Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 September 2019
ew works of literature have occasioned such vehement controversy as Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Almost every aspect of the play has been debated: the date, the text, the authorship, and, most significant, the ethos of the drama. Commentators adopting a heroic interpretation of the tragedy see the play as a celebration of Faustus, the humanist hero of Renaissance individualism, who barters his soul in return for all the things the Renaissance privileged: knowledge, beauty, power. Conversely, Christian apologists read the play as a religiously orthodox drama condemning Faustus as a damned sinner. After seeking to guide the reader through the labyrinth of critical controversy surrounding the tragedy, I conclude that the play validates both the Christian and humanist readings, depicting a hero whom we can simultaneously admire and censure, sympathize with and deplore. The presence of contradictory perspectives evoking markedly divergent responses to the multifaceted hero suggests that in Doctor Faustus Marlowe penned an interrogative drama that brilliantly argues on both sides of the question.