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It has been stated that Spies' work on the legend of Faustus was published in 1587. The book would appear to have spread very rapidly, though international communication was then very slow, as we find that it had, as early as 1589, furnished the subject of a ballad thus entered in the Stationers' Registers (Arber's transcript, vol. ii., p. 241 b) • Ultimo die ffebruarij 1589.
Allowed vnto him [Ric. Jones] for his Copie, A ballad of the life and deathe of Doctor Ffaustus the great Cungerer.
Allowed vnder the hand of the Bishop of London, and master warden Denhams hand beinge to the Copie-vjd.?
If this ballad be the same as the one still extant and printed in Dyce's edition of Marlowe, p. 136, sq., as is most probable, the question arises whether it was composed before or after the play. Dyce says : • As ballads were frequently founded on favourite dramas, it is most likely that the ditty just mentioned was derived from our author's play.' But the ballad differs from the play in not a few points. Faustus is there made to say
At Wittenburge, a town of Germany,
but in the play it is stated that Faustus was base parents—within a town called Rhodes. ballad goes on to state :
In learning, lo, my uncle brought up me,
The uncle' is entirely gratuitous, as the play speaks only of kinsmen who chiefly brought up' Faustus, and there is nothing in it of the 'cursed’ gold left by these kinsmen. The next stanzas, are in tolerable harmony with the plot of Marlowe's tragedy :
Then did I shun the holy Bible-book,
How dear my soul our Saviour Christ had bought. The last two lines are not however in agreement with Marlowe, in whose play Faustus' repentance is made to begin almost immediately after the conclusion of his bargain with the Devil. The following stanzas are again quite in accordance with the play :
The time I past away, with much delight,
What pleasure I did wish to please my mind,
When four-and twenty years was almost run,
Repenting me of all things done before. The next stanzas suggest even more vivid reminiscences of the play:
I then did wish both sun and moon to stay,
But, in spite of the coincidences we notice here, the ballad cannot be derived from the play. We should first notice that besides the discrepancies already pointed out there is a fundamental difference in the view taken of Faustus' character. In Marlowe, and in the German work of Spies, Faustus' motive * in selling himself to the Devil is a 'self-conceit' and thirst of knowledge :
A sound magician is a mighty god. In the ballad we hear of nothing but the desire of pleasure and licentiousness. And, secondly, we should also notice those features of Marlowe's play which are not mentioned in the ballad, e.g. the splendid episode of Helen of Greece and the longing after fair women, which would not have been omitted by the balladmonger had he known of it, as this feature was sure to tell upon the imagination of a popular audience. We are, therefore, inclined to assume that the ballad was founded upon mere oral relation of the legend, such as might be obtained some way or other, perhaps from one of the inmates of the German Steelyard’ in London.
But the fact remains that the legend had spread to England as early as February 1589, and there can be no doubt that Marlowe's play was composed about the same time. It was written for the ‘Lord Admirall his servants,' and the principal part performed by Alleyn, to whose acting we possess an allusion in Rowland's 'Knave of Clubs' (quoted by Dyce)
The gull gets on a surplice,
We may also notice that in the inventory of Alleyn's theatrical apparel there is mentioned · Faustus Jerkin, his cloke ;' and among the stage-properties of the Lord Admiral's men we find : ‘j dragon in fostes' (Henslowe's Diary, ed. Collier, p. 273). But there is not in Henslowe's Diary any mention of a performance of Faustus prior to September 30, 1594 ; between then and October 1597 we find memoranda of no less than 23 performances-a respectable number, attesting the popularity of the play. This was not, however, due to the really fine and grand passages 1 of Marlowe's original composition, but to the outward accessories and the spectacular exhibition with which the play was gradually brought down to a low level of art. Henslowe did not care whether the plays performed at his theatres were really good and works of high art ; 'a good play' with him meant pretty much the same as "a good book' in these days of ours in a bookseller's dialect-a play or book that pays. He did not pretend to fashion the taste of the Town, but, taking it such as it was, he merely endeavoured to make the most of it for his own ends. When the play had grown somewhat stale, he employed “Thomas Dickers,' as he calls him in his Diary, i.e. the well-known dramatist Dekker, a rough and ready writer, to make 'adycyons to Fostus,' for which he paid Dekker on December 20, 1597, the
The Admiral's company were prohibited from acting in 1589. It is, therefore, probable that Marlowe produced his play either in 1588 or early in 1589. Qy : did the performance of Faustus, which was considered an atheistical' tragedy, contribute to this prohibition ?