[Full Title:] Initially, “The Tragicall History of D. Faustus”. Later, “The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus”.
[Title Page:] Initially, “The/ Tragicall History of D. Faustus./ As it hath bene Acted by the Right/ Honorable the Earle of Nottingham his seruants./ Written by Ch. Marl./ London./ Printed by V. S. for Thomas Bushell. 1604.” Later, “The Tragicall History/ of the Life and Death/ of Doctor Faustus./ Written by Ch. Marl./ (Vignette. )/ London,/ Printed for John Wright, and are to be sold at his shop/ with-out Newgate,/ at the signe of the/ Bible, 1616.”
[Commonly Known As:] Doctor Faustus or Dr. Faustus.
[Playwright:] Christopher Marlowe.
[Type of Writing:] Play.
[Publisher:] Undecided. Possibly the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe.
[Publication Year:] 1604 (A text); 1616 (B text).
[Publication Size:] Quarto. [Note. The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes, ranging from “folio” (the largest, height x width = 15 x 12 inches), to “quarto” (smaller, height x width = 12 x 9-1/2 inches) and “octavo” (still smaller, height x width = 9 x 6 inches)].
[Versions:] Two versions, commonly known as the A-Text (quartos of 1604, 1609) and the B-Text (quartos of 1616, 1619, 1620, 1624, 1631). A quarto of 1663, containing additions and alterations, is largely discarded by critics and is generally ignored. (Note. This book follows “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe, from the quarto of 1604, edited by the Rev. Alexander Dyce.)
[Place of Writing:] England.
[Time of Writing:] Although no absolute evidence for the exact date has as yet been discovered, it may be assigned to the years 1588-9. Some scholars are inclined to the belief that the play existed only in manuscript, and had not been produced before the 1594 performance; while others maintain that though there are no references to performances during the years 1589-94, it is impossible to believe in its neglect for so long a period. Generally, it may be stated as late 1580s-early 1590s.
[Time of the Setting:] Late 1580s-early 1590s.
[Place of the Setting:] Europe in general. Germany and Italy in particular.
[Source of the Plot:] In 1587 there was printed at Frankfort-on-the-Main, by Johann Spiess, the first edition of the famous ‘Historia von D. Johann Fausten, dent weitbeschreityen Zauberer und Schwartzkunstler; (i.e. ‘the history of Dr. Johann Faust, the widely noised conjuror and master of the Black Art’); the book was twice reprinted in the same year, and three editions were issued in 1589. Marlowe evidently founded his tragedy on an English translation of the ‘History,’ made in all probability in the year 1588 or early in 1589; however, no entry of it is to be found in the Stationers’ Register. Scholars agree that Marlowe’s play was founded upon the English version and not upon the German original. The earliest extant translation in English is of P. F. Gent as “The Historie of the damnable life and deserved death of Dr. John Faustus” bearing the date 1592.
[Protagonist:] Doctor Faustus.
[Outer Conflict:] Faustus selling his soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of almost unlimited power, with Mephistophilis serving him, for the fulfillment of his desires, whims and fancies.
[Inner Conflict:] The mental conflict arising from indecisiveness, regarding whether to repent and seek God’s mercy or to honor his pact with Lucifer.
[Storyteller or Narrator:] The Chorus provides the background information and hints at future action, intermittently between scenes. The monologues of the actors besides revealing their thoughts, also help in moving the story forward. Few aside comments by the actors to the audience do likewise.
[Tone of the Play:] Tragic and grandiose. Low comedy interspersed.
[Tense of the Play:] Chorus alternates between past and present tenses.
[Major Themes in the Play:] Hubris or excessive Pride. Battle between Good and Evil. Conflict between Medieval and Renaissance values. Sin, Redemption, and Damnation. Power and Corruption. Indecisiveness or Divided Will.
[Symbols in the Play:] Blood plays multiple symbolic roles. Rejection of different branches of knowledge. Good Angel and Evil Angel.
[Rising Action:] Faustus studying necromancy, his conjuring up Mephistophilis and subsequent conversations.
[Climax:] Faustus promising his soul to Lucifer, with a pact sealed in his own blood.
[Falling Action:] Faustus trying to gratify his false sense of power, by conjuring magic for different rulers of the world.
[Structure:] The text of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (quarto of 1604) is completely without the punctuation of act division or scene enumeration. (Note. In this book, the play is presented as having a five-act structure along with scene enumeration, for easy understanding.)
[Greek Tragedy Conventions:] According to Aristotle’s Poetics (1449), a tragedy focuses on a great person experiencing a reversal of fortune. This reversal can be from bad to good or from good to bad. According to Aristotle, the serious tone of the tragedy, was better supported by a reversal of good to bad. The protagonist in a Greek tragedy was expected to experience a reversal of fortune and a downfall, usually due to his reach for a lofty goal being thwarted by his own hubris (excessive pride). A typical ancient Greek tragedy like the tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, follows five sections, namely, Prologue, Parodos, Episodes, Stasimon, and Exodus. Marlowe does not follow any specific structural divisions. However, apparently, he employs a one-actor Chorus to present a Prologue. By making the Chorus appear intermittently between scenes, Parodos is attempted. Most of the plot takes place as different Episodes. The Stasimon is enacted by the Chorus commenting upon the Episode to the audience. The Exodus would be the Chorus’ epilogue, where the moral of the tragedy is stated. In this play, the one-actor Chorus neither employs Kommos (an exchange between the Chorus and actors to describe episodes) nor does it chant or sing. The convention of not depicting any violence onstage is followed, as Faustus is carried away off-stage by devils to dismember his soul from his body. Marlowe employs Renaissance values and thus, unlike Greek tragedies, does not focus on kings or war heroes, but on Faustus who is born to humble parents. Here, Marlowe departs from the classical tragic convention, by stressing that a common-born scholar, can also be given equal importance as any king or warrior; thereby making his story worthy of being told. However, unlike a morality play hero, Faustus as the protagonist, is in the typical classical tragic mould of a person, who is trying to over-achieve and falling due to a catastrophically ill-advised decision, primarily due to his own excessive pride (hubris). This typical classical tragic mould was employed to evoke pity and fear, for necessary emotional cleansing (catharsis). Artistotle in Poetics (1449, pp. 24-28) writes, “Tragedy is, therefore, an imitation (mimēsis) of a noble and complete action […] which through compassion and fear produces purification of the passions.” The three Aristotelian unities of drama, namely, the unities of time, place and action are not followed by Marlowe, in this play.
[Comic Synthesis:] The comedy is of a low variety. The comic figures comment satirically on the main action. The serious main plot collapses into the comic underplot. The comic subplots provide a parodic effect of the main plot and “the gradual descent of the main plot into it.” The comic subplots act as a “foil” to the main plot or as “comic relief”. By mingling the tragic and the comic, ignoring the Aristotelian unities, and shrinking to cramping dimensions, Marlowe creates an illusion of an immense stage, which encompassed heaven, earth and hell. The comic subplots may reduce the main plot to absurdity, but it also serves a function in highlighting the main action. The comic scenes clarify the perception of moral values, by being simultaneously nonsensical and profound, comic and didactic. The comedy of futility is highlighted by the clownish scenes, since parody is its own excuse for being, when its target is the heroic attitude. The comic scenes contrast the ironic fate of a hero, who in striving to be a god, becomes less than a man. In Faustus’ vain rebellion, there is comedy, and in his fall from grace, there is irrevocable tragedy.
[Theological Implications:] The theological implications of Doctor Faustus have been the subject of considerable debate. Among the most complicated points of contention is whether the play supports or challenges, the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination. John Calvin (French: Jean Calvin, born Jehan Cauvin: 10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Chapter 21, section 5, states, “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” According to Calvin, predestination meant that God, acting of his own free will, elects some people to be saved and others to be damned – thus, the individual has no control over his own ultimate fate. This doctrine was the source of great controversy because it was seen by the so-called anti-Calvinists to limit man’s free will in regard to faith and salvation, and to present a dilemma in terms of theodicy. The doctrine of predestination remained the source of vigorous and, at times, heated debate between Calvinist scholars, such as William Whitaker and William Perkins, and anti-Calvinists, such as William Barrett and Peter Baro. Ultimately, the theology of Marlowe and the text of Doctor Faustus remain far too ambiguous, for any kind of conclusive theological interpretation.
1. Jani, R. (pp.1-4, 2013). Doctor Faustus [Annotated]. CreateSpace: USA.