Dr. Faustus, Day 2
- Born 1564 (2 months before Shakespeare). Died 1593.
- Cause of death was long believed to have been a fatal wound received during a duel outside a London tavern, though some suggested it was a plotted murder assassination. In 1925, a man named Leslie Hotson discovered the inquest that followed Marlowe’s death, which clarified that Marlowe died following an after-dinner altercation over a bill in a private room in the home of a widow named Eleanor Bull. Charles Nicholl suggests cause of death was in fact a brain hemorrhage.
- 2nd of 9 children.
- Father was a shoemaker.
- Attended Cambridge on scholarship from 1580-87.
- Allegedly and quite likely was homosexual. A contemporary, Richard Baines, quoted Marlowe saying, ‘all they that love not tobacco and boies were fooles.’ Marlowe’s Edward II overtly addresses same-sex desire and love.
- Involved in politics, supposedly as a spy, from 1585-87.
- His faith has remained a point of contention, with some claiming him a Catholic, others an atheist.
*For more biographical info, consult the concise, reliable entry on Marlowe by Nicholl in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Dates and Versions:
Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, along with Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, were the first of many great Elizabethan tragedies. Assigning a date to Marlowe’s play has proven contentious, with some suggesting 1588 and others 1592, given the fact that the main source for the play didn’t appear in England until 1592. Some critics believe that Marlowe may have either read the manuscript before publication or that he may have read it in German.
There is an A-text and a B-text of Dr. Faustus. The former is the one most commonly anthologized. The latter is longer and depicts less ambiguously Faustus’ damnation.
Questions for Consideration:
A full list of questions can be found in a word document on the “Summer Reading” page. Please consider the 4 questions below and any others you wish, and share your views by adding a comment to this post. I will respond in turn and our discussion can begin in earnest… Please try to reference the play by act, scene, line, when possible, so that we can follow each other’s comments, questions, etc.
The play famously raises far more questions than it answers. David Bevington, Sara Deats, and many others have examined the play’s openness, ambiguity, and overall interrogative spirit.
- The Opening Scene. Here Faustus considers and rejects the four great disciplines of the early modern period: Philosophy, Medicine, Law, and Divinity. Why does he do this, and what does this tell us about him from the start?
- Tragic Hero. According to Aristotle’s rubric, which states that a tragic character should (1) Be of high estate; (2) Have nobility of soul or tragic greatness; (3) Have free will; (4) Have a harmartia (tragic flaw); (5) Achieve anagnorisis (enlightenment); (6) Make important choices; (7) Die bravely; is Faustus a tragic hero? And, if so, what is his tragic flaw?
- Orthodox or Heterodox? One highly contentious question we might explore today is the moral ethos of the play and whether it ultimately endorses an orthodox or heterodox viewpoint.
- Repentance. Is repentance possible in the play? Who stands for and against repentance in the play? Does Faustus ultimately repent?