Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton

By Leah S. Marcus | Go to book overview

2

TEXTUAL INSTABILITY AND IDEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE

The case of Doctor Faustus

Here is a wish-fulfillment scenario for Marlovian editors and biographers: in the bricked-off attic of a suburban London cottage, workmen clearing the way for a car park discover a parcel of old manuscripts, among them several letters dating from the 1590s and directed to “Christopher Marley” or “Marlowe.” They are partly in code but decipherable, and turn out to contain passages detailing his duties as an intelligencer in Her Majesty’s service. In the bundle are also several papers, apparently in the hand of Marlowe himself, elucidating such mysteries as the nature of his religious belief and the reasons for his brush with the Privy Council in 1593. There are also drafts of letters sent by Marlowe; one of them, dated later than the rest, hints at his fears of assassination, thus lending support to timehonored speculation that his violent death was not just the result of private feuding. Also in the packet are fair copies in the same hand of several of Marlowe’s known works, among them Hero and Leander in the unfinished version of the 1598 printed edition but including a note affirming the author’s intent to leave it unfinished; among them also an autograph copy of The Tragicall Historie of Doctor Faustus inscribed at the end “as written by me, Christofer Marley, 1592. Terminat hora diem, Terminat Author opus” The Faustus manuscript—perhaps the most sensational find of all—allows scholars to settle once and for all the vexing textual problems surrounding the play by establishing a definitive authorial version that is polished and close to flawless, far superior to either the quarto of 1604 or the quarto of 1616 over which modern editors of Marlowe have puzzled and wrangled for over a century.

This imaginary cache of manuscripts fills many blank spaces in Marlowe scholarship and undoes many ambiguities; with one fell stroke, it also sweeps away the scholarly industry devoted to the recovery or reconstruction of a lost Marlovian “original” for Doctor Faustus. The present chapter will analyze the shape of the editorial controversy surrounding the play in order to critique some of its guiding assumptions—particularly its futile pursuit of the “lost original.” My wish-fulfillment fantasy set aside, the Faustus problem is this: we have two early printed versions of the play, each

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Unediting the Renaissance: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Preface and Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Textual Instability and Ideological Difference 38
  • 3 - Purity and Danger in the Modern Edition 68
  • 4 - The Editor as Tamer 101
  • 5 - Bad Taste and Bad Hamlet 132
  • 6 - John Milton’s Voice 177
  • Notes 228
  • Index 263
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