Doctor Faustus by Marlowe

Written 1588-1592; published 1604

Marlowe, Doctor Faustus


  • Intro

    This play tells the story of the man who sells his soul to the devil in return for 24 years of power and knowledge - a legend that began in Germany in the 1500s. The story has inspired countless writers, dramatists and composers ever since, but the first major stage version of the story in England is this one by Shakespeare's contemporary Christopher Marlowe (1564-93). Written sometime between 1588 and 1592, but first published in 1604, the play was extremely controversial at the time, as it explores the paths human beings can take when they allow the devil into their lives.


    Doctor Faustus was performed many times around the year of Marlowe's death, and its demonic impact on the audiences became the stuff of legend. During the Elizabethan period, the popularity of theatre had grown so much that the Crown was concerned about the effects of controversial plays. Plays were given an official licence if they were deemed suitable, but playwrights could be censored, arrested or even imprisoned. James I passed an act in 1606, which forbade any blasphemous or profane references to God or Christ - actors were fined £10 for each profanity. Marlow was forced to make a number of revisions to Doctor Faustus.


    The audio recording of an extract from the play, which starts with the line 'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships', is read by actor Michael Sheen.

  • Audio

    Can't play the file above? Listen to the audio clip here

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