The True Versions Essay

2678 words - 11 pages

The two versions of Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr.Faustus” have similar storylines but different in the details, such as the university Faustus attended-Wittenberg in A-text, Württemberg in the B-text. In both texts, Faustus obnoxiously gains all of God’s knowledge within the universe by resorting to the Devil’s power. However, the A and B text versions of the play display a separation between radical Protestant and conservative Catholic views in the 1600’s. The most profound difference between the two versions of the play is Faustus’s dramatic death in the B-text versus his subtle exit with Mephistopheles and the Devil in the A-text. The divergence in the educational and astronomical references foreshadows Faustus’s punishment throughout each version of the play. It seems that Marlowe intended to provoke his audience by collectively developing a religious catharsis by utilizing blasphemy. English professor David Anderson explains how Marlowe achieves his audience’s reaction, “Marlowe works in a specifically religious register, playing upon religious difference, inflaming religious antagonism, and complicating the polarities and expectations of mainstream Protestant society” (Anderson 79). Does each version of Dr Faustus represent a response to a shift in religious ideology during the Elizabethan period? I may suggest that the differences between the A and B texts in the final scene reflect cultural tensions during the religious reformation in England.
Marlowe resided in France while he served Queen Elizabeth and was witness to the French religious reformation of Catholicism; this may have influenced the B-text version, written in 1616. In the Norton Anthology of Drama, Shorter Edition, the editors stated, “This ‘service’ surely involved spying on English Catholics in France on behalf of Elizabethan secret service” (Gainor, Garner Jr., and Puchner 291). Marlowe served a Protestant Monarchy, which may have influenced his reworking of the final scene in what is now the B-text version to develop an ending more fit to Elizabethan audience views than the ending of the A-text version in 1604. In 1602, William Birde and Samuel Rowley, “most likely formed part of the original [B-text ending], [however], the scene may have been cut from the final acting version, or was added at a time when Faustus was revived, before 1602” (Smith 40). Therefore, Birde and Rowley’s original final scene was probably “omitted from the 1604 text because at some stage it had been dropped, presumably because of dramatic or casting problems, either from the original [graphic] London performances…”(Smith 42). This infers that France held performances of Birde and Rowley’s edited final scene in the 1616 B-text version that displayed the cruel punishment of “the discovery of Faustus' dissevered limbs” (Smith 40). English directors eliminated the scene from the A-text due to “Elizabethan prohibitions against the explicit staging of things-religious” (Anderson 82). Because editors...

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