'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships...' There are so many great lines in this play! The greatness of Marlowe was recognised in his own time (a gentle modern reminder of this came in the film 'Shakespeare in Love', when almost every actor auditioning chose a bit from Marlowe, and all of those defaulted to this play).
It is somewhat ironic that if Shakespeare and Marlowe were writing today, they should most like be charged with plagiarism and copyright infringement; 'The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus' is likewise not an entirely original construct of Marlowe's, but rather derives from an anonymously penned German poem translated into English shortly before Marlowe recast it for his play. The German poet Goethe was influenced by the same anonymous source, and perhaps knew of Marlowe's play during his writing.
Dr. Faustus may have been based on a brilliant professor in Germany a generation or two prior to Marlowe. In any event, the idea of the seduction of the power of knowledge was (and continues to be) inspiring. The idea of selling one's soul to get the object of one's desire is also not a unique concept. Knowledge in the ancient world often always involved the spiritual realm, which had both its light and dark sides (one has but to think of the Star Wars saga to see how such concepts remain firmly rooted in our own time). Faustus becomes a conjurer, and strikes a deal with Lucifer to maintain power and knowledge in return for his soul after 24 years.
Despite the temptations to repent, Faustus in Marlowe's text never manages to break free of the temptations. 'My heart's so hardened I cannot repent. / Scare can I name salvation, faith, or heaven, / But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears: / "Faustus, thou art damned." ' Even recognising this, in the span of this one monologue, Faustus talks himself out of despair with the temptations of knowledge and secret power. Unfortunately for Faustus, he spends so much of his time and power doing ultimately useless tricks that he ends up in a worthless position despite his deal, and pays the ultimate price for his deal with the devil.
This edition contains a very interesting essay, including a biographical sketch of Marlowe (who died at the very young age of 29, having already become a leading light in Elizabethan drama), and a survey of his plays and playwriting techniques, influences, and subsequent influence on others. One story bears repeating, dealing with the performance history of the play: 'A legend developed that during a performance in Exeter, in one scene in which Faustus called up devils, the actors counted one more devil than the scene called for and realised that Satan himself was in the their midst. In terror, they stopped the play; the audience bolted from the playing place; and the actors quitted the town the next morning.' Such was the power of Marlowe's rendering, that his language was thought to have magical conjuring power.