Way back in the day during the early years of my theatre training, I read Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus. It was my first literary experience reading about the human power of choice and its consequences. We like to think we have power, and on some level, we do, but most of our perceptions of power are mere illusions. The real power we have is the power to choose.
In the years that followed my first exposure to this medieval tale, I read Wolfgang Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, followed by Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. Then several years ago Kay and I did a Pacific Coast Highway adventure from Washington down to northern California. We took the inland route back to Seattle and spent twenty-four hours in Ashland, Oregon. That night we saw a production of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The language was powerful and the visuals stunning. It was one of the many theatrical experiences we shared that we still remember years later.
Dr Faustus decides to sell his soul to Lucifer in order to obtain power. What he gets in exchange for his soul is the luxury to travel far and wide, to gain great knowledge, to learn and perform different types of magic, and to indulge in every kind of sensual pleasure. Faustus spends the majority of his time using his powers to his own amusement and advantages. When faced with the opportunity to repent, thereby saving his soul—he comes close a few times—but never actually does it. When Lucifer returns to claim his end of the deal, Dr. Faustus has now lost the power of choice and is dragged off to a very unfortunate end.
Since the beginning of civilization we humans are always in search of a bargain. We believe we have to sell something to gain something. We can easily become dissatisfied with life and believe we are owed something better or that we can achieve something better. Ambition is a worthy notion when in service of the greater good. But too often pride will turn ambition in on itself and the end result is never pretty.
There are great things out there in the world to discover and enjoy. There are great people out there, as well, to share in the pleasure of all sorts of creative activities. So, in that powerful moment of choosing, remember what the old knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade advised Dr. Jones, “Choose wisely.”