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

[I]t 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 manuscript 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 has no textual authority [...] must be rejected.    

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Text, Apparatus, History

One of the oddest pieces of Shakespearean commentary written during the past century is an extended dialogue by one William Bliss, published in 1947, which contains on its first page an urbane denunciation of Shakespearean commentators as “the ultimate nadir of human foolishness." If in this regard the book invites description as a self-subverting artifact, in other respects as well it is a thoroughly paradoxical performance. 

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Self-Image and Spectacle in Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus

[Presented as a conference paper at the XXXII Colloque du Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance (Université de Tours, France, 29 June-8 July 1989), this essay was first published in Spectacle et image dans l'Europe de la Renaissance, ed. André Lascombes (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), pp. 103-34.]


The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence.

Guy Debord, La société du spectacle1


Faust. What meanes this shew? speake Mephostophilis.
Meph. Nothing Faustus but to delight thy mind, 
And let thee see what Magicke can performe.

Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (B: 475-77)2



However one interprets Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the lines I have quoted here come at a critical moment in the play. With a resonant blasphemy—Consummatum est—Faustus has signed his pact with Lucifer. But when his own blood appears to form an inscription on the arm from which he has drawn it, he is reduced to a state of dithering terror:

Homo fuge, whither should I flie? 
If unto God hee'le throwe thee downe to hell, 
My sences are deceiv'd, here's nothing writ: 
O yes, I see it plaine, even heere is writ
Homo fuge ... (A: 518-19, B: 467-69)

My purpose in juxtaposing Faustus’s anxious question and Mephostophilis’ blandly reassuring answer about the meaning of “this show” with Guy Debord’s diatribe against the non-stop electronically-mediated spectacle by means of which power is exercised and maintained in our own social order is to highlight a tension, at once ideological and formal in nature, in those tragedies of Christopher Marlowe with which I will be concerned here. For although the spectacle which Debord wished to analyze is very much a phenomenon of the electronic age, Elizabethan England was also, if in a quite different manner, “une société du spectacle”—one in which power legitimized and reproduced itself through progresses, civic processions and pageants,3 through public rites of celebration and of punishment, through an appropriation of the potentially subversive popular forms of carnivalesque festivity4, and finally through such overtly fictive forms as the court masque and the various dramatic genres which flourished on the public stage. But while the public theatre undoubtedly served, on balance, to legitimize constituted authority, its products amounted to something far removed from what Debord naively calls a “laudatory monologue.” Dialogic in its very form, the theatre also became a site of contestation, a public space in which the pageants of authority could be interrogated (“What meanes this shew?”), and in which its discourse could be represented as traversed by contradictions and ambivalence.

By the early seventeenth century the genre of tragedy, as J. W. Lever observed, had become one in which “man’s inborn freedom, his natural state of equality, his right to rebel against tyrants, were canvassed as vital issues.”5 Tragedy participated in what Franco Moretti describes as “the deconsecration of sovereignty”;6 and its challenge to religious orthodoxy, Jonathan Dollimore has argued, “generate[d] other, equally important subversive preoccupations--namely a critique of ideology, the demystification of political and power relations and the decentring of ‘man’.”7 But some two decades earlier, at the moment when this genre was being shaped—in reaction, as the Prologue to the first of Christopher Marlowe’s Two Tragicall Discourses of Mighty Tamburlaine, the Scythian Shepheard would have it, to the “jygging vaines of riming mother wits, / And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay” (lines 1-2)8—a deeply ambiguous subversion of power and authority, both civil and religious, was already being essayed. Marlowe’s 1 and 2 Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus are in a sense totalitarian plays; they are (to borrow Debord’s words) portraits “of power in ... its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence.” But in another sense they give away the show—in the Tamburlaine plays, by exposing the “scenicall strutting,”9 the manipulations of image and spectacle by which a would-be monologic authority constructs and legitimizes itself; and in Doctor Faustus by revealing what the puritan divine Thomas Beard was shortly to call The Theatre of Gods Judgements to be an intolerable edifice.10 In the lines which I have quoted as a second epigraph, Mephostophilis attempts to close down Faustus’s question as to what the demonic spectacle which he has just witnessed means: “Nothing Faustus,” he says, “but to delight thy mind, / And let thee see what Magicke can performe.” As I shall argue, however, Doctor Faustus is not itself a closed spectacle; the question “What meanes this shew?” resonates in the theatre even after the last lines of its epilogue.



My approach here to Marlowe's 1 and 2 Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus will take the form of an exploration of certain aspects of the relation between image and stage spectacle. Twenty years ago Catherine Belsey offered a suggestive analysis of what she punningly called "the subject of tragedy.” My subject is also the subject—or rather, since dramatic spectacle and imagery are alike a matter of the representation and self-presentation of human figures on stage, the construction of an imaged subjectivity. I shall be concerned with three closely-related aspects of the construction of subjectivity in these plays: with the emblematic tableaux which are a prominent feature of the stage-spectacle; with another kind of spectacle which, since it is a matter of verbal imagery, I shall call “virtual”; and with the obsessive self-definitions by which the protagonists contribute to their constitution as subjects within the dramatic spectacle.

These Marlovian subjects invite one to construe them in what I would suggest is a double—perhaps also a duplicitous—manner. They can be understood, in a Coleridgean sense, as active agents in whom the self “becomes a subject by the act of constructing itself objectively to itself”—and at the same time, in Catherine Belsey’s words, as figures “held in place in a specific discourse,” of whom it can be said that “In so far as signifying practice always precedes the individual, is always learned, the subject is a subjected being, an effect of the meanings it seems to possess.”11 As Belsey goes on to say, subjectivity is discursively produced. But the discourse of drama is specular as well as verbal. Subjectivity is also an effect of the dramatist’s specular organizing of the gaze—that of the spectators as well as that of the stage figures, who construct themselves and are constructed through their capacity to hold themselves and others up to inspection, and through their function as spectacle (at once actual and imagined) in the eyes of others. It is thus in large part through the interaction of self-image and of spectacle (both actual and virtual) that the doubleness of which I have spoken becomes evident.

The most obvious point of contact between image and spectacle in these plays is provided by their recurrent emblematic tableaux—“sights of power,” as Tamburlaine calls them,

Wherein as in a mirrour may be seene,
His honor, that consists in sheading blood,
When men presume to manage armes with him. 
(1 Tamb. V. ii, 2256, 2258-60)

Such moments occur also in Doctor Faustus, but as ‘sights’ of what Constance Brown Kuriyama, in a helpful portmanteau coinage, has termed “omnimpotence”12: one thinks, for example, of the magus gazing with horror at the bloody inscription on his own arm; or of the terrifying appearance, in response to his appeal to Christ, of a demonic trinity.

The imagery, here, is actual: we are looking at costumed bodies on a material stage. But on another level, that of poetic imagery, one can speak (misappropriating a term from optics) of “virtual” spectacle—of representations which, for all their vividness, are verbal constructions alone, and are realized as spectacle only in the imagination of the beholder. On this level, it is relevant to observe that the poetic imagery of these plays insistently reflects, not the organic components of the cosmos (where other Elizabethan writers found a reservoir of social and behavioural norms, a structure of natural law and natural morality), so much as its astronomical, elemental, inorganic and daemonic constituents. This imagery thus contributes both to the notorious interpretive reticence and ambivalence of the dramatic spectacle, and also to one’s sense of Marlowe himself as an extremist—as a writer, that is, who in giving voice to the discursive extremes of his era never appears to suggest with any conviction the possibility of a centre which might give them coherence, and in which they might meet and be reconciled.13 Marlowe’s subjects move through a polarized, de-centred world of warring elements, glittering artifacts, and fetichized objects of desire, “heaven and earth the bounds of [their] delight” (Dido, I. i, 31). The intermediate order of organic nature, of normative analogies to organic processes, and of an attendant network of natural law, is in most scenes conspicuously absent.

As Clifford Leech remarked, drawing attention to their constructed rather than mimetic nature, Marlowe’s characters are “sick elementals” on a “rhetorical stage.”14 This hint can be elaborated: Tamburlaine is sick because he is elemental; and Faustus, because of the nature of his confinement “Within the bowels of these Elements, / Where we are tortur’d, and remaine for ever” (B: 511-12). And what Leech called a “rhetorical stage” is another way of talking about that virtual spectacle the interaction of which with actual spectacle contributes largely to the representation of subjectivity in these plays.

I shall be also be concerned here with a related aspect of the linkage between image and spectacle—one which arises out of the protagonists’ own language. Tamburlaine and Faustus (who are themselves central stage images in the plays which bear their names) are represented, and present themselves, in a succession of different attitudes. We witness in both figures a process of rhetorical self-fashioning. But how, and from what elements, do these images construct themselves? A principal clue is provided by their obsessively self-referential language.

Tamburlaine presents himself through third-person self-reference as a talismanic object: his elemental constitution makes him an operator of a kind of ambiguously astrological or daemonic magic for which Marlowe’s principal source, I will suggest, lay in Ficinian interpretations of the Hermetic Asclepius. The constitution of this reified subjectivity is mirrored in the stage images, the “sights of power,” to which Tamburlaine refers.

Faustus, in contrast, may experiment with a Tamburlainean third-person rhetoric. But the habitual, indeed characteristic, mode of speech by which his dramatic identity is constructed is second-person self-address. The initial effect, of a split between the active self who delivers the quasi-Agrippan declamatio invectica of the first scene, and the passive silent self who in some sense stands in need of these persuasions, quickly modulates into something rather different: a Calvinistic trap of self-authenticating predication in which Faustus’s despairing self-definitions (“What art thou Faustus but a man condemn’d to die?” [B: 1546]) are validated by the fact that he cannot cease from making them. The mirror in this case is an internal one, of a kind described by Fulke Greville in one of his Caelica poems as a “fatal mirror of transgression”; and the magic involved is not transitive, but subjective.15 However, the ‘sights of omnimpotence’ in which this predicament is objectified are again directly linked to a rhetorically-produced self-image. Here, as in Tamburlaine, the stage spectacle corresponds to and is produced by the rhetorically-constructed self-image of the protagonist.



An interplay between what I have called actual and virtual spectacle is one of the structural principles of the first part of Tamburlaine the Great. Shortly after his first appearance on stage, Tamburlaine reveals the warrior’s armour which has been concealed beneath his shepherd’s garments:

Lie here ye weedes that I disdaine to weare,
This compleat armor, and this curtle-axe
Are adjuncts more beseeming Tamburlaine.
(I. ii, 237-39)

The emblematic gesture, with its suggestion that Tamburlaine is no more a protector of flocks and herds than his followers are the “silly country Swaines” (243) that they appear to be, is quickly supplemented by Techelles with an explanatory simile which amounts to another, virtual emblem:

As princely Lions when they rouse themselves,
Stretching their pawes, and threatning heardes of Beastes.
So in his Armour looketh Tamburlaine:
Me thinks I see kings kneeling at his feet....

Shortly thereafter, Tamburlaine responds to Zenocrate’s and her attendant lords’ pleas for their release with a speech which, envisioning her in a position of power and authority, attended by a hundred Tartars “Mounted on Steeds, swifter than Pegasus,” and drawn by “milke-white Hartes upon an Ivorie sled” (289-90, 294), obscures the fact of her captivity. But with the arrival of the Persian general Theridamas, Zenocrate is made part of a quite different tableau. Standing beside his three captives (whom one might imagine to have remained in a suppliant posture), and backed by his supporters, Tamburlaine declares: “I hold the Fates bound fast in yron chaines, / And with my hand turn Fortunes wheel about...” (369-70). Zenocrate has for the moment become an image of the forces over which her captor claims mastery. And the treasure looted from her, the “golden wedges” which Tamburlaine has ordered to be laid out so that “their reflexions may amaze the Perseans” (335-36), complements the image of himself as one who enjoys divine favour and protection: “See how [Jove] raines down heaps of gold in showers, / As if he meant to give my Souldiers pay” (377-78).

Tamburlaine’s improvisations, which include a re-interpretation of his initial gesture of self-revelation—

Jove sometime masked in a Shepheards weed,
And by those steps that he hath scal'd the heavens,
May we become immortall like the Gods
(I. ii, 394-96)

—are of course brilliantly successful. The eloquence of a man who, to the Persian court, was no more than a “sturdie Scythian thiefe” (I. i, 44) is now compared by the Persian king's chief captain to that of a god: “Not Hermes Prolocutor to the Gods, / Could use perswasions more patheticall” (I. ii, 405). (Hermes, one may want to recall, was also the patron of thieves.) Tamburlaine’s reply, “Nor are Apollos Oracles more true, / Then thou shalt find my vaunts substantiall” (407-08), is at once another vaunt and an expression of the operative principle of his rhetoric. He substantiates his vaunts, not as yet by deeds, but by supplementing their virtual spectacle with the material spectacle of staged tableaux. Thus the piled-up heaps of Zenocrate’s gold, interpreted as evidence of divine favour, ‘substantiate’ the hyperbolic claim of the immediately preceding lines:

Draw foorth thy sword, thou mighty man at Armes,
Intending but to rase my charmed skin:
And Jove himselfe will stretch his hand from heaven,
To ward the blow, and shield me safe from harme. 
(I. ii, 373-76)

When it comes to deeds, a similar interplay of actual and virtual spectacle is evident. The farcical battlefield scene in which Tamburlaine returns the crown, the emblem of sovereignty, to Mycetes, “the witty King of Persea” (II. iv, 686), but only so that he can wrest it from him again once his victim is properly “hem’d with armed men” (701), becomes a model for his treatment of Mycetes’s brother. Having in the next scene invested Cosroe with the crown of Persia, Tamburlaine is so struck by Menaphon’s exit line—“And ride in triumph through Persepolis”—that he bids Cosroe return “to war with us, / That onely made him King to make us sport” (II. v, 754, 805-06). The imagined spectacle of a triumphant entry into the Persian capital is the hinge which links Tamburlaine’s destruction of two kings, the regal clown Mycetes and the king-for-a-day Cosroe, who is reduced by this repetition of Tamburlaine’s gesture of giving and taking away to the stature of a saturnalian mock-king.

But none of this should be taken to suggest that Marlowe is inviting a moral condemnation of his protagonist. For even if the playwright can be seen as foregrounding the verbal and specular rhetoric by means of which Tamburlaine imposes himself, he is at the same time engaged in a thoroughgoing mystification of authority. This takes the form of a recurrent emphasis upon the subjecting power of the heroic gaze, which exerts a projective power over what it beholds and establishes its possessor as irresistible in a sense at once military and erotic. Mycetes tells Theridamas: “... thy words are swords / And with thy lookes thou conquerest all thy foes” (I. i, 82-83). The first encounter between this Persian hero and Tamburlaine is an erotic duet in which, it would seem, their eye-beams (like those of Donne’s lovers in “The Ecstasy”) become twisted and entwined. Standing face to face, they construct one another through third-person address as heroic objects of desire:

Ther. His looks do menace heaven and dare the Gods,
His fierie eies are fixt upon the earth,
As if he now devis'd some Stratageme:
Or meant to pierce Avernas darksome vaults,
To pull the triple headed dog from hell. 
Tamb. Noble and milde this Persean seems to be....
With what a majesty he rears his looks.... 
(I. ii, 352-57, 360)

Tamburlaine’s “strong enchantments” overcome Theridamas, who is, he confesses, “Won with thy words, & conquered with thy looks” (419, 423).

In the following scene this power of enchantment in one whom Cosroe describes as “the man of fame, / The man that in the forhead of his fortune, / Beares figures of renowne and miracle” (II. i, 456-58), is explained by Menaphon in a bizarre literalizing of his master’s metaphor:

                          ... twixt his manly pitch,
A pearle more worth, then all the world is plaste:
Wherein by curious soveraintie of Art,
Are fixt his piercing instruments of sight:
Whose fiery cyrcles beare encompassed
A heaven of heavenly bodies in their Spheares:
That guides his steps and actions to the throne,
Where honor sits invested royally....
(II. i, 465-72)

These qualities, it would seem, make it possible for Agydas to divine from Tamburlaine’s wrathful eyes, “That shine as Comets, menacing revenge” (III. ii, 1059), the inevitability of his own death—and they enable Tamburlaine, shortly before his own death, to defeat a whole army, “Like Summers vapours, vanisht by the Sun” (2 Tamb. V. iii, 4509), merely by showing his face.



This strange figure whose eyes encompass a kind of celestial microcosm would seem to be in some way related to that microcosmic man whom Giovanni Pico della Mirandola described in his Heptaplus as recapitulating, like the tabernacle of Moses, the entire structure of the cosmos by which he is contained. There are, for Pico, three worlds: the sublunary, the celestial, and the supercelestial—and also “a fourth world in which are found all those things that are in the rest.” As an inverse metonymy of the universe, this fourth world, man, is thus in a position to dominate the order of nature.16

Marlowe appears to be making a defiantly secular appropriation of Pico’s quasi-mystical ideas. But the “soveraintie of Art” which allows Tamburlaine to satisfy his thirst for sovereignty may suggest that the playwright also made use of other closely related materials in constructing this virtual image of his protagonist.

Like other exponents of the Renaissance Hermetic-Cabalistic tradition, Pico was intrigued by the teachings concerning human dignity and spiritual rebirth or deification which recur in the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, among them the Asclepius. 17 The Hermetic Asclepius, however, also alludes to another kind of god-making: Hermes claims that the power and force of man are exemplified by his capacity to fashion animated statues which, endowed with sense and spirit, can perform marvels, predict the future, provoke and cure diseases, and apportion misery and happiness to us according to our desserts.18 These earthly gods, he explains, are made by invoking demons or angels and introducing them by means of sacred and divine rites into statues which already incorporate certain natural virtues; the idols then “have the power to work both good and evil.”19

Pico’s older contemporary Marsilio Ficino (whose Latin translation of other Hermetic texts had prompted a surge of interest in this wholly legendary Egyptian sage), understood the Asclepian statue-making as a species of astrological magic,20 and as being closely related to Hermes’s divinely-inspired teachings about deification. On occasion, indeed, Ficino seems deliberately to be obscuring any distinction between the two forms of god-making—as when, in a commentary on the pseudo-Dionysius’s account of the ascent to God, he describes the divine image in man as a statua Dei.21 Another Italian writer, Ludovico Lazzarelli, was more explicit still in conflating Neoplatonic and Hermetic doctrines of deification with the daemonic statues of Hermes.22

That Marlowe’s representation of Tamburlaine as a daemonic force draws upon notions such as these may be suggested by the remarks of Tamburlaine’s enemies. Meander believes that "Some powers divine, or els infernall, mixt / Their angry seeds at his conception: / For he was never sprong of humaine race" (II. vi, 820-22), and Ortygius is unsure whether he is a "God or Feend, or spirit of the earth, / Or monster turned to a manly shape, / Or of what mould or mettel he be made..." (826-28). 

But Tamburlaine’s trajectory is also determined by his elemental composition. In contrast to Cosroe and his companions, all of whom “have suckt one wholsome aire / And with the same proportion of Elements, / Resolve...” (II. vi, 836-38), Tamburlaine explains himself in terms of elemental strife:

Nature that fram'd us of foure Elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspyring minds....

He is, as Cosroe says, a “fiery thirster after Soveraingtie” (842). Theridamas, drawing upon the same elemental analogy, declares any man “That mooves not upwards, nor by princely deeds / Doth meane to soare above the highest sort” to be "grosse and like the massie earth” (883-84, 882).

The predominance in Tamburlaine of the element of fire accounts both for the “terrour” of “his threatning lookes” (2 Tamb. V. i, 4135), and for his uninterrupted victories and violent tyranny. He himself describes his vermillion siege tents as threatening

              ... more than if the region
Next underneath the Element of fire,
Were full of Commets and of blazing stars,
Whose flaming traines should reach down to the earth.... 

His fiery nature, however, is also the principal cause of his death. Sixteen lines after the end of the speech in which, ordering his men to burn “the Turkish Alcaron, / And all the heapes of supersticious bookes, / Found in the Temples of that Mahomet, / Whom I have thought a God” (4284-87), Tamburlaine challenges Mahomet to take vengeance on him, and tells his soldiers to “Seeke out another Godhead to adore, / The God that sits in heaven, if any God” (4311-12), the Scourge of God feels himself “distempered sudainly” (4329).

Marlowe, the one-time theological student, has prepared the moment carefully. Those in the audience who wish to see blasphemy receive its due punishment are rewarded—if, that is, they are willing to accord divine status to the Prophet of Islam. But this notion of retributive justice is promptly challenged by the purely naturalistic explanation superimposed upon it by Tamburlaine’s doctor:

Your vaines are full of accidentall heat,
Whereby the moisture of your blood is dried,
The Humidum and Calor, which some holde
Is not a parcell of the Elements,
But of a substance more divine and pure,
Is almost cleane extinguished and spent.... 
(2 Tamb. V. ii, 4476-80).

The import of this medical jargon seems clear enough. Amyras laments that heaven has consumed its “choisest living fire” (4644). But the fiery Tamburlaine is, rather, a self-consuming artifact: the immediate cause of his death is the inopportune arrival of Callapine with yet another army, in the specular dispersal of which Tamburlaine exhausts his “martial strength” (4512). Having established himself as a reified subject in large part through his habit of third-person self-reference (“... sooner shall the Sun fall from his Spheare, / Than Tamburlaine be slaine or overcome” [1 Tamb. I. ii, 371-72]), the Scythian objectifies himself again in confessing his own mortality: “... this subject not of force enough, / To hold the fiery spirit it containes, / Must part...” (2 Tamb. V. ii, 4561-62).



One way of explaining the insistent blasphemies of 2 Tamburlaine in particular might be to suggest that Marlowe was deploying a mystification of political tyranny in a kind of displaced subversion of the increasingly evident religious tyranny of the Anglican church.23 But the inexorable rise of the daemonic, elemental protagonist of these plays, culminating in his equally inevitable death, is paralleled by the organization of actual and virtual spectacle in these plays in a manner which may point to a less positive conclusion.

Acts Four and Five of 1 Tamburlaine are largely concerned with the siege of Damascus—and with the representation of a crescendo of degradation and violence. This is organized in terms of the colours white, red, and black—which signify that while on the first day of a siege Tamburlaine will accept a peaceful submission, on the second day surrender will be followed by the slaughter of “any that can manage arms” (IV. i, 1429), and after that by the massacre of the whole population. On the first day (so the messenger says), Tamburlaine wears “on his silver crest / A snowy Feather spangled white ... / To signify the mildnesse of his minde” (1422-24). In this mood, with a speech that moves from hubris to bloody-mindedness (“Now cleare the triple region of the aire, / And let the majestie of heaven beholde / Their Scourge and Terrour treade on Emperours. / .... / Then when the Sky shal waxe as red as blood, / It shall be said, I made it red my selfe” [IV. ii, 1474-76, 1497-98]), Tamburlaine steps over Bajazeth, his footstool, onto his throne.

He appears next, dressed “al in scarlet” (IV. iv, s. d.), in a banquet scene which begins with bloody threats against the defenders of Damascus and devolves into an exchange of cannibalistic taunts and furious counter-curses with the caged and starving Bajazeth and Zabina. Bajazeth tells Tamburlaine he “could willingly feed upon thy blood-raw hart” (IV. iv, 1649-50); he is invited to pluck out his own (“twill serve thee and thy wife” [1652]), to eat scraps from Tamburlaine’s sword point, and to carve up his wife before she falls “into a consumption with freatting, and then she will not bee woorth the eating” (1688-90). “How now Zenocrate,” Tamburlaine asks his own consort, “dooth not the Turke and his wife make a goodly showe at a banquet?” (1696-97). Observing her response to be less than animated, he offers music to cheer her up—“If thou wilt have a song, the Turke shall straine his voice” (1702-03)—but promptly dismisses her request that he show mercy to her native land and to her father’s city.

This sequence comes to a climax in a scene which begins with another refusal of mercy. Tamburlaine, now “all in blacke, and very melancholy” (V. ii, s. d.), responds to the belated but very eloquent pleadings of the first of the virgins of Damascus with a sadistic lesson in the workings of virtual spectacle:

Tam. Behold my sword, what see you at the point? 
Virg. Nothing but feare and fatall steele my Lord. 
Tam. Your fearfull minds are thicke and mistie then,
For there sits Death, there sits imperious Death,
Keeping his circuit by the slicing edge.
(V. ii, 1889-93)

Virtual spectacle, however, is as subject to the rhetorician’s whim as defenceless women are to the mass-murderer’s. Having commanded the virgins to visualize “imperious Death” seated on his sword-tip, Tamburlaine at once declares that

... I am pleasde you shall not see him there,
He now is seated on my horsemens speares:
And on their points his fleshlesse bodie feedes.

As his monstrous play with words makes clear, the fleshless body of this virtual image is about to substantiate itself in a phallic violation of the virgins’ flesh:

Techelles, straight goe charge a few of them
To chardge these Dames, and shew my servant death,
Sitting in scarlet on their armed speares.

They will ‘see’ Death feeding on the blazon of their own blood.

With Zenocrate’s semblables reduced to “slaughtered carcases” (1912) and hoisted up onto the city walls, their murderer launches into an impassioned apostrophe—inspired by the dishevelled beauty of his beloved herself, who “like to Flora in her mornings pride, / Shaking her silver treshes in the aire, / Rain’st on the earth resolved pearle in showers” (1921-23). He declares that Zenocrate’s sorrows, though caused of course by his own refusal to call off the assault, “lay more siege unto my soule, / Than all my Army to Damascus walles” (1936-37). A dehumanizing aestheticism permits the roles of victor and victim to be reversed: “What is beauty saith my sufferings then?” (1941; emphasis added). “Ask the ‘slaughtered carcases’ of Damascus,” would be one possible reply.

It could be said with some confidence that most contemporary spectators and readers of the play would react in a similar manner to the violent excesses of this sequence. But the rhetorical function of Tamburlaine’s soliloquy appears to be to complicate, if not altogether to block, such a response. “If all the pens that ever poets held, / Had fed the feeling of their maisters thoughts, / And every sweetnes that inspir’d their harts...” (1942-44): Tamburlaine is in full flight. Are we likely to perceive this second use of a metaphor of feeding as tainted by the first (which precedes it by less than fifty lines), or by the Scythian’s cannibalistic taunts at his banquet? And if our answer to this or similar questions about the inversions worked by the aestheticism of Tamburlaine’s long soliloquy is an affirmative one, is that because the play-text offers us a position from which to resist the daemonic violence of his specular and spoken rhetoric, or is it rather because we feel sufficiently alienated from this play to want to read it against the grain? In the latter case, is that alienation an effect of the text, or an effect rather of our historical distance from it?

I suspect that such matters as these are not capable of being securely resolved. And yet the play-text may contain a clue as to the anticipated response. The nearest approach to a critical perspective upon Tamburlaine’s doings in this scene is provided by Zenocrate. But although she reacts with horror to the accumulation of “bloody spectacle[s]” (2121), she is also drawn into complicity with the man who is responsible for them. Tamburlaine’s “sights of power,” the corpses of his victims, “grace [his] victory” (2256); so also, in a different manner, does Zenocrate, who “consent[s] to satisfy” (2281) his wishes, and is crowned by him at the end of the scene. It is arguable that this sequence (like the similarly constructed sequence of the siege of Babylon and the conqueror’s fatal illness in 2 Tamburlaine) is designed to draw the audience into a similar attitude of complicity. Is Marlowe then exposing barbarism or participating in it? The lapidary ironies of Hero and Leander reveal him as the most exaggeratedly civilized of the Elizabethan poets; does the aestheticized savagery of the Tamburlaine plays make him also the most grotesquely sadistic writer of his age?



Doctor Faustus offers, in certain respects, a reversal of these patterns. This play is masochistic rather than sadistic; its protagonist a victim rather than a tyrant. Tamburlaine, I have argued, constructs himself through an interplay of actual and virtual spectacle in which he is made to appear, both by self-referential language and by quasi-choric commentary, as an irresistible force, at once elemental and daemonic. Faustus, in contrast, speaks not so much of himself as to himself, and the actual and emblematic spectacle in Doctor Faustus creates a recurrent impression of passivity, of a subject enclosed and penetrated by the discourse of the Other. Faustus is a passive spectator of the pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins and of the other daemonic images, Alexander the Great and Helen of Troy, summoned up by Mephostophilis. He is, moreover, visually framed by the Good and Evil Angels, whose words come to him as though from within. In the first scene of the play, the persuasions of the Evil Angel—“Go forward Faustus in that famous art, / Wherein all natures treasury is containd: / Be thou on earth as Jove is in the skie” (A: 106-08)—are of the same order as those which Faustus has already directed at himself, and the same might be said of the Good Angel’s exhortations five scenes later.

On the level of virtual spectacle, similar effects are evident, for unlike the linear and projective imagery of the Tamburlaine plays, that of Doctor Faustus is insistently reflexive and circular. As Mephostophilis reminds his questioner, “this centricke earth” (B: 606) is enclosed by larger structures:

As are the elements, such are the heavens,
Even from the Moone unto the Emp[y]riall Orbe,
Mutually folded in each others Spheares,
And jo[i]ntly move upon one Axle-tree....
(B: 607-10)

Faustus’s visits to the papal and imperial courts are preceded by an ascent into this structure:

From the bright circle of the horned Moone,
Even to the height of Primum Mobile:
And whirling round with this circumference,
Within the concave compasse of the Pole,
From East to West his Dragons swiftly glide....
(B: 785-89)

Another kind of circularity subsequently becomes apparent: Faustus feels a need to return to his own starting-point, for

the restlesse course that time
doth runne with calme and silent foote,
Shortning my dayes and thread of vitall life,
Calls for the payment of my latest yeares,
Therefore sweet Mephastophilis, let us make haste to Wertenberge.
(A: 1134-39)

Having completed the circuit of his travels, and that of his twenty-four years, Faustus strives in his last hour to arrest the “ever mooving spheres of heaven” (A: 1453). But he is compelled to admit that “The starres moove stil, time runs, the clocke wil strike, / The divel wil come, and Faustus must be damnd” (A: 1460-61).

It is, however, most distinctly through his habit of self-address that Faustus creates an image of himself as a doomed man. Like Tamburlaine, he regularly has his own name on his tongue. But the Tamburlainean third person, by which the Scythian hero reifies himself as an invincible talismanic object, is alien to Faustus. His initial efforts in this mode may indeed seem promising (although one notices that he works himself up to the third person through a preliminary self-address):

Is to dispute well Logickes chiefest end?
Affoords this Art no greater miracle?
Then read no more, thou hast attain'd that end;
A greater subject fitteth Faustus wit.
(B: 37-40)

But when the proud display of his declaration to Mephostophilis—“Learne thou of Faustus manly fortitude, / And scorne those joyes thou never shalt possesse” (A: 330-31)—is promptly followed by an offer to surrender his soul to Lucifer, the absurdity of this stance becomes evident. A Tamburlainean rhetoric is clearly incompatible with the predicament of one of whom we were told, before ever clapping eyes on him, that “His waxen wings did mount above his reach, / And melting heavens conspirde his overthrow” (A: 22-23).

Indeed, in contrast to Tamburlaine’s self-assurance, which is solidly connected to the elemental constitution that makes his vaunts substantial, Faustus’s first soliloquy exposes a subtle division between the speaking voice and the mute self which it so confidently addresses: this rhetoric conveys the compound image of a man who is at once the active, wilful subject addressing himself with such energy, and the passive subject who in some manner stands in need of these brash persuasions. As I have argued elsewhere, this first scene, in which Faustus fulfils the intention announced in his opening lines, of “level[ling] at the end of every Art” (A: 34), also manages to suggest that he is simultaneously moving towards another externally determined end—that of the Calvinist reprobate.24 The language with which he tempts himself is also, it would appear, the language of a daemonic Other.

Faustus’s habitual, his characteristic mode of speech is apostrophic self-address: “Settle thy studies Faustus...” (A: 31); “Now Faustus must thou needes be damnd...” (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 his dramatic identity—and it does so in terms of an introjection of eschatological awareness, 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 also 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—or rather, if he were not constituted as a subject by this very pattern of apostrophic self-address.

This rhetorical pattern is the precise equivalent of Greville’s “fatal mirror of transgression”: the tormented daemonic self-image which this internal mirror offers “bears the faithless down to desperation.”25 Faustus’s rhetoric, moreover, produces a kind of vertigo: he is pulled towards eternal torment by terror and disgust, as well as by delight—by the seven deadly sins, as well as by Helen of Troy. An eschatological awareness burns up through even his most fevered attempt at forgetfulness: Helen’s “sweet 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 its inversion of gender and of subjection his actual relation to this spirit: “Brighter art thou then flaming Jupiter, / when he appeard to haplesse Semele...” (A: 1372-73).

Another more powerful inversion may suggest that the subject constructed in the first part of the play is, in its last scene, being taken apart before our eyes. Faustus in his first soliloquy aspired to beget in himself the powers of a god: “A sound Magician is a mighty god: / Here tire my braines to get a Deity” (A: 92, B: 89). He is alluding to that deification or rebirth which so interested Renaissance magi like Ficino, Pico, and Agrippa.26 But in his last speech, in what sounds like a kind of prayer, he cries:

You starres that raignd at my nativitie,
whose influence hath alotted death and hel,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist,
Into the intrailes of yon labring cloude,
That when you vomit foorth into the ayre,
My limbes may issue from your smoaky mouthes,
So that my soule may but ascend to heaven....
(A: 1474-79)

He is reduced to an abject attempt to surrender his bodily integrity in a disgusting reversal of birth; having once aspired to “rend the cloudes” (A: 89), he now begs for physical dissolution in their entrails.



I have suggested that Marlowe’s 1 and 2 Tamburlaine leave contemporary audiences and readers no secure way of determining whether our recoil from the protagonist is a response intended by the dramatist or merely an effect of our historical distance from him. Doctor Faustus presents an analogous problem: is this play, as Leo Kirschbaum insisted, “wholly conventional in its Christian values and ... in no sense iconoclastic,” or is it rather, as Jonathan Dollimore argues, subversive and radically interrogative?27

It would be most interesting to know, in the case of Tamburlaine, what exactly were those “fond and frivolous Jestures, digressing (and in my poore opinion) far unmeet for the matter,” which the publisher Richard Jones excised from the text, lest they “proove a great disgrace to so honorable & stately a historie....” One might surmise that, like the Calyphas episode in 2 Tamburlaine IV. i, these passages would have undermined the totalitarian fantasy which the ‘honourable and stately’ text we possess seems, for the most part, to legitimize. (There may, that is to say, be a connection between Jones’s apparent approval of “the Scythian Shepheard ... that became so great a Conqueror, and so mightie a Monarque,” and his distinction between the “matter of worth” which contributed to this image of Tamburlaine and the “graced deformities” which—at the very least—must have deflected the audience’s attention in other directions.)28

In the case of Doctor Faustus, however, such speculations are unnecessary: an analysis of its textual history makes it possible to understand both this play’s subversive qualities and the manner in which these were suppressed by early seventeenth-century revisers and by mid-twentieth-century textual critics. To state the matter as briefly as possible: Marlowe’s play reverses the crushingly homiletic orientation of its principal source, The Historie of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor John Faustus (c. 1592)—not indeed by glorifying Faustus, whose pretensions are undermined through a sequence of mordant ironies, but rather by insistently implying that his wilfulness has itself been willed by higher powers.29 The intimate manner in which the protagonist’s damnation is unfolded makes a detached judgment of him difficult, and the absence of that moralistic authorial condemnation which in the prose Historie and its German original had masked the issue of predestination puts into question the nature of the divine power whose interventions shape the action.30 This play proved disturbing: the revision to which the text was subjected in 1602 turned it back, with a massive injection of grotesqueries and of moralistic commentary, towards the homiletic shape of the Faustbooks; and either at that point or in 1606, after the Act of Abuses outlawed blasphemy on stage, the theological harshness of the play was blunted by further revisions.31 Mid-twentieth-century textual critics, however, led by Leo Kirschbaum and Sir Walter Greg, and motivated more by their commitment to a distinctly twentieth-century liberal Christianity than by the textual evidence, argued that the resulting form of the play was very close to the Marlovian original—which was thus not so much a tragedy as an orthodox morality play, a Renaissance Everyman.32

A properly contextualized reconstruction of the textual history of Doctor Faustus can help to restore a sense of the continuities which exist—alongside all the differences—between this play and 1 and 2 Tamburlaine. The most basic of these resides in the playwright’s apparent determination to controvert, to subvert, or at the very least to expose the tyrannical workings of that divine sovereignty which was so central a feature of the Calvinist orthodoxy of Elizabethan England. Whatever we make of their political orientation, it is clear that 1 and 2 Tamburlaine put into circulation a radically anti-theistic discourse:

Come let us march against the powers of heaven,
And set black streamers in the firmament,
To signifie the slaughter of the Gods.
(2 Tamb. V. iii, 4440-42)

T. S. Eliot described the remodelling of this virtual image in Faustus’s last soliloquy as a “triumphant success”33:

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,
Ah rend not my heart for naming of my Christ,
Yet wil I call on him, oh spare me Lucifer!
Where is it now? tis gone....
(A: 1462-67)

One wonders whether Eliot appreciated the extent to which this agonized vision, and Doctor Faustus as a whole, challenges the kind of religious orthodoxy for which he himself became a spokesman.

Another kind of continuity resides in the manner in which, in Doctor Faustus as in Tamburlaine, Marlowe manipulates the reponses of his audience. I take just one example: the concluding chorus, which most critics have understood as imposing an orthodox closure upon the play. But listen to these lines:

Cut is the branch that might have growne ful straight,
And burned is Apolloes Laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man:
Faustus is gone, regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Onely to wonder at unlawful things,
whose deepenesse doth intise such forward wits,
To practise more than heavenly power permits.
(A: 1510-17)

The last four lines consist of two syntactically parallel clauses. What is there here to prevent a first-time listener from attaching the second of these clauses to the same grammatical subject as the first (to Faustus, that is, rather than to “things”)? The result would be a momentary misconstrual of the retrospectively available sense of this passage which may seem scarcely possible to anyone who already knows the text. But a listener who, on first acquaintance with this forked path, takes the wrong choice in construing it and finds herself in a cul-de-sac, can only correct her error by recognizing that “such forward wits” are not to be identified with “the wise.” To conflate the two, even momentarily, is to find oneself stumbling between the two stances which these lines emphatically separate—between a dangerous empathy, scarcely avoidable after Faustus’s last speech, with one forward wit, and the negation of that empathy in a complacent self-identification as one of the wise. But the contagious possibility of such a conflation is built into the syntax of these closing lines. As a deliberate trap, one wonders, or an accident of syntax?

To conclude my own text, I repeat Faustus’s question: “What meanes this shew”? It means, mon semblable, hypocrite auditeur, that we are being manipulated by a master of dramatic spectacle and poetic imagery. But to what extent we are being invited to challenge a theological and political totalitarianism, and to what extent we are being manoeuvred into complicity with it, Marlowe leaves for us to decide.




1  Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Exeter: Rebel Press, 1987), section 24.

2  My quotations from Doctor Faustus are from Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus” 1604-1616: Parallel Texts, ed. W. W. Greg (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). They are identified by the text from which they are drawn (A refers to the edition of 1604 and its reprints in 1609 and 1611, B to the substantially revised edition of 1616), and by their line numbers in Greg's parallel-text edition. For a statement of the principles governing my use of the A and B texts, and for analyses of the relative authenticity of the two versions of the play, see my articles “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 (1987): 498-522, esp. 505-15, and my edition of the play: Christopher Marlowe's “Doctor Faustus”: A 1604-version edition (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1991), xi-xxii, lv-lxix. In all of my quotations from Renaissance texts, u/v and i/j have been silently altered to conform with modern usage.

3  Louis Adrian Montrose remarks that “Popular and liturgical ceremonial forms were appropriated by the secular authorities; they were transformed into exclusive celebrations of the monarchy or the urban elite. Such ceremonies of power and authority are epitomized by the Queen's occasional summer progresses outside the capital and her annual Accession Day fêtes at Westminster; and by the annual procession and pageant for the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London” (“The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology,” Helios 5.7 [1980]: 59).

4  See Peter Stallybrass, “'Wee feaste in our Defense:' Patrician Carnival in Early Modern England and Robert Herrick's 'Hesperides',” English Literary Renaissance 16.1 (Winter 1986): 234-52.

5  J. W. Lever, The Tragedy of State: A Study of Jacobean Drama, intro. by Jonathan Dollimore (2nd ed.; London and New York: Methuen, 1987), p. xix.

6  See Franco Moretti, “The Great Eclipse: Tragic Form as the Deconsecration of Sovereignty,” in his Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms, trans. Susan Fischer, David Forgacs and David Miller (Revised ed.; London and New York: Verso, 1988), pp. 42-82.

7  Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (Brighton and Chicago: Harvester and Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 4.

8  My quotations from Marlowe's plays, with the exception of Doctor Faustus, are taken from The Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. C. F. Tucker Brooke (1910; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), and are identified by act, scene, and line numbers. (Tucker Brooke's lineation is continuous throughout 1 and 2 Tamburlaine, and elsewhere throughout each play.)

9  The words are Ben Jonson's, from his Discoveries : see Discoveries (1641), Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1619), ed. G. B. Harrison (London: Bodley Head, 1923), p. 33.

10  Orthodoxy has its revenges: Marlowe himself appeared as an exhibit in Beard's The Theatre of Gods Judgements (1597). After recounting Marlowe's death in an attempt “to stab one whome hee ought a grudge unto,” Beard adds: “The manner of his death being so terrible (for hee even cursed and blasphemed to his last gaspe, and togither with his breath an oath flew out of his mouth) that it was not only a manifest signe of Gods judgement, but also an horrible and fearefull terrour to all that beheld him” (qtd. from Marlowe: The Critical Heritage 1588-1896, ed. Millar Maclure [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979], p. 42).

11  Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. George Watson (1956; rpt. London: Dent, 1971), ch. xii, p. 152; Catherine Belsey, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), p. 5.

12  Constance Brown Kuriyama, Hammer or Anvil: Psychological Patterns in Christopher Marlowe's Plays (New Bunswick, N. J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 95, 110.

13  Wilbur Sanders, in The Dramatist and the Received Idea: Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), criticized Marlowe for lacking “a firmly-grounded centre of consciousness from which to conduct his exploration of human life” (pp. 139-40)—a remark which ignores the possibility that Marlowe's writings may have been deliberately anti-foundationalist and de-centred. The study which most adequately explores this possibility is Simon Shepherd's Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (Brighton: Harvester, 1986).

14  Clifford Leech, Christopher Marlowe: Poet for the Stage, ed. Anne Lancashire (New York: AMS Press, 1986), p. 214.

15  See Caelica, XCIX, in Selected Writings of Fulke Greville, ed. Joan Rees (London: Athlone Press, 1973), p. 44.

16  Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Heptaplus, in Cesare Vasoli, ed., Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Gian Francesco Pico, Opera omnia (2 vols.; 1557-1573; facsimile rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), vol. 1, sig. A4v: “Est autem praeter tres quos narravimus quartus alius mundus in quo & ea omnia inveniantur quae sunt in reliquis, hic ipse est homo....” I have studied certain implications of this notion of man as an inverse metonymy of the universe in “The World Turned Inside Out: Revolutions of the Infinite Sphere from Hermes to Pascal,” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 21 (1988): 303-13.

17  The importance of Pico's debt to this text can be quickly demonstrated. At the outset of his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, he proclaims the marvellous nature of mankind, and quotes from Asclepius 6. (See Pico, De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno, ed. Eugenio Garin [Florence: Vallecchi, 1942], p. 102; and Corpus Hermeticum, ed. A. D. Nock, trans. A. J. Festugière [4 vols.; 2nd ed.; Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1960], pp. 301-02.) But Pico then asks why we should not admire the angels and the blessed choirs of heaven more than man. He answers this question with his famous re-telling of the story of the creation, in which he identifies man's divinely-accorded indeterminacy, his capacity for self-fashioning and deification, as the basis of his dignity. But this is little more than an expansion of the well-known passage (Asclepius 5-6) from which he had quoted at the outset. Pico's handling of the matter is thus duplicitous: he undoubtedly knew that the answer to the problem posed for him by Hermes's celebration of human dignity is provided by Hermes himself. But the manoeuvre allows him to put Hermes's words (or something very like them) into the mouth of God himself.

18  Asclepius 23-24; Corpus Hermeticum vol. 2, pp. 325-26: “Species vero deorum, quas conformat humanitas, ex utraque natura conformatae sunt; ex divina, quae est purior multoque divinior, et ex ea, quae intra homines est, id est ex materia, qua fuerint fabricatae.... —Statuas dicis, o Trismegiste? —Statuas, o Asclepi. Videsne, quatenus tu ipse diffidas? statuas animatas sensu et spiritu plenas tantaque facientes et talia, statuas futurorum praescias eaque sorte, vate, somniis multisque aliis rebus praedicentes, inbecillitates hominibus facientes easque curantes, tristitiam laetitiamque pro meritis.”

19  Asclepius 37, Corpus Hermeticum vol. 2, p. 347: “... proavi nostri ... invenerunt artem qua efficerent deos. Cui inventae adiunxerunt virtutem de mundi natura convenientem eamque miscentes, quoniam animas facere non poterant, evocantes animas daemonum vel angelorum eas indiderunt imaginibus sanctis divinisque mysteriis, per quas idola et bene faciendi et male vires habere potuissent.”

20  Ficino derived authority from this statue-magic for the idea that, just as aerial demons can be attracted into statues, so also stellar influences and spirits can be drawn into material forms (see Ficino, De triplici vita [In agro Caregio, 1489], sig. h7v, r1r-v). Brian Copenhaver remarks that he allowed the Asclepian statue-magic to colour his interpretation of Plotinus's metaphysics (see Copenhaver, “Astrology and Magic,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988], pp. 275-79).

21  Ficino, Opera omnia (2 vols.; Paris, 1641), Comm. in orationem Dionysii de Trinitate, vol. 2, p. 7: “Si fecit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam, certe est in homine statua Dei, quamvis aditamentis abscondita.”

22  A conflation of this kind is evident in Ludovico Lazzarelli’s Calix Christi et Crater Hermetis, which was printed by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples in his edition of the Hermetic Pimander and Asclepius (Paris, 1505). For an account of Lazzarelli’s conflation of these two forms of god-making into a Hermetic-Christian mystery of spiritual rebirth, see D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958; rpt. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 67-71.

23  Archbishop Whitgift had since 1583 been enforcing uniformity within the Anglican church. John Penry, brought before the Court of High Commission as a dissenter in 1588, was, he wrote in his Appellation (1589), “threatned very bloodily” and told by Whitgift that “ere you depart the court we will finde sufficient matter to emprison you, and if you refuse the oath, to prison you shall goe” (Albert Peel, ed., The Notebook of John Penry 1593 [London: Royal Historical Society, 1944], “Introduction,” p. xiii). Rearrested in March, 1593, Penry was hanged on May 29. (It may be no more than coincidence that Christopher Marlowe appeared before the Privy Council on May 20, four days before Penry's condemnation, and that he was killed on May 30.)

24  See my article “Misreading Faustus Misreading: The Question of Context,” The Dalhousie Review 65.4 (Winter 1985-86), 511-33. In the following three paragraphs I am combining material first sketched out in this article (p. 515), in “History and the Canon,” 513-14, and in “Right Eye and Left Heel: Ideological Origins of the Legend of Faustus,” Mosaic 22.2 (Spring 1989), 82.

25  I am quoting from the first ten lines of Caelica XCIX, in Greville, pp. 43-44:

Down in the depth of mine iniquity,
That ugly centre of infernal spirits
Where each sin feels her own deformity
In these peculiar torments she inherits,
Deprived of human graces and divine,
Even there appears this saving God of mine.

And in this fatal mirror of transgression
Shows man, as fruit of his degeneration,
The error's ugly infinite impression,
Which bears the faithless down to desperation....

26  On this subject, see my article “Agrippa’s Dilemma: Hermetic ‘Rebirth’ and the Ambivalences of De vanitate and De occulta philosophia,” Renaissance Quarterly 41 (1988), 614-53.

27  Leo Kirschbaum, ed., The Plays of Christopher Marlowe (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1962), “Introduction,” p. 102; Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy, pp. 109-19.

28  Works, ed. Tucker Brooke, p. 7. It is of course possible that the material Jones cut was not part of what Marlowe wrote, but rather gags interpolated by the actors. But even if this were so, it would remain the case that the plays which London audiences knew in the late 1580s contained a comic counterweight to tyranny that is lacking in the published text. Which, in this instance, would be the ‘original’ text: the one which audiences had seen acted, or the one ‘restored’ by Richard Jones’s editorial attentions? The arguments of Jerome McGann in A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), ch. 3, are relevant here.

29  See Paul R. Sellin, “The Hidden God: Reformation Awe in Renaissance English Literature,” in Robert S. Kinsman, ed., The Darker Vision of the Renaissance (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1974), pp. 147-96, esp. 177-86; Robert G. Hunter, Shakespeare and the Mystery of God's Judgements (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1976), pp. 39-66; Martha Tuck Rozett, The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 209-46.

30  See my analysis of the Good Angel’s lines in “Misreading,” 520-21.

31  This narrative is based upon the following considerations. We possess two distinct substantive texts of the play, first printed in 1604 and 1616 respectively. The 1616 text incorporates the revisions for which the theatrical entrepreneur Henslowe paid in 1602; see Fredson Bowers, “Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973), 1-18; Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus : The Supposed Originality of the 1616 Text,” English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975), 171-97; and my article “Verbal Magic.” When the revised text became available, the actors presumably discarded the text they had previously been using, which would thus have become available for printing: this would explain the entry in the Stationers’ Register in 1602, and the edition of 1604. (Only a single copy of this edition survives; there may have been an earlier edition of the same text in 1602 or 1603.) The evidence for the ideological orientation of what are probably further (post-1606) revisions is discussed in my edition of Doctor Faustus, pp. xlv-lxix.

32  The work of Greg, in particular, is analyzed in the articles cited in note 31; see also Michael J. Warren, “Doctor Faustus: The Old Man and the Text,” English Literary Renaissance 11 (1981), 111-47.

33  T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays (3rd ed., 1951; rpt. London: Faber and Faber, 1976), p. 122.    

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.     


Verbal Magic and the Problem of the A and B Texts of Doctor Faustus

[First published in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology 82.3 (July 1983): 324-46.] In the present version, I have made several small corrections, one of them noted in a new footnote 6; the text has not otherwise been altered.]


Readers of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus find themselves, at present, in a very curious position. The play survived the Elizabethan age in two versions, which were first printed in 1604 (the “A-text”) and 1616 (the “B-text”). These two quartos, from which all subsequent editions are derived, offer variant readings in many parallel passages, and also differ very substantially from one another in the last three acts. While accepting many of the A-text's readings, recent editors have been unanimous in making the B-version of the play the basis of their editions. (The last major edition to use the A-version as its copy-text was that of Tucker Brooke, in 1910). There is now, however, a near-consensus among critics and editors alike that although the A-text shows clear signs of textual corruption, it presents the play in a form that is both aesthetically preferable to the B-version and more authentic, in the sense of being closer to what Marlowe actually wrote. What is anomalous about the present situation is that Fredson Bowers, the scholar whose arguments in 1973 established this opinion (thus overthrowing the view, dominant since the 1940's, that the B-text corresponded closely to Marlowe's intentions), at the same time based his edition of the play upon the 1616 quarto, and relegated the third and fourth acts of the A-text to an appendix. Readers are thus informed that the A-version is more authentic—and are given the B-version to read.1



My purpose in this article is to review the textual analyses of Doctor Faustus which have led us into this very peculiar situation, to present some new arguments which confirm the decisive critical superiority of the A-version of the play, and to demonstrate that in one important respect—its handling of verbal magic—the B-version is fundamentally incoherent. The great soliloquies of Acts One and Five (speeches which are preserved in substantially the same form in both versions of Doctor Faustus) show clearly that the reversal of Faustus' aspirations with respect to verbal magic is an essential art of the play's meaning. Faustus' gloating anticipation of near-omnipotence—“All things that moove betweene the quiet poles / Shalbe at my commaund” (A: 86-87)—finds a distorted echo at the end of the play in the desperate invocations with which he attempts to stave off the recognition of his utter helplessness:

Ah Faustus, 
Now hast thou but one bare hower to live, 
And then thou must be damnd perpetually: 
Stand stil you ever mooving spheres of heaven, 
That time may cease, and midnight never come: 
Faire natures eie, rise, rise againe....   (A: 1450-55)

In the A-version of the play a consistent authorial attitude toward this reversal is evident throughout. In the B-version, however—and in precisely those passages which have been identified, on other grounds, as later and non-Marlovian additions—a second, conflicting attitude toward verbal magic is developed, with the consequence that one of the central patterns of the play is disrupted. Close analysis will show that this disruption is part of a general relapse from the tragic ironies of the A-version in the direction of the more grotesque features of the Faustbook.



The relative merits of the two texts can be briefly summarized: the B-text, in parallel passages, is generally better and more authoritative—although since it was evidently subjected to a process of bowdlerizing, the A-readings are often to be preferred; the A-text, however, presents the play as a whole in a form that is both more authentic—that is, closer to its original form—and also aesthetically superior.

The arguments of Leo Kirschbaum and W.W. Greg2 have made it probable that in many passages where the two versions run parallel the A-text is a “bad quarto,” a reported text which lacks manuscript authority; and yet, as Fredson Bowers has remarked, this bad quarto is “unusual ... in the apparent closeness with which much of the verse of the tragic action is recalled.”3 In addition to the corruptions introduced by memorial transmission, the A-text shows in some places signs of revision—which may indicate that the text was adapted from its original state, at a time when the London theatres had been closed due to plague, in order to conform to the simpler conditions of provincial performance.4 The B-text, which is some six hundred lines longer, is at many points derived from the 1611 reprint of A (known as A3); there is evidence, however, that its compiler had access to the promptbook of the play (probably damaged or incomplete) which enabled him to correct many of the errors of the A-text.5 (At the same time, though, he cut or altered lines that struck him as being obscure or dangerously profane.)

The textual variants of the A- and B-texts are of course of great importance. Far more arresting, though, are the passages in which the two texts diverge completely from one another. The B-versions of the episodes in the papal court, the imperial court, and the court of the Duke of Vanholt are all very much longer than the corresponding passages in the A-text, and contain incidents and whole scenes of which the A-text gives no hint. The B-text contains, in the fifth act, an “infernal conclave” in which the devils assemble to witness Faustus' end, a sequence of farewell speeches to Faustus by Mephostophilis and the Good and Evil Angels, and also a final scene in which the scholars discover and comment on his “mangled limbs” (B: 2110): none of this is present in the A-text. Less significantly, the scenes of farcical clowning involving Robin and Rafe (or Dick, as he is called in the B-text) are only loosely parallel in the two versions of the play. In one instance, the A-text gives a passage that has evidently dropped out of the other text: the chorus to Act IV, though misplaced in A, is wholly missing from B. But in return, fourteen lines of the chorus to ACT III are known to us only from the B-text.

Editors like A.W. Ward and C.F. Tucker Brooke used the A-text6 of the play as their copy-text—for knowing that in 1602 Henslowe had paid the substantial sum of four pounds to Samuel Rowley and William Birde (or Borne) “for ther adicyones in doctor fostes,”7 they not unnaturally believed the B-text to embody these additions. But a shift in scholarly and critical opinion was initiated by the appearance in 1932 of F.S. Boas' edition, which was based upon the quarto of 1616. Dwelling upon the corrupt and disordered state of the A-text, Boas argued that the comic prose scenes in the 1616 version constituted part of the original text, and he suggested Rowley as their author—thus involving him in the initial composition of the play, as Marlowe's collaborator, as well as in the 1602 additions.8 This argument altered the status of two extended passages which had previously been taken to be additions (and by no means very interesting ones): the scene in which the clowns recount Faustus' grotesque tricks and plot revenge on him, and their intrusion into the scene at Vanholt, where Faustus, striking them dumb at last, could perhaps be said to earn the audience's gratitude more than its laughter. Boas also drew attention to external evidence—passages in the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew (printed in 1594) and in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor (probably written in 1600 or 1601)—which seemed to make it difficult to assign the 1616 scenes in the papal and imperial courts and the abortive revenge of the “injurious knight” Benvolio (III.i-ii and IV.i-iv in Greg's parallel-text edition) to the additions of 1602.9

Boas did not attempt to draw conclusions from this evidence, and his arguments were largely disregarded by critics, who continued to show a strong preference for the A-version. Kirschbaum and Greg, who independently made the important discovery of the memorial nature of the A-text, were less cautious. They decided that the B-text as a whole must antedate the 1602 additions—which had presumably been lost. The 1616 quarto, then, provided a text very close to the intentions of Marlowe and his collaborators, whoever they may have been. And the 1604 quarto, being a reported text, possessed little or no authority except insofar as it preserved lines which had been tampered with by the editor who put the B-text through the press, or which perhaps represented earlier or later stages of the initial process of composition and revision.10 The immense skill and authoritative minuteness of Greg's arguments in particular made this the standard view of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus for nearly a quarter of a century. Editors and critics, by the mid-1960's, were beginning to express dissatisfaction with the resulting interpretations, but faced with a choice between an almost complete text dating from 1592-93 and a memorial abridgement dating, on Greg's estimate, from 1594-95, they confined themselves in most cases to mutinous mutterings.11

In 1973, however, Fredson Bowers demonstrated this analysis to be incorrect, and his arguments have since been supplemented by those of Constance Brown Kuriyama.12 The external evidence adduced by Greg and Kirschbaum proved, upon examination, to be surprisingly fragile. The passage in The Merry Wives of Windsor which was believed to show the existence before 1600 or 1601 of the attempted revenge of Benvolio (and consequently of the preceding B-text scenes in the papal and imperial courts) is in fact by no means a precise allusion. Moreover, this passage does not occur in the 1602 “bad quarto” of The Merry Wives—it is present only in the 1623 Folio text, which, as Bowers remarks, shows signs of having been revised.13 And the parallel between A Shrew and two lines from this same Benvolio episode—a parallel which in Greg's own words “cannot be taken by itself to prove anything at all”14—becomes almost meaningless in face of the probability that both passages were written by Samuel Rowley.15 This rather dubious evidence is outweighed by the fact that B: 1200, “He took his rouse with stopes of Rhennish wine,” seems to be derived from Hamlet, I.iv.8 ff.: “The King doth wake to night and takes his rowse. / Keepes wassell and the swaggring up-spring reeles: / And as he draines his drafts of Rennish downe, / The kettle drumme, and trumpet, thus bray out....” As Bowers writes, “This is, in fact, better evidence for date than the Merry Wives reference since it is a quotation and not a rather vague allusion of doubtful specific application. The only alternatives to line [B: 1200] as written in 1602 are to speculate that Shakespeare was drawing on his memory of Faustus or to place the I.iv lines in the Ur-Hamlet, both rather desperate expedients to avoid a straightforward conclusion.”16 Kuriyama's discussion of further parallels with A Shrew and with Robert Greene's A Looking-Glass for London and England (1591-92, printed 1594) makes a somewhat stronger case for the comparative originality of the comic prose scenes in the A-text than Boas, Kirschbaum, and Greg had been able to make for the contrary opinion.17

This external evidence is strongly supported by other indications. It is noteworthy that Greg's reconstruction of the play's textual history, which rests on his conviction that the B-text does not contain the 1602 additions, involves a large number of speculative assumptions, none of which are necessary if the unique B-text passages are identified with these additions.18 This complex structure of hypotheses creates some embarrassing problems. For example, to explain the presence of what appear to be Rowley's stylistic traits in most of the material peculiar to the B-text by the hypothesis that he collaborated with Marlowe in 1592 or 1593, and that the additions for which he was paid in 1602 are lost, is to substitute speculation for one of the few available pieces of historical information about the text of Doctor Faustus. And if this hypothesis were granted, it would become difficult to imagine what the 1602 additions—which earned their authors a sum equal to what Henslowe sometimes paid for new plays—could have consisted of. It is curious, moreover, that while the reported A-text is missing a scene (presumably a comic one) between the signing of Faustus' pact and the next scene, which begins “When I behold the heavens, then I repent” (A: 628), the supposedly original B-text has a gap in the same place. These problems disappear if one accepts the alternative hypothesis that “the more 'original' text is not original at all, but a revision and expansion of the 'debased' version, or of a text very similar to it.”19 As Bowers has argued in detail, the passages peculiar to the B-text appear to be superimposed upon the tragic action rather than integrated into it: editors like Bullen, Ward, and Tucker Brooke were right in thinking them revisions rather than part of a collaboration.20

The A-text, then, preserves the last three acts of Doctor Faustus in a form which, although probably corrupt and possibly abridged as well, is as close to Marlowe's original as we can expect to get. But how corrupt is the A-text? To what degree should its versions of the non-parallel scenes be allowed by critics and editors to supplant those of the B-text? Fredson Bowers has followed the path of compromise: while arguing that passages added in 1602 cannot legitimately be used to clarify the meaning of passages common to A and B, he took the 1616 quarto as the copy-text for his edition. Given the arguments of Greg that in many parallel passages the readings of the B-text have manuscript authority, this editorial decision can be defended. But it represents a sacrifice of critical integrity not so much to bibliographical principle as to speculation. For Bowers' belief (which in his view made acceptable the decision to base his text upon the B-version) that the A-text passages which were supplanted or cut in the 1602 revision were almost exclusively the work, not of Marlowe, but a collaborator, seems to me highly questionable.21 Judgments on delicate matters of this kind are notoriously difficult to sustain in the absence of such clear-cut stylistic divergences as those which distinguish the 1602 additions. And once the obvious displacements of the A-text's farcical scenes are remedied, its structural and aesthetic superiority over the B-text can be easily recognized.



The denigration of one or the other version of the play in terms of its more or less glaring textual inadequacies can degenerate rapidly into a form of literary-critical table-tennis. But when one deals with the last three acts only, and on the level of their continuity, tone, and decorum, the issue is more one-sided. Bowers and Kuriyama have noted several points at which the awkward splicing of the B-text additions into the text has resulted in repetition or inconsistencies.22 This fumbling is most evident at the beginning of the material relating to the anti-pope Bruno in Act III. The writer (probably Rowley),23 whose fondness for couplets is one distinguishing feature of his verse, tumbles immediately into confusion. The occasion of the papal celebration becomes, by the addition of a slovenly triplet, not only “holy Peters feast” (B: 855), as in A, but also “the Popes triumphant victory” (B: 858). This may be a minor incongruity; and yet there is further evidence of carelessness in the stuttering repetition of “this day” in these same lines: “... holy Peters feast, / The which this day with high solemnity, / This day is held through Rome and Italy” (B: 855-57). What follows, to avoid charges of partiality, is best described in Greg's words:

To Mephostophilis' invitation to wait and see the pope, Faustus replies with an irrelevant declaration that (862-63)

My foure and twenty years of liberty
I'le spend in pleasure and in daliance,

ending with another couplet. Very well, replies Mephostophilis, here they come. “Nay stay”, says Faustus, one thing “and then I go”—he has not been asked to go anywhere, but only to “stand by me”. And then amazingly he launches into a description of their cosmic flight, previously narrated by the Chorus, as a reason for being allowed to be an actor in the papal “shew”. So be it, replies the spirit, “but first stay”—for the third time—and “view their triumphs”, and whatever pranks you like to play, I will see to it that they take effect—and here really does come the procession.24

As Bowers observed, “It is difficult to argue that this series of contradictions and non sequiturs marked the original composition of the scene and that the simple and unified A-text action was its memorial reconstruction.”25 Some readers may find it equally difficult to see why an episode that begins in such an unpromising manner (the unintentional burlesque of this mindless cross-talk goes on for more than thirty lines) should be given preference by editors over the alternative in the A-text.

The remainder of the papal episode in the B-text is competently written, but displays a certain poverty of imagination, a willingness to make repeated use of the same material. Thus “Saxon Bruno,” the anti-pope elected by the emperor, is ordered to “stoope, / Whilst on thy backe his hollinesse ascends / Saint Peters Chaire and State Pontificall” (B: 896-98). These last two words represent a mannerism of this writer, a trick of inversion which he uses to add weight to his verse (and which helps to identify him as Samuel Rowley).26 “State Pontificall” is also padding—though in a sense functional, for it makes possible a further repetition: “Sound Trumpets then, for thus Saint Peters Heire, / From Bruno's backe, ascends Saint Peters Chaire” (B: 903-04). The writer evidently felt that he could get more mileage out of the passage from Foxe's Book of Martyrs that seems to have been his source,27 for some forty lines later the Pope returns to the subject of human footstools. He will depose the Emperor:

And as Pope Alexander our Progenitour, 
Trode on the neck of Germane Fredericke
Adding this golden sentence to our praise; 
That Peters heires should tread on Emperours, 
And walke upon the dreadfull Adders backe, 
Treading the Lyon, and the Dragon downe, 
And fearelesse spurne the killing Basiliske: 
So will we quell that haughty Schismatique....   (B: 945-52)

While such bombast may be appropriate to this Pope, the verse comes closer, perhaps, to the style of Ancient Pistol than to that of Marlowe.

A sense of rhetorical strain, of verse being stretched to the writer's capacity by material which could more suitably be handled at a lower pitch, is more evident still in the B-text scenes at the imperial court. Even the elaborate dumb-show which Faustus provides—a contrast to the simple stage directions of the A-text—is an inevitable anticlimax after his announcement that

if so your Grace be pleas'd, 
The Doctor stands prepar'd, by power of Art, 
To cast his Magicke charmes, that shall pierce through
The Ebon gates of ever-burning hell, 
And hale the stubborne Furies from their caves, 
To compasse whatsoere your grace commands.   (B: 1254-59)

This writing might best be described as opportunistic in its striving for local advantages and neglect of larger structural values: its rhetoric, aspiring in all directions to exaggerated effects, deadens any but the most superficial responses. The Emperor greets Faustus in hyperbolic terms: “Wonder of men, renown'd Magitian, / Thrice learned Faustus...” (B: 1237-38). And he responds with a display of boot-licking: “These gracious words, most royall Carolus, / Shall make poore Faustus to his utmost power, / Both love and serve the Germane Emperour, / And lay his life at holy Bruno's feet” (B: 1250-53)—which is followed by the rhodomontade that I have already quoted. The interruptions of the sceptical knight are reduced to the level of clowning: “...he looks as like [a] Conjurer as the Pope to a Costermonger” (B: 1261-62); “...zounds I could eate my selfe for anger, to thinke I have beene such an Asse all this while, to stand gaping after the divels Governor, and can see nothing” (B: 1275-78). And when he follows the Emperor's line, “Be it as Faustus please, we are content” (B: 1286), with “I, I, and I am content too...” (B: 1287), he drags the whole scene with him into farce. The words with which he vows retribution for his horning are at least amusing: “But an I be not reveng'd for this, would I might be turn'd to a gaping Oyster, and drink nothing but salt water” (B: 1365-66). And they come appropriately from this hung-over clown.

Much on the same level is Falstaff's threat: “and I have not Ballads made on [you] all, and sung to filthy tunes, let a Cup of Sacke be my poyson.”28 It is therefore incongruous, to say the least, when this self-proclaimed ass, Benvolio, appears in the next scene with high words and a sense of honour:

Away, you love me not, to urge me thus, 
Shall I let slip so great an injury, 
When every servile groome jeasts at my wrongs, 
And in their rusticke gambals proudly say, 
Benvolio's head was grac't with hornes to day? 
O may these eye-lids never close againe, 
Till with my sword I have that Conjurer slaine.   (B: 1375-81)

But the tendency toward farce seems irresistible. Benvolio and his accomplices, standing over Faustus' beheaded body, decide to nail horns on his head, sell his beard to a chimney-sweeper, and put out his eyes: “and they shall serve for buttons to his lips, to keepe his tongue from catching cold” (B: 1439-40). Faustus interrupts their contemplation of this “excellent policie” (B: 1441): “Zounds,” cries Benvolio, “the Divel's alive agen.” “Give him his head for Gods sake,” shouts one of his accomplices (B: 1443-44). Elements of farce, as Shakespeare knew, can heighten the effects of a tragedy. But here the farce is out of control, and seems to result primarily from the writer's inability, when he sees an opportunity for a comic quip, to resist putting it in.

Other aesthetic weaknesses of the B-text deserve mention: its repeated anticipations of the opening of Faustus' great speech to Helen,29 the abruptness with which its version of the horse-courser scene begins, the feebleness of the clown's last appearance,30 and the anticlimactic quality of the scholars' final speeches. The speeches of the spirits that precede Faustus' confession to the scholars and his last appearance are less obviously at odds with the tragic structure of the play. These added speeches have a definite energy; they emphasize and literalize Faustus' dread and his sense of loss. But their very conventionality detracts from the power of the play's conclusion. Hell, in particular, becomes disappointingly specific. After two impressive lines—“Now Faustus let thine eyes with horror stare / Into that vaste perpetuall torture-house” (B: 2018-19)—the Evil Angel offers an increasingly unimpressive sequence of torments which make one forcibly aware of the inappropriateness to the play of such a concretized material hell. To make these things so relentlessly—grotesquely—physical, or perhaps even to name them at all, is to rob them of much of their horror. The writer (to alter slightly the words of Shakespeare's Lafew) has made ancient, and familiar (and moralistic as well), “things supernaturall and causelesse”; he encourages us “[to] make trifles of terrours, ensconcing our selves into seeming knowledge, when we should submit our selves to an unknown feare.”31

With one notable exception—the Old Man's first speech, the B-version of which is in my opinion decisively superior—analysis confirms Greg's observation that “The passages peculiar to B are not in any way organic....”32 The B-text additions tend throughout to emphasize and augment the element of supernatural spectacle in the play, and the inflated rhetoric with which such spectacle is presented, in the fourth act especially, is clearly meant to inspire awe. But the detachment of this rhetoric from psychological plausibility33 and from dramatic consistency means that, in the third and fourth acts at least, the awe that is inspired is “safe.” Because the additions function only on the level of disconnected dramatic artifice, the audience can maintain a secure awareness of the insubstantiality of the show, and can indulge its appetite for marvels without discomfort. Marlowe's own writing in this play, however, has a very different tendency.



The A-text is also not without weaknesses. Two of its comic scenes are displaced, and the second of these (Scene ix in Greg's parallel-text edition) has two distinct endings which follow one after the other: sure evidence of corruption and revision. Moreover, the scenes in the imperial court, with the horse-courser, and with the Duke of Vanholt (which together make up Act IV) are linked by what Greg calls dramatic enjambement: Faustus remains on stage throughout, and the shifts in scene are marked by the exits and entrances of secondary characters. Even with these weaknesses—and some might argue that this dramatic enjambement (which is a prominent feature of The Jew of Malta, occurring in II.iii, IV.i, and V.i) is actually quite effective—the A-text is decisively superior to the B-version of the play in its “aesthetic integrity.” As Kuriyama (whose expression this is) has observed, the A-text employs different levels of verse and prose in a consistent and significant manner.34 This is more than a matter of stylistic decorum, and the structural importance of these differentiations extends beyond Kuriyama's confessedly schematic statement that prose is generally used “to lay bare the unpleasant facts which are glossed over and gilded by the verse.”35 It touches, in fact, one of the basic patterns of meaning in the play.

Realist theories of language were common in the Renaissance, and in the hands of Hermetists and Neoplatonists usually involved claims about the magical power of words. Marlowe's interest in the dramatic potential of such claims is evident in his first work for the public stage: the words of Tamburlaine are “strong enchantments”; his vaunts substantiate themselves, words becoming things.36 But while Tamburlaine's verbal magic has a “transitive”37 effect on other characters within the play-world, a different pattern is developed in the A-text of Doctor Faustus: Faustus' incantations may have a transitive effect upon the audience, yet within the play they work only on his own self. In the following pages, after identifying the kind of magical approach to language that Marlowe in this play quite deliberately inverts, I shall attempt to show how important a feature of the A-text this structure of inversion is, and how seriously it is disrupted by the B-text additions.

In Act I the speeches of Faustus and his two friends both imply belief in the magical power of language and convey a sense of that power. Even by casting his words into the despised form of syllogistic logic, Faustus has (so he says) achieved quasi-magical effects, making “the flowring pride of Wittenberg / [Swarme] to my Problemes, as th'infernall spirits / On sweet Musaeus when he came to hell” (B: 136-38). But he wants to literalize this figure of speech, to put his words into forms that will give them, and the will from which they spring, a more coercive power. The appearance of Mephostophilis in response to his invocation seems to fulfil this desire: “I see there's vertue in my heavenly words” (B: 255), he says—the key word in this sentence conveying, like the Italian virtù, the meaning of “power” of “efficacy,” and only secondarily, as an ironic pun, the modern sense of “virtue.” Mephostophilis, however, is not at his command, but is “a servant to great Lucifer” (A: 285): the “conjuring speeches” (A: 290) of Faustus were only per accidens the cause of his appearance.

The language in which Faustus and his friends anticipate the ability to translate will directly into power, as C.L. Barber noted, is insistently blasphemous: Valdes and Cornelius will make Faustus “blest with [their] sage conference” (B: 126), and Valdes tells Faustus that “these bookes, thy wit, and our experience, / shall make all ations to Canonize us” (B: 141-42). Barber associated this tendency to blasphemy with the tension in Elizabethan religious thought between a Protestant rejection of the idea that power inheres in the physical and gestural aspects or the verbal formulas of the sacraments, and a residual impulse to give independent meaning to these very aspects of worship.38 I would suggest that it can also be linked, along with Faustus' more general tendency to ascribe magical power to language, to the tradition of Hermetic magic.

The fourth and thirteenth tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum have been described by A.D. Nock as “mysteries of the word, sacramental acts of baptism and regeneration described and explained.”39 And as recent scholarship has shown, Christian Hermetists like Ludovico Lazzarelli and Cornelius Agrippa attempted to make these Hermetic patterns—the central one of regeneration especially—into mysteries of the Word, the Christian Logos.40 Or—from another point of view—they tried to appropriate the language and doctrine of the scriptures to express and justify their own theories of magic. The Logos, which is both the Word of the Scriptures and Christ, the co-eternal creator of the world, is central to Agrippa's view of the magical power of language. In De occulta philosophia (I quote for convenience from the 1651 translation) he advances the opinion of the “Platonists ... that the power of the thing as it were some kind of life, lies under the form of the signification. First conceived in the mind as it were through certain seeds of things, then by voices or words, as a birth brought forth, and lastly kept in writings. Hence Magicians say, that proper names of things are certain rayes of things, every where present at all times, keeping the power of things....”41 His explanation of this is constructed on the level of natural causes:

the vertues of this terrene orb proceed from no other cause then Celestiall. Hence the Magician that will worke by them, useth a cunning invocation of the superiors, with mysterious words, and a certain kind of ingenious speech, drawing the one to the other, yet by a naturall force through a certain mutuall agreement betwixt them, whereby things follow of their own accord, or sometimes are drawn unwillingly.... Now the words of men are certain naturall things; and because the parts of the world mutually draw one the other, therefore a Magician invocating by words, works by powers fitted to nature, by leading some by the love of one to the other, or drawing others by reason of the following of one after the other, or by repelling by reason of the enmity of one to the other, from the contrariety, and difference of things, and multitude of vertues; which although they are contrary, and different, yet perfect one part; sometimes also he compels things by way of authority, by the Celestiall vertue, because he is not a stranger to the heaven.

The magician's knowledge enables him to manipulate the occult forces in nature. He can also compel things because his words are in fact (though Agrippa seems to resist this conclusion) supernatural as well as natural. Celestial “vertues” originate with

the word of God, which word the wise Chaldeans of Babylon call the cause of causes, because from it are produced all beings, ... and that by reason of the union of this word with the first author, from whom all things are truely produced; The word therefore is the image of God, the acting intellect the image of the word, the soul is an image of this intellect; and our word is the image of the soul, by which it acts upon naturall things naturally, because nature is the work thereof.42

Agrippa's return to an insistence on the natural quality of verbal magic cannot disguise the obvious implication of this passage, which is that the magician can get in at the top of the hierarchical structure of the world because his “mysterious words” and “ingenious speech” draw upon the power of the Word of God: Christ, the Logos, the holy scriptures.

This syncretism was attacked by orthodox Christians because it applied, to this-worldly magic, language which owes its special qualities to the fact that it has been used by the Holy Spirit to express the sacramental links established by Christ between God and man. This appropriation of the Word was blasphemy, just as surely as the use of a stolen Host for magical purposes was blasphemy.

It is, I think, to these blasphemous implications of Hermetic magic, as well as to the tensions defined by C. L. Barber, that Marlowe is alluding in the opening scenes of Doctor Faustus. But only in Faustus' anticipatory imaginings are words an instrument by which his will can dominate over the world. The blasphemous rhetoric which he uses is not a net to catch the world, but a web in which he himself becomes entangled. To gain the obedience of Mephostophilis, Faustus must “binde [his] soule” (A: 490) in a form of words, “in manner of a Deed of Gift” (B: 447). There may be slightly alarming as well as agreeable implications in Mephostophilis' promise to give him “more than thou hast wit to aske” (A: 487)—but the real importance of these words is that they reveal the notion of magicians that words constitute a causal link between will and the external world to be an illusion. Even with a devil at his command, Faustus will not get what he orders, but something “more”—whatever that may mean.

He seems in fact to get rather less: his first demand—for “a wife, the fairest Maid in Germany” (B: 532-33)—is met by a practical joke; and later, Mephostophilis' refusal to answer the provocative question “who made the world?” (B: 636) leads to Faustus' angry response: “Villaine, have not I bound thee to tell me any thing?” (B: 640). There is no trace of deference in the retort: “I, that is not against our Kingdome. / This is: Thou art damn'd, think thou of hell” (B: 641-42). The magician whose “servile spirits” (B: 124) were to be the instruments of his wildest whims is being ordered what to think. And Faustus is quickly terrified into compliance by the appearance of Lucifer and Belzebub: he vows “never to looke to heaven, / Never to name God,”—an intention that contradicts itself—“or to pray to him, / To burne his Scriptures, slay his Ministers, / And make my spirites pull his churches downe” (A: 725-28). There is a grave irony to the B-text version of Lucifer's reply: “So shalt thou showe thy selfe an obedient servant...” (B: 667).43



Marlowe is clearly redefining the sense in which words can be said to have magical power, and he is doing so in a manner that assimilates magic to witchcraft. Verbal magic appears to work for Faustus only in reverse: his imagination is captured by words, and then bound by them, with alarming consequences. There remains a sense in which blasphemy can achieve magical effects for him. His mocking use, in the flourish with which he signs away his soul, of Christ's last words on the cross—words which bear the whole weight of the mystery of redemption—has an immediate result:

Consummatum est, this Bill is ended, 
And Faustus hath bequeath'd his soule to Lucifer
But what is this inscription on mine arme? 
Homo fuge, whither should I flie? 
If unto God hee'le throwe thee downe to hell, 
My sences are deceiv'd, here's nothing writ, 
[O yes, I see it plaine, even heere is writ] 
Homo fuge, yet shall not Faustus flye.    (A: 515-20, B: 468, A: 522)

But although the writing on the wall that answered the blasphemies of Balshazar was visible to all, and proclaimed a sentence that was executed that same night, the hallucinatory inscription which his own blood forms on Faustus' arm has power only in his imagination; his death-warrant, though signed in that same blood, is post-dated. On a deeper level than that of verbal magic, Faustus' blasphemies do seem to have a kind of transitive power: he manages to strike a better bargain with hell than witches were supposed to be able to negotiate,44 and he does actually get his agreed twenty-four years of demonic service. The manner in which he sheds his own blood may perhaps explain what happens. Faustus performs what could be described as a symbolic suicide:

Loe Mephastophilus, for love of thee, 
I cut my arme, and with my proper blood
Assure my soule to be great Lucifers
Chiefe Lord and regent of perpetual night, 
View heere the blood that trickles from mine arme, 
And let it be propitious for my wish.    (A: 493-98)

By this act he becomes, in effect, his own ritual murderer: though he has killed someone closer to himself than a brother, he bears (one might say) the mark of Cain.

Faustus is set apart for a punishment greater than he can bear; at the same time—and in part because of his inability to stand up even to the threat of immediate punishment—he seems to enjoy for the period of his compact an immunity from bodily harm. Faustus' shedding of his own blood is both a deliberate self-exclusion from the number of those for whom Christ's blood was shed and also a kind of blasphemous anti-Christian sacrament by which he becomes an anomalous or mediating term between the present state of life on earth and the eternity in hell to which he vows himself. In mythical structures, mediating terms between incommensurable categories or states of being are commonly felt to have a numinous, daimonic, or sacred quality.45 To say that Faustus is protected from external harm by having entered a taboo or sacred realm would be to exaggerate; and yet it would appear that he could not die within the time he has bargained for, unless by his own hand, in a real, not symbolic suicide. In the B-version of Act IV, this aspect of he blood-pact is made grotesquely explicit, and in a manner that puts Faustus' human nature in doubt; but it is also implicit in the A-text. The devils seem to respect this deep blood-magic, and so perhaps do we: few readers, I believe, find it odd that Mephostophilis does not wring Faustus' neck at the earliest opportunity, or drop him from the air, in a state of damnable pride, on the first leg of their Grand Tour.

On the level of verbal magic, however, it is Faustus himself, not the spirits or the external world, that is influenced and swayed. He is able to make use of the incantatory power of language only in a subjective, not a transitive, manner. The “sweete pleasure” of words can, at least temporarily, conquer “deepe despaire”: “Have I not made blind Homer sing to me / Of Alexanders love, and Oenons death?” (B: 595-96). He has also distracted himself with the music of him “that built the walles of Thebes, / With ravishing sound of his meodious Harpe” (B: 597-98); but the reference to Amphion only brings out by contrast Faustus' lack of such power.

The transitive impotence of verbal magic is underlined in Act III by the ludicrous failure of the monks' attempt to exorcize Faustus and Mephostophilis, and in the following scene of the same act by the consequences of Robin's reciting an invocation from the book he has stolen from Faustus. If this was the book which Lucifer gave to Faustus to enable him to take on any shape (and which Faustus promised he would keep “as chary as my life” [B: 739]), then the transformation of the clowns into animal shapes is appropriate—as is the fact that in the A-text we do not encounter them again.46

In the fourth act of the A-text this pattern is continued: there is no direct link through words between the imagination and will and the transitive effects of magic. The Emperor tells Faustus, “I have heard strange report of thy knowledge in the blacke Arte, how that none in my Empire, nor in the whole world can compare with thee, for the rare effect of Magicke: they say thou hast a familiar spirit, by whome thou canst accomplish what thou list...” (A: 1040-44).47 And Faustus accepts, with a modest disclaimer, this assessment of his powers: “My gratious Soveraigne, though I must confesse my selfe farre inferior to the report men have published ..., yet ... I am content to do whatsoever your majesty shall command me” (A: 1051-55). Faustus does not lack confidence or pride; he “doubt[s] not” that the spirits' representation of Alexander and his paramour “shal sufficiently content your Imperiall majesty” (A: 1090). But he is not making things happen by the triumphant power of his imagination and his will, working through words; everything is done by his attendant: “Mephastophilis be gone” (A: 1097). The words with which he introduces this magic thus belong at the level of prose. Similarly, it is appropriate that the Emperor should speak in prose of Faustus' reputation—which he wants to see substantiated—but that his language should rise to verse when he reveals his desire to see

                                         Alexander the great, 
chiefe spectacle of the worldes prehemin[en]ce, 
The bright shining of whose glorious actes
Lightens the world with his reflecting beames, 
As when I heare but motion made of him, 
It grieves my soule I never saw the man....    (A: 1063-68)

The Emperor does indeed ask Faustus to use the “cunning of thine Art” (A: 1069); but Faustus' willingness to comply, “so farre forth as by art and power of my spirit I am able to performe” (A: 1078-79), provides an exact statement of the manner in which he operates: the power, and probably the art as well, is not his but his spirit's.

The B-text substitutes a wholly different pattern. We hear that “Faustus at the Court is late arriv'd, / And at his heeles a thousand furies waite, / To accomplish what soever the Doctor please” (B: 1209-11). And “The Emperour is at hand, who comes to see / What wonders by blacke spels may compast be” (B: 1225-26). His greeting, and Faustus' reply, try but fail to be more impressive and dignified than their prose counterparts in the A-text. Both speeches in the B-text emphasize a verbal incantatory magic in which words form a causal link between the ruling will and what it dominates—precisely that kind of magic that Marlowe has shown Faustus to be incapable of. The liberation of Bruno, says Carolus, “Shall adde more excellence unto thine Art, / Then if by powerfull Necromantick spels, / Thou couldst command the worlds obedience” (B: 1241-43). Faustus reassures the Emperor, by a display of abject humility, that he has no such political aims. But in lines which I have already quoted, he seems to imply that by “power of Art” and “Magicke charmes” he is capable of anything—though he puts this power at the Emperor's disposal.

The presence in the B-version of two quite incompatible views of Faustus' magic creates obvious inconsistencies. If Faustus after all possesses powers of a kind that the first two acts have shown him not to have, why then should the man who has anticipated, before discovering his limitations, that “The Emperour shall not live, but by my leave, / Nor any Potentate of Germany” (B: 335-36) now present himself to “most royall Carolus” as “poore Faustus” (B: 1250-51)? This is an unprofitable question—which the A-text does not tempt us to ask. For its fourth act does not clash with what we have been shown in Act II—a man who is deflected by despair from any sustained enterprise, and whose power over Mephostophilis is not a matter of command, but of permission.

More disturbingly, the B-text episodes of Benvolio's revenge and the horse-courser's leg-pulling and its consequences make Faustus no longer human, but a kind of monstrous amphibian—part demon, part animal—which can magically reconstitute its dismembered body and devour a whole load of hay. (“O monstrous” [B: 1608], say the clowns on hearing of this last feat.) Faustus is not interested in the return of his severed head—“Nay keepe it” (B: 1445)—for “had you cut my body with your swords, / Or hew'd this flesh and bones as small as sand, / Yet in a minute had my spirit return'd, / And I had breath'd a man made free from harme” (B: 1449-52). And the detachable leg, which in the A-text seems to be a demonic illusion48—though the audience's senses are deceived, as well as the horse-courser's—becomes in the B-text a part of Faustus' body. The horse-courser keeps it “at home in mine Hostry” (B: 1629), and for some thirty prose lines in the Vanholt scenes the clowns twit Faustus, on the assumption that he must now have a wooden leg; learning the truth they exclaim in chorus, “O horrible...” (B: 1755).



This disruption in the B-text of the play's patterns of meaning and its rhetorical decorum has serious consequences. For if Faustus is going to become once more in the last act of the play a human being, a tragic figure, then a major re-adjustment of the audience's responses is necessary. The moralistic or mocking tone of much recent criticism based on the B-version of Doctor Faustus suggests that this adjustment is not an easy one to make.

The great speeches of Act V—in particular, Faustus' rhapsodic address to Helen and his last soliloquy—are permeated by a verbal magic which is transitive only in its effects upon the audience. We are not conjured to do Faustus' will; rather, we are drawn into empathy with his predicament. His expressed intentions in these speeches are defeated, and yet the glamour which his words cast tends to remove one's desire, and perhaps one's capacity, to make detached moral judgments of him. Consider the speech to Helen. Although Faustus has asked for her in the hope that her “sweet embraces may extinguish cleare, / Those thoughts that do disswade [him] from [his] vow ... to Lucifer” (B: 1867-69), the knowledge of his predicament burns up through the very words that are intended to repress it:

Brighter art thou then flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to haplesse Semele....    (B: 1889-90)

But who in the audience remembers, by the end of this speech, that Faustus came to Helen direct from his betrayal of the Old Man, and with the visible stain of his cowardice still on him, in the form of the blood shed in the renewal of his pact with hell? The self-inflicted wound of Faustus' perverse atonement has been transmuted, through his blasphemous adoration of Helen, into an aspect of his playful chivalry:

And I will combat with weake Menelaus
And weare thy colours on my plumed crest. 
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heele, 
And then returne to Hellen for a kisse.    (B: 1883-86)

In the last scene of the play, this audience-directed verbal magic is still stronger. The effect is paradoxical, for Marlowe's magic works on us through the utter failure of his protagonist's. Faustus cries out in his agony: the stars are not held back, nor the mountains moved; but the audience is riveted.

Yet can an audience that has arrived at these scenes by way of the cheap tricks of the B-text Act IV respond fully to this magic? I doubt it. There is all the more reason, then, to wait impatiently for a new edition of Doctor Faustus based upon the A-version of the play.





1  All quotations from the play are from W.W. Greg, ed., Marlowe's Doctor Faustus 1604-1616 (1950; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Quotations are identified by Greg's line numbers; u/v and i/j have been silently normalized. It will be noticed that my usage distinguishes between the terms “version” and “text”: “version” refers to the general shape of the play in its 1604 or 1616 form, and “text” to the actual texts themselves. My demonstration of the superiority of the A-version is based on an analysis of passages in which the two versions diverge. In parallel passages I have felt free to quote from the B-text whenever I felt its readings to be preferable.

2  Leo Kirschbaum, “The Good and Bad Quartos of Doctor Faustus,” The Library, n.s. 26 (1946): 272-94; Greg, pp. 1-150, 295-405.

3  Fredson Bowers, ed., The Complete Works of Christopher Marlowe, 2 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 1973), II, p. 139.

4  Greg, pp. 60-62.

5  Greg, pp. 63-97. Greg's argument on this point is accepted by Bowers, II, p. 142.

6  My published text incorrectly reads “the A-version.” I have corrected this small error here.

7  Greg, p. 11.

8  F. S. Boas, ed., The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (1932; 2nd ed. London: Methuen, 1949), pp. 21-28.

9  Boas, p. 30, n.1.

10  Bowers writes: “It was particularly unfortunate that Kirschbaum felt the demonstration of the memorial nature of the A-text involved the hypothesis that it was a redaction of the whole of the present B-text so that one in effect proved the other and that this linking of two essentially discrete problems powerfully affected the thinking of Sir Walter Greg.... The two problems are in fact independent; and where the evidence appears to overlap in certain comic scenes, the hypothesis of B-text revision as synonymous with the 1602 additions is as satisfactory as A-text memorial corruption and shortening where this evidence concerns the identifiable revisions” (II, p. 127 n.).

11  Roma Gill objected to certain of Greg's hypotheses (Gill, ed., Doctor Faustus, New Mermaids [London: Benn, 1965], pp. Xv-xvi), and J.B. Steane argued that the A-version is “artistically stronger” (Steane, ed., Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Plays [Penguin, 1969], p. 261); both editors, however, based their editions upon the B-text and the B-version of the play.

12  Bowers, “Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” Studies in Bibliography 26 (1973): 1-18; Bowers, Works, II, pp. 123-55; Constance Brown Kuriyama, “Dr. Greg and Doctor Faustus: The Supposed Originality of the 1616 Text,” ELR 5 (1975): 171-97.

13  Bowers, Works, II, pp. 136-37; cf. Greg, p. 28.

14  Greg, p. 28.

15  Kuriyama, 176, 191-96.

16  Bowers, Works, II, p. 138. (I have quoted the lines from Hamlet from the Second Quarto.) Greg, oddly enough, was well aware of this parallel: “...the only point that might make me suspect that any part of the B-text was as late as 1602 is a possible echo of Hamlet in l. 1200” (p. 29 n.). This can serve as a warning against the workings of prejudice in such delicate matters as the assessing of external evidence: had Greg quoted this parallel in his text, rather than relegating it to a footnote, he would have been unable to press his arguments for the priority of the unique B-text passages.

17  Kuriyama, 174-76, 181-95. The parallels with A Looking Glass would seem to indicate an early date (before 1592) for Doctor Faustus.

18  Bowers, Works, II, p. 138 n.: “Analysis suggests that every major difficulty in Greg's reconstruction of the history of the texts ultimately refers back to the denial of the evidence of revision as applying to the Rowley-Birde additions. Acceptance of these, for example, removes all need to argue that Marlowe must have reworked the play in the promptbook, that the passages peculiar to B in Act V are original drafts discarded in the final make-up for performance, that—contrary to the evidence of the A-text—Rowley was probably Marlowe's original collaborator, and so on.”

19  Kuriyama, 179.

20  Bowers, “Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: The 1602 Additions,” 5-8.

21  As Bowers observes, the choice of a copy-text, and the question of whether the edited text should be based in its structure on the A- or the B-version of the play, are separate matters (Works, II, pp. 142-44). It is the latter decision that I am questioning. I have seen no adequate demonstration that such passages as A: 1057-76, 116-19, and 1134-42 were not written by Marlowe; indeed, I suspect that such a demonstration would be impossible. If the stylistic and structural integration of these passages makes the question of authorship difficult to resolve, that should itself serve as a guide to editors in their choice between the A- and B-versions of the play.

22  These consist of the lines which prepare for the Saxon Bruno material (discussed below), the horse-courser's repetition of the story of his dousing (compare A: 1175-89 with B: 1553-61 and 1611-22), and the repetition, though in different form, of Wagner's response to Faustus' bequests to him (compare A: 1267-71 with B: 1777-82 and 1915-19).

23  H. Dugdale Sykes, in The Authorship of “The Taming of a Shrew,” “The Famous Victories of Henry V,” and the additions to Marlowe's “Faustus” (London: Shakespeare Association, 1920), was the first to offer stylistic evidence for Samuel Rowley's authorship of the greater part of the B-text additions. Sykes' arguments, which are supported by L.M. Oliver's discovery that the Saxon Bruno episode in the B-text is derived, like parts of Rowley's When You See Me You Know Me, from Foxe's Book of Martyrs (cf. Oliver, “Rowley, Foxe, and the Faustus Additions,” MLN 60 [1945]: 391-94), were largely accepted by Greg (pp. 133-35). Kuriyama's observations (191-96) refine and strengthen this evidence. Rowley's mannerisms include a fondness for postpositive adjectives and an unusually frequent use of the oath “swouns” and of phrases like “I warrant you,” “I promise you,” “I can tell you,” and “trust me.” Kuriyama's remark that these phrases produce an effect of “vague emphasis” (192) can be applied with equal justice to Rowley's other mannerisms.

24  Greg, p. 114.

25  Bowers, Works, II, p. 134.

26  Cf. Greg, pp. 133-34. It should be noted that a similar postpositive construction (“demonstrations magicall”) occurs at A: 183 (B: 172) in the first scenes of the play, in a passage that is otherwise suspect: “some lustie grove” in A: 184 (B: 173: “some bushy Grove”) is possibly a reviser's awkward anticipation of “some solitary grove” (A: 186, B: 175). The four-line speech by Faustus which contains this postpositive adjective and this possible anticipation may be a 1602 revision by Rowley of an original speech that is now lost. See note 46 below for another instance of 1602 revisions finding their way into the A-text. Although such passages should prevent us from making extravagant claims about the integrity of the A-text, they do not affect my argument that the A-version of the play possesses a structural and thematic integrity that shows it to be closer to the original than the B-version and preferable to the B-version as the basis for a conflated text.

27  Greg (p. 352) quotes the source passage from John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of these Latter Days (i.e., The Book of Martyrs), 1563, sig. F3: “The proude Pope setting his foote upon the emperours necke, saide the verse of the Psalme: Super aspidem et basilicum ambulabis et cõcaltabis [sic for 'concalcabis'] Leonum et draconem: That is, Thou shalte walke upon the adder, & the Basiliske: And shalt treade downe the Lion and the dragon. &c. To whom the Emperour answering againe, saide: Non tibi, sed petro: that is: not to thee, but to Peter. The Pope again, Et mihi, et Petro. Bothe to me and to Peter.”

28  I Henry IV, II.ii.41-43 (First Folio).

29  A pair of such anticipations is produced by Frederick and Martino, the accomplices of Benvolio, when they have struck off Faustus' head:

     Fred.   Was this that sterne aspect, that awfull frowne, 
Made the grim monarch of infernall spirits, 
Tremble and quake at his commanding charmes? 
     Mar.   Was this that damned head, whose heart conspir'd
Benvolio's shame before the Emperour.    (B: 1422-26).

The second scholar responds to the sight of Helen with another anticipation of the same lines: “Was this faire Hellen, whose admired worth / Made Greece with ten yeares warres af[f]lict poore Troy?” (B: 1804-05). Frederick's anticipation is part of the B-text's disruption in Act IV of the play's treatment of verbal magic. The other anticipations are purely parasitical.

30  Boas' view that this episode is a “clever adaptation of Faustbook material,” and that it “forms an effective finale to the humorous episodes” (The Tragical History, “Introduction,” p. 26), has not been widely shared by other critics.

31  All's Well That Ends Well, II.iii.3-6 (First Folio).

32  Greg, p. 23.

33  See Frank Manley, “The Nature of Faustus,” MP 66 (1968-69): 218-31.

34  Kuriyama, 189-91.

35  Kuriyama, 190.

36  I Tamburlaine, I.ii.419 (“What stronge enchantements tice my yeelding soule?”), 407-408 (“Nor are Apollos Oracles more true, / Then thou shalt find my vaubts substantiall”); quoted from The Works of Christopher Marlowe, ed. C.F. Tucker Brooke (1910; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), pp. 19-20.

37  My use of the word “transitive” follows D.P. Walker's important distinction, in his Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (1958; rpt. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), pp. 76-82, between the “subjective” and the “transitive” effects that were attributed to different kinds of magic by Renaissance writers. Subjective effects “remain within the operator or those taking part in the operation,” while in transitive operations “the operator imposes an effect on someone else without undergoing it himself” (p. 82).

38  C. L. Barber, “'The form of Faustus' fortunes good or bad',” Tulane Drama Review 8 (1963-64): 96-97.

39  A. D. Nock, “Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background,” in his Essays on Religion and the Ancient World, ed. Zeph Stewart, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), I, p. 61.

40  See, for example, E. Garin et al., ed., Testi umanistici su l'ermetismo (Rome: Fratelli Bocca, 1955), pp. 23-77, 107-62; P.O. Kristeller, “Marsilo Ficino e Lodovico Lazzarelli” and “Ancora per Giovanni Mercurio da Correggio,” in his Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters (1956; rpt. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1969), pp. 221-57; D.P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, pp. 64-72, 90-96.

41  Three Books of Occult Philosophy, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, of Nettesheim, tr. by J.F. (London, 1651), I.lxx, p. 153. Agrippa's text is as follows: “Dicunt iccirco Platonici in hac ipsa voce, sive verbo, sive nomine, iam suis articulis formato, ipsam vim rei sub significationis forma, quasi vitam aliquam latere: primò ab ipsa mente quasi per semina rerum conceptam, porrò per voces sive verba quasi partum editam, postremò etiam scriptis servatam. Hinc dicunt Magi, propria rerum nomina esse quosdam rerum radios ubique semper praesentes, rerumque vim servantes...” (quoted from R.H. Popkin, ed., Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim: Opera, 2 vols. [c. 1600: facsimile rpt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970], I, p. 140, De occulta philosophia, I.lxx).

42  Three Books of Occult Philosophy, II.lx, pp. 337-39. Agrippa's words are as follows: “Non enim ab alia causa quàm à coelesti, terreni orbis virtutes proveniunt. Hinc Magus per illas operaturus, utitur invocatione astuta superiorum, verbis mysteriosis, & locutione quadam ingeniosa, trahens unum ad aliud: vitamen naturali per quandam convenientiam inter illas mutuam, qua res sponte sequuntur, sive quandoque trahuntur invitè.... Verba autem hominum, res quaedam sunt naturales: & quia partes mundi naturaliter se invicem trahunt, & in se mutuò agunt, idcirco magus invocans per verba, operatur per vires naturae aptas, quaedam amore unius ad aliam ducendo aut trahendo propter sequelam unius rei ad alteram: aut repellendo propter odium unius ad aliam, ex rerum contrarietate & differentia, virtutumque multitudine: quae licet sint contrariae aut differentes, perficiunt tamen partem unam: quandoque etiam dominio quodam cogit res virtute coelesti, quoniam non est alienus à coelo.... sed & virtute à Deo per verbum eius insita, quod verbum Chaldaei Babyloniae sapientes, vocant causam causarum: quoniam ab eo producuntur entia, etiam ipse intellectus agens ab eo secundus. Id autem propter unionem verbi huius cum autore primo, à quo omnia existentia verè producuntur. Verbum igitur, id est, simulacrum Dei: intellectus agens, est simulacrum verbi: anima est simulacrum intellectus: verbum autem nostrum est simulacrum animae, per quod agit in res naturales naturaliter, quoniam natura opus illius est.” Opera, I, pp. 302-304, De occulta philosophia, II.lx.

43  In both texts Faustus is told not only what to think, or not to think, but also what not to say: Lucifer responds to his amusingly naïve remark, “That sight will be as pleasant to me, as Paradise was to Adam the first day of his creation” (B: 672-73, cf. A: 733-34), with the stern admonition: “Talke not of Paradice or Creation, but marke the shew” (B: 674-75, cf. A: 735-36). The effect of this is weakened in the A-text when Lucifer goes on to tell Faustus what to say: “talke of the divel, and nothing else” (A: 736). Faustus' position is clear enough without this extra emphasis.

44  Reginald Scot's description of “such as are said to bee witches” includes many of the features of the witch stereotype: they “are women which be commonly old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowle, and full of wrinkles.... These go from house to house, and from doore to doore for a pot full of milke, yest, drinke, pottage, or some such releefe: without the which they could hardlie live: neither obtaining for their service and apines, nor by their art, nor yet at the divels hand (with whome they are said to make a perfect and visible bargaine) either beautie, monie, promotion, welth, worship, pleasure, honor, knowledge, learning, or anie other benefit whatsoever” (The Discoverie of Witchcraft, ed. Brinsley Nicholson [1886; rpt. East Ardsley: EP Publishing, 1973], I.iii. pp. 5-6). It is typical of Scot that he also identifies another category of 'witches'—the “couseners”—and that he emphasizes the paradoxical nature of this pact which offers nothing substantial to the witch.

45  See Edmund Leach, Genesis as Myth and Other Essays (1969; rpt. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971), pp. 9-15.

46  The A-text at this point shows signs of revision. It seems probable that the scene ended with Mephostophilis' entrance, with the terrified lines spoken to him by the Vintner, Rafe, and Robin (A: 1014-19), and with his command: “Vanish vilaines, th'one like an Ape, an other like a Beare, the third an Asse, for doing this enterprise” (A: 1021-22). There is no indication in these lines that Mephostophilis was compelled by Robin's conjuration; the clown's jumbled nonsense, like Faustus' invocation, is only efficacious per accidens. The stage direction “Enter to them Meph.” (A: 1020) is redundant in the text as it stands: he is already on stage. It also appears to be misplaced, for Mephostophilis' lines A: 1032-33 contain an alternate version of his transformation of the clowns (though not, in this case, the unoffending Vintner). The direction at A: 1020 was presumably written to precede the alternative ending of the scene, which begins with lines A: 1023-28:

Monarch of hel, under whose blacke survey
Great Potentates do kneele with awful feare, 
Upon whose altars thousand soules do lie, 
How am I vexed with these vilaines charmes? 
From Constantinople am I hither come, 
Onely for pleasure of these damned slaves.

The view of verbal magic contained in these lines is distinctly that of the 1602 additions: the devil as come not by Lucifer's command, or of his own accord (cf. A: 285-91), but because “these vilaines charmes” have compelled him. If these lines are in fact derived from the 1602 revision, it is curious that they are better preserved here than in the B-text, where (presumably to avoid the fines imposed for blasphemy under the 1606 Act of Abuses) lines A: 1023-25 are replaced by B: 1159 (“You Princely Legions of infernall Rule”).

47  This passage is very close to the wording of Ch. 29 of the English Faustbook.

48  The leg business seems, in the A-text, to be an example of the kind of demonic deception of the senses that was commonly attributed to those magicians known as praestigiatores. Johann Godelmann, in his Tractatus de magis, veneficis et lamiis (Frankfurt, 1591), discusses under this category the magicians of Pharaoh, Simon Magus, and “celebris Ioan. Faustus superiori seculo” (I.iii, pp. 25-28).