For three weeks, starting next Tuesday, we’ll gather in “our” dear bookshop-cum-art gallery to read an Italian translation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. We’re in a flurry, right now, handing out parts and trying to get the local press to mind us at least a little.
I won’t read any part, this time: my job is introducing the play – and it won’t be the easiest of tasks. You know, there was little reason to do this back in May, when we read Romeo and Juliet. We all know R&J, don’t we. We all know who Shakespeare was, we all know the story, we all know what to expect. Why, we’ve all seen a movie adaptation or three – and very likely also the play itself, once or twice.
Marlowe, on the other hand, is a horse of another colour. Little known – if at all – to Italian audiences, he is also very different from Shakespeare. And Faustus… Ah. If you say “Faust”, nine Italians out of ten will think of Goethe, Gounod or Boito. Or else of a certain… er, colourful Piedmontese oath – but that’s another story.
So you say “No, Marlowe’s Faustus,” – and as often as not you’ll be met with blank eyes. It’s nobody’s fault in particular: in Italy, unless you studied English literature at university level or are a very well-read theatre buff, “Elizabethan theatre” mostly means “Shakespeare”… Marlowe is a name at best, a vague school reminiscence – if at all.
And this being how things are, I’ll have to explain things. Why there is no Margrethe at all, no love story, no eleventh-hour redemption. Why Faust, on getting to talk with the devil, mostly wants to discuss theology. And how this mix or rarefied intensity, scholarly showing-off, black magic and thick comic relief took Elizabethan audiences by storm. How very different and daring it was…
How it will go down with our readers and audience I’m not sure – but I can’t wait to find out. We are venturing into something quite different, this time. Away from the safe path, in a way. Il Palcoscenico di Carta is growing up.
I’ll let you know.