Historical Context in Doctor Faustus
Marlowe based the The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, commonly called Doctor Faustus, off of the German legend The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. Though the source text shares a very similar story of a scholar selling his soul for knowledge and power, Marlowe complicates his story by incorporating contemporary debates about faith, power, and the pursuit of knowledge. The Renaissance, a movement that began in Italy and valued education, human interests, and the individual rather than theological concerns, coincided with the Protestant Reformation, a religious movement that challenged Catholic doctrine in places such as Germany and England. Both movements challenged the social, religious, and political frameworks that shaped the medieval world. Humanism, a cultural and intellectual movement that rejected medieval scholasticism in favor of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, is particularly important to understanding Doctor Faustus. Like Shakespeare and other contemporaries, Marlowe includes numerous allusions and references to ancient Greek and Roman literature.
Versions of the Text: While originally composed between 1588 and 1592, Doctor Faustus was not printed until 1604. This version of the text is referred to as the “A Text.” The “B Text” was published in 1616. It is significantly longer and altered to comply with censorship laws that were passed in 1604. Additions to this text reference people and events that occurred after Marlowe died. Thus, the “A Text” is considered to be closer to Marlowe’s original.