Doctor Faustus was written by Marlowe for the Admiral’s men and staged in 1588. The first Quarto edition was published in 1604. In 1616, an enlarged edition of the play was published containing many comics scenes that were absent in 1604 edition. The contemporary editions of Doctor Faustus depend upon both the above versions of the play.
There are several conflicting traditions at the breathtaking core of Doctor Faustus. There is authenticate of the influence of the traditions of orthodox Christianity, of the reformation, the Renaissance, of Paganism, of individualism and the incipient scientific modernity. The capability of the play lies in its disturbing impact on the audience, both Elizabethan and modern. Doctor Faustus explains a moment in history. Its tragedy is a national or cultural situation. It is the dramatic story of human presumption, temptation, and damnation and fall. Doctor Faustus is a tragic version of audacious human possibilities where Faustus is the antithesis of the protagonists of faith plays. Where the morality play heroes were passionless, Faustus was passionate. If morality heroes are self effacing human beings, Faustus is superhuman in his ambitions.
Doctor Faustus is a Christian morality play. It signaled the refining of the morality play. The play is a human tragedy for not only is Faustus tragically constituted in his boundless ambitions but, the same time, the play questions the effectiveness of the cultural aspirations that build his ambitions. The play provides a mingled interaction between the human dimensions of the dramatic character and the ambiguities and ambivalences of the cultural situation the character is placed in. The play is played out in five Acts. Act I establishes Faustus’ tragedy. Act II unfolds his tragedy in exceptional detail. The egocentric self temptation of Finish I give way to an agonizing combat between the religiously constituted self and the aberrations of its human impulses. Faustus despairs in Deity, a despair that makes him rest his self indulgence for which the King of Devils provides the beauty and the means.
As hopelessness leads to the self indulgent belief that divine totem as well as divine wrath cannot reach him, Faustus signs the pact with the devil giving away his soul in return for his services. The course of Faustus rebellion through the feeler and the fourth Acts is too unheroic. Faustus seeks and Mephistopheles plans a series of comic indulgences mainly to distract the former’s mind from the tormenting religious awareness. As Faustus reaches his rebellious and tragic death in End V, the nature of his death and the attendant torment bespeaks a magnificent tragedy. The tragic conflict does not abate till the end.
The play is a static play of lamentable irresolution. The play stagnates in the middle sections of the inquisition and fourth Acts, so much so that it distracts the audience. Though loose in form and disjointed in its dramatic turn, Doctor Faustus has huge appeal trimmed in the 21st century.