Dr. Johann Faustus, a magician and astrologer was born in Wurttemberg. Dr. Faustus birth date is unknown, death date is about 1538. Dr. Faustus entered the English language by a term referred to as the “Faustian bargain.” The term “Faustian bargain” refers to the belief of the myth that we can remake reality to suit our desires. That myth is at the core of Western culture. A “Faustian bargain” means that people will engage in evil activities in order to gain whatever it is that they wish to achieve.
Is such a “Faustian bargain” tragic? A “Faustian bargain” is selling your soul to the devil for some advantage, which is the sin perpetrated by Johann Faust. However, a “Faustian Bargain” may have a more tragic meaning when the works of Marlowe and Goethe are considered. The poets made the wretched German trickster immortal. In Marlowe and Goethe, Faustus is motivated not merely by self-interest by lofty ideals, as well, and in the waste of greatness and talent. Individuals who engage in monstrous acts in the name of a higher good-are the best example, of persons who make Faustian bargains.
What is Marlowe’ play? When we select a play, such as “Doctor Faustus,” we assume that it is written by the playwright in this case Christopher Marlowe. However, some of the play may not have been completed exclusively by the playwright. The play may be regarding a historical event or may be a collaborative effort between the playwright, actors and producer. Therefore, the play may be altered from its original text.
“Doctor Faustus”was first published in 1604, eleven years after Christopher Marlowe’s death, and twelve years after the play’s first performance. In 1616, twenty-three years after Christopher Marlow’s death, a different version of “Doctor Faustus” was published. The publication of “Doctor Faustus” in 1616 includes the omission of 36 lines and insertion of 676 additional lines. How are we to account for the difference in the two texts?
The historical figure of Doctor Faustus was a disreputable astrologer. It is possible that Doctor Faustus was the Johannes Faust who was granted a B.A. in divinity at Heidelberg in Germany in the year 1509. While in prison he made an exchange for wine. The exchange was for Faustus to show a chaplain how to remove hair from his face without a razor. The chaplain provided the wine, and Faustus provided the chaplain with arsenic, which removed the chaplain’s hair and flesh. Doctor Faustus owes his immortality through text to Marlowe and Goethe rather than his own accomplishments.
According to the late Professor R.M. Dawkins, the play “Doctor Faustus” tells “the story of a Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one.” In the Middle Ages, the highest wisdom was knowledge of the divine achieved through God’s grace, bestowed in revelation. However, in the Renaissance, one finds abundant deprecation of the contemplative life rooted in faith and abundant praise of the active life, the study of political and social man.
Life of Christopher Marlowe:
Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury, the son of a shoemaker, in 1564. In 1578, Marlowe became a student at King’s School, Canterbury. In 1580, Marlowe was awarded a scholarship to Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. In 1584, Marlowe passed his bachelor’s examination, and remained on scholarship at Cambridge for an additional two years. In 1587, Cambridge University refused Marlowe his master’s degree. The Queen’s Privy Council intervened, ordering the university to give Marlowe his degree. The Queen’s Privy Council informed Cambridge University that Marlowe had been “engaged … in matters touching the benefit of his country.” Christopher Marlowe was a British spy for the Queen Elizabeth’s secret service.
While Christopher Marlowe was a student at Cambridge he wrote Tamburlaine the Great, the Second Part of Tamburlaine, and The Jew of Malta. Around 1591, Marlowe wrote Edward II, and perhaps Doctor Faustus. Marlowe was described by his roommate Thomas Kyd, author of The Spanish Tragedy, as “intemperate and of a cruel heart.” On May 30, 1593, while feasting with three friends at Deptford, a quarrel broke out regarding the bill. Marlowe was stabbed with a dagger in the skull, through the eye. According to accounts the stab wound was “in such sort that his brains were coming out at the dagger point, he shortly after died.”
The play “Doctor Faustus” has Faustus the magician, not a worshiper of God, but rather an operator who manages to impose his will on the material world. Faustus was an applied scientist, rejoicing in power rather than in contemplation, making Faustus a symbol of the Renaissance. The Renaissance is depicted as the age of enlightenment, freeing the mind from dogma by means of reason and experiments. The Renaissance goal was to understand a phenomenon in terms of cause and effect.
Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed by Barnet, Sylvan. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1969.