Doctor Faustus is probably Christopher Marlowe’s most famous work. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, and author of nondramatic poetry as well, Marlowe wrote only seven plays. If Shakespeare had died at an equally young age—twenty-nine rather than fifty-two—Marlowe might be the more famous of the pair. Marlowe was one of the first English writers to perfect black verse—unrhymed iambic pentameter—and to use it with flexibility and poetic effect in drama. He was killed in a tavern brawl.
The manuscripts of Doctor Faustus, surviving in different versions, were revised by theatrical companies after Marlowe’s death in 1593. Printed versions of the play, one in 1604 and another in 1616, indicate further editorial adjustments, particularly involving the comic scenes. Scholars do not agree about which version is more authentic. They agree that Marlowe wrote the tragic scenes, but disagree about the authorship of the comic scenes. Moreover, they question whether the comic scenes comment on or detract from the main plot.
The comic scenes of Doctor Faustus, however, follow the medieval practice of the farce or interlude—humorous, clownish, or boisterous amusement that entails variations on or exaggerations of Faustus’s dealings with Mephostophilis. For instance, the servants and the clowns try to conjure devils, and Faustus’s sale of a horse to a horse-courser, who returns to pull off Faustus’s leg after...
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