ancient Greek and Roman theater traditions. Younger actors (boys) often played the female roles because they would have looked more like women (i.e., no beard). This helps to explain why so many of Shakespeare's plays include cross-dressing. New actors were often given smaller roles so as to train with the experienced actors--who often played the major roles.

Plays were written (often in collaboration) by the actors in the company (who also doubled as the house manager, director, props master, producer, etc.) This helps to explain why some characters in Shakespeare's plays disappear mid play or return as new characters in the 4th or 5th acts. It's hard to be on stage while also taking money at the door.

Lines for a play were written on sides and distributed to the company members. It would be rare for an actor to have a complete script (the writer would, of course) but printing costs money, so copies were kept to a minimum. This helps explain why there are A sides and B sides to Shakespeare's works. Some lines or sides were changed by the actors or the writer during the performances. Famous actors might even change the author's lines by slipping in a bit of well-rehearsed and well-known comedic business for the audience's benefit. Having one's works collected in a book or quarto would have been rare. Scripts that got out of the hands of a company could be stolen by other theater companies, so copies were not passed around. The King's Men must have thought highly about Shakespeare to have his works printed and bound! Luckily they did--or we could not frustrate future high school students by reading these works!

More information about all of this can be found here. and here.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Things to note in Act 1:

  • The first act of any Elizabethan play introduces us to the main protagonist and provides the inciting incident (the first action that begins our plot and involves the protagonist in the plot). In this case: Dr. Faustus, bored with all the earthly knowledge he possesses, tries out unearthy knowledge.
  • The Faust legend was published in a chapbook in 1587. Marlowe undoubtedly would have read this for his inspiration. Heresy, demons, and supernatural subject matter was a public favorite in Elizabethan popular culture.
  • Note the theme of master and servant throughout this play. We are introduced to Dr. Faustus' servant Wagner in the first act. Wagner typically takes the role of the "chorus", and early convention of Elizabethan drama.
  • Mephistopheles (named in the original Faust chapbook) undoubtedly was taken by Marlowe to represent part of the chain of command in Lucifer's dark army. It is important to note that Mephistopheles is only following Faustus' orders (as any good servant should only obey his master) but that Mephistopheles is not a free servant, he belongs to Lucifer (who rents him out to Faustus in exchange for Faustus' soul). The fact that he appears first as a hideous demon reverts back to the Medieval morality plays where devils and demons were comical characters. The form he takes in the play (a Benedictine monk) is a satirical joke and would have had Marlowe's audience in stitches.
In Act II, please note the following:

  • As there is the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), there is the infernal trinity: Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Belzebub. These parallel ideas are common in literature.
  • The pageant recalls earlier Middle Age mystery plays and would have been well known to the audience, but seen as antiquated.
HOMEWORK: Please complete Act II if we do not do so in class. We will pick up the play with Act III on Thursday. 

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