tragical history of Dr Faustus

Related Overviews

Christopher Marlowe (1564—1593) playwright and poet

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1832) German poet, dramatist, and scholar


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literature


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A drama in blank verse and prose by Marlowe, published 1604 and, in a radically different version known as the ‘B‐text’, 1616. The earliest known performance was by the Lord Admiral's men in 1594. It is perhaps the first dramatization of the medieval legend of a man who sold his soul to the Devil, and who became identified with a Dr Faustus, a necromancer of the 16th cent. The legend appeared in the Faustbuch, first published at Frankfurt in 1587, and was translated into English as The Histoire of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus. Marlowe's play follows this translation in the general outline of the story, though not in the conception of the principal character, who from a mere magician becomes, under the poet's hand, a man athirst for infinite power, ambitious to be ‘great Emperor of the world’.

Faustus, weary of the sciences, turns to magic and calls up Mephistopheles, with whom he makes a compact to surrender his soul to the devil in return for 24 years of life; during these Mephistopheles shall attend on him and give him whatsoever he demands. Then follows a number of scenes in which the compact is executed, notable among them the calling up of Helen of Troy, where Faustus addresses Helen in the well‐known line: ‘Was this the face that launched a thousand ships…’ The anguish of mind of Faustus as the hour for the surrender of his soul draws near is poignantly depicted. Both in its end and in the general conception of the character of Faustus, the play thus differs greatly from the Faust of Goethe.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.