Although not as well known today as Shakespeare, until his sudden and early death, Christopher Marlowe was a one of Shakespeare’s great rivals. Follow these links to review his biography before beginning the assignments. A brief biography can be found here. A more detailed version is available here.
We will be reading Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, as well as an earlier version of the story and two later versions, most likely inspired by Marlowe’s work. As you read, you will be expected to take notes on the similarities and differences among the several versions.
In the end, you will compose two essays. The first, shorter essay will examine Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus as a tragic hero. The second, longer essay will compare the multiple versions of the Faust story and evaluate how changes in the stories lead to different themes or different reactions in the reader.
- Read this background on The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus before beginning the play.
- An online version of the play is available here (including a Kindle version) or you can download a .pdf version here. SparkNotes is available if you find yourself struggling with the text. Complete the worksheet questions to check for understanding before you progress to the next assignment.
- As you read the play, consider the definition of a “tragic hero” from the unit on Greek Drama. Look for ways that Dr. Faustus does or does not conform to the characteristics of a tragic hero.
Assignment 1– Complete the attached study questions in the Excel sheet ( please don’t change the name of the worksheet)
Compose a short (2 to 3 page) essay presenting the argument that Dr. Faustus is or is not a tragic hero. Explain your position by referring to specific criteria in the definition and citing specific details from the play.
Format your essay according to MLA guidelines and cite your examples using line numbers from the play. If you use any outside sources in reference to the tragic hero, you must also cite these and prepare a Works Cited page.
Although many sites may offer you a complete essay for free or for a small fee, remember that if you can find the essay online, so can your teacher and so can Turnitin.com.
See the following rubric:
Indicator: Essay fully addresses the prompt.
Point Value: 35
Indicator: Essay is properly structured and demonstrates a mastery literary analysis
Point Value: 35
Indicator: Essay maintains correct formatting.
Point Value: 15
Indicator: Essay demonstrates correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Point Value: 15
Marlowe did not develop the character of Dr. Faustus or even the plot line for his play completely out of thin air. He was recreating a legend many in his audience would already have known. Review this background on the Faust site to become familiar with the extent of the legend.
Just as Marlowe was influenced by previous versions of the story, his play inspired others to offer their interpretations of the Faustian bargain. Now that you are familiar with Marlowe’s play, we will look at an earlier story and two versions that came later.
Read the following variations on the story to compare with Marlowe’s play.
Historia & Tale of Doctor Johannes Faustus
Faust by Goethe
“The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Steven Vincent Benet
- Create a document titled “Faust Notes.” In this document, record your observations on all four variations of the Faust story. You may choose to make a table, create separate pages for each story, use Venn diagrams or develop some other method for organizing your information.
- Construct an essay (minimum 3 pages) examining the differences among the four versions. You should have an arguable thesis relating to some aspect of the Faust legend. (ex: Does the author’s historical context alter the message of the story? Do all the stories share a similar theme? structure? resolution? If not, what can be learned by the differences?)
Some things to look for:
- What is the setting of the story?
- The Faust character’s background: family, nationality, studies, etc
- How does the Faust character meet the devil?
- The nature of the bargain: what does the Faust character ask for, what are the terms of the agreement
- How the Faust character benefits or suffers from the bargain?
- Does the Faust character repent?
- How does the story end?
Complete the three excel worksheets on Macbeth ( please don’t change the name of the worksheet)
If you are an actor, you know this as “The Scottish Play” because to say “Macbeth” in theater, except in the context of performing the play, is considered bad luck. Why? I don’t know. This play is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, although Scotland did actually have a King Macbeth. The problem is that Shakespeare wasn’t trying to be even remotely historically accurate with this play (the real Macbeth was quite well liked by his people and didn’t have to stage a coup to take the throne). Shakespeare wrote this play to flatter King James I, the first King of both Scotland and England. The real Banquo (who you will meet in the play) was one of James’ ancestors, so Shakespeare wanted to demonstrate how fate had always intended for James to become king.
As you read through the online text, conveniently separated into scenes, take note of this notion of fate. We came across it earlier in this course with the Greeks and the question of whether Oedipus really ever had a choice in how his life was going to go. Just like the idea of the Tragic Hero reappears in literature throughout the centuries, the debate over fate or free-will rages on in plays and novels. Shakespeare’s audience also took the idea of witches and supernatural powers very seriously–King James eventually wrote a book describing how to identify a witch. So don’t be hasty in mocking Macbeth for listening to the three women who make predictions about his future.
Complete the assigned worksheet questions as you progress through reading the play.
Plenty of resources are available to help you dig into the play. First, a great short video explaining the basic plot. It is a British production, so you get to hear it in the correct dialect. If you click the link back to the Macbeth index you will find more helpful tools.Traditional SparkNotes and No Fear Shakespeare are available if you find yourself struggling with Elizabethan English. For the visual learners (and, after all, Macbeth is a play and is meant to be seen, SparkNotes has a 10-minute video version.
Remember, while these sites can be a great help, you still must read the actual play!