Doctor Faustus, first published in 1604, is the most famous of Marlowe’s plays, and its hero, who sells his soul to the devil in return for twenty-four years of power and pleasure, by far the best-known of his rebellious protagonists.
It is a tragic story of a man who defies the authority of God by selling his place in heaven for knowledge and power on earth.
In Doctor Faustus Marlowe questions why man is put on the earth. We see in Faustus a man opposing and questioning the order of the cosmos and railing against the confines of human knowledge.
While the play shares many of the characteristics of medieval morality plays it cannot be defined solely in this way. Faustus can be seen as a tragic hero. He is a man who through his thirst for knowledge and his desire to go beyond the accepted wisdom of his time is ultimately destroyed. It is Faustus’ defiance and his rebellion against the confines of his world that make him so compelling.
A portrait, believed to be of Faustus playwright Christopher Marlowe
Marlowe was stabbed to death aged 29, while he was under investigation for heresy. Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council later pardoned the man who killed him. Might Marlowe have had something of Faustus in him?
The BBC/Open University Production
Inspiration for the production came from diverse sources, primarily the text and Marlowe’s life and times. But we cast the creative net quite wide and took inspiration also from art, film and literature.
In the research stages, in rehearsal and in the sound design, images from Goya, in particular his Caprichos etchings, were a springboard for creative thinking - for example, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters inspired the final scene while Now One, Now Another inspired the movement of the Seven Deadly Sins.
The concept for the music of the Devils was that it should sound like an anarchic and discordant circus troupe, the aim was to create something wild and chaotic, after all they are summoned to delight Faustus. We looked at the life and works of eminent scholars of the Renaissance for inspiration, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo.
When conceiving the sound of the devils we also looked to contemporary film references: the Dementors in Harry Potter; Darth Vader in Star Wars and the Orks in Lord of the Rings.
This vibrant new production uses the A text, widely accepted as the most authentic of the published versions and has been produced by BBC Radio 3 in association with the Open University.
Find out more
Try a free course sample in the LearningSpace: Christopher Marlowe & Doctor Faustus.
The new Open University course, The Arts Past And Present, includes a section examining Marlowe's reputation and the role of the play in making it.
Find out more about the course, and what skills you'll need for it with getting ready for AA100.