The texts of Doctor Faustus

Two versions of the text

There are two known early texts of Doctor Faustus, referred to as the A-text and the B-text:

  • The A-text was published in 1604
    • It contains a few topical references that could only have been added after Marlowe's death
    • It is usually accepted, however, as the earliest surviving version of the play
  • The B-text was published in 1616
    • It is 676 lines longer than the A-text – about half as long again
    • The scene of Faustus' visit to the papal court is much longer and adds to the play's anti-Catholic dimension
    • The scenes with the sceptical Knight at the imperial court and the Horse-Courser are also much longer
    • Mischief-making devils appear more often.

It is generally accepted that the differences and additions in the B-text are not the work of Christopher Marlowe but are those commissioned in 1604 from Samuel Rowley (?–1624) and a collaborator whose name may have been William Borne, Bird or Boyle. They were paid £4.00 by the theatre manger Philip Henslowe (c. 1550-1616) for undertaking this work.

Scene order

In a few cases, the order of scenes in the A-text appears to be incorrect, which may be because some short scenes were written on separate pieces of paper and were inserted in the wrong place when the manuscript for the 1604 edition was delivered to the printer:

  • Scenes 6 and 9 are run together, preceded by Chorus 3. However, there needs to be a time lapse between these two scenes and Chorus 3 is clearly intended as an introduction to the Emperor's court in Scene 10
  • Scenes 5 and 7 between Faustus and Mephastophilis, culminating in the appearance of the Seven Deadly Sins, are run together. As well as creating a very long scene, this arrangement does not allow for the fact that, in the scene with the Sins, time seems to have passed since Faustus' pact with the Devil.

Modern editors of the A-text usually overcome these problems by rearranging the scenes, by using the first scene between Robin and Rafe to split the scene between Faustus and Mephastophilis. This arrangement contributes to the balance and structure of the play in alternating comic and serious scenes and allows the former to fulfil their function as satirical commentaries on the latter.

The text used here

The text used in the preparation of this guide is the A-text, in the following edition:

  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus ed. Roma Gill, revised and with a new introduction by Ros King (London: Methuen, New Mermaids, 2008)

However, you should be able to use the guide with other editions, since the scene numbering varies very little between editions.

The New Mermaids edition also includes the complete B-text, as do some other recent editions, and the synopses section of the guide includes these scenes. They are not, however, discussed in the rest of the material on the play.

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