Jude Law as Doctor Faustus – Christopher Marlowe
Young Vic Theatre

In April I went to see Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus at the Young Vic, London.  I mean, I went to see Jude Law!! 

Johann Faust (1488-1541) became linked with the medieval legend of the man in league with the devil. His adventurous story was published in a Frankfurt book in 1587, was translated into English and was used as material for the play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1589) by Christopher Marlowe. It is funny that the legend should return to Germany through the English Comedians. It began as a puppet-show, until it was later taken serious by Lessing in 1759.  Very little remains of the original work. Marlowe’s scholar Faust finds himself in conflict with the limits imposed by God on human knowledge but his soul is saved in the end by pine grace.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was born in Canterbury, the same year as Shakespeare.  He was an English poet and dramatist. As a playwright he played a huge part in the development of the Elizabethan stage and was part of the English Renaissance. His plays had a powerful influence on Shakespeare, who saw them when he arrived in London. Marlowe’s plays were continually staged until the closing of the theatres in 1642 for plague. Tamburlaine the Great was written in 1587-88. The First Part – Part I in 1587 – “written in flamboyant blank verse of great poetic beauty”, and was followed by Part II the following year. Next came The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1589) which was printed in 1604.   Only fragmentary pieces have survived from the original.  Next The Jew of Malta (1590), which was followed by Edward II (1591-2). Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in the eye in a Deptford tavern brawl on 30 May 1593.  I was fascinated by what the Oxford book says: “His quarter centenary in 1964 was overshadowed by that of Shakespeare, ironically enough, since there is a theory current that Marlowe was not murdered but concealed for a time, returning to write plays under Shakespeare’s name.” 

From the Programme:

“Recent years have seen several essays, novel and biographies tackling the subject, most notably The Reckoning by Charles Nichol and A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess.”

“It is believed he wrote his first play Dido, Queen of Carthage, while at Cambridge.In 1587 he arrived in London and began to write for the theatre in earnest. Precise dates are uncertain but between 1587 and 1593 he produced Tamberlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta and Edward II.  He also wrote the long, unfinished poem Hero and Leander (possibly in 1592 when plague closed the theatres.” 

“Marlowe took all the incidents of Doctor Faustus from the so-called ‘English Faust book’ a translation of the German Historia von D. Johann Fausten published in 1587.”

John Faustus, born in the town of Rhode, lying in the province of Weimar in Germany, his father not able well to bring him up, but having an uncle in Wittenberg, a rich man and without issue, took this J. Faustus from his father and made him his heir, where he remained with his uncle at Wittenberg and kept was at the university in the same city to study pinity. But Faustus, of a naughty mind and otherwise addicted, applied not his studies but took himself to other exercises…” 

“Faustus’ mind was set to study the arts of necromancy and conjuration and taking to him the wings of an eagle thought the fly over the whole world and know the secrets of heaven and earth. For his speculation was so wonderful that in all haste he put in practice to bring the devil before him…”

“Faustus kept a boy with him that was his scholar; an unhappy wag called Christopher Wagner, to whom this sport and life that he saw his master follow seemed pleasant. Otherwise Faustus had no more company in his house but himself, his boy and his spirit that ever was diligent at Faustus’ command.” 

“From The History and Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus translated from German original around 1592.”

Dr Faustus survived in two versions. Here at the Young Vic the director of the play, Davin Lan a dramatist and director, has pieced together the two versions of this revival: the version published in 1604 and the other in 1616. The 1616 version contains variations in several scenes and also entirely new ones. The explanation for this is that in 1602 according to the Henslowe’s theatre accounts, two writers were paid to add material for Doctor Faustus. This production uses the 1604 text with a few additions from the 1616 text.  

This amazing legend excited people in Medieval Germany and has been an inspiration for many plays, operas, and books. Anything regarding the devil seems to claim our attention, but the real reason I went to the theatre was to see the present Doctor Faustus alias the actor Jude Law.  (His schoolteacher parents, Peter and Maggie, apparently named him after Thomas Hardy’s hero in the novel Jude the Obscure. Perhaps it was not coincidence that Jude Law went to Alleyn School in Dulwich that was named after the very first Faustus in 1590, Edward Alleyn.)

Jude Law now 29 years old gave an “electrifying performance” and was paid only £285 a week, the same as the other seven-person cast. He will be performing on Broadway next year as Dr Faustus. Gwyneth Paltrow, an American actress, described his performance as “absolutely wonderful”. They were cast together in the film The Talented Mr Ripley.  She is now currently in the West End in Proof at the Donmar Warehouse. After the premiere all Law’s friends went to celebrate at a party thrown by Vanity Fair.  

Placed at No. 44, Jude Law has made the list of the richest youngsters in the UK; he is valued at £10m.  He’s also been voted the third sexiest man in the world. (I knew it was not Doctor Faustus with his damnation that made me queue for returns, but Jude Law in the role of the Doctor!!!)  This was the first production of Natural Nylon Theatre Company that was set up between Sadie Frost, Ewan McGregor, Sean Pertwee, Bradley Adams, Jude Law, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin Loader, Tony Miller, Rupert Gavin and Howard Panter.

Law and his wife Sadie Frost (she is not only an actress but has a fashion lingerie business.  When she launched the business Kate Moss was one of her models) married in 1997.  As celebrities they have a surprisingly simple and domestic life. Law commented on their life by saying “We enjoy our day-to-day living and because we’ve got three kids we don’t really have much time to talk about the other stuff.”  I saw a photo of Law in the newspaper, carrying his baby slung across his chest, with a mobile in one hand and a script in the other. (What a busy man he is, where does he find the time to be so deliciously handsome!!!)  It has been said that he suffers from the ailment – SDS – Smug Sad Syndrome, as he is overtly affectionate to his children to the point of nausea.   He is a 21st century Dad in his duties. HAAAA!!!!! They are expecting their fourth child. Their two children are Rafferty and Iris; the third, Finlay, was conceived during Frost’s marriage to the Spandau Ballet star Gary Kemp. Law said “Getting out of cars at glitzy premieres of other people’s film – I’ve never understood that. Why go to a film just to get photographed? Why not pay and just go and see it? The high life? I’m much happier to go to the pub.” 

Jude Law has stared in films such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001, which was directed by Steven Spielberg and in The Talented Mr. Ripley, (1999), which is by Anthony Minghella.   From his performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Jude Law was described as “unbearably handsome”. His co-star Rachel Weisz in Enemy at the Gates said, “Jude is an extremely gifted actor who happens to be beautiful and is starring in movies, but that’s not what it’s about for him. It’s not about the glamour and looking pretty on screen.”  He did a very petulant lover in Wilde (1997) playing the part of Bosie. He also starred in Gattaca (1997). He says, “It’s funny, that people perceive me as a film actor, because I perceived myself, well, as an actor.”  But the truth is, his exotic-looking self has played a significant role in his career, despite the fact that he is, indeed, a terrific actor. His apprenticeship started at the National Young Music Theatre at the age of 12 and then he went touring to Italy in Pygmalion, which was followed by a Broadway performance alongside Katherine Turner in Jean Cocteau’s, Indiscretions (1995).  During this production he appears gorgeously naked on stage. His latest film, The Road to Perdition, which was directed by Sam Mendes, had a number of talented well-known actors in it including Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

For his role as Faustus Law grew a beard.   This experience for him is a return to his first love, the theatre. The last time he was on stage was in 1999 at the Young Vic directed – as in Faustus – by David Lan in ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. He talked about Faustus to David Lan, saying, “I just saw a really exciting journey for an actor and exciting themes – rebelling against the institution, embracing the darker side of humankind, the balance that in life without bad there is no good. These are huge questions.”  He continued on, “We’re relaying an extraordinary journey in a way that will remind people of their own lives, of the world we live in. Whether they be junkies or head of Enron.”  It, of course, was stimulating to see JUDE LAW in front of me on stage looking into what I pretended to believe were my eyes alone.  (I do suppose every woman in the audience was imagining the same.)  My heart beat with loud excitable thuds, as I sat on the edge of my chair listening and watching as Jude Law completed his journey to damnation crying “More! More!” (This speech, to Helen of Troy is addressed to a mirror, and goes “the face that launched a thousand ships.”) 

I believe we are damned, for the price of our sin is death, all the negativism of this idea is what makes Faustus so exciting.  Faustus sells his soul to the devil in return for a life of mirth, only to end up regretting a bargain that finds him consigned to damnation and hell. Throughout this argument of medieval morality, redemption is offered to Faustus, but he refuses. The characters, the Good and Bad Angels and the Seven Deadly Sins, are drawn directly from the tradition morality plays. Mephistopheles is a figure of temptation, a tortured, melancholy anti-hero. Faustus is not an innocent figure; his downfall is ambition and greed, which in return makes him a frail and flawed man.   In any case, it was a devilish evening and when I saw Jude Law’s arms and wrist with ketchup a shiver ran through my spine!!! Which got me thinking….the only time I, personally,  have been approached by the Devil was the day I lost a passport in my flat and a friend, seeing my despair, suggest that I  tie the Devil to the legs of the table and say to him “You are tied until I find my documents”. I did tie the Devil but after a few minutes I was so worried about the poor Devil that I decided to let him go. I expect you all think I am mental.

The play was less than two hours without interval.  I returned home fairly early and by chance my Indian neighbours invited me to join them in a traditional Indian dinner.  At dinner I met an Indian Guru, a very nice man who had come directly from India for the night. The aroma of the meal stimulated in my mind and painted vivid portrait of Indian culture. The food was delightful!  Before I retired to my home, I touched their “good luck” image.   I do hope they invite me again.  

Later, I was talking to Helene about my idea of selling my soul to the devil in exchange for rich husband to finance my art gallery and my charity.  (I am thinking of the man with the very bushy eyebrows as my next husband.)  She said to me “It is not worth it”.  I laughed.  Helene is a woman of very few words; when she speaks, she chooses her words wisely and thus creates an impact with them.  Because I thought it was so funny, I told her son about my thoughts of selling my soul to the devil and about his mother’s witty remarks concerning it.  His comment was, “There is no point in selling your soul for a poor husband…” Gosh! It’s like a version of Dr Faustus; you get something that you really want, but at a terrible cost. The love of money is said to be the root of all evil.  Fair enough, Baby (to the man with eyebrows) we’re going into this damnation together.  Just for the fun of it!!!

P.S. The best of Faust in the cinema is (this is only my opinion, of course) F.W.Murnau’s (1888-1931) Faust of 1926. The Mephistoles of Emil Jannings gives Professor Gosta Ekman a new lease of life, the devil having purchased his soul in return for eternal young. The other import film in this genre is, of course, Beauty and the Devil (Beaute du Diable), Rene Clair 1949. A plain man sells his soul for good looks in order to win a woman who doesn’t even know he’s alive. A similar film was The Queen of Spade by Thorold Dickison 1948; the Pushkin story of a soldier Anton Walbrook who loses his soul in order to obtain the secret of card-playing from Edith Evans. Another similar film was The Sacrifice (Offret) by Andrei Tarkovsky, Sweden 1986; Erland Josephson bargains to prevent a nuclear holocaust. The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet) by Ingmar Bergman 1957 Sweden, based on Bergman’s play Tramalning. In this film the acting is of a very high order Max von Sydon as Antonius Block, also starring Gunnar Bjornstrand, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Bengt Ekerot as Death. The Student of Prague (Der Student von Prag) Henring Galeen 1926; to pay off his debts, Conrad Veidt loses his reflection, which haunts him to death. 

In books, Muller used Faust, Flinger featured him in a novel and most famously, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).  It was a subject that had his whole attention from 1774 to his death in 1832.  In Goethe’s masterpiece is the poetic play Faust, (1808) though tempted by Mephistopheles and feeling guilty about the death of Gretchen, defies the devil and escapes him; his soul, as in Lessing’s version, being borne up to Heaven. It’s second part completed in 1831; also Lenau, Heine and Grabbe. In France Paul Valery, and in England by Wills 1885 and Rawason 1924 from Goethe, then by Stephen Phillips and Comyns Carr in collaboration. Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, a huge novel in which the composer hero’s doomed and damned fate runs in parlous parallel to the fate of his native country, makes its own hideous pact with Nazism.   “Born on the same soil that had given birth to the original Faust figure, Nazism constitutes an almighty focus fir modern writing on the myth – whether it be Istvan Szabo’s movie Mephisto, about a brilliant actor who sold his soul to the regime in return for fame on the boards, or David Edgar’s recent play about the very tricky trade-off between and Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer.  But Mann’s novel – in which he seems to seek atonement by damning Schoenbergian atonality in music as the work of the devil.” writes Paul Taylor.  There is a genre called Faustographers. 

Alan Judd is one of them with “The Devil’s Own Work”.  The other is William Empson’s “Faustus and the Censor”. Taylor says, “Doctor Faustus has attracted so many of the finest critical minds, because Faustus himself – despite his fabled braininess at the start of the play – turns into an intellectual disgrace and discredit to his institution of learning.  While Faustus and his myth inspired many, Malher in his Eight Symphony set to music scenes from the second part of Goethe’s Faust – the hero is spared the pains of hell and attains redemption in what has been described as ‘the Choral Symphony of the 20th Century’.”  The subject was used as the libretto for many operas.  Arrigo Boito, 1842-1918, was the son of an Italian painter and a Polish countess and was also a friend and collaborator of Verdi.  His friends also included Victor Hugo, Berlioz, and Rossini.  He wrote libretto for Ponchielli too and he was also the lover of Duse.  He wrote two operas, Mefistofele, which is an opera with a prologue, 4 acts and an epilogue; text by Boito; first performance in Milan – La Scala on 5 March 1868.  Ferucio Busoni, 1866-1924, was more famous in Germany and Italy.  His famous “Doktor Faust” is an opera with 2 prologues, one interlude, and three scenes.  This opera is based on older sources, such as puppet shows and Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus. It was first performed in Dresden on 21 May 1925.  Charles Gound was born in Paris in 1818 and died in Saint-Cloud in 1894.  He is best remembered for Faust – his most successful operas and at one time it was the most popular of all operas.  In Germany the opera was called Margherite, as it inhabits a different world to Goethe’s masterpiece.  It has five acts with text written by Jules Barbier and Michael Carre.  The first performance was in Paris Theatre-Lyrique on 19 March 1859, then in 1869 as a new version and later as a ballet.

Verinha Ottoni.


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