Laying that Damned Book Aside? Evaluating the Digital Doctor Faustus

  1. 1. Tanya Clement

    Maryland Institute for Technology and Humanities (MITH) - University of Maryland, College Park

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

Good Angel
O Faustus, lay that damned book aside,
And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul,
And heap Gods heavy wrath upon thy head,
Read, read the scriptures, that is blasphemy.
Evil Angel
Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art,
Wherein all nature's treasury is contained:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements. Exeunt.
(Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 69-76. The Perseus Project, Tragedie of
Doctor Faustus (B text) (ed. Hilary Binda))
I n her introduction to Electronic Text: Investigations in
Method and Theory, Kathryn Sutherland asks if there is
a real danger that the scholar-worker, toiling for years in the remote
regions of the library stacks in the hope of becoming expert in one
small field, will be transformed by the computer into the
technician, the nerdy navigator able to locate, transfer, and
appropriate at an ever faster rate expert entries from a larger set
of information that he/she no longer needs or desires to understand.
(Sutherland 10)
Her inquiry is based on an issue that still plagues many scholars:
with quick access to so much digitized information, how do
we evaluate what we still need and desire to understand? Of
course, her question implies that evaluating printed information
is an evaluation based on less access and therefore a smaller
set of information, and evaluating printed information is not
an uncomplicated issue; it is one which scholars reconsider
constantly. One such group--literary scholar-workers--may
spend years 'toiling' over similar versions of a printed text in
order to produce a single representative edition. In the case of
Christopher Marlowe's The Tragedie of Doctor Faustus, for
example, there is no extant manuscript, nine versions were
printed between 1604 and 1631, and the first appeared almost
nine years after Marlowe's death. Those that appeared in 1604,
1609, and 1611 are similar and are collectively known as the
A-text. The 1616, 1619, 1620, 1624, 1628, and 1631 versions
are also similar and known as the B-text. Which one should a
reader or scholar consult?
Remarkably different, the A- and B-texts have inspired an
extensive amount of critical commentary and scholarly editors
since W.W. Greg appear to agree on one thing: neither the Anor
the B-text is considered wholly representative of Marlowe's
original work. Still, scholars have attempted to represent what
one most needs and desires to understand in an edition of
Doctor Faustus. Evaluating a digital edition of Doctor Faustus
can not—and should not—be based on exactly the same process
even though it may be based on the same set of problems
inherent to the Doctor Faustus work. Standards by which one
may evaluate the digital Doctor Faustus are present in three
very different digital versions of the work: The Perseus Digital
Library edition ( <
/> ), Early English Books Online (EEBO-TCP) collection (
<> , and the
Versioning Machine ( <
ucts/ver-mach/index.html> ) electronic publishing
To date, the two most critically important print editions of
Doctor Faustus are W.W. Greg's Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus'
1604-1616: Parallel Texts (1950) and David Bevington and
Eric Rasmussen's Doctor Faustus A- and B-texts (1604, 1616)
published in 1993. Editors of print editions have sought to
ameliorate the Faustus copy-text problem by printing both the
A and B texts together in one volume. Greg lays out parallel
versions on facing pages while Bevington and Rasumussen
print the texts sequentially, A before B. Certainly, these print
editions still pose some editorial complexities. In order to
construct his facing-page arrangement, Greg had to
"compromise" Marlowe's representation of the original plays.1
In the original printings, a scene that appears early in the first
act of the A text may not appear until much later in the B text,
but since Greg was attempting to show parallel versions of the
play, he moved those scenes to the same location in each play
to facilitate that comparison (Greg 151). Likewise, Rasmussen
and Bevington admit that while they "try to give the A- and
B-texts straight," they "do, to be sure, adopt a few B-text
readings in [their] A-text and vice-versa when corruption seems
unmistakable" (Bevington and Rasmussen n. pag.). Both Greg
and Bevington claim they seek to represent each text as it was
"originally" intended but the print medium requires that these
editors "compromise" their intentions.
Electronic versions of Doctor Faustus in EEBO-TCP and The
Perseus Project allow for types of research that may have been
unthinkable with traditional print resources. EEBO-TCP
provides greater access to the first printings of Doctor Faustus
with facsimiles and searchable text. Facsimiles of the original
printings allow users to see bibliographical codes that a
modernized printing or a digital transcription might otherwise fail to present. The Perseus edition edited by Hillary Binda
provides access to electronic tools for textual analysis. In
Binda's edition of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus the user may
compare Binda's modernized spellings with Greg's A- and
B-texts. The user also has access to one of Marlowe's primary
sources, The English Faust Book of 1592 by P. F. Gent. By
providing the user simultanesou access to both versions, Binda
fulfills her main objective, which is not to favor either version,
an advantage that is replicated in the EEBO-TCP experience
where the reader can choose to read any available printing in
any order.
While the EEBO-TCP and the Perseus editions facilitate a new
perspective of Doctor Faustus, they lack a level of editorial
annotation that print scholarly editions of Faustus have usually
included. Without annotations, unmediated facsimiles of
Renaissance texts like those offered by EEBO-TCP may be
considered misleading. As John Lavagnino points out, "a
facsimile of an early edition may have more ‘errors' in it than
a modern reprint," but without the Renaissance reader's
"awareness of the degree of uncertainty in the text; our corrected
modern editions make it look like we're quite certain about
what the text is supposed to say" (Lavagnino 67). The Perseus
edition is problematic for other reasons. Binda chooses Greg's
parallel edition "as a model for linking lines, passages and
scenes between the two texts," but Binda also claims she does
not want to indicate a preference for the A- or B-texts (Binda
par. 14). Yet, as previously argued, Greg's paralleled version
(which provides the basis of her encoded text) evinces a clear
bias for B, making her claim untenable. Further, both projects
use the TEI XML encoding standard — a standard that requires
a substantial level of editorial decision-making, yet neither
EEBO-TCP or Perseus discuss these choices, thereby
abstracting another level of editorial influence. That basic
aspects of textuality engendered by text selection or metadata
encoding might not be declared by the editor of an electronic
Faustus appears to elide an adequate level of accountability.
The Versioning Machine is an environment that facilitates
displaying and comparing multiple versions of texts. The VM
environment could be particularly productive in examining the
Doctor Faustus text, because, as Schreibman notes, the text
may be "freed from the spatial limitations of the codex” and
could provide readers with the “reconstruction of [the] text's
instantiations over time" (Schreibman “Computer-mediated
texts” 291). Instead of simply providing access to facsimiles,
this environment could provide access to a new perspective on
the textuality of Doctor Faustus by including introductory
material and traditional annotations plus "manipulatable images
of the witness to be viewed alongside the diplomatic edition"
(Schreibman The Versioning Machine 101). The VM
environment could also provide access to sequential or parallel
readings plus relevant images from first printings and
annotations that discuss pertinent editing issues.
Of course, the Versioning Machine—like other electronic
tools—is not without its limitations. For example, subtle
variations that appear on the printed page (such as font or case
changes, line numbers, act and scene numbers, etc.), must be
'hardcoded' or made explicit to the structure in the XML version,
an encoding practice that is not encouraged by the TEI standard.
Indeed, in order to elucidate editorial practices, the XML must
account for all variations—even seemingly of the most
diminutive significance—a cumbersome encoding process that
may or may not yield a critically productive result for the user.
Further, the encoding encouraged by the Versioning Machine
documentation ( "parallel-segmentation" ) yields the same
problems with Faustus that Greg faced; if a large section of
"parallel" content appears in different locations in the text, the
Versioning Machine cannot currently facilitate the HTML
representation of that comparison (although changes in the
XSLT and CSS could possibly provide alternatives).
It is apparent that our duty as computing humanists is not to
evaluate which digital representation we may access or
'appropriate' most easily or which one might answer all our
questions about what we most need or desire. Certainly,
different scholars use different print versions as means for
different ends. Likewise, a scholar may use EEBO-TCP to
compare the bibliographic details of Doctor Faustus to one of
approximately 125,000 other contemporary artifacts or use the
very act of encoding an electronic version of Doctor Faustus
in the Versioning Machine to analyze limitations in editing
such different versions. The versions of Doctor Faustus that
appear in EEBO-TCP and the Perseus edition and the
relationship a scholar has with these texts in the Versioning
Machine are different—from print editions and from each
other—and they facilitate a different presentation of and
relationship to the work. These electronic versions of Doctor
Faustus should be evaluated on the goals their editors seek to
achieve, the particular audiences for which they are intended,
and the traditional modes of editorial accountability exemplified
by Bevington, Boas, Breymann, Greg, Hunter, and Rasmussen,
but they should also be evaluated in terms of the electronic
In conclusion, for digital versions, scholars who do more than
"locate, transfer, and appropriate at an ever faster rate expert
entries from larger set of information" (Sutherland 10) in the
digital environment must rely on the same scholarly pursuits
as always: the desire to create new critical knowledge in the
field. This knowledge, for a Renaissance text with the particular
complexities inherent to Doctor Faustus, for example, may be
dependent on some traditional editorial practices. After all, a
tool like the Versioning Machine may provide access to
sequential or parallel readings, relevant images from first
printings, and annotations that discuss the editing issues at hand
in various sections, but the VM environment, like print, like all
electronic collections and editions, is limited in representing the Doctor Faustus work. For scholars the question is not shall
we listen to the good angel and lay that damned book aside or
listen to the bad angel and be lord and commander of these
elements. The choice, as we know the story goes, is not that
1. To maintain the parallel representation, Greg admits that he must
"compromise" the "typographical arrangement" between the
quartos in order to facilitate "the detailed comparison of the texts"
(Greg 151).
Bevington, David, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. The Federalist.
Cleveland: Meridian Books (The World Publishing Company),
Binda, Hillary. An Overview of this Electronic Doctor Faustus.
Accessed 2005-03-21. <http://www.perseus.tufts
Greg, W.W., ed. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus 1604-1616:
Parallel Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950.
Lavagnino, John. "Completeness and adequacy in text
encoding." The Literary Text in the Digital Age. Ed. Richard
J. Finneran. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,
Schreibman, Susan. "Computer-mediated Texts and Textuality:
Theory and Practice." A New Computer-Assisted Literary
Criticism? Special edition of Computers and the Humanities
36 (2002): 283-293.
Schreibman, Susan, Amit Kumar, and Jarom McDonald. "The
Versioning Machine." Literary and Linguistic Computing 18.1
(2003): 101-107.
Sutherland, Kathryn, ed. Electronic Text: Investigations in
Method and Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None