Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus,” Freedom, Censorship and Speculation

(left) portrait of a young man, maybe Christopher Marlowe, by an anonymous British artist. (1585); (right) John Taylor's (maybe) portrait of William Shakespeare. (1610) from Corpus Christi College, National Portrait Gallery; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.

Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon and Queen Elizabeth I all lived in England during the late 1500s.

An odd lot of history and literature buffs have said that Marlowe, Bacon or someone else wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I suspect their roster overlaps the roll call of folks who seem convinced that the Queen, Sir Walter Raleigh or some other VIP had Marlowe killed.

My thoroughly tongue-in-cheek contribution to the weirdness was that Shakespeare was Marlowe’s ghostwriter, and had Marlowe killed. Or that Marlowe and Shakespeare were both really Queen Elizabeth I, who let off steam by masquerading as a playwright.1

Adding to the fun, or confusion, we don’t actually have Marlowe’s script for “Dr. Faustus.” What we’ve got is one version, published in 1604 and reprinted in 1609; and another printed in 1616.

My weekly posts often don’t go in quite the direction I had in mind at first. But this week’s took a longer-than-usual-detour.

You Have the Right to Write

Cover of 'The Cry and Revenge of Blood,' printed by Nicholas Okes for John Wright. (1620) from Folger Shakespeare Library/LUNA, via The Malone Society, used w/o permission.Intellectual property rights have changed since Marlowe’s day. So has censorship.

Playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe had the right to write scripts.

They could even, at least in principle, arrange for actors to rehearse their plays. But the plays couldn’t be performed until an official, the Master of Revels, gave the okay.

I suppose that a playwright could have hired a printer to mass-produce a script for the retail market: after getting permission to distribute the work.

But the playwright couldn’t legally keep anyone from copying, printing and selling the text — after the printer jumped through the required official hoops.

Anyway, Valentine Simmes printed a version of Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” in 1604 for Thomas Law. George Eld printed the same version for John Wright, bookseller, a few years later.

John Wright published another version in 1616, printed by Nicholas Okes. Maybe.

The 1616 version’s printer didn’t get credit. But three letters in the 1616 “Faustus” — an upper-case “B” and “M,” and a lower-case “n” — had the same damaged font that was in books we know were printed by Okes.

I figure either Okes printed the 1616 version, or someone else did — using the same equipment as Okes.2

On my side of the Atlantic, at least, “prior restraint” — having to get permission before publishing or sharing information — is a hard sell. I get the impression that folks in England also got fed up with needing permission to voice their opinions.

But Publishing May Require Permission

(From Harper’s Weekly, via Chicago History Museum and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

Map of Internet censorship and surveillance by country (2018)Attempted prepublication censorship often triggers phrases like “freedom of the press.” Understandably.

But I get concerned when the free press gets overwhelmingly “free” in one direction or another; or as inflammatory as they say the bad guys are —

“The anarchists of Chicago inaugurated in earnest last night the reign of lawlessness which they have threatened and endeavored to incite for years. They threw a bomb into the midst of a line of 200 police officers, and it exploded with fearful effect….”
(Excerpt from page 2, The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, (May 5, 1886) via

Putting Chicago’s “bloody work” in perspective, folks at that 1886 rally were trying to get an eight-hour working day. At the time, that probably felt like anarchy to staunch defenders of the status quo.

By the time I was a teenager, in the 1960s, the eight-hour work day was something we’d ‘always had.’

Walt Kelly's Deacon Mushrat and Simple J. Malarkey. (1953)Back then, I thought freedom of speech was a good idea. I still do.

But I thought freedom of speech didn’t mean “free to agree with me.” I still don’t.

‘The Establishment’ — and how we’re supposed to feel about it — has changed. Slightly.

I wasn’t on the same page as the powers that be in the 1960s. I’m still not. And I’m drifting off-topic.

Elizabethan England wasn’t just like today’s America, but it wasn’t all that different. New technology was letting folks share information: fast. Back then it was the printing press. Now it’s the Internet.

One more point, and I’ll get back to Marlowe, Faustus and all that.

I think we had a close call, several years back.

Self-identified defenders of the public interest were sounding a clarion call for what they called net neutrality. And, in order to protect us from ‘bad’ ideas, the Christian Coalition and Feminist Majority joined forces.

“Net neutrality” fizzled, along with a proposal that online content be reviewed by an impartial government agency. Before being posted.

That proposal has dropped off the radar entirely. The CC-FM teamup left only one reference I’ve found.3 And for that I’m grateful.

A-Text, B-Text, Names and Scholarly Opinions

Ken Eckert's photo of Huntingdon Library's ( 'Faustus' manuscript. (2008)Getting back, finally, to the 1604 and 1616 published versions of Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus — at some point, I don’t know when, scholars started calling the version printed in 1604 the A-text, and the 1616 version the B-text.

The B-text was probably compiled in 1602, two years before the A-text was printed. Marlowe died in 1593, after “Doctor Faustus” opened, which was in 1588: give or take a few years.4

And aren’t you glad all these names and dates won’t be on a test?! 😉

Reconstruction? Patchwork? Foul Papers??

Frontpiece from a 1620 printing of 'Doctor Faustus,' showing Faustus conjuring Mephistophilis.Academic opinion on whether the A-text or B-text is closer to Marlowe’s original script depends on who’s talking.

The A-text is, I gather, a tad short for an Elizabethan drama; running just shy of 1,500 lines.

But it was the earliest published version, so many scholars figured it was closer to the original play as it had been performed.

Makes sense, but by 1940 academics began agreeing with researchers who said that the B-text was closer to Marlowe’s script. Again, that makes sense, since it’s closer to a typical Elizabethan play’s length.

And now opinion’s swinging back to seeing the A-text as a better reconstruction of Marlowe’s work; and thinking that there wasn’t much ‘Marlowe’ in the B-text after all —

“…They demonstrated that A was a typical ‘bad quarto’, based on actors’ reconstruction rather than on authorial copy, and argued that B was superior because based in part on MS copy derived from Marlowe’s own ‘foul papers’. Recently, however, the counter-argument has been gaining sway: that much of the material unique to B has no link to Marlowe at all, but is the patchworking of lesser writers like Rowley and Birde. A is an abbreviated and corrupted version, but this is preferable to a significantly altered one…..”
‘Faustus’ and the Politics of Magic,” Charles Nicholl, London Review of Books (March 8, 1990)

In this context, “foul papers” isn’t a judgment of a document’s condition. It’s what scholars call an author’s original drafts, or last complete draft, or any draft of a document. Which definition’s in play depends on which scholar you ask.5

It’s my considered opinion that someone, probably several someones, reconstructed Marlowe’s script for both the A-text and B-text. Also that the B-text is roughly a third longer than the A-text, and that some lines appearing in both aren’t quite the same.

“WAGNER. Alas, poor slave! see how poverty jesteth in his nakedness!
the villain is bare and out of service, and so hungry, that I know
he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton,
though it were blood-raw.
“CLOWN. How! my soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though
’twere blood-raw! not so, good friend: by’r lady, I had need
have it well roasted, and good sauce to it, if I pay so dear.”
(“The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,” Christopher Marlowe (1604) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce)

“WAGNER. Alas, poor slave! see how poverty jests in his nakedness!
I know the villain’s out of service, and so hungry, that I know
he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton,
though it were blood-raw.
“CLOWN. Not so neither: I had need to have it well roasted, and
good sauce to it, if I pay so dear, I can tell you.”
(“The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,” Christopher Marlowe (1616) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce)

But which version more nearly reflects the Marlowe’s blood and thunder blockbuster?

That, I don’t know; although I’m using the B-text for my ‘Faustus’ series. Mainly because it’s longer, and therefore gives me more material to work with. Make that ‘I’m mostly using the B-text,’ as edited by the Rev. Alexander Dyce in the 19th century.

Baliol, Banio and Belcher: Not an Elizabethan Law Firm

Orson Welles' costume design for Clown in Dr. Faustus, performed in the Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York. (1937)I’ve read that one of the differences between the 1604 and 1616 editions is the summoned devil’s name.

It’s (usually) Mephistopheles in 1604 and Mephostophilis in 1616.

Besides having more material, here’s another reason I’m using the 1616 edition: the one edited by Alexander Dyce.

It’s available on At no cost. That puts it inside my budget.

However, comparing Dyce’s versions of the “Doctor Faustus” 1604 and 1616 editions, I learned that Dyce had been a trifle creative in at least one spot.

He changed Mephistopheles to Mephostophilis in his annotated reprint of the 1604 edition, apparently assuming that the 1616 version was more nearly correct.

On the other hand, he’s got Robin and Ralph as the characters listed after Wagner in his 1604 version, but Robin and Dick in 1616. His devils for 1604 are Baliol and Belcher; while in the “Faustus” 1616 they’re Banio and Belcher. Why? I don’t know.

Maybe because in Dyce’s 1604 Faustus, Clown gets Baliol’s name wrong.

“WAGNER. How!—Baliol and Belcher!
“CLOWN. O Lord! I pray, sir, let Banio and Belcher go sleep.”
(“The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,” Christopher Marlowe (1604) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce)

As a devil’s name, “Baliol” may have been worth a few laughs in Marlowe’s day. It was (and is) the name of an Oxford college, and had been the name of a British noble house.

Be that as it may, Clown gets a few extra lines in Dyce’s version of Simmes’ 1604 version —

“CLOWN. Let your Baliol and your Belcher come here, and I’ll
knock them, they were never so knocked since they were devils:
say I should kill one of them, what would folks say? ‘Do ye see
yonder tall fellow in the round slop? he has killed the devil.’
So I should be called Kill-devil all the parish over.”
(“The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,” Christopher Marlowe (1604) Edited by The Rev. Alexander Dyce)

— why? Again, I don’t know.

Maybe a thorough analysis of Clown and Wagner in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” would be worth the time and effort.

But I suspect they’re both basically comedy relief in Marlowe’s play.

And that whatever profundity’s in either character comes from their origin in the mind of a brilliant scholar and alleged troublemaker who’s nearly as legendary as the alleged German magician and con man behind the Faust legend.6

Down the Rabbit Hole With “Doctor Faustus” and “Judge Dredd”

John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Michael De Luca's 'Judge Dredd,' played by Sylvester Stalone. (1995)
(From Hollywood Pictures, Cinergi Pictures, Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation; via, used w/o permission.)
(Judge Dredd, the first film version. (1995))

John Tenniel's 'The White Rabbit' from 'Lewis Carroll's 'The Nursery Alice.' (1890) from the British Library, via WikipediaI’ve found no shortage of rabbit holes while reading Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

That’s partly because “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” — that’s a mouthful, small wonder most folks just say “Doctor Faustus” these days — impressed folks in Elizabethan England.

The Admiral’s Men staged “Dr. Faustus” 24 times between October 1594 and October 1597, and Philip Henslowe may have rebooted the tale in 1602.

Three decades later, “Dr. Faustus” was still famous enough to warrant attention by William Prynne, a prominent Puritan polemicist and unswerving opponent of decadent customs.

Like celebrating Christmas.

Seems that, according to Prynne, fires at the Globe and Fortune theaters had been of demonic origin. Or maybe due to the wrath of God.

At any rate, William Prynne declared that some folks went crazy when the “Devill” made a personal appearance at the Belsavage Play-house during a “Dr. Faustus” performance.

“…O tragicall, O fearefull death! answerable to her former wicked life? Not to relate the various tragicall ends of many, who in my remembrance at London, have beene slaine in Play-houses, or upon quarrels there commenced: Nor yet to recite the sudden fearefull burning even to the ground, both of the Globe and Fortune Play-houses, no man perceiving how these fires came: together with the visible apparition of the Devill on the Stage at the Belsavage Play-house, in Queene Elizabeths dayes, (to the great amazement both of the Actors and Spectators) whiles they were there prophanely playing the History of Faustus (the truth of which I have heard from many now alive, who well remember it,) there being some distracted with that fearefull sight….”
(“Histrio-mastix The players scourge, or, actors tragædie, divided into two parts…,” page 556, William Prynne, (1632) via University of Michigan Library Digital Collections

Faustian responses like William Prynne’s “Histrio-mastix…” may explain why some academics present Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” as a reflection of Christian beliefs. And that’s another topic.

I’ll grant that “Dr. Faustus” reflected how audiences in Elizabethan London felt about Christianity, politics and social class. And that we can speculate about Marlowe’s play, based on the two versions of the script we have.7

But reading scholarly discussions of “Dr. Faustus” and Elizabethan England started me thinking about how our era might look, seen through the eyes of academics in the mid-25th century.

Periodization and Impractical-But-Fun Speculation

John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Michael De Luca's 'Judge Dredd;' Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. (1995)
(From Hollywood Pictures, Cinergi Pictures, Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation; via, used w/o permission.)
(Judge Hershey in “Judge Dredd,” the first film version. (1995))

Who knows? Maybe we’ll have debates over whether Judge Dredd (1995) accurately depicts John Wagner’s “Judge Dredd” visual drama, or Dredd (2012) is the authoritative source for Dredd lore.

Particularly if many of the original Judge Dredd manuscripts and the comics they appear in get lost during the next four and a half centuries.

Maybe the surviving portions of the “Judge Dredd” cycle will be seen as a valuable resource for serious students of our era’s social and judicial beliefs.

Another bit of impractical, possibly futile, but fun speculation is what historians of the year 2450 might call the period we’re living in.

We’ve been calling it the Information Age. Maybe that name will stick. Or maybe from a 25th century perspective, this is the Federal Era. Or the Liminal Age, or something completely different.

Historians looking back at days gone by have their own ideas about periodization, which makes guessing what they’ll be thinking tricky. At best.

Periodization in a ‘history’ context is a five-dollar word for dividing our yesteryears into neatly-labeled blocks of time.

It makes sense, since dividing time into labeled packets makes talking about particular eras easier.8 But I think it can give an impression that humanity’s continuing story has tidy chapter breaks.

That’s not how I see history. Although I agree that, for example, things changed when the Roman Empire transitioned from a current reality to a rose-colored memory.

To be Continued: Wagner, Clown and Elizabethan Rudeness

Brian H. Gill's 'Internet Friends.' (2017)I think the “Information Age” moniker might makes sense as a label for our times.

I’ve seen some perceptions and attitudes change as we started communicating online, while others got fresh labels and a coat of paint. And that’s yet another topic.

But we’re still dealing with aspects of the pre-Internet America I grew up in. And, for that matter, with issues that were in play in Elizabethan England.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished talking about Wagner, Clown and how to be rude in Elizabethan English.

And I’ve definitely got more to say about freedom of expression and censorship. But that will wait for another day.

Meanwhile, here are the usual links to more-or-less-related stuff.

1 History, people, and a side of bacon:

2 Intellectual property rights, Elizabethan era economics:

3 History, and not missing the ‘good old days:’

4 Labeling Marlowe’s famous play:

5 Document details:

6 Lore and legends:

7 An assorted miscellany:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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