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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Marlowe and Kyd

§ 4. Dr. Faustus

This sudden success confirmed Marlowe in his dramatic ambition. Hard words like Nashe’s about “idiote art-masters … who … think to outbrave better pens” could not deter this young Tamburlaine of the stage. On the heels of his first triumph came The tragicall History of Dr. Faustus, probably produced in 1588, though its entry in the Stationers’ register is as late as January, 1601, and the earliest known edition is the posthumous quarto of 1604. Interest in this play—a boldly drawn study of the pride of intellect, as consuming as the Tartar’s ambition—has been seriously warped by speculation on the crude insets of clownage. Many readers have felt that the comic scenes are disturbing factors in the progress of the drama, and that Marlowe’s text has suffered from playhouse editing. The presumption is supported by the evidence of the printer Jones, who tells us apologetically, in his edition of Tamburlaine, that he “purposely omitted … some fond and frivolous gestures, digressing, and, in my poor opinion, far unmeet for the matter.” He saw the “disgrace” of mixing these things in print “with such matter of worth.” The bias for “decorum” may, however, be too strong, and there may be reasons derived from consideration of the historical sentiment of the popular drama and of Marlowe’s artistic mood to make us pause in saying that the original has been greatly, and sadly, altered. As bibliography cannot help us, the position of these alleged “addicions” of tomfoolery and squibs in the Marlowe canon becomes a purely critical matter.