Fiction > Harvard Classics > Christopher Marlowe > Doctor Faustus
Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593).  Doctor Faustus.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Introductory Note
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, the author of the earliest dramatic version of the Faust legend, was the son of a shoemaker in Canterbury, where he was born in February, 1564, some two months before Shakespeare. After graduating as M.A. from the University of Cambridge in 1587, he seems to have settled in London; and that same year is generally accepted as the latest date for the production of his tragedy of “Tamburlaine,” the play which is regarded as having established blank verse as the standard meter of the English Drama. “Doctor Faustus” probably came next in 1588, followed by “The Jew of Malta” and “Edward II.” Marlowe had a share in the production of several other plays, wrote the first two sestiads of “Hero and Leander,” and made translations from Ovid and Lucan. He met his death in a tavern brawl, June 1, 1593.  1
  Of Marlowe personally little is known. The common accounts of his atheistical beliefs and dissipated life are probably exaggerated, recent researches having given ground for believing that his heterodoxy may have amounted to little more than a form of Unitarianism. Some of the attacks on his character are based on the evidence of witnesses whose reputation will not bear investigation, while the character of some of his friends and their manner of speaking of him are of weight on the other side.  2
  The most striking feature of Marlowe’s dramas is the concentration of interest on an impressive central figure dominated by a single passion, the thirst for the unattainable. In “Tamburlaine” this takes the form of universal power; in “The Jew of Malta,” infinite riches; in “Doctor Faustus” universal knowledge. The aspirations of these dominant personalities are uttered in sonorous blank verse, and in a rhetoric which at times rises to the sublime, at times descends to rant. “Doctor Faustus,” though disfigured by poor comic scenes for which Marlowe is probably not responsible, and though lacking unity of structure, yet presents the career and fate of the hero with great power, and contains in the speech to Helen of Troy and in the dying utterance of Faustus two of the most superb passages of poetry in the English language.  3


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