History and the Canon: The Case of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

[First published in University of Toronto Quarterly 56.4 (Summer 1987): 498-522. My second paragraph should perhaps have made more flattering mention of the “Beyond the Canon” conference that is named there: this paper was written for and first presented at that conference, the Atlantic University Teachers of English Conference held at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax on 19-20 October 1984. In the present text, one or two typographical errors have been corrected, but the wording has not been updated or altered.]


The relationship between the two key words of my title is a curiously intricate one. Since the notion of canonicity implies a controlled transmission of the past into the future, to talk about literary canons is also, unavoidably, to invoke one or another view of history. Yet, paradoxically, some of the recently and currently most influential critical positions have encouraged understandings of canonicity that are thoroughly anti-historical. I shall be concerned in the first part of this essay with some of the implications of this paradox. In the second part, turning to Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, a play that is by common consent of some importance in our literary canon, I will consider certain practical consequences, both textual and interpretive, of attempts to lift the canon out of history.

Another less stolid title, that of a recent academic conference, may serve to introduce the issues that I wish to discuss. “Beyond the Canon: Literary Innovation and Integration”—these words, from one point of view, are no more than an elliptical summary of the inescapable process of canon revision. Any new text is “beyond the canon” in the banal sense of being not yet canonical—and sometimes also in the more interesting sense of being genuinely innovative, of embodying moves that extend beyond the limits implied by the current literary canon. Critical commentary, where it is not simply dismissive, serves to integrate the new text into the canon by discovering some degree of “conformity between the old and the new,” which also implies making adjustments to the “ideal order” formed by the “existing monuments” of literature.1 This is a familiar perspective, as the tags from T. S. Eliot's “Tradition and the Individual Talent” will already have signalled. And it is one that within certain limits can accommodate historically oriented canon revisions as well: witness Eliot's revisionary insistence that “the main current ... does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations.”2 But perhaps “Beyond the Canon” is meant to evoke something a little more exciting.

Taken in another sense, the words suggest, indeed invite, a kind of deliberate transgression. Since in other contexts a prepositional phrase of this kind might as easily be hortatory as descriptive, can one be blind in this case to its hidden persuasive force? “Down to the river! Into the street!” cried Allen Ginsberg in the second part of Howl.3 Why not then “Beyond the Canon!”? Yet as we surge forward, arm in arm, two doubts may assail us.

First, is it any more possible for university teachers of English to go collectively beyond the canon than it is for us to go beyond out own footprints? Barring leaps into the abyss, or the determined deviance of minority groups, the answer would seem to be no. For in so far as the literary canon is constituted by our collective activity as teachers, critics, editors, and reviewers, then so long as we remain within the bounds of what our American colleagues like to call “the profession,” we are rather more securely attached to it than Peter Pan was to his shadow: wherever we may stray as an interpretive community, the canon follows us about. One consequence of this would seem to be that the very notion of canonicity endures, if not a breach, yet an expansion—and this brings on the second doubt.

Going beyond the canon can, by definition, only be the act of a minority. But once this kind of transgression has become a regular feature of critical discourse—once it has been consecrated, so to speak, not merely by the annual meetings of the MLA, but by such distinguished organs of opinion as Critical Inquiry and the English Institute4—does the act not lose much of its original meaning? A radical challenge to the canon might, until recently, have been interpreted as a species of heresy, and have been met with that stony silence which is one of the academic substitutes for burning people at the stake. Yet if, as has been vigorously asserted, our interpretive act, our reading, is what produces, or constructs, or constitutes the literary text, then it would seem to follow that every interpretive community effectively generates its own canon. Is heresy still conceivable once the notion of canonicity has been “de-centred” in this manner? Can there be transgression where there is no law?

In sketching out the two preceding views of canon revision (that of Eliot, and a second one which may be recognizable as, in part, a caricature of the doctrines of Stanley Fish), I have at the same time been talking about two divergent ways of understanding canonicity. As the tone of my remarks may have suggested, I believe both to be inadequate. One reason for thinking so is that both Eliot's view and what I will call the pseudo-radical view of canonicity manage, in quite different ways, to conceal the historical forces which are at work in the reception, selection, and transmission of literary texts.

Eliot, to be sure, insisted on the importance of history, but he appeared to understand it as a primarily synchronic category. What he called “the historical sense” compels a recognition, in his words, “that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer ... has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.”5 His sense of our relationship to this order is in some respects rather subtle. For while this order provides a standard of judgment and comparison, an innovative conformity to which is the essential (if oxymoronic) criterion for admission to the canon, a certain reciprocity is also involved. “It is a judgment, a comparison,” he says, “in which two things are measured by each other.”6 Yet although Eliot seems initially to understand tradition in its active sense as “handing down,”7 his understanding of reception, the other side of the process, is almost wholly passive. He says that to obtain tradition is laborious—but makes no acknowledgment of the active reshaping of the past that seems inevitable in such a labour of assimilation and appropriation.

Eliot's silence on this issue is explained by Frank Lentricchia when he writes that “In its most usual conception, tradition is a process of ideal, continuous texts, whose ideality and continuity (they are the same thing) are rooted in the absence of roots or, more precisely, in the desire for the absence of roots.” In contrast to this, Lentricchia insists that tradition, or rather “tradition-making,” is a willful process which “deploys three temporal modes: it is necessarily past-oriented...; it is at the same time acutely conscious of a present that needs to be controlled by a vision of the past; and last, in ironic generosity, it bestows a legacy by projecting and in part engendering a future similarly dominated.” Or again, in an ironically Lincolnesque formulation: “Tradition-making is a process of historical repression engineered not by the dead but by the living, for the living and those who shall live.”8

This last sentence invites an immediate revision to make it read “by some of the living, against others....” For one of the energy sources of feminist and Marxist criticism has been a recognition of who, and how many, have been excluded by tradition—whether it be a matter of Telemachus's rebuke to Penelope in Book I of the Odyssey: “Go back within the house and see to your daily duties, / ... for speech is man's matter, and mine above all others,” which effectively bars women from the realm of mythos, of discourse and story-telling;9 or whether it be the bland words of Aulus Gellius, the second-century canonist: “Classicus ... scriptor, non proletarius,” or the parallel formulation of a Renaissance writer, one H. Crosse: “Wisdome under a ragged coate is seldome canonicall.”10

Lentricchia does not make the absurd demand that we cast aside tradition; he asks rather that we take responsibility for our role as tradition-makers, and hence transmitters of a canon. The ideological nature of canon formation and transmission, as well as the authority (however limited) exercised by literary intellectuals, must be admitted and faced up to: gestures of abdication are not a solution, but part of the problem. One cannot step outside tradition; nor does it make sense “to condemn and dismiss the traditional text,” for this would be to efface rather than to understand our own cultural past. The point is rather “that the traditional text needs to be historically restored, all traditionalist desire to the contrary notwithstanding: its politically activist, materially textured substance (made well-nigh invisible by the humanist academy) brought to light in an act of reading that penetrates the idealist myths ... that have veiled the text's real involvement in human struggle.”11

Even in the hands of writers concerned to demystify the notion of canonicity, however, this kind of responsibility may drop out of sight. Once canons have been reductively analysed as being no more than hegemonic constructs by means of which one or another interest group projects its own selfish desires onto society as a whole, it becomes hard to maintain that one's own values—whether these be humanistic (and traceable to Pico, Erasmus, or the Marx of the 1844 manuscripts), anti-humanist (if that is the correct term for the tradition derived from Nietzsche and Heidegger), or something else less easily labelled—are anything but a mask for one's own class and professional interests. This seems fair enough: let the critic who perceives her tradition-making work as benefitting a larger portion of our species define that group. There may, however, be legitimate reasons for an abstention from any such explicit definition of interests. The silenced, the excluded, can be spoken for through an interstitial analysis of texts from the past which either repress certain groups (not necessarily minorities: women and manual workers are not minorities), or else have commonly been thought to do so. But this interpretive writing can only fully assume the form of canonizing criticism once such groups (black women, for instance) have found their own voice—and at that point it is arguable whether a line can be drawn, in an outsider's commentary on their texts, between sympathetic understanding and a ventriloquist's appropriation. The issue may be a delicate one, and yet it remains the case that a professedly disinterested demystification of canonicity leaves its author open to the charge of acting on behalf of narrowly professional interests. Frank Kermode may appear to get himself into just such a bind at the end of his fine essay on “Institutional Control of Interpretation.” Having implied throughout that the canon is a means of imposing a given set of closely defined social interests, he wishes nonetheless to maintain that it has a wider value in terms of the interpretive liberty granted to us by the institution which controls it, and to which we belong. But to this Charles Altieri has objected that Kermode has “no terms by which to explain his evaluation of the canon's importance except a banal insistence on the variety of interpretations its guarantees. Thousands of years of culture have come to this—a stimulus to subjectivity.”12

I have spoken in these last paragraphs of two kinds of partial amnesia. The first is analysed by Frank Lentricchia as a deliberate forgetting of one's own active presence in the shaping and transmitting of the past—a forgetting which, as the example of the Kabbalah may emphasize, is bound up with the passive sense of the idea of tradition. “Kabbalah” means tradition, in the sense of reception; and as Gershom Scholem has shown, Kabbalist mysticism was for centuries a means by which the Jewish people maintained a vital link between their sacred texts and the deepest aspects of their lived experience—though all the time the Kabbalists, those weird, brilliantly innovative interpreters, sheltered under the fiction that they were mere transmitters of the ancient secret of God's revelation to Adam and Moses.13

The second kind of forgetting is a risk involved in ideological demystifications of the canon. As the example of Kermode's essay may suggest, it is a forgetting of the future—and one which in effect devitalizes the past. To evade responsibility for the projection of one's values into the future is, in a sense, to let go of the future—and as Eliot observed in his essay “What is a Classic?”: “If we cease to believe in the future, the past would cease to be fully our past: it would become the past of a dead civilization.”14

I began by contrasting two views of canonicity, that of T.S. Eliot, and a second one which I termed “pseudo-radical” and associated with the name of Stanley Fish. This second view manages, I think, to combine both of the forms of forgetfulness which I have just defined. Fish's basic gambit is a displacement of authority from text to reader, and from the literary canon to “the profession.” He argues that what a critic has to learn in order to be admitted to the profession (he reduces this to a mastering of “interpretive strategies”) effectively governs “the operations of his consciousness.” And since in Fish's view texts have no status independent of the act of reading—“Interpretation,” he says, “is not the art of construing but the art of constructing”15—it follows that the meaning of a text is produced (rather than being interactively reassembled) by the interpretive strategy used by the critic. A consensus on textual strategies is what constitutes an “interpretive community,” and given that texts acquire meaning only through interpretation, this same consensus also provides the only possible validation of interpretations. To disagree with another critic is simply to define oneself as belonging to a different interpretive community. You have your Hamlet and I mine; they are the products of different communal interests and different structures of belief; and because Fish treats belief as a psychological absolute—our relation to our beliefs is pragmatic and apologetic, but never self-critical16—there is not much point in discussing our Hamlets together.

Fish defends his procedures as exposing the historicity of any act of interpretation.17 But what he is doing is rather to justify any possible appropriation of texts to serve present needs, whatever these may be, and however gross a distortion of the past they may insist on. The possibility that a text might resist such an appropriation is from his perspective simply unintelligible. As for the future: “the profession,” that aggregate of interpretive communities, and hence ultimate authority, may be counted on to serve its own interests.

T.S. Eliot's view of canonicity had at least the merit of being closely linked to most of the original meanings of the Greek word kanon: rule, measure, instruction, and standard. This word, in Hellenistic usage, referred primarily not to a corpus of texts (such as the canon of Greek authors organized by the Alexandrian grammarians and poets), but rather to the principles governing comparison, selection, and ordering. In its general usage, kanon had a strongly teleological or end-directed meaning: it denoted “the norm, the finished condition which represents the end, the standard or criterion which as regards their ends can be applied to all things.” The word thus expressed a fundamental Hellenistic notion, that of “the ideal, the perfection which is the standard by which the empirical world must be judged.”18

What Stanley Fish's displacement of authority from texts to “the profession” does away with is not the word “canon,” or any actual array of texts, but rather this end-directed sense of purpose which (however one struggles with the concept) is what gives canonicity a meaning. The claim might seem a rash one. For Fish does argue, with admirable clarity, that any communication, and hence any interpretation, must be contextual or situational—and “to be in a situation is already to be in possession of (or to be possessed by) a structure of assumptions, of practices understood to be relevant in relation to purposes and goals that are already in place.” With respect to interpretation, he observes that “we are never without canons of acceptability; we are always 'right to rule out at least some readings.'”19 It will be noticed that he speaks of canons only as interpretive rules—for if texts are constituted by the act of interpretation, the term can no longer intelligibly refer to a corpus of texts selected in accordance with some situational or institutional rule. The text is constituted by the interpretive community, and the literary canon, in consequence, by the ensemble of their readings.

Fish's observations, or some of them at least, may have the attraction of the empirically self-evident. But what is wrong with his theory as a whole is the assumption that interpretation, in “producing” a text, consumes the textual artifact so completely as to leave not a shred behind to testify to the interpreter (or against her) of what she has done to it. The result can only be a radical de-historicizing of interpretation. Fish may claim to recognize the importance of being aware of one's own ideological determinants. But this claim is empty in the mouth of a critic who can envisage with equanimity a world in which it would be possible to see Mr. Collins as the hero of Pride and Prejudice, or who can fail to see the workings of his own professorial authority in the class of students who construed a list of names on the blackboard as a metaphysical poem.20 To conjure away the literary text is to obliterate the historicity if interpretation—and also, by the way, of reflections upon the literary canon. For it is only through a dialectical awareness of two sets of determinants—the text's, as well as our own—that a genuinely historical understanding can emerge.

Fish's Berkeleyan account of reading has recently been refuted by W. Brock Macdonald, who deploys against it an argument derived from the one with which Wilfrid Sellars demolished the sense-data epistemology of Russell and Ayers.21 That argument will not be repeated here. I would prefer to suggest that Fish is also refuted, experientially is not logically, by what might be called, in deliberate contrast to his view of belief, the simple fact of interpretive bad faith. I mean by this not merely the awareness, frequently suppressed in critical discourse, that the literary text is other and more than our interpretations of it, but also one's sense, in working with a text, that different things might be made of this experience—and that some at least of these alternatives are present as actual rather than abstract possibilities.

One need not enrol as a disciple in the school of Jacques Derrida in order to be able to recognize how strongly deconstructive explorations of the ways in which literary and philosophical texts are riven and traversed by contradictions, irresolutions, and an uncontrollable surplus of meaning tell against Fish's understanding of belief. The Derridean ideal of free play may be an illusion: some at least of the ideological determinants operative in any text can be identified, and even our most complex language-games do seem to have rules (though in the case of texts like Glas, or La carte postale, or even Otobiographies I would not like to have to say what they are). This ludic ideal can nonetheless serve as a balance to the equally implausible fideism of Fish's psychology of interpretation. Textual indeterminacy, a surplus of meaning, implies a parallel surplus of interpretive choices. Fish's insistence, in a post-Derridean context, that all of these but one are in every case erased by prior methodological commitments is no more than a rather spectacular example of what I have termed interpretive bad faith. To which it may be added, reverting to the analogy of interpretation-as-consumption, that even so tidy a feeder as Stanley Fish can hardly claim, after finishing a text, to have left neither bones and gristle on the plate, nor grease-spots on the tablecloth.

I would propose that it is the aggregate of these remnants—or, to change the metaphor, of those textual features deflected by the terministic screens in use at a given time22—that in large part makes up what might be called, to misappropriate a phrase from St. Paul, “the measure of the rule” (to metron tou kanonos).23 The literary canon, and the institutional rule which is the compound of its principles of selection and exclusion, are measured by the conflicting voices which speak out of the texts—and which, even if some of them are dismissed, neglected, or scarcely audible to one generation or critical school, are still there to be recuperated, valorized, and misconstrued by the next. Only if we silence these voices, as Stanley Fish would have us do, by making them mere products of what we want them to say, do we join him in the sterile collective solipsism of those who, in Paul's words again, commend themselves, and “measuring themselves by themselves ... are without understanding.”24



The ideologies built into literary (and sacred) canons cannot, then, be wished away: they must be confronted. It is with this in mind that I turn now to Christopher Marlowe's best-known play, The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus. The less than tragic history of this play's recent receptions will dramatize certain of the points I have been making.

After about the middle of the seventeenth century, Marlowe's writings almost disappeared from view for well over a century. He was remembered, when at all, as a kind of theatrical noisemaker—a judgment that may be subliminally present in Edward Phillips's remark, in 1675, that “Of all that he hath written to the stage his Dr. Faustus hath made the greatest noise with its Devils, and such like tragical sport.”25 The same play interested Thomas Warton in 1781 only as “A proof of the credulous ignorance which them prevailed, and a specimen of the subjects which were them thought not improper for tragedy.”26 When in the nineteenth century Marlowe was rediscovered, Edward II, the one play of his which seems to approach a Shakespearean norm, was usually held to be his masterpiece. But Doctor Faustus has since usurped that position. It has been more frequently edited in single-text editions than most of Shakespeare's plays and is a standard choice for inclusion in college anthologies; moreover, it has probably inspired a larger volume of critical commentary than any other play by a contemporary of Shakespeare. Yet only over the past seventy or so years, a period in which English studies have become professionalized as the almost exclusive domain of university teachers, has this tragedy of a university teacher risen from comparative obscurity to a position close to the centre of the literary canon. How did it get there?

I would like to suggest that there is a close temporal connection, which seems more than coincidental, between the rise of Doctor Faustus in the form in which it now usually read, and the reign of the New Criticism. It may be of passing interest to observe that the essay on Marlowe published in 1919 by T.S. Eliot, a father figure to the New Critics, was of some importance in diverting attention from Edward II to Doctor Faustus: the former is airily dismissed as having “never lacked consideration,” while the latter is both praised for its “new and important conversational tone” and the intensity of its last soliloquy, and also noted as the end-point of Marlowe's skilful remodellings of lines and tropes which figure in his earlier plays.27 However, it is to a slightly more recent period that I would like to point. One might say, more or less arbitrarily, that the full institutional dominance of the New Criticism began in the mid-1940s: the publication of Cleanth Brooks's The Well Wrought Urn in 1947 provides a convenient date. The publication of the Johns Hopkins symposium on structuralism in 1970, and of Paul de Man's Blindness and Insight in the following year, signalled the end of this dominance—or at the very least its translation into a different kind of vocabulary. The same approximate dates are of some importance in the reception history of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

This play survived the Elizabethan age in two substantive early versions, both very defective, which differ in length by some six hundred lines, and which in parallel passages offer a large number of variant readings. Most modern reading editions conflate the parallel passages, but with respect to their overall shape are necessarily based either on the quarto of 1604 (known as the A-text) or on the longer quarto of 1616 (the B-text). The 1604 version of the play was identified as more authoritative by C.F. Tucker Brooke, whose Oxford edition of 1910 served as the basis for most subsequent criticism. In 1946, however, Leo Kirschbaum overturned this judgment, arguing that the B-text was substantially faithful to Marlowe's intentions, while the A-text was a memorially corrupt version—or, in the jargon of textual scholarship, a “bad quarto.”28 Four years later, this opinion was overwhelmingly confirmed by the 267 pages of textual analysis and commentary contained in Sir Walter Greg's superb parallel-text edition, analysis which was deferred to by most subsequent editors of the play and accepted as authoritative by many critics.29 But in 1973 a careful re-examination of the evidence by Fredson Bowers showed that for a quarter-century the editors had been giving us, and most of the critics studying, a largely non-Marlovian version of the play.30

A related pattern is detectable if one turns to the criticism of Doctor Faustus. It is hardly the case that the Greg-Kirschbaum re-evaluation of the text was followed by a flood-tide of writing about this play, even though all but about a dozen of the eighty-odd articles and books surveyed by Max Bluestone in 1969 were written after the appearance of Kirschbaum's influential textual study.31 Indeed, during the 1950s the number of articles on Doctor Faustus and also the proportion of articles on Marlowe which were devoted to this play both declined noticeably; only in the 1960s did the play recover the clear primacy in the Marlowe canon which it had enjoyed during the 1940s. There is, of course, something more than slightly absurd about the activity of totting up annual rates of production in Faustus scholarship—and yet it may seem significant that within two years of the appearance of Bowers's article in 1973 a rate of interpretive activity which had risen steadily since the early 1960s abruptly declined to what it had been more than a decade earlier (it has since gradually returned to the level of the early 1970s).32 More important, the results of this critical activity, which in most cases involved a clear turn away from the labour of attempting to interpret the play in the light of its original historical and ideological contexts,33 were described by Bluestone in 1969 as thoroughly confusing: every major issue raised by the play appeared to be surrounded by a fog of ambiguities and contradictions.

One might think this to be a highly satisfactory situation from the point of view of young critics on the make. Yet although the volume of critical studies continued to increase, one may with hindsight discern certain signs of conceptual exhaustion. The continuing debate over the play's theological resonances provides one example of this. Even when critics moved beyond asserting as a self-evident proposition that Faustus has free will, to adducing sixteenth-century theological texts in support of this or the contrary opinion, they seldom proved able to integrate analyses of these texts into detailed interpretations of the play: the relation between play-text and context typically remained somehow inert.34 One might equally well take as symptomatic a remark by an editor of a symposium on Marlowe published in 1968: “Both the papers and the discussions frequently referred to the play, but no one who was approached felt he wanted to offer a special study of it. It may be that Greg's vast labours on the text, together with the critical accounts given in recent years by Bradbrook, Brockbank, Cole, Gill, Steane, and many others, have, for the moment, exhausted invention.”35

This conceptual exhaustion, if one can call it that, may have been related to a growing perception that the supposedly authoritative 1616 version, though longer, is also more inconsistent than the other version in terms of the stylistic, psychological, and conceptual lapses of its last three acts. A naïve reader who knew of that other version through older or unscholarly editions of the play might be forgiven for assuming that the actors whose faulty memories or deliberate meddling were responsible for its corruptions must have been better poets than Marlowe. More obviously, though, the majority view of the play's moral (or rather moralistic) meaning, a view that rested largely upon the last three acts of the 1616 version, seems to have prompted basic doubts about its literary value. Kirschbaum, followed by many later critics, defined Doctor Faustus as “a quasi-morality in which is clearly set forth the hierarchy of moral values which enforces and encloses the play, which the characters in the play accept, which the playwright advances and accepts in his prologue and epilogue, which—hence--the audience must understand and accept.”36 Paul Kocher, though less inclined to bully his readers, held similar views; and, like Kirschbaum, he insisted that “Faustus has free will, free capacity to repent. It is his own fault that he does not, and so he goes to a condign doom.”37

It might appear surprising that Marlowe, whose “table talk,” as preserved in the accusations of his contemporaries, consists entirely of such gross impieties as “That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest ... That St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to Christ ... that he used him as the sinners of Sodoma,” should have written such a play.38 But the moralist insisted, with New Critical obstinacy, that even if both Faustus and his creator died swearing, no connection could be admitted between the meanings generated by the “forme of Faustus fortunes” (A: 9) and what other texts might suggest about the poet's opinions.39 The readers of these critics were left, then, to admire a theological and philosophical drama whose protagonist, a theological incompetent and a sophist, is not a very dangerous sinner either—a play which offers to its audiences much the same ambiguous delight as that which certain medieval theologians accorded to the blessed in heaven: the satisfaction of witnessing, from a safe distance, the torments of the damned. Small wonder that in 1970 A.L. French, unable either to accept the unreservedly ironic view of Faustus required by this approach or to respect the play which resulted from it, denounced Doctor Faustus as “one of the most specious of all the false classics which clog our English literature courses.”40 One might feel tempted to turn this judgment back upon the heads of the scholars ands critics whose misreadings of the textual evidence made it possible. But it may prove more useful, if less cathartic, to ask what went wrong, and why.

Interpretation begins with the text: such at least is the prejudice dictated to us by a critical tradition whose ideal has been the self-effacement of the interpreter, to the point of a conventional invisibility. I hope I will not be thought to have suddenly succumbed to the theories of Stanley Fish if I insist that in this case the text, as a single discrete object, does not exist prior to interpretation. A play which comes down to us in as battered a condition as that in which Doctor Faustus has survived is, very largely, an indeterminate object ; the shape which it assumes in any conflated edition reflects the interpretive principle—or prejudices—brought to bear upon the evidence. The divergences of the 1604 and 1616 quartos in parallel passages were taken by Greg and Kirschbaum to reveal memorial corruption or revision in the A-text. But as has been repeatedly observed, the same evidence can just as easily support the conclusion that it is the B-text which is corrupt—or indeed, that both texts are corrupt.41 Must we then abandon attempts to arrive at a single text and admit, with Michael J. Warren, that what we are confronted with is “two quite separate and different plays, each presumably at some distance from an original, each attributed to Marlowe, each known as Doctor Faustus”?42 I think not. For if it can be said that neither Greg's nor Kirschbaum's textual studies were guided by more than a rudimentary concern for the play's historical context, the same, unfortunately, is true of Warren's otherwise excellent article.43 His scepticism is thus no more persuasive than the dogmatism which it helped to subvert.

The two substantive versions of Doctor Faustus are not “quite separate” plays; they share, with minor variants, upwards of one thousand lines (out of a total, in the shorter A-text, of just over fifteen hundred). Nor can they with equal validity be ascribed to Marlowe. The Marlovian original, if it makes sense to speak of such a thing,44 is lost beyond recovery. But unlike Quarto and Folio King Lear, the two surviving versions of the play do not have equal authority.

To take a minor point first: it is possible to identify ideologically motivated revisions in several important passages in the B-text. (These were presumably made to avoid the fines imposed for blasphemy under the 1606 Act of Abuses.) Consider, for example, Faustus's magnificent outcry in the A-text—

O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me downe? 
See see where Christs blood streames in the firmament, 
One drop would save my soule, halfe a drop, ah my Christ    (A: 1462-64)

—which the B-text reduces to the barely intelligible

O I'le leape up to heaven: who puls me downe? 
One drop of bloud will save me; oh my Christ....    (B: 2048-49)

Another desperate plea in the same speech—

Oh God, if thou wilt not have mercy on my soule, 
Yet for Christs sake, whose bloud hath ransomd me, 
Impose some end to my incessant paine     (A: 1483-85)

—is transformed to something less vivid and more moralistic:

O, if my soule must suffer for my sinne, 
Impose some end to my incessant paine....     (B: 2067-68)

The alarming implication of a refusal of divine mercy has been neatly excised.

More importantly, there is ample evidence, external as well as stylistic and structural, to support the view that most of the non-parallel passages in the B-text—one thousand lines, at a conservative estimate—are the work of two writers to whom, in 1602, the theatrical manager Henslowe paid four pounds “for ther adicyones in doctor fostes.”45 One of these writers, Samuel Rowley, wrote another play in which many of the stylistic quirks of the unique B-text passages reappear, and which also (like Act III of the B-text) draws repeatedly upon Foxe's Book of Martyrs. To escape the obvious conclusion that Rowley wrote these B-text passages in 1602 (and thus wrote rather more of the B-text than Marlowe did), Greg was obliged to speculate that he must have been Marlowe's collaborator a decade earlier—and that his 1602 additions had somehow been lost.46 Gresham's Law—bad money drives out out good—is thus transplanted into the realm of textual criticism: historical evidence is supplanted by sheer speculation.

Only once the ideological bias which informed Greg's work upon this text is made evident is it possible to understand how a scholar of his capacities could have been driven to such extremities. I shall therefore show briefly how even his minutest textual judgments are pervaded by an ideologically based and thoroughly non-historical prejudice. I shall then conclude by suggesting ways in which an attention to historical contexts can help both to clarify certain textual problems in Doctor Faustus and also to make apparent aspects of the play which, if we keep in mind the inescapable end-directedness of canonicity, may induce us to describe it as not just a deservedly canonical, but a meta-canonical text.

Although the disturbing notion of a refusal of divine mercy was removed from Faustus's last speech in the 1616 text, it remains prominent elsewhere, most notably in Act II, where, encouraged by his Good Angel to repent, Faustus calls on Christ—only to be answered by the terrifying entrance of a demonic trinity” Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephostophilis. Not surprisingly, in this passage also there are signs, though less obtrusive, of editorial revision in the B-text. To expose the workings of Greg's ideological prejudice, it will suffice to consider two textual variants of a single word each.

Faustus cried in his brief prayer: “Ah Christ my Saviour, / seeke [B: Helpe] to save distressed Faustus soule” (A: 711-12). Greg cited this variant as one of several in which—sure evidence of memorial corruption—the reading of A implies a definite misunderstanding of the theological situation. “To seek to do something,” he wrote, “implies a doubtful issue: but whereas it is heretical to question Christ's power to save, it is true belief that that power is only exercised in aid of the sinner's own endeavour” (p. 46). This bland sentence is in at least two respects curiously revealing. It implies, first, that theological orthodoxy can be used—in this of all plays—as a textual criterion. This naïvety is compounded by a strange disregard of historical context in Greg's definition of “true belief.” Given that the theology of the Anglican Church in the 1590s and for some decades previously was overwhelmingly Calvinistic in orientation, most educated Anglicans of Marlowe's time would have rejected this definition as arrant Pelagianism: to them it was axiomatic that a sinner was powerless to help himself until Christ's saving power was exercised on his behalf.47

Greg's words amount to saying that the reading of the 1616 text in this line is authentic because he agrees with its theological implications. But since there may be more objective reasons for preferring the reading of the 1604 text, it is worth lingering a moment longer over Faustus's prayer. Greg's perception of an undertone of doubt in the A-text's “seeke to save” is acute, but should if anything confirm the appropriateness of this expression in the mouth of one whose problem is precisely that he lacks faith. More obviously, though, “seeke” carries two other implications: first, that it is primarily up to Christ to save Faustus's soul; and second, that he has not previously been trying to. A simple cry for help—the B-text's “Helpe to save”—does not imply anything about the previous stance of the person to whom it is addressed, but the A-text's imploring “seeke” contains an element of persuasion which can only suggest that at some level Faustus thinks persuasion to be necessary. It takes no leap of the imagination to see how the censoring editor who in the final scene substituted Faustus's bland acknowledgment of sin for the A-text's refusal of divine mercy might have recognized these implications. On the other hand, none of the established mechanisms of memorial corruption give any reason for believing that an actor's faulty memory might have effected the reverse substitution.48

The words which I have quoted from Greg's commentary represent not a momentary aberration but rather the basic orientation of his approach to the play. I have remarked that Faustus's prayer in this scene was preceded by the Good Angel's encouragement to repent: but the precise nature of this encouragement needs closer examination. When, having broken angrily with Mephostophilis, Faustus wonders aloud whether it is not too late, his Good Angel reassures him with the words: “Never too late, if Faustus can [B: will] repent” (A: 708). Here again, Greg argues that the reading of A is corrupt: “A is wrong in making the Angel doubt Faustus' ability to repent if he has the will to do so” (p. 338). But this is not what the line means. The Angel does not oppose ability and will in this manner; rather, he is suggesting that Faustus is perhaps unable to will to repent. Greg writes: “It is not a question of the possibility of repentance—that is assumed—but of the will to repent” (p. 45). One must ask: assumed by whom?

Far from being a theological absurdity, as Greg's words seem to imply, the A-reading would have been immediately comprehensible to Marlowe's audiences: for the predicament of the reprobate, of those who have not been chosen by God for salvation, is quite simply that they cannot repent—or, more precisely, that they are unable to will to repent. To modern minds this is immediately paradoxical. The very notion of will to us implies freedom and autonomy. But as Calvin wrote, “if the fact that he must do good does not hinder God's free will in doing good; if the devil, who can only do evil, yet sins with his will—who shall say that man therefore sins less willingly because he is subject to the necessity of sinning? Augustine everywhere speaks of this necessity....” Greg's belief that the possibility of repentance and the will to repent are separate matters could only indicate to Elizabethan Anglicans that he had fallen into the error of Peter Lombard, who, in Calvin's words, “did not know how to distinguish necessity from compulsion.”49

The Good Angel's words in the 1604 text suggest a question that may already have occurred to members of the audience. Can Faustus repent? It would seem that Anglican theologians of the period, if consulted on the matter at this point in the play, would have responded with a unanimous negative. Even if, disregarding the stern Calvinists for whom a failure to persevere in grace would provide sure evidence of reprobation,50 One seeks instead the opinion of their opponent Richard Hooker, the answer is the same. Faustus, one remembers, abjured the Trinity in his invocation of Mephostophilis in the third scene of the play, thus denying the very foundation of the Christian faith.51 In Hooker's opinion, “if the justified err, as he may, and never come to understand his error, God doth save him through general repentance: but if he fall into heresy, he calleth him either at one time or other by actual repentance; but from infidelity, which is an inward direct denial of the foundation, preserveth him by special providence for ever.”52 Faustus has not been so preserved. He is therefore not one of the justified; he cannot repent. What then of the agonies which Faustus undergoes? For Calvin and his followers, at least, the answer is brutally simple: “It is improper to designate as 'conversion' and 'prayer' the bling torment that distracts the reprobate when they see that they must seek God in order to find a remedy for their misfortunes and yet flee at his approach.”53

These observations in no way demonstrate that the A-reading of the Good Angel's speech is Marlovian and the B-reading an editorial revision: as I have already remarked, it is naïve to think that theological orthodoxy can be used as a textual criterion. Yet any reader who compares the syllogism by means of which Faustus dismisses “Divinitie” in the first scene of the play with the arguments of Despaire in Book I, canto ix of The Faerie Queene, and then contrasts the Good Angel's intervention in that scene with Una's words to Red Crosse Knight, will have little difficulty in deciding which version of the Angel's later speech is more probably authentic. Una says:

In heavenly mercies hast thou not a part? 
Why shouldst thou then despeire, that chosen art? 
Where justice growes, there grows eke greater grace....54

Divine mercy offers the only possible escape from the devil's syllogism which Faustus has propounded, yet his Good Angel, significantly, speaks only of “gods heavy wrath” (A: 104).55 Without “precious grace” (A: 1321)—of which Faustus is reminded by the Old Man only after the response to his prayer in Act II has confirmed the Evil Angel's claim that it is indeed too late—his repentance is not possible.

A different kind of desperation can be detected in the efforts of critics writing between the 1940s and the late 1960s to avoid the conclusion that this play deliberately confronts its readers with the cruel paradoxes of Calvinism. According to J.P. Brockbank, for example, “Marlowe allows no appeal to the Calvinist doctrine that some are for ever 'reprobate', but chooses rather to represent the will as incapable of redeeming itself”—which does not quite amount to a distinction without a difference, for it allows him to claim that while Doctor Faustus may be a Calvinist, Doctor Faustus is Augustinian. Yet in the following paragraph Brockbank can save his argument only by ascribing the alarming response to Faustus's prayer in Act II to Marlowe's “characteristic love of excess.”56 Of this attempt to separate the episode from the theological structure of the play one need only say that Calvinism is, quite precisely, Augustinianism run to excess.

The harsher, more darkly ironic play which emerges out of contextual analysis of the two texts of Doctor Faustus is in several respects more interesting than the play which Greg and Kirschbaum certified as authentic—and which A.L. French tried to dislodge from the canon. It is a play which throws into relief the most disquieting and repellent features of the theological orthodoxy of Elizabethan England. Its protagonist, who enunciates in the first scene the predicament of the reprobate, and then proceeds to live it out in a desperate alternation of self-delusion and vertiginous horror, may still be a fool. But the patronizing comments which may have been an appropriate response to the Faustus of the B-text are much less adequate in relation to this figure. For the play puts its audience into a position not unlike that of Faustus's fellow scholars, who in the final scene are torn between empathy and a self-absorbed fear:

FAUSTUS Talke not of me, but save your selves, and depart. 
3. SCH. God wil strengthen me, I wil stay with Faustus. 
1. SCH. Tempt not God, sweete friend, but let us into the next roome, and there pray for him.    (A: 1436-41)

In his last soliloquy, Faustus is addressing not only himself and the audience in the theatre, but also this formidable God. And in a sense he mediates between his two audiences, the visible and the invisible, as a kind of antichrist: this is the man who signed away his soul with the words “Consummatum est” (A: 515). When Faustus is carried off to hell, we are left to share the theatre with that other auditor, the God who has damned him.57 One may choose to withdraw from a dangerous empathy to the safety of moral judgment—as did the censoring editor of the 1616 text who substituted “O, if my soule must suffer for my sinne” (B: 2067) for “Oh God, if thou wilt not have mercy on my soule” (A: 1483). But the prudential contraction of one's experience of the play into moral categories (a contraction which the epilogue seems to invite)58 also involves a kind of censoring activity—a betrayal of human sympathies in the face of “heavenly power” (A: 1517).

What I have spoken of as contextual is in fact embedded in this play at the most intimate level of its rhetoric. Faustus may experiment with the third-person self-presentation practised by Marlowe's Tamburlaine. But his habitual, his characteristic mode of speech is second-person self-address: “Settle thy studies Faustus...” (A: 30); “Here tire, my braines, to get a Deity” (B: 89);59 “Now Faustus must thou needes be damned...” (A: 438); “what art thou Faustus but a man condemnd to die?” (A: 1169); “Accursed Faustus, where is mercie now?” (A: 1329); “Ah Faustus, / Now hast thou but one bare hower to live, / And then thou must be damnd perpetually...” (A: 1450-52). This mode of self-address is, very largely, what constitutes Faustus's dramatic identity—and it does so in terms of an increasingly powerful recognition of what is in store for him. At the same time as they enact a split between a perverse wilfulness and a strangely passive selfhood, his self-reflections construct a trap of self-authenticating predication. The despairing self-definitions of Faustus would cease to be true if he could only cease from making them; but conversely, he could only cease from making them if they were not true.

This rhetorical pattern is the precise equivalent of what Fulke Greville, in Caelica, XCIX, called a “fatal mirror of transgression”: the tormented self-image which it offers “bears the faithless down to desperation.”60 What Faustus simultaneously recognizes as his destiny, and struggles to escape, is gradually revealed as the true shape of what he has desired. An eschatological awareness burns up through even his most splendid effort at forgetfulness. Helen's “sweete imbracings” are to “extinguish cleane” (A: 1352) the motions of penitence and despair that have wracked him, but the very language of the escapist fantasy which he constructs around her expresses through a strange inversion his actual relation to this spirit:

Brighter art thou then flaming Jupiter
when he appeard to haplesse Semele....    (A: 1372-73)

Faustus began by “levell[ing] at the end of every Art” (A: 34)—that is, by challenging both the purposes and the limits of the disciplines which he has studied. When in the last scene of the play he begs God to “Impose some end to my incessant paine” (A: 1485), there is a horrible irony to his recognition: “O no end is limited to damned soules” (A: 1488). And at the very end, the resistance of his shriek, “Ugly hell gape not” (A: 1507), is undermined by his previous cry: “Earth gape, O no, it wil not harbour me” (A: 1473).

It is finally, perhaps, this obsessive concern with ends—in all of the different, yet related, senses of intention, reason for being, telos, finality, limit and eschatological termination which recur throughout the play—that constitutes the most persuasive reason for continuing to give Doctor Faustus an important place within our literary canon.61 In the first part of this paper I have argued for a view of canonicity which involves both a self-critical awareness of the active, ideological nature of the reception, selection, and transmission of texts, and also an acceptance of responsibility—both to the past and to the future—for the values which are thus reinterpreted and passed on. I have also protested against a form of pretended demystification which can only result in exposing texts to uncontrolled manipulation by their interpreters, according to whatever they perceive as their most urgent needs. And I have tried to show in the second part of this paper some of the ways in which contextual analysis can counterbalance the distortions that become inevitable once the canon-forming activities of textual scholars and critics begin to divorce themselves from the claims of history.

Our literary canon is, from this perspective, very much an expression of our own ends—which is to say, an expression not only of our conscious purposes, but also of the limitations of our sympathies and understanding, and of the hidden determinants operative in all our work as scholars and critics. Only the most strenuous effort of self-examination—which implies both a process of second-person self-definition and a determined scepticism as to its results—can make us critically aware of these limitations and these determinants. The continued prominence in our canon of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, a play which is powerfully and insistently concerned with the idea of ends—whether as finis logices, as summum bonum (A: 37, 46), or as something insidious and alarming—may thus be taken as a piece of good fortune. Perhaps, as we continue to reflect on what we are doing and why, it may help to keep us honest.




1  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, 3rd edition (1951; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 1976), p. 15.

2  Eliot, p. 16.

3  Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (1956; rpt. San Francisco: City Lights, 1967), p. 18.

4  I am thinking of the issue of Critical Inquiry devoted to “Canons” (September 1983, 10.1), and reprinted, with additions, as Canons, ed. Robert von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); and of Leslie A. Fiedler and Houston A. Baker, eds., English Literature: Opening Up the Canon (Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1979; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

5  Eliot, p. 14.

6  Eliot, p. 15.

7  Eliot, p. 14. In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” a movement from tradition as “handing down” to tradition as “a simultaneous order” takes place within a single paragraph. Raymond Williams, in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana, 1976), plays with a number of the root meanings of the word “tradition” when he comments on how easily the word can lose this sense of active process: “the word moves again and again towards age-old and towards ceremony, duty and respect. Considering only how much has been handed down to us, and how various it actually is, this, in its own way, is both a betrayal and a surrender” (p. 269).

8  Frank Lentricchia, Criticism and Social Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 125.

9  Odyssey, I, 356, 358, from Samuel Butler's translation, The Authoress of the Odyssey (1897; rpt. Chicago, 1967), p. 20, as cited by Lawrence Lipking, “Aristotle's Sister: A Poetics of Abandonment,” Critical Inquiry 10.1 (1983), 66. Lipking's article offers a fine analysis of the exclusion of women from the realm of mythos—but one which might fairly be accused of that problematic ventriloquism to which I allude two paragraphs below.

10  The words of Aulus Gellius (also quoted by Lipking and Lentricchia) are cited from Frank Kermode, The Classic: Literary Images of Permanence and Change (New York: Viking Press, 1975), p. 15. H. Crosse is cited in the OED entry for the word “canonical.”

11  Lentricchia, p. 142.

12  Charles Altieri, “An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon,” Critical Inquiry 10.1 (1983), 42. Kermode's essay first appeared in Salmagundi 43 (Winter 1979), 72-86, and is reprinted in his The Art of Telling: Essays on Fiction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).

13  See Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3rd edition (1961; rpt. New York: Schocken, 1974), pp. 20-22.

14  T. S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (1957; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 1971), p. 65. On the question of taking responsibility for the transmission of values into the future, see Hannah Arendt, “The Crisis in Education,” in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (1968; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980), pp. 173-96.

15  Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 14, 327.

16  I am indebted here to Walter A. Davis, “The Fisher King: Wille zur Macht in Baltimore,” Critical Inquiry 10.4 (1984), 668-94; his discussion of Fish's attitude to belief is on pp. 678-80. See also William Ray, Literary Meaning: From Phenomenology to Deconstruction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 165-69.

17  Stanley Fish, “Fear of Fish: A Reply to Walter Davis,” Critical Inquiry 10.4 (1984), 695-705; especially 701, 703.

18  W. Schneemelcher, General Introduction, in E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, ed. W. Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL. Wilson et al. (2 vols., 1963-65; rpt. London: SCM Press, 1973-74), vol. 1, p. 21.

19  Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?, pp. 318, 349.

20  Ibid., pp. 347-48, 323-37.

21  W. Brock Macdonald, “How to Catch Fish with Words,” Texte 3 (1984), 29-41.

22  See Kenneth Burke, “Terministic Screens,” in Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 44-62.

23  2 Corinthians 10:13.

24  2 Corinthians 10:12: “alla autoi en eautous metrountes ... ou suniousin.”

25  Edward Phillips, Theatrum poetarum anglicanorum (1675); quoted from Marlowe: The Critical Heritage 1588-1896, ed. Millar Maclure (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 51.

26  Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry (London, 1781), vol. 3, p. 437; quoted from Alexander Tille, Die Faustsplitter in der Literatur des sechzehnten bis achtzehnten Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Emil Felber, 1900), p. 771.

27  Eliot, Selected Essays, pp. 123, 121-22.

28  Leo Kirschbaum, “The Good and Bad Quartos of Doctor Faustus,The Library 26 (March 1946), 272-94. Kirschbaum's preference for the 1616 was anticipated by F.S. Boas, for whose edition of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (London: Methuen, 1932) B provided the copy-text.

29  There were, of course, critics who opposed Greg's analysis—but without refuting it. See, for example, Warren D. Smith, “The Nature of Evil in Doctor Faustus,” Modern Language Review 60 (1965), 171; and Robert Ornstein, “Marlowe and God: The Tragic Theology of Dr. Faustus,” PMLA 83 (1968), 1378.

30  Fredson Bowers, “Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973), 1-18. See also Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus: The Supposed Originality of the 1616 Text,” English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975), 171-97; and Michael H. Keefer, “Verbal Magic and the Problem of the A and B Texts of Doctor Faustus,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82 (1983), 324-46. Bowers's curious decision to base his own edition of the play upon the 1616 version is criticized on p. 330 of the latter article. As Bowers himself recognized, the question of which version to use is distinct from that of whether to use the A- or the B-text as copy-text. See Bowers, ed., The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe (2 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), vol. 2, p. 142. His view that an A-version edition is impracticable rests upon the unsupported assumption that the A-text's acts III and IV are non-Marlovian, and upon Greg's claim, which he nowhere re-examines, that A (but not B) is a memorial reconstruction. With respect to this claim, Bowers asserts that “facts are facts” (p. 143)—but in this case the “facts” are often quite clearly prejudiced speculations.

31  Max Bluestone, “Libido Speculandi: Doctrine and Dramaturgy in Contemporary Interpretations of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus,” in Reinterpretations of Elizabethan Drama, ed. Norman Rabkin (Selected Papers from the English Institute; New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), pp. 33-88.

32  A survey of the Modern Humanities Research Association bibliographies from 1921 to 1982 (supplemented by the MLA Bibliography from 1981 to 1984) indicates that the proportion of articles of five or more pages in length on Marlowe which were devoted to Doctor Faustus rose from about 15 per cent in the 1920s to over 20 per cent in the 1930s, and to more than 30 per cent in the 1940s. In the 1950s, attention tended to shift to Tamburlaine: the proportion of articles on Doctor Faustus dropped to less than 20 per cent of the total, and in absolute terms less than half as many articles were published about the play as in the 1940s. During the 1960s about one-third of the articles on Marlowe were devoted to Doctor Faustus; this proportion has since risen to an average of about 35 per cent. But in 1975, the number of articles published per year on Doctor Faustus (which had averaged almost five per year for the previous six years) dropped abruptly to two, and averaged between two and three for the rest of the decade; from 1975 to 1978, moreover, the proportion of articles devoted to Doctor Faustus remained, on average, below 30 per cent of the total.

33  Notable exceptions, of course, come to mind, among them C.L. Barber's article “'The form of Faustus' fortunes good or bad,'” Tulane Drama Review 8.4 (1964), 92-119; and chapters 11 and 12 of Wilbur Sanders's The Dramatist and the Received Idea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968).

34  See, for example, Leo Kirschbaum, “Marlowe's Faustus: A Reconsideration,” Review of English Studies 19 (1943), 234; Paul H. Kocher, Christopher Marlowe: A Study of His Thought, Learning, and Character (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946), p. 104; Clifford Davidson, “Doctor Faustus of Wittenberg,” Studies in Philology 59 (1962), 517-19; Arieh Sachs, “The Religious Despair of Doctor Faustus,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 63 (1964), 625-47; Helen Gardner, “The Theme of Damnation in Doctor Faustus,” in Marlowe: Doctor Faustus, ed. John D. Jump (Casebook Series; London: Macmillan, 1969), p. 99; Robert Ornstein, “Marlowe and God,” 1380; Margaret Ann O'Brien, “Christian Belief in Doctor Faustus,” ELH 37.1 (1970), 5-6; Michael Hattaway, “The Theology of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus,” Renaissance Drama ns 3 (1970), 76-77; Gerard H. Cox, “Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and 'Sin against the Holy Ghost,'” Huntington Library Quarterly 36 (1972-73), 120-22; Paul Honderich, “John Calvin and Doctor Faustus,” Modern Language Review 68 (1973), 11. A movement out of this impasse is detectable in Richard Waswo, “Damnation, Protestant Style: Macbeth, Faustus, and Christian Tragedy,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 4.1 (1974), 63-99; and is more evident in Robert G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgments (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976), ch. 3; however, an interpretive inertness in relating play-text to theological context persists in Martha Tuck Rozett, The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), ch. 7. Recent attempts to deal with this problem include Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 83-119; and my article “Misreading Faustus Misreading: The Question of Context,” Dalhousie Review, forthcoming.

35  Brian Morris, ed., Christopher Marlowe (London: Benn, 1968), Introduction, pp. v-vi.

36  Kirschbaum, “Marlowe's Faustus: A Reconsideration,” 229.

37  Kocher, Christopher Marlowe, p. 108. A parallel to Kirschbaum's view of the play's closure is offered by his statement that “Like a crucible whose walls contain a seething liquid, the Christian structure of the play stands firm around the eruptions of blasphemy, and does not break: (p. 104). For a different opinion, based upon a consideration of audience response, see Michael Goldman, “Marlowe and the Histrionics of Ravishment,” in Two Renaissance Mythmakers: Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, ed. Alvin Kernan (Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1975-6; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 39-40.

38  Maclure, ed., p. 37. The question of what credence should be given to the denunciation of Marlowe by Richard Baines from which I have quoted, or to the corroborative testimony of Thomas Kyd and (much later) of Henry Oxinden, is a vexed one. Kyd had been broken by torture, and one Richard Baines was hanged in 1594 (however, there are records of two other men bearing the same name). For a review of the evidence, see John Bakeless, The Tragicall history of Christopher Marlowe (2 vols., 1942; rpt. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964), vol. 1, pp. 107-40—from which it is obvious that Marlowe's contemporaries regarded him as a highly unorthodox thinker. My inclination to accept the accusations of Baines and Kyd as reliable is supported by Paul H. Kocher, “Marlowe's Atheist Lecture,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 39 (1940), 98-106; and by Constance Brown Kuriyama, Hammer or Anvil: Psychological Patterns in Christopher Marlowe's Plays (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1980), pp 150-51, 221-27. See also Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning from More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 220-21.

39  Towards the end of the period under discussion, critics began with increasing frequency to make such a connection, but sometimes only to assert that if Marlowe had written an orthodox Christian play, that was because he was himself an orthodox Christian. See, for example, W. Moelwyn Merchant, “Marlowe the Orthodox,” in Christopher Marlowe, ed. Morris, pp. 179-92; and Margaret Ann O'Brien, “Christian Belief in Doctor Faustus,” 1-11. For the basis of the tradition that Marlowe died swearing, see Maclure, p. 42. All quotations from the play are from Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts, ed. W.W. Greg (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), and are identified according to the text from which they are taken and the lineation of this edition. U/v and i/j have been silently modernized, and errors in the Latin have been silently corrected.

40  A. L. French, “The Philosophy of Dr. Faustus,” Essays in Criticism 20 (1970), 123.

41  See Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus,” and Michael J. Warren, “Doctor Faustus: The Old Man and the Text,” English Literary Renaissance 11.2 (1981), 111-47.

42  Warren, 147.

43  Warren argues forcefully that both versions of the play are, in their own terms, dramatically coherent (for a contrasting opinion, see my “Verbal Magic,” 33-46); and his re-examination of Greg's evidence for the memorial corruption of A shows that “The professed objectivity of investigation is quite spurious; each decision has been shown to be a consequence of a preconceived view of the play and its language” (124). However, in his remarks (123-24) on the two textual variants which I analyze below, Warren is unaware both of the theological issues involved and of the explicitly theological nature of Greg's prejudice (he takes Greg's assessments of what was orthodox in the 1590s at face value). Moreover, while he is “little concerned” (130) with the possibility that the play evokes or imposes a Calvinist view of providence and predestination, he is nonetheless able to declare, without troubling to consider any evidence to the contrary, that “If the B-text suggests that Faustus is damned irrevocably after the Helen incident, the A-text maintains by contrast the possibility of his salvation until the moment that the devils take him” (136). This may be correct—but Warren's analysis of the last scenes of the play cannot possibly prove the point. Warren's dismissal of historical context amounts to an assumption of the play's textual autonomy—and in this case, the assumption of textual autonomy and the assumption of Faustus's autonomy are closely related. To refuse the former assumption is also (given the nature of Elizabethan Anglican orthodoxy) to cast doubt upon the latter.

44  There is of course no evidence to show that Marlowe ever completed a draft of the play; and if the first text was a collaborative effort, the question of how much control he had over its details is a matter for speculation. See Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), for an incisive study of the larger question of whether a single-minded pursuit of authorial intentions (to the exclusion of other shaping factors) can be justified.

45  Henslowe's Diary, ed. R.A. Foakes and R.T. Rickert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), p. 206.

46  Greg, pp. 133-35. For a detailed discussion of the evidence for Rowley's authorship of most of the B-text additions, see Kuriyama, 191-96.

47  See Articles 9 to 13 of the Church of England, and A. D. Nuttall, Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John (London: Methuen, 1980), pp. 21-30; also Alan Sinfield, Literature in Protestant England 1560-1660 (London: Croom Helm, 1983), pp. 8-13.

48  For a survey of these mechanisms as supposedly revealed in the A-text of Doctor Faustus, see Greg, pp. 40-60.

49  Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (2 vols., 1960; rpt. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), II.iii.5, vol. 1, pp. 295-96.

50  For Calvin's view on perseverance in grace, see Institutes, III.xxii.7, III.xxiv.6-11. Article 16 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (which English Calvinists struggled in vain to have altered) presents a more lenient view of the matter.

51  It has been argued by Robert H. West, in “The Impatient Magic of Dr. Faustus,” English Literary Renaissance 4 (1974), 231, that Faustus's words “valeat numen triplex Iehovae” (A: 259-60) in his invocation of Mephostophilis are not an act of abjuration, but mean rather “The three-fold power of Jehovah aid me?” Yet while the verb valeo has a wide range of meanings, how many of them are possible in this context? Can the form valeat, used as here, be anything other than a forceful gesture of dismissal? Cicero's rejection of the gods of Epicurus offers a persuasive parallel: “Deinde si maxime talis est deus ut nulla gratia, nulla hominum caritate teneatur, valeat....” M. Tulli Ciceronis De natura deorum, ed. A.S. Pease (2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955-58), I.124, vol. 1, p. 536. What is for Cicero merely granted for the sake of argument (“Deinde si maxime talis est deus”) is for Faustus a matter of subjective certainty: “I and Faustus wil turne to God againe. / To God? He loves thee not...” (A: 446-47).

52  Richard Hooker, “A Learned Discourse of Justification,” in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, ed. Christopher Morris (2 vols.; London: Dent, 1954), vol. 1, pp. 49-50.

53  Calvin, Institutes, III.iii.24, vol. 1, p. 620.

54  The Faerie Queene, I.ix.53; quoted from Spenser: Poetical Works, ed. J.C. Smith and E. De Selincourt (1912; rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 50.

55  On Faustus's use of the “devil's syllogism,” see Douglas Cole, Suffering and Evil in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe (1962, rpt. New York: Gordian Press, 1972), pp. 199-200; and Susan Snyder, “The Left Hand of God: Despair in Medieval and Renaissance Tradition,” Studies in the Renaissance 12 (1965), 18-59, esp. 30-33.

56  J. P. Brockbank, Marlowe: Dr. Faustus, Studies in English Literature, no. 6 (London: Arnold, 1962), pp. 41-42. Although Brockbank's attempt to separate this episode from the theological structure of the play is inadmissible, his analysis of that structure remains one of the best available. Other critics have often simply not understood what is at issue. Thus Paul Kocher, declaring that “Faustus is the only one of Marlowe's plays in which the pivotal issue is strictly religious and the whole design rests upon Protestant doctrines,” promptly contradicts his second clause: “This issue, stated simply, is whether Faustus shall choose God or the evil delights of witchcraft” (Christopher Marlowe, p. 104). The objection of some critics that a Calvinist structure would make superfluous the interventions of the Good Angel and the Old Man, as well as the threats of the devils (cf. Kocher, p. 108; Cole, p. 219; Michael Hattaway, “The Theology of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus,” 76), is sufficiently refuted by a reading of Calvin's Institutes, I.xiv.9, 19; II.v.4; and III.xx.46. Kocher's attempt to separate the Old Man's lines at A: 1319-23 from their dramatic context and use them as a theological proof-text is misguided: the Old Man episode in its entirety would appear, if anything, to make Faustus seem inexcusable (cf. Calvin, Institutes, II.v.4-5). Finally, the suggestions that a Calvinist structure would destroy suspense or alienate the sympathies of the audience (cf. Lily B. Campbell, “Doctor Faustus: A Case of Conscience,” PMLA 67 [1952], 219, 239; Arieh Sachs, “The Religious Despair of Doctor Faustus,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 63 [1964], 638, 647; Pauline Honderich, “John Calvin and Doctor Faustus,” Modern Language Review 68 [1973], 2, 10) are no more relevant to the play than analogous suggestions would be to the Agamemnon of Aeschylus or to Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.

57  I do not mean to suggest by this that Faustus has not also damned himself. In a Calvinist context, the two statements amount to the same thing. Cf. Philippe Du Plessis-Mornay, A Woorke concerning the trewnesse of the Christian Religion, trans. Sir Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding (London, 1587), ch. Xiii; esp. p. 221 (sig. O7): “God therefore to shew his power in our freedome and libertie, hath left our willes to us; and to restreyne them from loosenesse, he hath so ordered them by his wisedome, that he worketh his owne will no lesse by them, than if we had no will at all.”

58  The degree to which this effect may be undermined by the syntactical ambiguity of the last four lines of the play has yet to be closely examined by critics.

59  I have added the commas in this line.

60  Selected Writings of Fulke Greville, ed. Joan Rees (London: Athlone Press, 1973), p. 44.

61  The “field of 'terministic' ambiguities” in which all the central issues of Doctor Faustus “are mutually implicated” has been analysed by Edward A. Snow in a brilliant article, “Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and the Ends of Desire,” in Two Renaissance Mythmakers, ed. Kernan, pp. 70-110.