Critical Essays Textual Problems


One of the difficulties in studying Doctor Faustus lies in establishing the authoritative text. In 1601, the stationer Thomas Bushell registered a publication entitled "A book called the play of Doctor Faustus." A quarto of the play may have been printed that year, but there is no existing copy to be found.

The play which we now have has been handed down in two widely different versions: the 1604 or A quarto and the 1616 or B quarto. The A quarto was also reprinted in 1609 and 1611. Since there is a record in Henslowe's diary in 1602 that he paid four pounds to William Bird and Samuel Rowley for writing additions to Doctor Faustus, this earlier quarto probably contains some of these interpolations and additions which Marlowe did not write. Since the A text is so short and does not have any traditional divisions into scenes or acts, some critics speculate that the A text represents a report from memory by some of the actors in the original acting company.

The 1616 or B quarto is a greatly expanded edition of the play and contains some six hundred lines more, making it about the normal length of an Elizabethan play. The B quarto was also reprinted in 1619, 1620, 1624, 1628, and 1631. Several scholars think that this text is of composite origin, being from several original drafts with certain revisions.

Although several scholars argue that the 1616 text is the more authoritative of the two, most editors have used the 1604 quarto, which had apparently been cut for acting. Most of the editors, while using the 1604 quarto, have added corrections from the 1616 editions. Thus any text that is now used will be a combination of these two texts according to the views of the individual editor.

Because the text of Doctor Faustus is so corrupt, it is impossible to determine whether or not Marlowe wrote the complete play as it now appears in any of the texts. The problems of structure and also the unrelated comic scenes suggest that the clown or comic scenes were inserted by other writers. However, without these comic scenes the play would have been exceptionally short. It is probably safe to assume that Marlowe intended to have a certain amount of comic scenes in the play, and judging from the structure of the early scenes, he probably intended Wagner to appear in most of these. However, this speculation cannot be settled definitely.

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