What influenced Christopher Marlowe to compose Doctor Faustus?

In his composition of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe was influenced by a recent German play about the same character, folklore traditions, medieval morality plays, and developments in Elizabethan drama.

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Christopher Marlowe was influenced by several factors in his composition of Doctor Faustus. Most immediately, Marlowe was inspired by a German play called Historia von D. Iohan Fausten that was written anonymously around 1587 and appeared in English translation in 1592. Marlowe's primary plot line comes from this play, although Marlowe put plenty of his own twists into his version.

Marlowe was also influenced by an old folklore tradition about people selling their souls to the devil for some perceived benefit and ending up getting the worst end of the deal. Additionally, there actually was a real Johannes Faustus, an early 1500s German astrologer with a bad reputation.

Marlowe also drew inspiration for his play from the morality plays of the Middle Ages. Morality plays retold Bible stories or presented allegorical tales in which characters learned critical lessons from their choices and the consequences that follow from them. We can see how this works in Doctor Faustus. The doctor learns a lesson to be sure, but Marlowe's twist is that he learns it too late when he is past the point of repentance. The audience is left to ponder what happens when a person tries to go beyond the limits of human knowledge.

Marlowe's play further exhibits characteristics of developing Elizabethan drama, including elements of Greek tragedy (as Renaissance writers rediscovered and modified this genre), anti-Catholic sentiments (think about that banquet at the Pope's palace), and the idea that people could move up the social ladder (although Faustus certainly chooses the wrong way to do so).

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