Choruses - what is the importance of these speeches in 'Dr. Faustus?

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Choruses – what is the importance of these speeches in ‘Dr. Faustus?’

The essential function of the chorus speeches are as a commentary, an omnipotent voice which observes Faustus’s actions, clarifies his character and by foreseeing his change in fortunes, heightens the anticipation of the audience.  Also, rather like dressing Mephastoples in a Friar costume, the chorus speeches are a practical device used by Marlowe to communicate aspects of the play which are simply impossible to perform on stage. Thus, they have particular significance from a 16th century perspective, as the theatre would not have had the elaborate lighting and stage sets to demonstrate a change in scenery as audiences are used to today.

The chorus speeches are made at various times throughout the play, linking the dramatic scenes together.  They are therefore crucial to the structure, as without them, the audience would not have the same sense of exactly how Faustus is using his powers as time passes or indeed, fully understand the progressing danger he is in.    

The opening chorus is essential is introducing the audience to Fausts’s character, the themes of the play and to a certain extent the morals Marlowe intended to convey.  By speaking directly to the audience, the chorus brings them into the play, laying down the foundations of the essential plot.  Saying this, the opening lines are not about Doctor Faustus itself but rather ironically about what the play is not going to entail.  This however, has the effect of drawing in audience as the descriptions of the ‘alternative’ plays are presented as epic and intriguing in themselves:

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‘Nor, in the pomp of proud audacious deeds’

The power of this line is emphasised by the alliterative patterns and creates a magnificent, formal atmosphere.  The effect of dramatically listing what the play does not express makes the audience more curious about what is actually going to happen, thus the line, ‘only this gentlemen’, before the chorus describes the position of Faustus, is inevitably intensified.

Indeed this imposing style of commentary is mirrored in the second chorus, which introduces Faustus’s actions in Rome.  The opening chorus refers to Roman Mythology, ‘Where Mars did mate the Carthaginians’, perhaps alluding to ...

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