The A and B Texts of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus Revisited

First published in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 100.2 (June 2006): 227-57.


1. A problem solved—and re-solved

Twice during the latter half of the twentieth century textual critics confidently announced the resolution of a textual problem widely recognized as one of the most intractable in early modern English dramatic literature—that of the A and B texts of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. On the first occasion, in 1950, W. W. Greg, one of the great textual scholars of his time and a standard-bearer of the “scientific” New Bibliography, succeeded in demonstrating to his own satisfaction, and that of most scholars of the next quarter-century, the authorial authenticity of the 1616 quarto (or B text) and the derivative and secondary nature of the 1604 quarto (the A text). By his account, the A text had been memorially reconstituted by actors (and hence lacked manuscript authority); moreover, it had been cut down for provincial performance and was marked throughout by clumsy revisions as well as by pervasive signs of “memorial corruption.”1

Since the early 1970s, every major element of Greg’s argument for the authorial authenticity and temporal priority of the B text has been conclusively refuted. The additions to the play paid for in 1602 by the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe, which Greg thought must have been lost, have been securely identified as constituting the third and fourth acts, and part of the fifth, of the B text.2 The external evidence which Greg thought demonstrated the priority of B has been shown instead to prove that of A.3 Greg’s detailed arguments for the superiority of B-text readings have been shown to be easily reversible and transparently prejudiced;4 and the practice of identifying memorial corruption as a principal explanation of so-called “bad quartos” has been subjected to sustained and devastating criticism, most thoroughly by Laurie Maguire.5

Since the mid-1980s, when new editions of the play based on the A text began to appear, it has become generally accepted that the A text of the play is both earlier and more authentic than B, which is acknowledged to be a thoroughly sedimented and derivative text. B, in other words, contains material written in 1602, and also, it appears, further revisions undertaken to avoid fines for blasphemy under the Act of Abuses, which became law in 1606;6 moreover, scattered readings throughout much of the text are derived from the 1611 reprint of A (A3), which was evidently used during the printing of B.

But how much earlier than B is A, and how much more authentic? Are any of the textual sediments contained in B early enough to interest editors and critics for their substantive value rather than for what they reveal of the play’s early performance and reception history?

Lacking strong evidence on these questions, editors made do with strong opinions instead. In the first of the new A-text editions, David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham declared that

There is enough in favour of the A-version in general terms…to create a presumption in favour of authenticity and it is now up to its opponents to prove the contrary for every line and every reading which is questioned. In closely parallel passages B has some superior readings, but these can be put down to intelligent editorial emendation rather than access to a supposed manuscript by Marlowe.7

In a similar vein, Roma Gill wrote that

For the most part the edited and censored B text is of historical interest rather than practical use in preparing a modern edition of Dr. Faustus. The A text…provides more than adequate material for the recovery of the play that was performed in 1594….8

Neither Ormerod and Wortham nor Gill provide any explanation of the evidence upon which their judgment of the B text’s complete lack of authority rests. And yet the clear evidence that B is a sedimented text embodying large-scale revisions as well as censorship and editing does not remove the possibility that its textual sediments could include a layer early enough to be of substantive value.

Three years after the appearance in 1990 of Gill’s Oxford edition, Eric Rasmussen established a very different pattern when he published, concurrently with the Revels plays edition which he co-edited with David Bevington,9 A Textual Companion to “Doctor Faustus.” In this modestly titled monograph, which is by far the most important recent contribution to the textual criticism of this play, Rasmussen ably summarizes the work of Greg and his critics, revises previous understandings of the compositorial stints in the 1604 quarto through a study of type recurrence and a reassessment of the spelling evidence, establishes through function-word frequency tests the likelihood that at least two of the A-text’s non-Marlovian scenes were written by Marlowe’s Cambridge contemporary Henry Porter, and comments brilliantly on the patterns and structures detectable in the B-text revision. He also resolves the problem of the A and B texts of Doctor Faustus in a manner that recent textual critics have found wholly convincing. Rasmussen’s conclusion, which appears to be massively supported by his very detailed analysis of the textual evidence, is expressed in an appropriately authoritative manner:

Since the A-text apparently derives from the authors’ foul papers, it must now be presented as the text with primary authority. Scholars who are chiefly interested in Christopher Marlowe will have to concentrate exclusively upon the A-text, which preserves the original version of what is arguably his supreme achievement as a playwright. Since the B-text appears to be at many removes from Marlowe’s hand (three quartos, possibly one or more playbooks, one transcript, and untold non-authorial revisions), it is severely weakened in authority.10

In quoting the opinions of the scholars who led the way in the current wave of editions of Doctor Faustus, I have avoided mentioning my own 1991 A-version edition:11 the reason is not so much modesty, as the fact that this edition stands outside the now-dominant consensus view of the A text as wholly authoritative and the B text as more or less completely lacking in authority.12 In the introduction to that edition, while showing the A version of the play to be both earlier and more authentic than the B version, I also argued that there are at least two places in parallel passages where the B text can be shown to preserve readings earlier than those of the A text (lxi, lxvii-lxix). Despite its obvious relevance to questions of critical editorial practice, this argument has proved oddly invisible even to textual critics who found other aspects of the same introduction worthy of comment. It may perhaps have seemed too paradoxical to be readily assimilated—though any impression of paradox should be dissipated by the distinction between text and version.13 I think it more likely that an argument that so directly contradicted an emergent consensus could only have been rendered legible by more emphatic expression, within a more carefully theorized context than I was able to provide. The same textual evidence I presented in 1991 will re-surface, duly augmented, in the second half of this essay—but not before more pressing issues have been touched upon.

Although Eric Rasmussen has made crucial contributions to our understanding of the textual problem in Doctor Faustus, his resolution of that problem is in my opinion no more final and irrefutable than Greg’s diametrically opposed solution was more than four decades previously. In this essay I intend to argue that Rasmussen in fact misinterpreted the evidence that led him to conclude that A was printed from an authorial manuscript, and at the same time overlooked other evidence that indicates that B in several passages provides readings demonstrably earlier and more authentic than those preserved by A. I will first show that the arguments advanced by Rasmussen in support of his claim that “the printers of A1 Faustus had as their copy the original foul papers of Marlowe and his collaborator” (31) prove on close consideration to be much less compelling than a cursory reading of his Textual Companion might suggest. I will then turn to several parallel passages in which comparative analysis of the A and B texts further weakens Rasmussen’s “foul paper hypothesis,” and will conclude by putting forward an alternative hypothesis about the nature of the manuscript from which the A text was printed.


2. The revised ending of III. ii

Rasmussen sets his argument that the A text was printed from the manuscript of Marlowe and his collaborator into motion by quoting from W. W. Greg’s The Shakespeare First Folio a list of what Greg thought to be the characteristics of play-texts printed from authorial manuscripts or foul papers: “first of all, loose ends and false starts and unresolved confusions in the text, which sometimes reveal themselves as duplications in print: next, inconsistency in the designation of characters in directions and prefixes alike…lastly, the appearance of indefinite and permissive stage directions.”14

The first of these characteristics is interestingly present in one of the comic scenes of the A text (a scene which my 1991 Broadview Press edition of the play and David Bevington’s and Eric Rasmussen’s 1993 Revels Plays edition both relocate from its position in the A text to what we agree to be its proper place, as Act III, scene ii). But does this scene provide unambiguous evidence of an underlying authorial manuscript?

In the scene in question, the clowns Robin and Rafe make comic play with a conjuring book Robin has stolen from Faustus and a silver goblet they have together stolen from a vintner, who pursues them to recover it. The episode concludes as follows (with the through line numbering [hereafter TLN] of Greg’s parallel-text edition):

      Vintner    what meane you sirra? 
     Robin    Ile tel you what I meane.        He reades
Sanctabulorum Periphrasticon: nay Ile tickle you Vintner, 
looke to the goblet Rafe, Polypragmos Belseborams framanto pa-       [1010] 
costiphos tostu Mephastophilis, &c.  
                          Enter Mephostophilis: sets squibs at their backes: 
                                           They runne about. 
Vintner    O nomine Domine, what meanst thou Robin? thou
hast no goblet.                                                                                            [1015]  
      Rafe    Peccatum peccatorum, heeres thy goblet, good Vint- 
      Robin    Misericordia pro nobis, what shal I doe? good diuel
forgiue me now, and Ile neuer rob thy Library more. 
                          Enter to them Meph.                                                         [1020]  
Meph.    Vanish vilaines, th’one like an Ape, an other like  
a Beare, the third an Asse, for doing this enterprise. 
      Monarch of hel, vnder whose blacke suruey
Great Potentates do kneele with awful feare, 
Vpon whose altars thousand soules do lie,                                               [1025] 
How am I vexed with these vilaines charmes? 
From Constantinople am I hither come, 
Onely for pleasure of these damned slaues. 
      Robin    How, from Constantinople? you haue had a great
iourney, wil you take sixe pence in your purse to pay for your                [1030] 
supper, and be gone? 
      Me.    wel villaines, for your presumption, I transforme
thee into an Ape, and thee into a Dog, and so be gone.     exit. 
Rob.    How, into an Ape? that’s braue, Ile haue fine sport
with the boyes, Ile get nuts and apples enow.                                          [1035] 
      Rafe    And I must be a Dogge.     exeunt. 
Robin Ifaith thy head wil neuer be out of the potage pot.

              (1604 text, sig. D3v-D4)15

The sequence is clearly muddled: Mephastophilis enters twice, and twice transforms the clowns into animal forms. (The first transformation includes the hapless vintner, who in the second has been forgotten—by the writer as well as by the devil, it would seem.) It may be the case, as Rasmussen suggests, that this scene of the A text, like the manuscript from which it was printed, preserves “a passage discarded currente calamo and immediately rewritten” (14). But alternatively, it might be the case that A here preserves two distinct layers of composition, possibly by different writers working as much as several years apart. The fact that the revised conclusion incorporates ironies of which there is no hint in the first version could perhaps be a sign of a change in authorship. At what is evidently the beginning of the revision there is an abrupt shift in rhetorical levels, from loose comic prose to the apostrophic heights of quasi-Marlovian blank verse—a shift that gives added emphasis to Mephastophilis’ bathetic contrast between the terrifying sovereignty of the demonic kingdom of which he is a part and the ludicrous fact that he can be “vexed” by the garbled charm of an illiterate rustic to the point of having to travel across Europe to respond to it. In relation to the possibility of a change of authorship, it may be relevant to note that A’s IV. i contains a textual alteration, the allusion to “Doctor Lopus” (TLN A: 1176-7), that can be dated to a period of several years following June 1594 and was therefore almost certainly contributed by someone other than the first author of this scene.16 The manuscript from which A1 was printed could have been altered in more than this one place during the mid-1590s.

Although A’s scene III. ii very clearly has two distinct endings, the exact extent of the textual disturbance may be a matter for debate. Greg thought that the first version of this scene ended with lines 1008-11, 1020, and 1023-37; he proposed that the revision, consisting of lines 1012-19 and 1021-2, was interpolated into available spaces in the manuscript.17 Rasmussen, in contrast, thinks that the material Greg believed to be secondary actually constitutes the original conclusion, and that the second ending begins at line 1023 with “Monarch of hel….” As I suggested in 1991,18 it is also possible that the lines from 1023 onward were intended to replace only the preceding two lines (“Vanish vilaines…enterprise”).

Greg’s interpretation implies a stage of revision distinct from that of the original composition. Mine carries no definite implications as to the processes of composition and revision: both could have taken place at the same time, though it is also possible on this view that the scene, as originally written and performed, ended (rather flatly) with lines 1021-2, and that these two lines were replaced, after an interval of months or even years, by the speeches of lines 1023-38. Rasmussen, as has already been seen, assumes that a larger substitution of one ending for another was carried out within a single process of composition and revision.

The first two of these interpretations have obvious deficiencies. My proposal, while resulting in a workable performance text that retains all but two lines of the scene as printed, fails to account for the stage direction indicating Mephastophilis’ entrance at line 1020. Greg’s view of the revision was strongly colored by his belief in the temporal priority of the B text, whose loosely parallel scene includes a slightly garbled and probably also censored version of lines 1023-8; this belief, together with his conviction that changes in the A text to what he took to be the original B-version of the play were usually for the worse, led him to invert what now seems, following the systematic refutation of his theories about the A and B texts, the clear direction of revision in this scene. But if we reverse Greg’s understanding of the temporal sequence of the two endings of this scene, do we thereby also eliminate any possibility that there may have been a significant lapse of time between the composition of the original version and its revision?

Once the question of the temporality of this scene’s revision has been raised, it becomes evident that the text does not provide us with any decisive clues—or indeed, with any clues at all—as to whether or not the revision formed part of the original process of composition. The assumption of currente calamo revision may well be correct, in which case the revised scene would be evidence that A was printed from an authorial manuscript. If, however, the revision took place at some time removed from that of the original composition, it would tell us nothing about the nature of the underlying manuscript, which in this case could equally well have been of authorial or of theatrical provenance (and thus a copy at one or more removes from the authorial “foul papers”).

Despite this element of uncertainty, let us concede that the revisions in this scene may well support the view that A was printed from authorial manuscript and move on to Rasmussen’s other evidence.


3. A permissive stage direction in V. i.

Rasmussen is himself unwilling to accept as valid the second of Greg’s indicators of a play-text printed from authorial manuscript (“inconsistency in the designation of characters in directions and prefixes alike”); his reason is that Paul Werstine has shown that some surviving Renaissance theatrical manuscripts or playbooks which are acknowledged to be scribal transcripts rather than authorial manuscripts, “still contain variety and ambiguity in the naming of characters.”19

Given this position, it may seem surprising that Rasmussen thinks the third of Greg’s indicators (“the appearance of indefinite and permissive stage directions”) to be any more reliable than the second. He writes that such permissive directions “are found frequently in Shakespearean texts apparently printed from foul papers: ‘Enter three or foure Citizens’, Romeo and Juliet (I. i. 80); ‘Enter Bassanio with a follower or two’, The Merchant of Venice (II. ii. 121); and ‘Enter 3 or 4 Conspirators’, Coriolanus (V. vi. 9).”20 But as he also scrupulously notes, William B. Long and Paul Werstine have challenged Greg’s attempt to link permissive stage directions with authorial manuscripts by pointing out places in manuscript playbooks where such directions also appear.21

In A-text Doctor Faustus, as it happens, permissive stage directions are decidedly infrequent: the only one occurs at V. i. 8.1 (TLN 1275-6): “Enter Faustus with two or three Schollers.22 It is worth noting (as Rasmussen does) that Greg was aware of this stage direction and willing to concede, even against the grain of his larger textual analysis, that its “indefinite form…is…suggestive of an author, as yet uncertain how many [scholars] he will need.”23 However, Rasmussen sums up the distinctly equivocal quality of this and the preceding piece of evidence in what seems to me an appropriately muted manner: “notwithstanding the warnings of Werstine and Long, the evidence of a permissive stage direction in the A-text, in conjunction with the false start stigmata, is at least consistent with a foul paper hypothesis….”24 There is of course a difference between textual features which are merely consistent with a hypothesis and those which make it seem compelling or irresistible.


4. Compositorial evidence

The main weight of Rasmussen’s argument that A was printed from authorial manuscript rests, then, upon his analysis of the compositorial division of labor in the printing of the 1604 quarto. After a reexamination of variant spellings, a close study of the recurrence of damaged typefaces in the 1604 quarto, and a critical assessment of previous analyses of compositorial work by Welsh, Ferguson, Craven, and Bowers, Rasmussen is able to offer a remarkably precise listing of compositorial attributions for the printing of A, and to argue that the two compositors (labelled X and Y) were using separate type-cases and therefore, it would seem, working simultaneously.25

The next stage of the argument is crucial, and deserves extended quotation:

Having determined that the two compositors of A1 Faustus were setting the text simultaneously, we are now in a position to consider the probable nature of their copy. In order for X to be able to set the end of IV. i at his type-case while Y simultaneously set the beginning of the next scene, IV. ii, at his (as they did for page E3r), each would need to have the copy for his scene at his own case…. Apparently, the manuscript leaf that contained the end of IV. i. was physically separable from the leaf on which the beginning of IV. ii was written. That this division of copy between the two compositors was possible throughout the setting of A1 suggests that every fresh scene in the manuscript began on a new page.26

After citing very persuasive evidence to show that such a pattern of scene division is characteristic of the authorial manuscripts of collaborations (in contrast to subsequent theatrical transcripts, in which “the scenes would follow one after the other, with no necessary relation to the beginning or end of the pages on which they written”), Rasmussen sweeps to his conclusion:

I would suggest, then, that the printers of A1 Faustus had as their copy the original foul papers of Marlowe and his collaborator….

This type of manuscript, in which Marlowe’s scenes could be easily separated from those of his collaborator, would have facilitated the unusual method of composition found in the A1 quarto: it would allow one compositor to set a scene (Marlowe’s) while another simultaneously set the following scene (collaborator’s). This hypothesis gains considerable strength when we compare the compositors’ stints with the shares of the play that have been assigned to Marlowe and the collaborator. Compositor changes frequently coincide with authorship changes: for D1r, Y set Wagner’s chorus (Marlowe’s), while X set the beginning of the scene at Rome (collaborator’s); again, for D3r, X set the chorus (Marlowe’s), while Y set the beginning of the Robin/Rafe scene (collaborator’s). The compositors are here able to divide up their copy at the exact points at which authorship changes. This textual feature can perhaps be best explained if the copy that they had to work with was original manuscript composed of interleaved scenes by the two playwrights.27

Here, finally, is what looks like a wholly persuasive argument.

But unfortunately, Rasmussen’s own assignment of compositorial stints fails to support the conclusions he draws from it. His compositorial analysis identifies seventeen places in the 1604 quarto at which a stint of one compositor ends and a stint of the other one begins. As will be shown below, the structure of A-text Doctor Faustus is such that a printing process of the kind that Rasmussen postulates, in which a collaborative authorial manuscript is divided between two compositors at the points where the beginning of a new scene corresponds to a change in authorship, could result in at most nine (or, if the Chorus to Act IV is not by Marlowe, eight) places in the printed text where a change in authorship and in compositors would coincide at the beginning of a scene. The very long first stint in the 1604 quarto eliminates two of these possibilities, and the displacement in that quarto of the two Robin and Rafe comic scenes eliminates another two. One would expect, then, to find five places at which the appropriate elements coincide—but there are in fact only two, as well as a further place where the beginning of a scene and of a stint coincide without any accepted change in authorship.

The wording of Rasmussen’s argument might make it seem that the examples he provides could be supplemented with others. But when he notes that new compositorial stints at D1r and D3r correspond to the beginnings of new scenes and to shifts in authorship and suggests, on the basis of the change of stint at the beginning of IV. ii (sig. E2r in the A text), that the new scene began on a distinct leaf of manuscript, he has exhausted his textual evidence.

A schematic outline of the structure of A-version Doctor Faustus and an analytical listing of the compositorial stints in the 1604 quarto may help to clarify matters. The structure of the 1604 quarto (and of its divided authorship) can be represented as follows:

Prologue (Marlowe) 
I. i. Faustus, Angels, Valdes and Cornelius (Marlowe) 
I. ii. Wagner and scholars (Collaborator) 
I. iii. Faustus’s conjuration of Mephastophilis (Marlowe) 
I. iv. Wagner hiring clown (Collaborator) 
II. i. Pact scene (Marlowe)  
II. iii. Disputation, seven deadly sins; printed as continuous with II. i (Marlowe)  
III. Chorus (Marlowe?)  
III. i. Papal scene (Collaborator)  
IV. Chorus (Marlowe, or Collaborator?) 
II. ii and III. ii. Displaced comic scenes: Robin and Rafe with stolen book and with stolen book and cup (Collaborator)  
IV. i. Imperial court; Horse-courser (Collaborator)28  
IV. ii. Court of Vanholt (Collaborator)  
V. i. Faustus, Old Man, Helen (Marlowe) V. ii. Faustus, scholars, last soliloquy (Marlowe) 
Epilogue (Marlowe)

If this A-version of the play were to have been printed from a collaborative authorial manuscript in the manner hypothesized by Rasmussen, but without displaced scenes, the compositorial stints would have included new stints coinciding with new scenes and changes of authorship at the beginning of scenes I. ii, I. iii, I. iv, II. i, II. ii, II. iii, III. i, IV. i (or perhaps at the beginning of the preceding Chorus), and at V. i. As is readily apparent, the displacement of II. ii and III. ii eliminates two of these possibilities, and the fact that the long first stint includes the Prologue, all of I. i and I. ii, and most of I. iii, eliminates another two. In the text as it was actually printed, the beginnings of stints and of scenes coincide at III. i, at the displaced II. ii, and at IV. ii (where there is no change of authorship, unless we want to hypothesize a second collaborator).

The following list of compositorial stints is derived from Rasmussen’s work—interrupted by commentary, however, in places where his hypothesis might lead one to expect a different organization of the compositorial work. I have identified the beginning and end of each stint by the signature and by the lineation on the relevant page, by the first and last lines of type in each stint,29 and by the act, scene, and line numbers in the Revels Plays edition. 

X1 (318 lines, TLN 1-318) 
     from A2r(1): Not marching now in fields of Thracimene
     to B2r(37): Fau. WWhere are you damn’d? 
            (Revels: Prologue. 1 to I. iii. 75) 
            Is it fair to ask (as Rasmussen’s analysis might prompt one to do) why this long stint does not
            end either 77 lines earlier, at the end of I. ii, or 41 lines later, at the end of I. iii?

Y1 (74 lines, TLN 319-92)  
      from B2v(1): Me. In hell. 
      to B3r(37): Clo. Gridyrons, what be they? 
            (Revels: I. iii. 76 to I. iv. 33)

X2 (35 lines, TLN 393-427) 
     from B3v(1): Wag. Why french crownes. 
     to B3v(37): [pre-]tie wenches plackets Ile be amongst them ifaith. 
            (Revels: I. iv. 34 to I. iv. 67) 
            If this stint continued for only 9 lines longer, it would run to the end of I. iv and permit Y2
            to begin with the change of authorship at the beginning of II. i.

Y2 (73 lines, TLN 428-500) 
     from B4r(1): Wag. Wel sirra; come. 
     to B4v(36): deede of gift. 
            (Revels: I. iv. 68 to II. i. 60)

X3 (95 lines, TLN 501-96) 
     from B4v(37): Fau. I so I will, but Mephastophilis my bloud conieales
     to C2r(24): with fier workes
            (Revels: II. i. 61 to II. i. 151.2)

Y3 (76 lines, TLN 597-672) 
     from C2r(25): Me: Tel Faustus, how dost thou like thy wife? 
     to C3r(27): Faind, but are erring starres. 
            (Revels: II. i. 152 to II. iii. 43)

X4 (40 lines, TLN 673-712) 
     from C3r(28): Fau. But tell me, haue they all one motion? Both situ & 
C3v(30): [Fau]-stus soule. 
            (Revels: II. iii. 44 to II. iii. 83)

Y4 (59 lines, TLN 713-71) 
     from C3v(31): Enter Lucifer, Belsabub, and Mephastophilus
     to C4v(15): and the diuel a peny they haue left me, but a bare pention, 
            (Revels: II. iii. 83.1 to II. iii. 141-42)

X5 (22 lines, TLN 772-93) 
     from C4v(16): and that is 30. meales a day, and ten beauers, a small
     to C4v(37): Mutton better then an ell of fride stock fish, and the first
            (Revels: II. iii. 142-43 to II. iii. 162)

Y5 (27 lines, TLN 794-820) 
     from D1r(1): letter of my name beginnes with leachery. 
     to D1r(27): That to this day is highly solemnizd. exit Wagner 
            (Revels: II. iii. 162 to III. Chorus. 11)

X6 (127 lines, TLN 821-947) 
     from D1r(28): Enter Faustus and Mephastophilus
     to D3r(8): I leaue untold your eyes shall see performd. Exit
            (Revels: III. i. 0.1 to IV. Chorus. 17) 
            As Rasmussen notes, the beginning of this stint coincides with the beginning of III. i and
            also (if Marlowe wrote the Chorus to Act III) with a change of authorship.

Y6 (218 lines, TLN 948-1166) 
     from D1r(9): Enter Robin the Ostler with a booke in his hand
to E2r(11): ill at ease, if I bring his water to you youle tel me what it is? 
            (Revels: II. ii. 0.1 to II. ii. 36; IV. i. 0.1 to IV. i. 136) 
            The beginning of this long stint coincides with the beginning of the first displaced comic
            scene, and hence also, if Marlowe wrote the immediately preceding Chorus to Act IV,
            with a change of authorship.

X7 (59 lines, TLN 1167-1226) 
     from E2r(12): Exit Horsecourser
     to E3r(5): [Me-]phastophilis, let’s away to him. exeunt
            (Revels: IV. i. 138.1 to IV. i. 195)30

Y7 (57 lines, TLN 1227-83) 
     from E3r(6): Enter to them the Duke, and the Dutches
     to E3v(28): you. 
            (Revels: IV. ii. 0.1-2 to V. i. 16) 
            As noted by Rasmussen, the beginning of this stint coincides with the beginning of the
            Vanholt scene (though not with any evident change of authorship). The stint also provides
            a final example of the A text’s stubborn deviation from Rasmussen’s hypothesis. If it
            ended 16 lines earlier, the beginning of X8 would coincide with the beginning of V. i and
            with a change in authorship.

X8 (52 lines TLN 1284-1335) 
     from E3v(29): Fau. Gentlemen, for that I know your friendship is vn- 
     to E4v(11): Reuolt, or Ile in peece-meale teare thy flesh. 
            (Revels: V. i. 17-18 to V. i. 69)

Y8 (64 lines, TLN 1336-99) 
     from E4v(12): Fau: Sweete Mephastophilis, intreate thy Lord
     to F1v(5): and soule. 
            (Revels: V. i. 70 to V. ii. 12) 
            Since V. i and V. ii are both by Marlowe, there would not by Rasmussen’s hypothesis be
            any reason to assume that the authorial manuscript of V. ii would have begun on a new

X9 (31 lines TLN 1400-30) 
     from F1v(6): 2. Sch. Yet Faustus looke vp to heauen, remember gods
     to F1v(36): Diuines might haue prayed for thee? 
            (Revels: V. ii. 13 to V. ii. 45)

Y9 (88 lines, TLN 1431-1518) 
     from F2r(1): Fau. Oft haue I thought to haue done so, but the diuell
     to F3r(16): Terminat hora diem, Terminat Author opus
            (Revels: V. ii. 46 to end)

As the above considerations demonstrate, Rasmussen was mistaken in claiming that a division of copy by differently authored scenes “was possible throughout the setting of A1” (29): such a division of copy appears from the evidence of compositorial stints to have occurred only in Acts III and IV of the A text. His proposal “that every fresh scene in the manuscript began on a new page” (29) is thus not supported by the evidence. No less obviously, the claim that “Compositor changes frequently coincide with authorship changes” (32) cannot be sustained: two swallows do not make a summer. It can be added that three stints, X1, X2 and Y7, appear to provide strong negative evidence against Rasmussen’s hypothesis. Stint X1 ends mid-way through Act I, scene iii; had it ended seventy-seven lines earlier or forty-one lines later, a change of compositor would have coincided with a change of authorship. Stint X2 ends only nine lines short of a change of scene and of authorship. Stint Y2 extends sixteen lines beyond the beginning of a new scene where there is likewise a change of authorship.

I believe that a fair assessment of the evidence presented by Rasmussen in support of his claim that A was printed from “the original foul papers of Marlowe and his collaborator” (32) would be the Scottish verdict “not proved.” The compositorial evidence does indeed suggest that the non-Marlovian Acts III and IV may have been printed from an authorial manuscript—though it also actively undermines any such claim for the rest of the play-text. The single permissive stage direction in V. i carries little if any evidentiary weight, and while the revision in III. ii could be mobilized in support of other stronger evidence of authorial “foul paper” manuscript, its own independent impact, by my analysis at least, remains equivocal.


5. B-text priority: some preliminary questions

The evidence I now wish to analyze will prove to be equivocal in a different sense. I believe that the passages examined in the following three sections of this essay show that in certain places the B text gives readings that are earlier and more authentic than those of the closely parallel passages in A. But what might this mean?

It is generally accepted that B must have been printed from a transcript in which various levels of what I have called textual sedimentation were combined into a more or less coherent sequence; this transcript would have been based, as Rasmussen writes, upon “an interleaved manuscript in a number of different hands, with various layers of addition, revision, playhouse annotation, and censorship.”31 In addition to manuscript materials, the copyist seems also to have made use of a copy of A3 in producing the transcript32—though as Bowers remarked, the significant number of times that B1 agrees with A1 against the corrupted readings of A3 shows that “the reference [the copyist] made to MS, even when he was presumably copying chiefly from the A3 printed text, was relatively thorough.”33 The underlying manuscript to which Bowers refers must have constituted the earliest level of the B-text’s textual sedimentation. Can anything definite be said about the nature of this manuscript?

First and most obviously, if the manuscript contained the scenes written by Marlowe’s A-version collaborator, these were discarded, as having been superseded by the revised or entirely new scenes written by the authors of the 1602 additions; what remained were the Marlovian scenes of the play (those in which the A and B texts are closely parallel).

Next, the points at which (by Bowers’s hypothesis) the use of the underlying manuscript is detectable are those at which B1 agrees with A1 against the readings of A3—points, in other words, where the underlying manuscript provided the copyist with readings identical to those of A1. The conditions of early modern manuscript transmission and printing allow us to posit, as a matter of near-certainty, that there must have been (at the very least) minor differences in word choice and in spelling between A1 and this underlying manuscript. But since the underlying manuscript is a hypothetical rather than a surviving document, its places of divergence from A1 in word choice or spelling are by definition not directly—if at all—accessible. (Words and spellings in B1 which differ both from A1 and A3 could do so for any one of several reasons: because of theatrical reworking, revision, censorship, or printing-house alterations—or, finally, because they preserve the readings of the underlying manuscript.)

On the other hand, those larger divergences between A1 and B1 that involve one or more lines and that cannot plausibly be attributed to theatrical reworking, to the 1602 revisions, to subsequent censorship, or to printing-house alterations to B, can appropriately be explained as stemming from differences between A1 and the underlying manuscript. These larger divergences include passages in which lines missing in A are supplied by B (one line at TLN B: 608 [II. iii], fourteen lines at TLN B: 783-95, 797 [III. Chorus], and two lines at TLN B: 836-7 [III. i]), as well as another passage in II. i where A is no less clearly secondary; these passages provide the major evidence for my claim for local priorities of B over A.

The agreements of B1 with A1 against A3 that indicate that the copyist was making reference to the underlying manuscript occur only in three scenes, I. i, I. iii, and V. ii.34 If we add these scenes to those in which larger divergences are apparent, it can be seen that there is positive evidence of recourse to the underlying manuscript in every Marlovian scene of the B-text except V. i. This is an interesting result, because although the absence of positive signs of the underlying manuscript’s use in a particular scene cannot be taken as evidence that it was not used,35 the B-version of V. i shows clear signs of thorough-going revision, not just in the deletion of the Old Man’s last entrance and speech, but also, more particularly, from TLN B: 1804 to 1843. Although in the rest of the scene the transcript was most likely based, as elsewhere in B’s Marlovian scenes, upon A3 and the underlying manuscript,36 for these forty lines at least its source text must have been the reviser’s manuscript.

To the further question of how close this underlying manuscript may have been to Marlowe’s original authorial manuscript, I have no adequate answer. Eric Rasmussen has argued from the evidence of stage directions that the transcript from which B1 was printed must have been of theatrical provenance;37 although one of the features he identifies as characteristic of playbooks (a repeated stage direction at TLN B: 1126) appears in a scene revised in 1602, the right-margin mid-scene entrances, which are likewise suggestive of a playbook manuscript, appear in Marlovian scenes and may well have been a feature of the underlying manuscript.

The equivocal nature of the evidence I am going to examine can now be explained. Whether or not Rasmussen is right in thinking that the available evidence permits clear discriminations to be made between authorial and theatrical manuscripts,38 B’s local priorities over A would appear to make claims of A’s authorial provenance hard to sustain. If, that is, the readings of B turn out to be demonstrably earlier and more authentic in certain passages than those of A, it would seem to follow—barring groundless speculations about authorial revision—that in those passages at least, A must be based upon a later and derivative manuscript. But while that might very likely be the case, it “follows not necessary by force of argument” (TLN A: 211), for A’s deficiencies could result instead from compositorial negligence. If the text of A (whatever the provenance of its source manuscript, authorial or theatrical) was in certain passages corrupted during the printing process, and if in each of these passages B provides a demonstrably better text, one that cannot be ascribed to the editor whose hand is elsewhere evident in the B-text, several quite distinct conclusions are possible. (1) B’s underlying manuscript could have preserved Marlowe’s work in a state closer to the authorial original because it was itself earlier than the manuscript from which A was printed; (2) A could have been printed from a manuscript that, minus the scenes by Marlowe’s collaborator, survived to become the underlying manuscript of B; (3) B’s underlying manuscript could be later than the manuscript from which A was printed, while nonetheless preserving readings that were lost or corrupted in the printing of A.

Although one of the parallel passages discussed below supports the first of these conclusions, it might be rash to dismiss the alternatives on that basis alone.


6. II. iii: Orb, spheres and heavens

I turn now to the evidence of B’s local priorities. The third scene of Act II contains some intriguing divergences between the 1604 and 1616 texts in a sequence which follows Faustus’s invitation to his attendant spirit to “dispute againe, | And argue [B: reason] of diuine Astrologie” (TLN A: 662-3, B: 602-3). The dialogue continues as follows in the A and B texts:

Tel me, are there many heauens aboue the Moone? 
Are all celestiall bodies but one globe, 
As is the substance of this centricke earth? 
     Me:  As are the elements, such are the spheares, 
Mutually folded in each others orbe, 
And Faustus all iointly moue vpon one axletree, 
Whose terminine is tearmd the worlds wide pole…. 
               (A, sig. C3r, TLN A: 664-70)

Speake, are there many Spheares aboue the Moone? 
Are all Celestiall bodies but one Globe, 
As is the substance of this centricke earth? 
     Meph.  As are the elements, such are the heauens, 
Euen from the Moone vnto the Emperiall Orbe, 
Mutually folded in each others Spheares, 
And iontly moue vpon one Axle-tree, 
Whose termine, is tearmed the worlds wide Pole…. 
               (B, sig. C2r-v, TLN B: 604-11)

What grounds are there for claiming the relative priority of B in this passage? There is no obvious reason to prefer most of B’s readings to the A-text’s variants (“Tel me” for “Speake” and “heauens” for “Spheares” in the first line, “spheares” for “heauens” in the fourth, and “orbe” for “Spheares” in B’s sixth). The key to the problem is provided, I believe, by the manner in which three nearly synonymous terms, “spheres,” “heavens,” and “orb,” substitute for one another in the two different texts; and the fact that B’s fifth line is missing in A makes it possible to understand why the latter text is defective—and possibly even how it became so.

Let us begin an analysis of the rotation of these near-synonymous variants by assuming that the original form of this passage is the one preserved in A. How then did the version that we find in B arise? A copyist or a compositor might easily enough have substituted “spheres” for “heavens” in the first line, and might then have compensated by making the reverse substitution in the fourth. But there is no plausible way of explaining the addition to A of the fifth line in B. Had that line ended with “Orbe Emperiall” instead of “Emperiall Orbe,” there might have been reason to suspect the hand of Samuel Rowley, one of the two men Phillip Henslowe paid in 1602 for revising the play, whose fondness for noun-adjective inversions of that kind is well known.39 Yet as it stands, the A text makes perfectly good sense; there is no ascertainable motive for expanding it at this point and rotating its astronomical terms. B’s notion of concentric heavens ascending “from the moon unto the empyreal orb” does in fact orient Mephostophilis’ response more precisely to Faustus’ question than is the case in A, but this is not a thought that would be likely to occur to anyone who did not already know the B-text line.

If we assume instead that the manuscript from which the 1604 quarto was set resembled the B version of this passage, it is easy to see how an apparently insignificant initial error by the compositor could have produced a sequence of displacements resulting in the text as given in A. Given the near-synonyms in this passage, it would be easy to mistakenly substitute “heavens” for “spheres” in the first line—and then to think that the small labor of correcting this error by resetting type in that line could be avoided by making a reverse substitution of “spheres” for “heavens” in the fourth line. But while compensating for the initial displacement, this threatens the compositor with “spheres…folded in each others’ spheres.” The problem could have been resolved by setting “such are the spheares, | Euen from the moone vnto the emperiall heauen, | Mutually folded in each others orbe….” But the solution of a singular “heaven” rather than the plural “heavens” may not have occurred to a compositor who was presumably thinking in terms of the variants as provided by the text, and was certainly under pressure to work rapidly. He may then have chosen to resolve the problem by a further rotation of these variants. “Heavens” would not make sense in the sixth line of B as a substitute for the second “spheres,” but “orb” does. It is immediately obvious, however, that “orb” could only be available for use if the fifth line of B, which is syntactically dispensable, is dropped. By so doing, the compositor could have doubly economized his efforts, saving himself the labor of resetting the first line and reducing the text to be set by a full line.

Speculations of this sort can never be conclusive. But they may offer a plausible account of the manner in which the textual divergence between A and B arose in this passage—and one that suggests that the readings of B preserve an earlier state of the text.


7. III. Chorus: Celestial itineraries

In the A-text editions of Ormerod and Wortham, Gill, and Bevington and Rasmussen, it is assumed without argument that the ten-line choral speech by Wagner with which Act III begins in the A text is original, and the B text’s twenty-four line version of the same chorus a subsequent expansion. Here are the two texts:

                         enter Wagner solus
    Wag.   Learned Faustus, 
To know the secrets of Astronomy
Grauen in the booke of Ioues hie firmameut [sic], 
Did mount himselfe to scale Olympus top, 
Being seated in a chariot burning bright, 
Drawne by the strength of yoky dragons neckes, 
He now is gone to prooue Cosmography
And as I guesse, wil first ariue at Rome …. 
               (A, sig. D1r, TLN A: 810-17)

                    Enter the Chorus
Learned Faustus to find the secrets of Astronomy, 
Grauen in the booke of Ioues high firmament, 
Did mount him vp to scale Olimpus top. 
Where sitting in a Chariot burning bright, 
Drawne by the strength of yoked Dragons neckes; 
He viewes the cloudes, the Planets, and the Starres, 
The Tropick, Zones, and quarters of the skye, 
From the bright circle of the horned Moone, 
Euen to the height of Primum Mobile
And whirling round with this circumference, 
Within the concaue compasse of the Pole, 
From East to West his Dragons swiftly glide, 
And in eight daies did bring him home againe. 
Not long he stayed within his quiet house, 
To rest his bones after his weary toyle, 
But new exploits do hale him out agen, 
And mounted then vpon a Dragons backe, 
That with his wings did part the subtle aire: 
He now is gone to proue Cosmography, 
That measures costs, and kingdomes of the earth: 
And as I guesse will first arriue at Rome…. 
                    (B, sigs. C4v-D1r, TLN B: 777-98)

These choral speeches, together with the immediately following speech by Faustus (quite closely parallel in A and B) in which he recounts the aerial travels in Germany, France, and Italy that have at last brought him, as he hopes, “within the walles of Rome” (TLN A: 843, B: 825), are based upon material from chapters 21 and 22 of The Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus, commonly referred to as the English Faust Book.

As its heading indicates, chapter 21 tells “How Doctor Faustus was carried through the air up to the heavens to see the world, and how the sky and planets ruled,” his means of transportation “a waggon with two dragons before it to draw the same, and all the waggon was of a light burning fire.”40 This first celestial expedition, of eight days duration, is described in first-person narration by Faustus himself in a letter to a friend. Telling first of how he attained an overview of “many kingdoms and provinces, likewise the whole world, Asia, Europe and Africa,” he recounts what he saw when he looked up to the heavens, and then—after an extended interruption by the English translator, who professes to know more about astronomy “than any rude German author, being possessed with the devil, was able to utter”—he describes how “at the eight days’ end came I home again and fell asleep, and so I continued sleeping three days and three nights….”41

Chapter 22 tells in third-person narration “How Doctor Faustus made his journey through the principal and most famous lands in the world,” carried this time upon the back of Mephostophiles, who “changed himself into the likeness of a flying horse.”42 There are in fact two journeys in this chapter: one in which Faustus travels over most of the countries of the known world, including “the frozen zone and Terra Incognita,” but manages to see “very little that delighted his mind”;43 and a second journey, confined to parts of western Europe and more to his taste, which takes him to Trier, Paris, Mainz, Naples, Venice, Padua, and finally Rome. This second journey, in condensed form, provides the substance of the speech by Faustus that begins III. i in the A and B texts alike.

In both versions of Doctor Faustus this two-chapter sequence is radically abbreviated—but with this difference, that the A-text chorus conflates two distinct aerial journeys that in the source text and in the B text are narrated separately and in sequence. If relative closeness to the source text is elsewhere a reliable indication of textual priority,44 the presence in B of a narrative articulation derived from the English Faust Book but absent in A would be one sign that in this passage B preserves a text earlier than that of A.

Stage directions may provide a second indication of the relative priority of B. The B text’s “Enter the Chorus” (TLN B: 777) resembles the stage direction to the Chorus to Act IV (which is preserved only in the A text): “Enter Chorus” (TLN A: 930). In contrast to the implicit concern of these directions with the structure of the play, which might suggest authorial provenance in these segments of text, the stage direction of the A-text Chorus to Act III, “enter Wagner solus” (TLN A: 809), could reflect a theatrical bookkeeper’s concern with the identity of the figure who is to speak the choral lines, and thus with the practicalities of stage business.

However, more important evidence is provided by the syntactical discontinuity of A. The seventh line of the A-text Chorus comes as a surprise: its sudden shift of subject produces such a naively bathetic effect that even if no alternative text were available, one might well suspect that something had dropped out of this passage. On a second reading, it can be seen that the two past-participial phrases of Wagner’s fifth and sixth lines (“Being seated…,” “Drawne by…”) could attach themselves either to the action of the preceding line (“Did mount himselfe”) or to that of the following one (“He now is gone”); but whether the discontinuity within this speech is understood to occur after A: 813 or after A: 815, it is equally noticeable and equally clumsy in either case.

The notion that the A text provides the earlier version of this Chorus is thus, on several accounts, implausible. A has been truncated, and the B text permits us to restore lines that clearly belonged to the Chorus in its original form.


8. Further points of B-text priority in III. i and II. i.

A smaller truncation, but one that produces an equal or larger disruption of meaning, occurs within the A text at the point where Mephastophilis, in his role as tour-guide, sets out to tell Faustus “What Rome containeth to delight thee with”:

Know that this Citie stands vpon seuen hilles
That vnderprops the groundworke of the same, 
Ouer the which foure stately bridges leane, 
That makes safe passage to each part of Rome
                    (A, sig. D1v, TLN A: 851-4)

The B text provides the missing lines:

Know that this City stands vpon seuen hils, 
That vnderprop the ground-worke of the same: 
Iust through the midst runnes flowing Tybers streame, 
With winding bankes that cut it in two parts; 
Ouer the which two stately bridges leane, 
That make safe passage, to each part of Rome
                    (B, sig. D1v, TLN B: 834-9)

This A-text truncation is responsible for what I take to be a very interesting textual eddy in the preface to Bevington’s and Rasmussen’s Revels Plays edition. In the paragraph in question, which deals with issues of editorial protocol and method, they remark that in passages where the A and B texts are closely parallel they have tried “to avoid conflation”—and with it the mistake my own “generally laudable edition makes…of moving back and forth for its verbal choices in a way that implies a single underlying text and procedurally seems arbitrary.”45 In the face of such generous praise it may seem churlish to point out that their edition also implies a single underlying text, or to note that the succeeding sentences of their preface manage to side-step the crucial issue:

We do, to be sure, adopt a few B-text readings in our A-text and vice versa when corruption seems unmistakable; at III. i. 35, for example, Mephistopheles’s ‘Over the which four stately bridges lean’ makes no sense without the preceding two lines about the River Tiber provided from the B-text. Such errors are easily accounted for by eyeskip or misinterpreting a difficult manuscript hand.46

Although these are plausible explanations of the deficiencies of A at this point, one must ask how Bevington and Rasmussen imagine the B text was able to supply the missing lines. The only possible explanation, given the hypothesis of the sedimented nature of B that they and I share, is that B’s underlying manuscript contained these lines. Either the person who prepared the transcript from which B was printed was alert enough to notice that they are missing in A3 (as they are in A1), and assiduous enough to supply them from the underlying manuscript, or else he was already relying on that manuscript rather than following A3 at this point.

But while the presence in B of the two lines missing in A restores the passage to intelligibility, it would be rash to argue on that basis that B rests throughout this passage upon a manuscript source earlier than the one from which A was printed. In the English Faust Book the Tiber, “the which divideth the city in two parts,” is traversed by “four great stone bridges”47—a number that is correctly repeated in A, but not in B. It is possible that the compositor of B, ignoring the reading of his manuscript, simply repeated the “two” of the preceding line. But although that is a common form of error, he may equally well have followed the manuscript faithfully—in which case this detail could indicate that while B preserves lines lost in A because of the carelessness or incapacity of A’s compositor, the manuscript from which A was printed was at least one stage closer to the authorial original than the transcript from which B was printed.

Other differences between the A and B texts in the same speech are suggestive of revision or censorship in B. As Bevington and Rasmussen note, the expletive “Tush,” which occurs in the A text at II. i. 138, II. iii. 49 and 55 in their edition (TLN A: 582, A: 678, A: 685), is “systematically expunged” in B; and “‘Tut,’ possibly confused with ‘tush’, disappears at II. iii. 167” (see TLN A: 798).48 As they could have added, “tut” also occurs in the first line of Mephastophilis’ first speech in III. i in the A text, but disappears in B, which at the same time transforms A’s prose (“Tut, tis no matter man, weele be bold with his good cheare” [TLN A: 848]) into a clumsy decasyllable (“All’s one, for wee’l be bold with his Venson” [TLN B: 831]). Later in the speech, A’s syntactically compressed description of the artillery in the Pope’s castle of San Angelo (TLN A: 855-9) is expanded and loosened in B (TLN B: 840-5) in a manner comparable to B’s “clarification” of A-text syntax elsewhere in the play.49

However, another point of divergence between A and B, this time in Act II, scene i, supports a different conclusion. Mephastophilis has at this point just informed a sceptical Faustus that he himself is damned, and “now in hell” (TLN A: 584, B: 529). Faustus replies as follows in the two texts:

Fau. How? Now in hell? Nay and this be hell, Ile willingly be damnd here: what walking, disputing, &c. But leauing off this, let me haue a wife, the fairest maid in Germany, for I am wanton and lasciuious, and can not liue without a wife. 
                    (A, sig. C2r, TLN 585-9)

Faust. Nay, and this be hell, I’le willingly be damn’d. 
What sleeping, eating, walking and disputing? 
But leauing this, let me haue a wife, the fairest maid in Germany, for I am wanton and lasciuious, and cannot liue without a wife. 
                    (B, sig. C1r, TLN 530-4)

Faustus’s first two lines in A show distinct marks of theatrical (which is also to say memorial) transmission: a repetition of the preceding speaker’s last words, and the replacement of two of the four participles that appear in B by “et cetera.” I am inclined to suspect that the A text’s “&c.” may be the result of sexual associations arising out of the immediately following lines. When in III. ii Robin tells the Vintner, “I scorne you: and you are but a &c.” (TLN A: 995-6), the “&c.” is taken by some editors as being, like the “&c.” with which Robin’s gibberish incantation concludes a dozen lines later, an invitation to the actor to improvise. But it may also be a substitute for a scatological or obscene expression—a substitute that itself promptly became obscene. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the key expression in a clause amended by editors to read “O that she were | An open-arse” (II. i. 37-8; “open, or” in Q2) appears in the First Quarto (1597) as “open Et caetera”;50 and when in 2 Henry IV Pistol asks, “And are etceteras nothings?” (II. iv. 181), the last two words both refer to women’s genitalia. The person responsible for the A-text readings in these lines of Faustus’s speech may have wantonly anticipated the lines to come and (so to speak) jumped the gun. However, as with the A text’s two missing lines in the opening segment of III. i, the hypotheses we advance to explain the deficiencies of A may be less important than the fact (as I take it) that in this case also B preserves readings derived from an earlier state of the play-text.

Yet just as in III. i, where we also noted evidence (in the number of bridges across the Tiber) that A in the same passage preserves a reading that may have been altered in the processes of reinscription that underlie B, so too in II. i it is important to reflect on evidence of belatedness in B in the early part of the same scene that has just provided evidence of B’s priority over the readings of A. Encouraged by Mephastophilis to “write a deede of gift with [his] owne blood” (TLN A: 475, B: 423), Faustus exclaims:

    Fau:   Loe Mephastophilus, for loue of thee, 
I cut mine arme, and with my proper blood
Assure my soule to be great Lucifers
Chief Lord and regent of perpetual night…. 
                    (A, sig. B4v, TLN 493-6)

Faust. Loe Mephosto: for loue of thee Faustus hath cut his  
And with his prope rbloud assures his soule to be great Luci- 
Chiefe Lord and Regent of perpetuall night.                           (fers
                    (B, sig. B4r, TLN 441-3)

The lines in B make equally good sense, but if a disruption of lineation and a displacement of blank verse rhythms in the direction of fourteeners—“the iygging vaines of riming mother wits”51—are suggestive of the memorial transmission and corruption of a text, then these lines are corrupt.


9. Conclusion

Confusing though some of it may at first appear, the evidence reviewed above leads to hypotheses about the A text that can be quite briefly stated. Only in Acts III and IV of A-text Doctor Faustus is there any solid reason to believe that the 1604 quarto may have been set from authorial manuscript. In Act II and in the opening segments of Act III, the B text demonstrably provides earlier and more authentic readings in several passages—though only the few lines from II. i beginning “How? Now in hell?” (A, sig. C2r, TLN 585ff.) point with any force to the conclusion that B’s underlying manuscript was itself earlier than the manuscript from which A was printed. Many of the deficiencies of A can be ascribed to negligence in the printing house, but some are more probably due to a process of transmission and recopying prior to the manuscript’s arrival in the hands of Valentine Simmes and his compositors.

Until further comparative analysis of the parallel scenes of the A and B texts shows otherwise, it can be tentatively proposed that the A text of Doctor Faustus was printed from a distinctly heterogeneous manuscript: some at least of the scenes by Marlowe’s collaborator in Acts III and IV in this manuscript may have been an authorial holograph (though one that in the latter part of the Horsecourser sequence, set as stint X7, was altered in the mid or later 1590s to include the Lopus-Lopez allusion), while the Marlovian scenes appear to have been of theatrical provenance.

Two rather stronger conclusions, however, can also be drawn from the preliminary work presented here. We know very clearly which version of the play is the earlier and more authentic one. But it can now be said with some degree of assurance that the current orthodox view of the A text—that it was printed from the authorial manuscripts of Marlowe and a collaborator—is not adequately supported by the textual evidence. Moreover, since the B text is at some points clearly of substantive value, allowing us to correct lacunae and other deficiencies in A, the no less orthodox view that B has no textual authority, but is primarily of interest for what it shows about early seventeenth-century revisions and reinscriptions, must be rejected.

In a sequel to this essay I intend to examine questions of a more theoretical nature relating to the implications of the two texts of Doctor Faustus for textual-critical and editorial practice among scholars of early modern English literature. It may be time—to anticipate for a moment—for textual critics to re-think their now almost reflex dismissals of critical editorial work as “a retreat from the material to the ideal,” or as a practice indistinguishable from that most heinous of all sins against the muse of history, “‘eclectic’ editing.”52 I believe that a renewed examination of Doctor Faustus may help to open up more productive ways than these of working with historicity and materiality, and more productive ways of engaging in what A. E. Housman (rather forbiddingly) termed “the application of thought to textual criticism.”53




1  W. W. Greg, ed., Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, 1604-1616: Parallel Texts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1950).

2  Fredson Bowers, “Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973): 1-18.

3  Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus: The Supposed Originality of the 1616 Text,” English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975): 171-97.

4  Michael Warren, “Doctor Faustus: The Old Man and the Text,” English Literary Renaissance 11 (1981): 111-47; Michael 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; and “History and the Canon: The Case of Doctor Faustus,” University of Toronto Quarterly 56.4 (Summer 1987): 498-522.

5  Laurie E. Maguire, Shakespearean Suspect Texts: The ‘Bad’ Quartos and Their Contexts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996). Other significant textual-critical contributions to the refutation of Greg’s view of this play include the following: D. J. Lake, “Three Seventeenth-Century Revisions: Thomas of Woodstock, The Jew of Malta, and Faustus B,” Notes and Queries 30 (1983): 133-43; Anna Mette Hjort, “The Interests of Critical Editorial Practice,” Poetics 15 (1986): 259-77; Roma Gill, “Doctor Faustus: The Textual Problem,” University of Hartford Studies in Literature 20 (1988): 52-60; Leah Marcus, “Textual Indeterminacy and Ideological Difference: The Case of Doctor Faustus,” Renaissance Drama, n.s., 20 (1989): 1-29.

6  The key phrases of “An Acte to restraine Abuses of Players” are quoted by Roma Gill: “…That if at any tyme or tymes…any person or persons doe or shall in any Stage play…jestingly or prophanely speake or use the holy Name of God or of Christ Jesus, or of the Holy Ghoste or of the Trinitie, which are not to be spoken but with feare and reverence, shall forfeite for everie such Offence by hym or them committed Tenne Pounde” (Roma Gill, ed., The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, vol. 2, Dr Faustus [Oxford: Clarendon, 1990], xvii).

7  David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham, eds., Christopher Marlowe: Dr Faustus: The A-Text (Nedlands: Univ. of Western Australia Press, 1985), xxviii.

8  Gill, The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, 2: xvii.

9  David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, eds., Doctor Faustus: A and B Texts (1604, 1616). Christopher Marlowe and his collaborators and revisers, The Revels Plays (Manchester and New York: Manchester Univ. Press, 1993).

10  Eric Rasmussen, A Textual Companion to Doctor Faustus, The Revels Plays Companion Library (Manchester and New York: Manchester Univ. Press, 1993), 93.

11  Michael Keefer, ed., Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: a 1604-version edition (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1991).

12  I say “more or less completely” because in their Revels Plays edition Bevington and Rasmussen acknowledge “a sprinkling of authoritative readings in B1 that are not in A3,” and propose that “the B-text remains an important witness in critical editing and offers a few superior readings, along with a host of indifferent variants that may in some cases be authorial” (77).

13  An essay published in the same year by Peter Shillingsburg very usefully theorized a similar distinction between version and textual embodiment (“Text as Matter, Concept, and Action,” Studies in Bibliography 44 [1991]: 46-69).

14  W. W. Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio (Oxford: Clarendon, 1955), 142. Quoted in Rasmussen, A Textual Companion, 13.

15  Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus: 1604 and 1616 (Facsimile rpt.; Menston: Scolar Press, 1970).

16  When the Horse-courser re-enters “all wet” and crying out, “Alas, alas, Doctor Fustian quoth a, mas Doctor Lopus was neuer such a Doctor, has giuen me a purgation, has purg’d me of fortie Dollars” (TLN A: 1175-8), his reference is to the hapless Doctor Roderigo Lopez, a Portuguese marrano and personal physician to Queen Elizabeth. Lopez incurred the enmity of the Earl of Essex, who in January 1594 accused him of high treason; he was tried (and convicted) on February 28 on charges which included attempting to poison the queen, and executed on June 7, more than a year after Marlowe’s death. (For further details, see Margaret Hotine, “The Politics of Anti-Semitism: The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice,” Notes and Queries 38 [1991]: 35-8.) Although Lopez was well-known even before his appointment in 1586 as the queen’s physician (he had previously been household physician to the Earl of Leicester), the past-tense allusion to him must be post-Marlovian. Lopez appears to have remained a by-word for at least several years after his execution: Nashe’s references to his hanging and to his trial date from 1596 and 1599 respectively (The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow, with corrections by F. P. Wilson, vol. 3 [Oxford: Blackwell, 1966], 18, 216).

17  Greg, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, 1604-1616, 37-8.

18  Keefer, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, 64.

19  Rasmussen, A Textual Companion, 17. In this passage Rasmussen cites Paul Werstine, “McKerrow’s ‘Suggestions’ and Twentieth-Century Textual Criticism,” Renaissance Drama 19 (1989): 149-73; and Marion Trousdale, “A Second Look at Critical Bibliography and the Acting of Plays,” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (1990): 87-96.

20  Rasmussen, A Textual Companion, 16.

21  Rasmussen, 17, citing William B. Long, “Stage-Directions: A Misinterpreted Factor in Determining Textual Provenance,” Text 2 (1985): 121-37; and Paul Werstine, “‘Foul Papers’ and ‘Prompt-books’: Printer’s Copy for Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors,” Studies in Bibliography 41 (1988): 232-46. Long has elsewhere remarked that “the evidence of the surviving playbooks strongly indicates that playwrights’ manuscripts (Shakespeare’s included) often stand much closer to early printed versions than is usually believed” (Long, “Perspective on Provenance: The Context of Varying Speech-Heads,” in Shakespeare’s Speech-Headings: Speaking the Speech in Shakespeare’s Plays, ed. George Walton Williams [Newark and London: Univ. of Delaware Press and Associated Univ. Presses, 1997], 32). On the other hand, his study of playbooks suggests that stage directions are unlikely to be of any use in discriminating between authorial manuscripts and copies made for playhouse use. He notes that theatrical alterations are so infrequent in the surviving manuscript playbooks “that if a stage direction exists in a late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century play text, manuscript or printed, it is most likely a playwright’s.” Of direct relevance in the present context, he adds that actors “almost never change a playwright’s call for an unspecified number of extras” (Long, “‘Precious Few’: English Manuscript Playbooks,” in A Companion to Shakespeare, ed. David Scott Kastan [Oxford: Blackwell, 1999], 417-18).

22  In the Introduction to their Revels Plays edition, Bevington and Rasmussen add that “Other imprecise references to ‘scholars’ and ‘devils’ occur at I. iii. 23.2 and 27.1, V. i. 113.1, and V. ii. 0.1 and 120.1” (Bevington and Rasmussen, 67). None of these stage directions is permissive; nor are the first two imprecise. Mephastophilis first appears on stage in a devil’s form which Faustus decries as “too ugly”; Faustus commands him to take on instead the “holy shape” of “an old Franciscan Frier,” whereupon he exits, re-entering eight lines later under his proper name. These eight lines might provide time for a quick change of costume, but it seems likely that the first entrance could have been by an actor in devil-costume, and the second by the actor who plays Mephastophilis. Two of the remaining examples of imprecision (V. i. 113.1: “Enter the Diuelles”; V. ii. 0.1: “Enter Faustus with the Schollers”; V. ii. 120.1: “Enter diuels”) involve nonspeaking parts.

23  Greg, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus 1604-1616, 381.

24  Rasmussen, 17.

25  Rasmussen, 23, 28. The previous analyses of compositorial work are Robert Ford Welsh, The Printing of the Early Editions of Marlowe’s Plays (Durham: Duke Univ. Ph.D dissertation, 1964); W. Craig Ferguson, Valentine Simmes (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the Univ. of Virginia, 1968); Alan Craven, “Simmes’s Compositor A: The Compositor of Five Shakespeare Quartos,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973): 37-60; Craven, “Two Valentine Simmes Compositors,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 67 (1973): 161-71; Craven, “The Reliability of Simmes’s Compositor A,” Studies in Bibliography 32 (1979): 186-97; and Fredson Bowers, The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, 2: 145-8.

26  Ibid., 28-9.

27  Ibid., 31-2.

28  In my 1991 edition, the imperial court and Horse-courser episodes are printed as separate scenes; here I follow the practice of Bevington and Rasmussen, who regard them as constituting a single scene.

29  Where a hyphenated word begins on the preceding line, the first part of that word is given in square brackets.

30  In the 1604 quarto, this stage direction precedes Faustus’s speech, “Away you villaine: what, dost thinke I am a horse-doctor?” (which therefore forms part of stint X7). In the Revels Plays edition, the stage direction is rightly made to follow this speech.

31  Rasmussen, 54.

32  See Fredson Bowers, “The Text of Marlowe’s Faustus,” Modern Philology 49 (1952): 198-203; Bowers, ed., The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe (2 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1973), vol. 2, 127-8; and Bevington and Rasmussen, Doctor Faustus: A and B Texts, 74. The key evidence here is Bowers’s observation that in some passages where there are clusters of readings in B1 which follow A3’s deviations from A1, B1 also contains errors in spelling (among them “Sworne” for “Swarme” [TLN B: 137, A: 148], “Lopland” for “Lapland” [TLN B: 148, A: 159]) which suggest that the compositor who set the passage for B1 was working from handwritten copy rather than from the printed text. Rasmussen’s otherwise tempting suggestion that the transcript did not include A3, which would have been used in the printing house “as an aid in interpreting the manuscript” (Rasmussen, 55), does not account for this evidence.

33  Bowers, The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, 2: 129.

34  Four of the agreements between A1/B1 against A3 occur in I. i, two of them in I. iii, and a further three in V. ii. (See Rasmussen, A Textual Companion, 49, where these agreements are usefully tabulated.)

35  If positive evidence of the use of the underlying manuscript is provided by agreements of B1 with A1 against A3, and by what I have called large divergences between A and B that cannot be explained as theatrical reworking, revision, censorship, or printing-house alterations, it is clear that there may also be cases of word choice and spelling where B1, following the underlying manuscript, differs both from A1 and from A3.

36  At two points in this scene (TLN B: 1796 and 1883), there are spellings which follow A3; line TLN B: 1850, which is not present in A, may be derived from the underlying manuscript.

37  Rasmussen, 50-52.

38  Long’s work with the surviving manuscript playbooks is relevant once more. These playbooks are written on sheets folded longitudinally to produce four columns: “Whether composing or copying, whether playwright or scribe, the writers of these playbooks inscribed their texts in the center two columns, reserving the left column for speech headings and the right for long prose lines, the occasional exit, and even rarer stage directions. Most entrances were placed in the center columns” (Long, “‘Precious Few’,” 416). A hypothetical underlying manuscript could therefore be both theatrical and authorial.

39  See Greg, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus 1604-1616, 133-4; Kuriyama, 191-6; Keefer, “Verbal Magic,” 332.

40  John Henry Jones, ed, The English Faust Book: A Critical Edition Based on the Text of 1592 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), 122, 123.

41  Ibid., 124-27.

42  Ibid., 127.

43  Ibid., 128.

44  See Rasmussen, A Textual Companion, 8-10.

45  Bevington and Rasmussen, Doctor Faustus: A and B Texts, x.

46  Ibid.

47  Jones, The English Faust Book, 130.

48  Bevington and Rasmussen, 76.

49  The alteration of syntax in this speech (TLN A: 857-9, B: 842-5) can be compared to that at TLN A: 19-20, B: 18-19.

50  See Jonathan Goldberg, “Romeo and Juliet’s Open Rs,” in Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Durham and London: Duke Univ. Press, 1994), 233-4.

51  Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, intro. by Roma Gill (Facsimile rpt.; Menston and London: Scolar Press, 1973), sig. A3r.

52  G. Thomas Tanselle, “Textual Instability and Editorial Idealism,” Studies in Bibliography 49 (1996): 21, 15. Tanselle is quoting Michael Warren, “The Theatricalization of Text: Beckett, Jonson, Shakespeare,” in New Directions in Textual Studies, eds. Dave Oliphant and Robin Bradford, Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, 20.1/2 (1990): 59; and Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), 68.

53  A. E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry and Other Selected Prose, ed. John Carter (1961; rpt. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1989), 131-50.