This section moves us from the Medieval period of literature to the Renaissance. The Renaissance in England started later than the Renaissance in Italy (which is the place most people think about when they hear the term “Renaissance”). The resource reading from the Encylopedia Brittanica provides a good overview of the European Renaissance.
This module’s play, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, shares some roots with morality plays (such as Everyman, which we read a few weeks ago), but as you’ll see from the from the resource readings, the view of religion and its central role in society has changed. The resource reading from Dartmouth addresses this.
In terms of literary style, the play is written in blank verse, a verse style also used by Shakespeare. For many, Shakespeare is assumed to be the only English Renaissance playwright, but as you can see, others also existed.
According to one definition: “Blank verse is a literary device defined as un-rhyming verse written in iambic pentameter. In poetry and prose, it has a consistent meter with 10 syllables in each line (pentameter); where, unstressed syllables are followed by stressed ones and five of which are stressed but do not rhyme. It is also known as un-rhymed iambic pentameter.” (See http://literarydevices.net/blank-verse/ for further elaboration of the definition and to access the hyperlinks in the definition.)
You can test the meter by counting the syllables in a line. Normally there will be 10 in each line with every other syllable stressed (meaning accented, or pronounced with more emphasis). Occasional exceptions can happen in the line length and stress patterns, but if it varies significantly or makes a new pattern (such as suddenly using much shorter lines or switching to rhymed lines), you can assume this is done for some literary reason, such as highlighting something about a character or the plot.
Background and Interpretation
Read this overview of the Renaissance from the Encyclopedia Brittanica, keeping in mind that our class’s focus is on the Renaissance in Britain. It did not happen in a vacuum, however, so knowing more about the overall Renaissance in Europe puts the English Renaissance into perspective.
This is a good introductory note from Dartmouth about Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (which sometimes may be referred to by the shortened title of Dr. Faustus).
This is a detailed and useful biography of Marlowe and an overview of his works from Luminarium.org. Marlowe had a colorful life, as you will see, and some of the information in the biography may shed some light on some of the ideas in the play.
Full length video of a stage production of Dr. Faustus from the Oxford Theatre Guild. Just as with movies, stage productions represent the director’s and other artists’ interpretation of the written play. Keep this in mind as you watch any stage production of any play. Our focus is on the content of the text; the staging, sets, casting, music, or other aspects of the performance in a production are not intrinsic to the text we are studying. Suggestion: In order to better follow along, have a copy of the play with you while you watch the video.
Clip of a stage production from Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (you’ll notice the difference in costumes, sets, casting, and staging compared with the Oxford video).
Full length audio recording of the play by LibraVox/GreenAudioBooks (follow along with the print text).