The scenes of magical display within Dr Faustus obviously play an essential role within the plot, through these displays the audience is continually reminded what exactly Faustus traded for his soul, the ability to use black magic.
Whilst reading Dr Faustus, one of the main things that sparked my interest was the element of performance within these displays of magic.Â Faustusâ€™ conjuring up of Alexander for the Emperor within lines 36 and 57 during scene 9 epitomizes the performance filled delivery of his magic.
Faustus creates somewhat of a spectacle and performance within the practicing of magic to perhaps magnify the awe that it creates from the spectators and thus acting to augment his power. When asked by the Emperor to conjure up Alexander, he directly replies that he is â€œable to performâ€ (9. 37), he is not only merely saying that he can complete the task, it perhaps also suggests his perception of the act as again, a performance to inspire astonishment from, in this case, the Emperor.
For me, this is interesting as I can make somewhat of a connection between this to the concept of metatheatre, a device used so frequently within Shakespeareâ€™s works. Metatheatre being the concept of a play within a play but also a performance within a performance, the question that therefore strikes me is, are Faustusâ€™ performances of magic a form of metatheatre?
In Shakespeareâ€™s â€˜Twelfth Nightâ€™, the scene in which Malvolio puts on the cross gartered yellow stockings at the supposed request of Olivia acts as a form of metatheatre where the ritual of actors putting on a costume before performance is somewhat emulated by Malvolio. I think perhaps the same idea can be applied to Faustusâ€™ theatrical and dramatic application of magic. The way in which he reveals Alexander, â€œHere they are, my gracious lordâ€(9. 56) is something that comes across as theatrical and dramatic with the short nature of the line in contrast with his long preceding lines. This image conjured up resembles the revealing of the stage in theatre when the play begins and the curtains are drawn which essentially connotes â€˜here is the performanceâ€™. The dramatic nature of Faustus needing to announce, â€œhere they areâ€ rather than letting the conjured image of Alexander speak for itself, which it would due to the visual nature of theatre, suggests that Faustus is trying to enhance the spectacle of his magic. The spectacle is again reinforced when he gives the Knight antlers shortly after, a completely unnecessary magical display that merely shows off his power in a somewhat theatrical, comedic manner.
Faustus performing within the performance and creating â€˜the spectacleâ€™ in the same way that all theatre aims to do is certainly a method of increasing his perceived power, however, my interest within these magical displays lies within whether they can be described as a form of metatheatre in the same way certain elements of Shakespeare’s plays can be or if it is merely too far of a stretch to do so.
Marlowe, Christopher. â€œThe Tragical History of Dr. Faustusâ€. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print
Shakespeare, William. “Twelfth Night.” The Norton Shakespeare. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. 453-506. Print.