I read in a recent answer that "Marlowe's plays are generally hard to date and Doctor Faustus was probably written between 1589 and 1592", and this intriguing situation struck me as something that would make an excellent question.

Wikipedia agrees that the play was written "sometime between 1589 and 1592", but I'd like to know what the information is here. How do we know it was after 1589 and before 1592, and why don't we know any more than that?

In short, what is the information regarding the publication time of Doctor Faustus?

2 Answers 2


The first editions of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus were published in 1604 (the "A-Text") and 1616 (the "B-text") and not between 1588 and 1593, as Peter Shor claims.

Based on Gabriel Harvey's marginal notes in A. P. Gasser's Historiarum, it is possible that "Johannes Faustius" (yes, Faustius, not Faustus) was talked about in the halls of Cambridge University, where Marlowe also studied. The oldest surviving book about Faust was the Historia von D. Johann Fausten, dem weitbescheyten Zauberer und Schwarzkünstler ("History of Dr. Johann Faust, the Famous Magician and Necromancer"), published in Frankfurt in 1587. Park Honan thinks that an older Latin tract about Faust may have circulated at Cambridge University, but that document is now lost.

The German book was translated into English as The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus by a certain P. F. The earliest surviving edition is dated 1592, but its title page says it is "newly printed" and "amended", so it may have been a reprint of an older edition published as early as 1587. Marlowe may have read that earlier edition, which is now lost.

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus appears to have been completed by 1589, since it was staged at the Bel Savage around that time. There is also a popular sheet entitled "A ballad of the life and deathe of Doctor Faustus the great Cunngerer", registered on 28 February 1589.

How much of that original play text survived into the editions of 1604 and 1616 is still a matter of debate. Both versions include lines that cannot be Marlowe's.

In summary, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus was probably written between 1587 and early 1589, but first published in 1604, just over a decade after the author's death.

Source: Park Honan: Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy. Oxford University Press, 2005, pages 198-200.

  • "since it was staged at the Bel Savage around that time" - source? I couldn't see it in your link. (Pretty important, since that's one of the main claims of the answer, but you get my +1 already.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 20:37
  • @Randal'Thor The source is Park Honan's Marlowe biography. The links aren't sources.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 20:40

Not everybody agrees on the probable dates being exactly 1589–1592. This source says that Doctor Faustus was published written between 1588 and 1593.

1593 is the year Marlowe died, so it seems fairly certain it was written before this.

As to the earlier date, Marlowe's play appears to be based on P.F.'s The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus, the first surviving editions of which were published in 1592, but which some people think was first published in English as early as 1588. (There is a possible reference to it in 1590.) This book is a translation of one that was first published in German in 1587. If you allow time for P.F. to translate it and Marlowe to write the play, you could end up with an estimate of 1588 or 1589 as the earliest reasonable date for Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

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