Publication and Reception History: Doctor Faustus, or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, most likely premiered between 1592 and Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death in 1593. However, the first recorded performance took place in 1594. It was first printed in a 1604 quarto known as the “A-Text.” It was altered and republished in a 1616 quarto known as the “B-Text.” Scholars continue to debate which text is more authoritative and meritorious. Though records of contemporary reactions to the play are limited, Doctor Faustus drew attention with its depiction of devils and Doctor Faustus’s blasphemous behavior. Subsequent centuries saw critics take issue with Marlowe’s focus on the dark arts, despite Faustus’s punishment in the end. The play ran continuously in London until at least 1640 and has become a fixture of theaters worldwide.
The English Renaissance: Christopher Marlowe lived during the English Renaissance, a period of social, philosophical, and artistic change that reached its peak during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Drama was arguably the most popular art form of the period, and English theaters were some of the most packed in all of Europe. Many of the most influential playwrights in English history wrote during the English Renaissance, including Christoper Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson.
- Humanism: A key feature of English Renaissance thinking was a newfound emphasis on individualism. For centuries, citizens were encouraged to defer to both political and religious authority instead of exercising agency and free will. During the English Renaissance, however, Humanist thinkers began to shift their focus to the power and creativity of the individual. Further, the Protestant Reformation advocated for the individual’s right to interpret scripture without the mediatory influence of the Pope and the clergy. Doctor Faustus is in many ways an embodiment of Humanist ideals: He is self-reliant, ambitious, and driven by a thirst for knowledge. However, his downfall—a direct result of his embrace of free will and his refusal of God’s authority—illustrates the dangers of individualism that some feared during Marlowe’s time.