Professor Faustus by Robert Erle Barham

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Professor Faustus

Robert Erle Barham on Modern Education as a Deal with the Devil

When I taught Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus at Covenant College last fall, I expected student trepidation, given the play's depiction of demons and dark arts. After all, the protagonist is a notorious necromancer, who sells his soul to Lucifer, declaring as he signs the blood deed, "Consummatum est"—"It is finished"—in a parody of Christ. But I was wrong: the students found the play both accessible and moving.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Faustus is a student too, and Marlowe repeatedly reminds us of Faustus's learning, from his swift success at university, mentioned in the prologue, to his final plea, "I'll burn my books!" Over the course of the play, we see that a tragically mistaken view of education—that it's strictly for self-indulgence—contributes to his ruin. My students' admirable willingness to learn from Doctor Faustus showed that the play offers a powerful lesson for the present.

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Robert Erle Barham is Assistant Professor of English at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He and his wife Amy live with their son Robert in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and are members of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church.

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