What is the difference between the A text and B text of Doctor Faustus?

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The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus was written by Christopher Marlowe around 1590. The first recorded performance of the play was by the Admiral's Men at the Rose Theater in London on September 30, 1594, a little over a year after Marlowe's death. It's entirely...

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The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus was written by Christopher Marlowe around 1590. The first recorded performance of the play was by the Admiral's Men at the Rose Theater in London on September 30, 1594, a little over a year after Marlowe's death. It's entirely possible that this wasn't the first performance of Doctor Faustus, but it's the first recorded performance.

No copy of Marlowe's original manuscript of Doctor Faustus exists. The play was first published in 1604 in a version referred to as the "A" text. The same version was published again in 1609.

Doctor Faustus was published again in 1619 in a version known as the "B" text, which was published several more times in the 1600s.

Philip Henslowe, the owner of the Rose Theatre, kept a diary of the productions at his theatre, in which he records twenty-four productions of Doctor Faustus between 1594 and 1597. The play was clearly very popular in the years after Marlowe's death.

Henslowe also records in his diary that in 1602 he paid four pounds to two playwrights, Samuel Rowley and William Borne (or Bird), to make changes and additions to Doctor Faustus. These changes did not appear in the 1604 "A" text, but appeared in the 1619 "B" version of the play.

The first difference to note between the "A" and "B" texts of Doctor Faustus is that it's likely that neither of these versions fully represent Marlowe's original play.

Aside from the fact that Marlow was dead when the "A" and "B" versions of Doctor Faustus were published, playwrights like Marlowe and Shakespeare rarely had any control over the publication of their plays or the accuracy of the texts in the published editions.

The "A" and "B" texts contain minor differences in shared lines, which can be attributed to clerical copying errors or to intentional changes—none of which were made by Marlowe.

Approximately thirty-six lines were removed from the 1604 "A" text in the 1619 "B" text.

The "B" text contains over 650 new lines, and many of which occur in scenes 12, 13, and the Epilogue. These added lines reflect changes in the extent to which Faustus exercises his free will in the play.

Another change affecting both the "A" and "B" texts is the result of a law passed in 1606 (The Act to Restrain Abuses of Players) which assessed a fine of ten pounds against any actor who "jestingly or profanely spoke the name of God or of Jesus Christ, or of the Holy Ghost or of the Trinity" in any theatrical production.

To comply with this law, the 1609 publication of the "A" text and the 1619 "B" text replace most references to "God," "Jesus Christ," and related terms with "heaven."

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During the Elizabethan period, playwrights rarely, if ever, had control over the editing and publication of their work, and clearly not in the case of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, which was first published long after its author's death in 1593. Thus, scholarly disputes have often arisen over which version of a given text is the most authentic or authoritative.

The earliest surviving version of "Doctor Faustus" is the A-text, published in 1604, followed by the so-called B-text, in 1616. While the latter version is about one-third longer than its predecessor, the A-text is considered to be the more authentic, due to stylistic and orthographic idiosyncrasies recognized as Marlowe's. It's now widely accepted that the added scenes and lines of the B-text are the the work of other hands, commissioned by theater manager Philip Henslowe.

Despite its authenticity, one anomaly of the A-text is that some scenes mistakenly run together, ignoring obvious time lapses, so are usually rearranged for performance. Among the differences of the B-text: the anti-Catholicism of the play is emphasized by the lengthening of Faustus' scene at the papal court, his parley with the skeptical Knight is also longer, and the malevolent antics of the various demons have multiplied.

In sum, the main difference between the A and B texts of Doctor Faustus is that the former version is the more authoritative of the two.

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The most substantial difference between the two in terms of content is the added humor in the B-text. The scenes that are in the B-text and not in the A give more time and attention to lower-class characters, traditionally a source of humor in Renaissance plays, and they also play up the antics of Faustus as he experiments with what he can do using Mephistopheles's power. Many scholars speculate that the B-text was added later and was not written by Marlowe. One of their reasons for this assertion is the above—they don't find the additions worthy of Christopher Marlowe's work. The other is that the style of these scenes is quite different than the others and is not characteristic of any of Marlowe's plays, which typically portray great men in drastic situations, just like the main plot of Doctor Faustus.

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Basically, they are just two different versions of the same play.

The 'A' text survives in two printed versions: a 1604 quarto (reprinted in 1609) which attributes the play to 'Ch.Marl', and, at 1485 lines long, is one of the shortest Elizabethan plays in existence.

The 'B' text is a 1616 quarto reprinted several times, and is substantially bigger than the 'A' text, adding around 650 lines.

Scholars still argue about the relationship between the two different versions of the play (and whether either or both plays represent the unedited work of Marlowe) - and so modern editions most usually print both, as is usually the case with a book just called 'Dr. Faustus'.

I'm sure the OU should have given you a more detailed reading list: if they specify a certain edition to buy, you could work out by searching it on Google Books which text is the one they want to study. But if I had to bet, I'd say it'll be the 'B' text you want.

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