BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A man of wealth and taste ...

Needless to say, this is another of those books … something picked up to fill a gap in an on-line order between what I have in the cart and where free shipping kicks in, and simultaneously filling a gap in my otherwise rather expansive liberal arts education. While I'm a bit upset that the on-line guys have raised the bar for free shipping from a $25 order to a $35 order (meaning fewer orders and more contemplation on what needs to be in there), I assume that these Dover Thrift Editions of literary classics will always come into play in getting right to that level.

I'm guessing that everybody is at least generally familiar with the Faust story in its various permutations. I was surprised to read in the introduction here that Christopher Marlow, whose Dr. Faustus was posthumously published in 1604, had based it on an earlier work that was supposedly about an actual person, a “German astronomer and necromancer who died about 1540”. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlow is credited with having expanded the range of expression in English composition in his brief career (he lived only six years past his graduation from Cambridge in 1587). This is the classic tale of the Magus who makes a “deal with the devil” for worldly gain … in this case by obtaining the services of one Mephistophilis.

I'm always fascinated to see how material like this leaches into popular expressions of religion. Like George Bernard Shaw had his Satan say in Don Juan In Hell (act III of Man and Superman): “The Englishman described me as being expelled from Heaven by cannons and gunpowder; and to this day every Briton believes that the whole of his silly story is in the Bible.” and one wonders just how much of the Christian “back story”, as believed by its less educated adherents, derives from passage such as:
FAUSTUS: So Faustus hath
      Already done; and holds this principle,
      There is no chief but only Belzebub,
      To whom Faustus doth dedicate himself.
      This word “damnation” terrifies not him,
      For he confounds hell in Elysium;
      His ghost be with the old philosophers!
      But, Leaving these vain trifles of men's souls,
      Tell me what is that Lucifer thy lord?
MEPHISTOPHILIS: Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.
FAUSTUS: Was not that Lucifer an angel once?
MEPHISTOPHILIS: Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov'd of God.
FAUSTUS: How comes it then that he is Prince of devils?
MEPHISTOPHILIS: O, by aspiring pride and insolence;
      For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.
FAUSTUS: And what are you that you live with Lucifer?
MEPHISTOPHILIS: Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
      Conspir'd against our God with Lucifer,
      And are for ever damn'd with Lucifer.
FAUSTUS: Where are you damn'd?
FAUSTUS: How comes it then that thou art out of hell?
MEPHISTOPHILIS: Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
      Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God,
      And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
      Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
      In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?
      O Faustus! Leave these frivolous demands,
      Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.
FAUSTUS: What, is great Mephistophilis so passionate?
      For being depriv'd of the joys of Heaven?
      Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude,
      And scorn those joys thou never shalt prossess.
      Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer:
      Seeing Faustus hath incurr'd eternal death
      By desperate thoughts against Jove's deity,
      Say he surrenders up to him his soul,
      So he will spare him four and twenty years,
      Letting him live in all voluptuousness;
      Having thee ever to attend on me;
      To give me whatsoever I shall ask,
      To tell me whatsoever I demand,
      To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,
      And always be obedient to my will,
      Go and return to mighty Lucifer,
      And meet me in my study at midnight,
      And then resolve me of thy master's mind.
MEPHISTOPHILIS: I will, Faustus.
Now, Dr. Faustus is a play, and so there are various scenes with characters coming and going, some played for humor, some for horror (or at least moral discomfort), and some no doubt the “F/X” of their day (as Mephistophilis provides numerous marvels). Things, of course, do not go well for Faustus at the end, and we see him counting down the final minutes before he's taken off to hell, becoming increasingly more panicked at the prospects:
O, no end is limited to damned souls!
Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis! were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang'd
Unto some brutish beast! All beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv'd in elements;
But mine must live, still to be plagu'd in hell.
As you can tell from these excerpts, the language has changed somewhat, and in some places it's a bit less than flowing to the modern ear (although nothing like trying to work through Chaucer, writing a couple of centuries earlier), and there are a few footnotes defining words (or Latin phrases), no longer in common use. Interestingly, this Dover edition is explicitly available to use in theatrical presentations – which would be an interesting way of encountering the material.

While the Dover Thrift Edition of Dr. Faustus is very much in print, the odds of finding it in any brick-and-mortar bookstore is pretty slim as the cover price on this is a mere $2.50 – making it ideal for padding an order to get to free shipping, not so much for convincing a retailer to get it in for the pocket change they'd make on it. Also, while there are “new” copies for as little as 1¢ out there, you'll have to add shipping to that, so if you can't convince you local book monger to have one sent out, adding this to an order with the online guys is no doubt your best bet!

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Tags: book review
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