Faustus and the Angels

Ruth Lunney


Are the Angels ofDoctor Faustus no more than curious medieval sUlvivals, small fragments of morality play set incongruously in a narrative that a great deal of the time could be labelled as 'realistic'? Critics have made them intelligible for the twentiethcentury reader by stressing their psychological function: they are projections of Faustus's inner conflicts. The emphasis is also to be found in some notable modem productions of the play. Thus John Barton in 1974 (Royal Shakespeare Company, Edinburgh and London) showed the Angels as mere aspects of Faustus's consciousness, entirely dependent upon him. Ian McKellen as Faustus held a white doll and a black puppet, manipulating them and supplying the voices. Christopher Fettes in 1980 (Fortune Theatre) dispensed with visible figures; the angelic voices were supplied by Faustus's fellow scholars as they sat at a long refectory table. This emphasis on the psychological is relevant and necessary. Yet it is not entirely adequate: the Angels' role in the play encompasses more aspects than signalling inner conflict and representing inner voices. The dramatic effect of speaking figures is different from that of spoken thoughts; and the Angels are not made redundant by Faustus's soliloquies. To appreciate their significance we need to set aside their more obvious psychological functions and tum to their dramatic ones.

Full Text: