Christopher Marlowe || Doctor Faustus



Table of Contents



Marlowe who was the son of a shoemaker, was born in Canterbury less than three months before the birth of Shakespeare. He was educated at Kings’ School,Canterbury, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he acquired heterodox views on religion. After going down from Cambridge, he became a secret-service agent of some kind, and travelled abroad in this capacity.

He settled in London in 1586, and soon joined the Lord Admiral’s Company of Players. His career as a dramatist must have begun soon after his career as an actor. On the 30th May, 1593, he was stabbed in an inn at Deptford by a shady secret-service agent by the name of Frizer and died at the age of twenty-nine years and three months.


Dramatic Activity of Six Brief Years

The period of Marlowe’s dramatic activity comprises six brief years, from 1587 to 1593. Yet during those six years he wrote six splendid plays—all reflecting his essential spirit and nature, all full of passion, poetry. Each drama centres round some overmastering passion—wild, intemperate passion that grows and develops till it destroys itself. The lust for empire, the lust for lucre, the lust or knowledge and the lust for beauty—these form the background as well as the mainspring of each play. In all these, Marlowe reveals himself as ‘the greatest discoverer, the most daring and inspired pioneer, in all our poetic literature’, as the writer of genuine tragedy and genuine blank verse, as one who prepared the path and made the way for the advent of Shakespeare. In all these are evident qualities of terror and splendour, intensity of purpose and sublimity of note, imaginative daring and lyrical magnificence. In all these is illustrated his individualistic conception of tragedy, the classical Greek conception modified by the Renaissance spirit, the conception which portrays “the struggle between the overweening soul, typically Renaissance in its insatiable ambition, and the limitations which it seeks to overcome.” The following are the important works of Marlowe:

  1. “Tamburlaine”

It was Marlowe’s first powerful trumpet-blast. The general chorus of warm welcome which greeted the play on its first presentation on the stage in 1587 encouraged Marlowe to ‘pen his Second Part.’ The very subject-matter and style ofTamburlaine sounded a new and striking note compelling public attention and admiration. The very opening lines of the play contain what may be described as Marlowe’s dramatic manifesto:

From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine, Threatening the world with high astounding terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.

Tamburlaine is the story of a Scythian shepherd who dreams of world conquest and achieves his aspiration magnificently. As a drama it has many drawbacks—the plot is weak and loosely knit; the scheme seems to be inartistic, nay, absurd; the effects are grim and bloody. Yet who can refrain from appraising the play as a first-rate one, taking into account its attractive exaggeration of thought and expression, its burning passages of eloquent poetry, its glare and horror, its vehemence and intoxication, its titanic truculence and luminous colouring? In the forefront of all these, and towering high above them all stands the high-tempered hero, full of indomitable strength and passionate speech. Tamburlaine is the symbol of invincible human will, the embodiment of a fearless vision, filled with fretting and fuming aspirations and with the rapturous glory of which ‘youthful poets dream on summer eves by haunted stream.’ In Tamburlaine is enshrined and illustrated—

Man’s desire and valiance that range,
All circumstance and come to port unspent.

‘Still climbing after knowledge’ infinite—Tamburlaine bestrides the world like a medieval Napoleon. In tune with the Titanic strides and triumphs of this superman are the Indian hunter who thunders—‘I throw my mind across the chasm and my house follows’, and also the Scythian horses which sweep wide spaces of uncivilized splendour with their swift and sparkling movement. On the whole, Tamburlaine is ‘the most resplendent’ of Marlowe’s plays in which the morning stars of his poetry sing together.

  1. “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus which followed in the wake ofTamburlaine is acclaimed by all as Marlowe’s best play in which the leaven of fertile poetry and fearless imagination works wonders. The story is that of Faustus, a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in his eagerness for the acquisition of universal knowledge. Faustus is as insatiable and mighty as Tamburlaine. If Tamburlaine thunders—

I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains,
And with my hand turn Fortune’s wheel about,
And sooner shall the sun fall from his sphere
That Tamburlaine be slain or overcome;

Faustus declares with vibrant passion—

All things that move between the quiet poles,
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings,
Are but obeyed in their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds:
………………………………….. A sound magician is a mighty God.

Out of the dry bones of the old German legend Marlowe has fashioned a work of art, a noble drama of a scholar’s soul in the grip of intense agony. It is a play of vast conflict, fearful failure, intense feeling, stirring emotion; it is a play whose central idea is that of loss; a play in which sin is presented with its inescapable reward; a matchless spiritual tragedy in which the mighty protagonist is man and the mysterious powers that surround him; a play whose symbolism has an irresistible appeal.

  1. “The Jew of Malta”

This proved to be, in its own day, the most popular of Marlowe’s plays. Barabas, the Mediterranean money-lender, with his avaricious dreams of wealth, fore-shadows Shakespeare’s Shylock. Dedicated to the spirit of Machiavelli, the play opens a new phase in Marlowe’s work. It is a picture of “the Elizabethan world of ‘policy’ in which men were unscrupulous, bold, implacable, cruel in power and sometimes heroic in defeat.” Less passionate and less lyrical than Tamburlaine andFaustus, The Jew of Malta is, however, stronger and more bitter than its two illustrious predecessors.

  1. “The Massacre of Paris”

It is generally regarded as Marlowe’s crudest work. As in other plays so in this, there are brave and beautiful phrases, emotional and impassioned lines, memorable and magnificent speeches, and grand and glorious tragic touches. But the material is weakly managed and the characters are poorly drawn. Indeed, the impression left by this play is that there is not much of Marlowe’s hand in it.

  1. “Edward II”

It is an undisputed masterpiece of Marlowe—in which he touches “his highest point of excellence.” It is a great historical and political play anticipating Shakespeare’s Richard II. There is here none of the beauty and pathos of the earlier plays, none of their splendour and poetry. The whole is subdued, the style is restrained and temperate, and the characters are boldly and clearly drawn. The plot is controlled and well adapted, and the treatment of the characters and the details of description exhibit a growing maturity in the art of Marlowe. Splendid instances of deepening gloom and swelling pathos are there as in the dungeon scene at BerkeleyCastle and in the abdication scene. And the play touches our imagination and thrills our emotion in the same way as do the great tragedies of Shakespeare. With something Greek about it as far as the stern presentment of human misery and anguish is concerned, Edward II is an artistic play that moves us by its very simplicity and humanity. It is Marlowe’s ripest play and lasting legacy.

  1. “Dido Queen ofCarthage”

Dido Queen of Carthage—for which Marlowe borrowed material from Virgil’s “Aeneid”—was left unfinished. It was Nashe who completed and arranged it for the stage. What part was done by Marlowe and how much of the play belongs to Nashe is a point not satisfactorily explained. But it is evident that Marlovian touches are there surely. The play differs from all its predecessors in that it does not paint or portray any lust. The hapless love-tale of the great Carthagenian Queen is treated poetically and dramatically. This is the only play of Marlowe which has love as its theme and woman as its central figure. Marlowe’s fondness for rich imagery and colourful description is present in plenty. His ships have golden cordage, crystal anchors and ivory oars. Dido has silver arms and tears of pearl. Even the common soldiers wear rich embroidered coats and have silver whistles to control the winds. It is thus that Marlowe reveals his passion for describing the beautiful, his delight in luxurian outward and visible loveliness. Who can miss the ravishing beauty of the lines where Dido expresses her thirsty love for Aeneas—

I’ll make me bracelets of his golden hair,
His glistering eyes shall be my looking-glass;
His lips an altar, where I’ll offer up
As many kisses as the sea hath sand;
Instead of music I will hear him speak;
His looks shall be my only library.



The Greek Drama

In order to fully grasp the rise and content of the English drama, we must peer into the dim past and retrace our steps to the early days of ancient Greece. The beginnings of drama in general get lost in the ‘mimes’ or crude performances of the Dorian Greeks in honour of Dionysus, the God of Wine, whose name stood for carousal, revelry and merriment.

The addition of dialogue to the dumb mimicry marked an important stage, but it required yet the infusion of action into the dialogue to complete the transformation. This crude drama of the Greeks was a commentary upon the lives and manners, not of human beings, but of the pantheon of gods and other mythological persons: it dealt with things of heaven, not with the problems of mundane existence. But its tone and treatment were generally comic. It was this farcical element that led, by devious and zig-zag paths, to the rise of the famous AthenianComedy. The supernatural theme made room for the human. The ludicrous representation of the heavenly life which they combined to produce an essentially secular mind, but the religious elements were not altogether done away with. The drama, we may say, was brought down from the heavenly heights to suit the earthly needs.

In the days of Aristotle, the Greek drama almost completed its process of growth and received some final touches at the hands of this master-mind. It gathered all those attributes which constitute its distinctive marks. Two characteristics distinguished it mainly, the Chorus and the Unities. The Chorus was a band of singers and dancers who played in concert and sang odes to the God of Wine, and sometimes followed up the music with a lively dialogue. This dialogue came to supplant in the long run, the musical part of the performance. “The lack of scenery and of stage effect was made up for by descriptions and explanations sung by the Chorus and the limitations imposed by the three unities were met in a similar manner. The Chorus served to give a break and relief in the gloomy and often tragic monotony of the Greek drama. The Shakespearean devices of relieving tragedy by a comic element would not have been admissible.”

The Chorus was as old as the drama itself, but the rules of the Unities began with Aristotle. He observed that good plays must conform to these rules and must observe the three Unities of Time, Place and Action—

(i)      The Unity of Time. The duration of the action or story must not exceed 24 hours.

(ii)    The Unity of Place. The incidents of the drama must be represented in an unbroken link: the scene should be invariable and should not be so located that the dramatis personae are unable to visit it in the time allotted for the duration of the play.

(iii)  The Unity of Action. The main interest or plot of the story should be uninterrupted and its course should not be deflected by side-issues and minor plots or incidents. The unity of action must be smooth and straight; all characters and scenes must directly contribute to it.

In addition to the ‘Unities’, Aristotle touched upon the form of the drama and divided it into five parts:—

(i)      The Exposition. This constitutes the opening of the play; the characters are introduced to the audience and are portrayed in their respective situations which gradually work up to the dramatic action.

(ii)    The Rising Action i.e., the development of the dramatic situation from the incidents in the Exposition and the gradual rise of the pitch in the dramatic plot.

(iii)  The Crisis or Climax. This is the highest pitch in the drama, the turning point in the plot. It represents the effect of the incidents which have already taken their rise in the Exposition and have passed through the second stage. It marks the culmination of the dramatic action and is followed by a lowering of the tone in the play.

(iv)   The Descending or Falling Action, in which the action is toned down to a lower pitch.

(v)     The Denouement or Catastrophe or Solution, where the various forces in the dramatic action converge towards the solution of the plot.

The Drama and the Christian Church

The Jongleurs. In its days of decadence, the art of drama fell into the hands of wandering minstrels called Jongleur who travelled from place to place and visited the courts of kings as well as the village greens. Their art consisted in a crude representation of the life and manners of that age, but it did not achieve a height of excellence. It was akin to the rude mimicry and farce of the Indian Bhands.

In the 9th century A.D. or thereabouts, the dramatic stage shifted from the village green to the altar of the church. The churchmen saw in the stage an effective means of the propagation of Christianity and succeeded in substituting a religious theme for the secular art of the Jongleurs. Certain striking episodes in the life of Jesus Christ were cast into a dramatic form—his Birth, Crucifixion, Resurrection and many others—and these were represented on the stage on appropriate occasions. The drama thus became the handmaid of Christianity.

The Altar and the Stage

There was another swing of the pendulum. The church could not keep up the vigour of the art which the Jongleurs had exhibited and there was a return to the village green. The Churchmen tried their best to suppress this secular tendency. The village green or the market square now became the scene of the simple plays, mainly based on Biblical themes, and called the Miracle and Mystery plays. The Elizabethan drama is usually considered to be a development of these. “Miracles” and “Mysteries,” and it is more than probable that Shakespeare witnessed the performance of some of these. The Creation of the world, the Fall of Man, the Deluge, the Birth of Christ, and Resurrection were some of the commonest themes of these ‘Miracles.’

The Didactic Drama: “Moralities” or Allegorical Plays

The next stage in the growth of the drama was the change from the religious to the didactic theme. The latter half of the 14th century witnessed a strong wave of allegorical influence throughout Europe, and the dramatic art could not but put on the colour and catch the tone of the times. A new type of drama—the Allegorical Plays or the Moralities—came into being. Characters in these plays were not human beings, but abstract qualities like Vice, Virtue, Avarice, Pride, Ignorance, Love, Mercy, Justice, Life, Death etc. The object of the Moralities was wholly didactic: the eternal warfare of evil and good, the struggle of Truth against Falsehood and a dramatic representation of the interaction of human misery and happiness formed the theme of these plays. The Moralities had a happy innovation in the shape of comic element. Satan was represented as a low jocular buffoon who kept the audience in a ‘fit of mirth.’ The introduction of the seeds of Comedy and the new romantic treatment of the theme were a happy relief to the otherwise serious monotony and dryness of the Moralities. (The Cradle of Security, Hit the Nail on the Head, Second Shepherd’s Play were some of the famous Moralities).

The Morality play was a distinct improvement upon the Miracle play. The Miracle Play was purely religious in character while the Morality Play was chiefly concerned with human nature. The latter dealt with morals and the eternal conflict between the forces of good and evil and with the misery that emanates from vice. The theme of the Miracle Play was superhuman, while that of the Moralities was mainly human and earthly. The Miracle Play left no room for originality; its subject-matter was borrowed from the Bible; the rough-and-ready incidents from the Old Testament supplied abundant material so that the dramatic genius of inventing new plots and sub-plots could not be brought to play. The Moralities, on the other hand, gave free rein to the fertile imagination of the playwright. He could invent a new scheme as well as draw upon the old sources. The addition of the comic element proved the way for the Elizabethan comedy, and provided a short spell of mirth and sunshine in the dull and irksome monotony of the Miracles. The Miracle Play, however, had one advantage over the Morality in that the characters who figured in the Miracle Play had distinct individualities, whereas the Morality dealt with abstractions, the personification of abstract qualities.

Interludes and Comedies (Secular Drama)

The importance of the comic element in the Moralities has been emphasised above. It was at first employed to relieve the dreary monotony of the play, but soon it outgrew its function and expanded into a regular dramatic composition. This comic element, or the Interlude as it was often called was the mother of the later Elizabethan comedy. The Interludes were short lively pieces, with characters mostly drawn from real life, though these characters still represented types rather than individuals. But they formed a happy transition from the bare abstractions of the Moralities to the clear-cut individualistic characterisation of the Shakespearean play. The Interludes gave an impetus to the growth of regular drama. They emphasised the element of diversion just for its own sake and offered a contrast to the religious motive of the Miracle Plays or the didactic of the Moralities. The range of subjects grew; the life and manners of the contemporary age came to be reflected truthfully. “Moreover there was now arising the feeling of the need for division on the classical model into regular acts and scenes, and with the Interludes now claiming independent existence, a rough and ready division may be made of Tragedy, Comedy, and plays which are a mixture of both.”

English Drama and the Renaissance

At this time, Europe was animated by a new spirit and fresh ideals. The wonderful Renaissance Movement kicked the slumbering continent into energy. The Muses bore the torch of new knowledge to all parts of Europe. This Revival of Learning brought in its train a passionate zeal for the classical literature of Greece and Rome. It had its influence on the English stage too. The “Miracles’’, “Mysteries” and the “Moralities” were driven out by a new type of drama which took its rise in Oxford and Cambridge and derived its inspiration from Greece and Rome. English dramas came to be written on the classical model; of these all, Gorboduc was the most striking example. It was based on the tragedies of the illustrious Seneca and it contained all the traits of the Greek drama—the Chorus, the three Unities and the division of the dramatic action into five parts. Many plays belong to this period of infancy of the English stage e.g.

(i)      Ralph Roister Doister, a comedy written by Nicholas Udall in 1550-51, but actually published in 1566.

(ii)    Gorboduc or Ferrex and Porrex (1562), tragedy.

(iii)  Damon and Pythias, (1564) a tragic-comedy by Richard Edwards, based upon the classical mythology.

The Renaissance, combined with the Reformation, tended to produce the Romantic drama. To this drama, therefore, we should now turn.

The Romantic Drama of the Renaissance or the Elizabethan Age

The Romantic drama was a product of the Elizabethan age. The English dramatists, after a few experiments on the classical model, noted above, altogether discarded the three unities. The classical drama was followed in two ways: (a) a dignified form and (b) a luxuriant expression. The treatment of the English drama grew to be romantic rather than classical. The three unities of time, place and action were not observed, so that an English play of this period could cover an indefinite period of time, the action could “move from place to place” and subsidiary plots or by-plots could exist side by side with the main plot. Thus in King Lear, Othello and some other plays we notice sub-plots running alongwith the main thread of the story.

A word about Shakespeare’s immediate predecessors. Of these the following names deserve special mention:—

  1. Robert Greene
  2. Kyd
  3. George Peele
  4. John Lyly
  5. Christopher Marlowe

John Lyly was noted for his polished and sweet prose, a facile expression, and happy similes and witticisms. Shakespeare drew upon his plays to a very large extent. What Lyly did for prose, Peele did for verse: his verse is balanced and hence tends to be rather monotonous. While Lyly and Peele succeeded in providing the infant romantic drama with a happy form and expression, Greene portrayed human passion and action in a masterly style and introduced a romantic spirit into the English comedy. ‘Over his poetry breathes the fresh air of the English meadows.’ Marlowe’s contribution was still greater. “His genius was essentially of a tragic cast; from his veins the life-blood of passion had flowed into the drama of England and forthwith it lost its timidity and was conscious of strange new force and fire; in his tragedies were first heard upon a public stage, that measure which is the express voice in our poetry of dramatic feeling—the blank verse.” Marlowe’s art was thus a prelude to the sonorous music of Shakespeare—a music now gushing and roaring like the tumultuous waves of mighty deeps, and now flowing, drooping like the whispering ripples of a moonlit and the tinkling of distant bells at the dead of night. To Shakespeare, therefore, we now turn for “this still sad music of humanity.”

The Praise of Marlowe among the University Wits

Christopher Marlowe, though the youngest of the University Wits and the earliest to die, except for Robert Greene, was the most important among them in the world of drama; he is still regarded as the mighty and wonderful dramatic genius who gave to the English tragic drama a permanent direction and life. He collaborated with some of his fellows and most probably was associated with Shakespeare. “It has been suggested from internal evidence that he was the part-author of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. He perhaps also wrote parts of Henry VI, which Shakespeare revised and completed, and of Edward III.” Be that as it may, the four plays, all tragedies, that make Marlowe foremost among the predecessors of Shakespeare are Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, The Jew of Malta, Doctor Faustus, and Edward II.

Marlowe: A Typical Product of the Renaissance

Renaissance, which literally means ‘re-birth’ or ‘re-awakening’ is the name of a Europe-wide movement which closes the trammels and conventions of the medieval age and makes for liberation in all aspects of life and culture.

Though the influence of the spirit of the Renaissance marks all the writers of the latter half of the age of Elizabeth,—in poetry, drama, and prose romances and novels, that can be seen working with particular force on Marlowe and his fellows who together are called the University Wits. Of them again, the writings of Marlowe are the most prominent embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance. Generally speaking, Marlowe himself is the spirit of Renaissance incarnate. A reckless Bohemian in life, a daring atheist setting not much value on moral worth but all value on the Machiavellian virtue, living a life of imagination rather than of thought, of gaiety full of the zest for life, Marlowe is the typical product of the Renaissance. In the conception of the central characters of his dramas, he is impelled by the Renaissance spirit for unlimited power, unlimited knowledge for the sake of power, unlimited wealth, again, for the sake of power. Aspirations, unbounded desire of love for the pleasures of the senses, infinite longing for beauty rather than for truth—these are the characteristics of the imaginative life which glittered before his eyes in that great age of daring adventures. On the aesthetic side, love of physical beauty mentioned above goes in him hand in hand with love of the beauty of harmony; the high astounding terms of his blank verse, the thrills and echoes of his phrases, the resounding roll of his declamations, the surfeit of mythological allusions—all these run into excess; but the excesses only point to the essential ambition of reaching beyond the narrow and the limited into the infinity of achievement, which is the noblest gift of the Renaissance.



The balance-sheet of Marlowe’s merits and demerits as a dramatist cannot be correctly understood and justly estimated without an idea of the condition of English drama at the time that he arrived in London as a literary adventurer.

The origins of drama have always and everywhere been deeply rooted in simple piety and religious instinct. In England too, the cradle of the drama rested on the altar of the Church. In the very ritual of the Church, in the Mass itself and in the festivities of Christmas, Easter and Michaelmas, were inherent occasions and themes for dramatic development. The clergy who were obliged to find some method of teaching and explaining to the ignorant and illiterate masses the doctrinal truths of religion, took advantage of the gospel stories which they illustrated by a series of living pictures, generally called pageants or dumb-shows. These early church entertainments which were spiritual and not secular yielded place in course of time to humanistic development. In this second stage, the scope of the dramatic productions gradually extended in respect of subject-matter, accommodation and participants. The actors spoke as well as acted and Mysteries (stories taken from the Scriptures) and Miracle plays (dealing with incidents in the lives of saints and martyrs) became common. In the third stage, the serious and light elements which were interwoven in the earlier period were bifurcated and Moralities and Interludes supplanted the Mysteries and Miracle Plays. The Moralities were didactic, abstract, serious, allegorical, whereas the Interludes were light entertainments, full of gaiety and humour. In the fourth stage of development which was reached by the middle of the 16th century, Tragedy and Comedy established themselves as definite and separate branches of drama. Gorboduc (1561) by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton has the distinction of being the first regular English Tragedy, while in the field of comedy the honour goes to Ralph Roister Doister (1541) by Nicholas Udall.

At the time that Marlowe unfurled the banner of his dramatic career, the theatrical repertory consisted of tragedies on the model of Seneca, comedies like those of Plautus and Terence, historical plays, romances, court comedies and dramatised episodes of private life. English drama, thus, was in a somewhat chaotic condition, struggling between a well-formed chill and a structureless enthusiasm. ‘The classicists had form, but no fire; the popular dramatists had interest, but little sense of form.’ J.A. Symonds observes: “There was plenty of productive energy, plenty of enthusiasm and activity. Theatres continued to spring up and acting came to rank among the recognised professions. But this activity was still chaotic. None could say where or whether the gem of a great national art existed…..Scholars despised the shows of mingled bloodshed and buffoonery in which the populace delighted. The people had no taste for dry and formal disquisitions in the style of Gorboduc. The blank verse of Sackville and Hughes rang hollow: the prose of Lyly was affected; the rhyming couplets of the popular theatre interfered with dialogue and free development of character. The public itself was divided in its tastes and instincts; the mob inclining to mere drolleries and merriment upon the stage, the better vulgar to formalities and studied imitations. A powerful body of sober citizens, by no means wholly composed of Puritans and ascetics, regarded all forms of dramatic art with undisguised hostility. Meanwhile, no really great poet had arisen to stamp the tendencies of either court or town with the authentic seal of genius. There seemed a danger lest the fortunes of the stage in England should be lost between the prejudices of a literary class, the puerile and lifeless pastime of the multitude, and the disfavour of conservativemoralists.” It was at such a critical time that Marlowe arrived on the scene with his poetry and his passion, his intellectual vigour and his academical training. It was as though Marlowe was specially destined to save English drama from a perilous landslide by discerning in the existing chaotic and conflicting elements the real and vital seed of art, and set its flowering beyond all risks of accident by his singular and significant achievement.

Marlowe’s Reform of Theme and Language

Marlowe’s Tamburlaine Part I appeared on the stage with a haughty, almost insolent trumpet note of revolt both against the conventional theme of the dramatists and their language. In the very first lines of the Prologue to the play, Marlowe proclaims his bold programme of reform:

“From the jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of War,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
Threatening the world with high astounding terms.”

Thus he announces that he will break the conventions in two important directions: “With the jigging veins of rhymesters are contrasted the Scythian’s ‘high astounding terms’, while his heroic exploits are similarly set off against the mere ‘conceits of clownage.’ These bold reforms, in simple language, are in the direction of versification and subject-matter. He boldly adopted for use in the popular drama the blank verse, so long used by his contemporaries only for dramas on the classical model. He was the first to feel rightly that for adequate dramatic expression in serious subjects the vehicle of rhymed lines and stanzas was ridiculously inadequate. Some of his contemporaries had indeed used the blank verse in their tragedies of the Senecan school; but these dramas were meant for scholars only and courtly audiences. “To dissever it from these associations/and submit it on the boards of the public theaters to the rough-and ready verdict of the groundlings, might well have seemed a hazardous experiment. Yet it received instant success. Similarly, in subject- matter the almost farcical, or weakly sentimental themes which went by the name of comedy were replaced by themes which almost burst with passion and high feelings. It is true that Marlowe could contribute almost nothing to the genuinely comic side of the drama, nor to the grace and loveliness of prose dialogue. But he gave strength, force and vigour to the drama which once for all turned its career for both greatness and stability. He lifted the drama into the sphere of high literature. The English stage in his time was in great need of intensity. Grace, sentiment, wit, fancy had been communicated to the English drama by various talents of the age, communicated with reckless and very often ridiculous excess; but the vigour, dash and animation which only can make a drama as a whole a living, pulsating expression of life were the gifts of Marlowe alone. The wits of the age, even some of his close collaborators might mock at his ‘spacious volubility of a drumming decasyllable’ or at his ‘bragging blank verse’; serious, critical-minded dramatic talents might find fault with his extravagant one-man show, but all the same they all had to fall in line with him to give their own productions life and vigour.”

The Gift of Stability and Direction

Before the year 1587 in which Marlowe’s Tamburlaine Part I was put upon the stage and the young dramatist rose suddenly to giddy heights of fame and popularity, English drama was in a chaotic condition—groping its way to a much-desired stability but pulled in different directions. “It is not necessary”, as Boas pointedly remarks, “to deprecate the tentative efforts of earlier Elizabethan playwrights in order to recognise that they had failed to point with certainty to a glorious dramatic future.” There were the learned, scholarly playwrights writing for the Court, or the Inns of Court, or the Universities. These neo-classicists insisted on form, decorum and dignity even with artificiality and rigidity. On the other hand, there were popular playwrights holding to the native tradition of formlessness but giving much of vivacity and vigour to the presentation. Senecan models in tragedy and imitations of Terence and Plautus in comedy, both in the courtly dramas and those for the public stage, confused the issue. As medium of expression, rhymed lines and stanzas of various sorts still held their away, though the first blank verse tragedy had been produced as early as 1562 and prose had occasionally been used in some comedies. “The age, however”, as Nicoll remarks, “obviously wished for no trammels upon the theatre. Freedom, action, passion, the audiences desired, and these they found in the work of the romantic playwrights.” And Marlowe, when he first appeared on the stage more than fulfilled this popular desire for “freedom, action, passion.” His successive dramas were wonderful, almost overwhelming, embodiments of the spirit of Renaissance. All the four plays from his pen were indeed exemplary of the tragic art in dramatic poetry. But they were enough to give a permanence and stability to the drama. The comedic art was being perfected by other masters of the age, particularly by Greene and Lyly. It was passion, vigour and poetry that the populace thirsted for and these were exactly the gifts that Marlowe brought to the drama.

Gift to Poetry and Lyricism

Marlowe was a born poet, the greatest poet and lyricist of the Renaissance before Shakespeare. Marlowe not only reformed the dramatic blank verse—by infusing variety, vigour and spontaneous flow and cadence—but made it the aptest vehicle for the poetry of high passion and imagination. He breathed into the blank verse the animation and life-spirit of high lyricism. It has been truly remarked that “all his heroes are essentially poets in their nature, for they are all reflections of Marlowe’s personality.” Imbued with the Renaissance thirst for unlimitable power, infinite knowledge and unbounded ambition without any moral inhibition, Marlowe communicated his spirit to the heroes of his dramas. Tamburlaine speaks high poetry of unquenchable aspirations in the most melodious resounding verses; he gives clear utterance in poetry to Marlowe’s love of the impossible. So also Barabas in The Jew of Malta speaks in high poetry of his ambition for boundless wealth not for power which wealth brings but for the joy of the greediness in wealth. Faustus is shaped in a similar mould: “With him the passion takes the form of a desire to conquer the secret of nature but his words have the glow of enthusiastic rapture. Even Mortimer in Edward II and Edward himself are poets, given as they are the dreams of the endless joy of living a life of ease, splendour and power. Marlowe is not only a poet but a poet of passion. Tamburlaine’s raptures over the beauty of his wife Zenocrate at her dying moments, Faustus’s rhapsody over Helen’s beauty, Edward’s passionately pathetic self-pity-all these gave to the English dramatic verse the passion and emotion which go with high poetry. In this connection, Schelling’s remark is worth quoting: “Marlowe gave the drama passion and not poetry; and poetry was his most precious gift. Shakespeare would have never been Shakespeare had Marlowe never written or lived. He might not have been altogether the Shakespeare we know.

Gift of Individuality: Machiavellian Ideal

Marlowe had not indeed the dramatic capacity of presenting a character by the portrayal of its development through clash and conflict. It may be said with reasonable justification that each of his four great dramas centres round a single character of the superbly heroic type and it is not all mobile. It is ready-made from the beginning and ends as it began. The whole theme only illustrates the ready-made character. This is certainly a defect in a master dramatist. But in the case of Marlowe as a pioneer in that age of experiment it is a credit that he gave a superb individuality to his characters,—the heroes of his tragedies. In fact, Marlowe was too much under the influence of the Renaissance conception of greatness as taught by the great Machiavelli. On this point we can do nothing better than quote at some length from the illuminating observation of A. Nicoll: “We may note the influence of Machiavelli…..Most heard of him by report, and took him as a symbol of all that was atheistical, immoral and corrupt. His Prince is merely a summing up of regular Renaissance ideals of conduct; it is the culmination of that individualism which marks off the newly awakened Europe from the anonymity and communal ideals of the Middle Ages. Machiavelli had made a god of virtue, that quality in man which drives him to find free and full expression of his own thought and emotions. It is this virtue on which Marlowe has seized, not without some tremors of conscience in spite of his liberated mind. So he presents his heroes, Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Barabas, over-riding the ordinary moral codes of their times in order to find the complete realisation of their particular ideals; in the Jew of Malta he brings Machiavelli forward in person to speak the prologue to his tragedy:

“I count Religion but a childish toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.”

One important result of this insistence upon virtue must be noted. Call it what we please, virtue, ambition, will, tends to overlook class, and accordingly the dramas of Marlowe break away slightly from the more ancient medieval plan. For the Middle Ages tragedy was a thing of princes only; for Marlowe it was a thing of individual heroes. Thus his Tamburlaine, King though he may be by the end of the drama, is born a peasant. The Jew is but a Mediterranean money-lender, and Faustus an ordinary German doctor and an alchemist. The medieval conception of the royalty of tragedy is here supplanted by the Renaissance ideal of individual worth. It is the union of the two which gives us the majesty of Macbeth and Lear. This is one of Marlowe’s most outstanding contributions to the development of a truly august type of English tragedy. His main conception of serious drama—Renaissance virtue battling on to success and then falling unconquered before fate—is at the root of all the great seventeenth century tragic activity; only Shakespeare made his figures more human and stressed more on the fatal flaw in the greatness of their characters.

Marlowe’s Gift to the Historical Drama

Edward II coming last in the series of Marlowe’s major dramatic productions marks a development in several aspects. It is the best of the English chronicle plays of the time. Though there is a wide gap between it and even the immature chronicle plays of Shakespeare like Richard III and Richard II, yet it marks a development in Marlowe’s power of characterization. The central character of the unfortunate King is not very attractive but is so portrayed that the pathos of his end is calculated to draw the sympathy of the audience. The subordinate characters are sketched with some individualities and there is an attempt, not unsuccessful, of evolving something like a plot.

“Edward II, in the matter of plot and construction, stands on a different level from any of the author’s previous works. Instead of being a collection of unconnected episodes, or the tantalisingly imperfect fulfilment of a great design, it is a complex and organic whole, working up by natural stages to a singularly powerful climax. In style also, from the dramatic point of view, it marks an advance. The ‘high astounding terms’ of the earlier period have almost entirely disappeared, though there is still a plentiful supply of the unreasonable classical allusions which had so irresistible a fascination for Elizabethan playwrights. Otherwise the language is of chastened simplicity, verging at times on baldness but full, for the most part, of silvery charm and grace…..But it is above all in the power of characterisation that the play shows most distinctive evidence of growth. Marlowe’s earlier dramas are dominated by the commanding figure of the hero, which overshadows and dwarfs the other personages, robbing them of all interest on their own account. (In Edward II this fault is avoided, and while the King stands clearly out as the central character, we have other well-defined types in Gaveston and Mortimer, to whom, though of inferior interest, may be added the young Spenser and the Queen.”

Marlowe: The Poet of Passion

Marlowe is undoubtedly the poet of passion par excellence. It is passion that heaves in his poetry at every turn. Yet it has other striking characteristics too, especially three marked ones—pictorial quality, ecstatic quality and vitalising energy. The pictorial richness of Marlowe’s poetry reminds us of the intense and quivering colour effects that we come across in the poetry of Keats. Lines like these:

The pavement underneath thy chariot wheels
With Turkey carpet shall be covered.
And cloth of arras hung about the walls;
Fit objects for thy princely eye to pierce,
A hundred bessoes clothed in crimson silk,
Shall ride before thee on Barbarian steeds,
And when thou goest a golden canopy
Enchas’d with precious stones…..

which are powdered over, as it were, with glittering silver and gold and scarlet, are akin to the rich-hued and picturesque veined passages in The Eve of St. Agnes. As Frederick Boas observes: “Never again, till the coming of Keats, did the sensuous imagination that glories in the lust of the eye and the pride of life speak in tones so full and rich.” The ecstatic quality is well exemplified in Faustus’s apostrophe—

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss;
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies
Come, Helen, come give me my soul again
Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips;
And all is dross that is not Helen

and in the speech of Barabas on regaining his lost treasure—

                O my girl,
My gold, my fortune, my felicity,
Strength to my soul, death to mine enemy;
Welcome the first beginner of my bliss;
O Abigail, Abigail, that I had thee here too
Then my desires were fully satisfied;
But I will practise thy enlargement thence;
O girl: O gold: O beauty; O my bliss;

The ecstatic quality of Marlowe’s poetry reveals his easily excitable moods which are moved to exuberant expression by certain appeals to the imagination such as the appeal to beauty. Marlowe, the wistful visionary that always followed the trail of adventure in life as well as in literature, lived in a self-wrought world of beauty and wonder. The vitalising energy of Marlowe’s poetry is evident in all his four great tragedies—Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus. The Jew of Malta and Edward II. It is this pervading energy that redeems these plays from many an absurdity and endows them with compelling beauty and elevating power. Not satisfied with vague descriptions, Marlowe often actualises his theme—as in the pageant of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ in Dr. Faustus. Such a thing is native to Marlowe’s genius and is the out flowing of a virile and vital imagination. It is this vitalising energy that imparts to the young poet’s eloquence a vibrant music that compels the reader’s admiration.


To say that Marlowe was “the most individual, the most talented of the pre-Shakespeareans” does not, of course, mean that his dramatic works taken together had in them the hallmark of perfection.

Certainly he did very great things for the popular drama of the time which deserve high recognition as his merits; and these merits must be summarised in a few lines before we proceed to point out his drawbacks as a dramatic artist. He reformed and we may say, reshaped the blank verse to be a mighty vehicle of passion and vigorous romanticism, of ambitions, of soaring ideas; he made poetry the hand-maiden of dramatic expression. He gave to each of his dramas the stamp of the great personality of a death-defying hero, ‘single-minded individual’. In Dr. FaustusMarlowe may be said to lay the foundation of the conception of tragedy as due to internal conflict-the conflict being delineated in the struggle within the mind of the chief character. “Faustus, in this respect is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in sixteenth century literature outside the work of Shakespeare.” In the art of plot construction, characterization and natural evolution, Marlowe gave at least some signs of promising comprehension in his chronicle drama of Edward II. “Whether because Marlowe’s genius had developed or because the exigencies of historical drama obliged him to self-effacement, this play has qualities which are properly dramatic—progress in character-study is also evinced, over a numerous and diversified cast.”

Let us now come to consider certain drawbacks in the make-up of Marlowe’s temperament as a dramatist, always remembering that these drawbacks perceptible in his plays are mainly of the negative sort and as such they do not minimise the merits by their intrusion as in the case of his less capable contemporaries.

(i)   Unimportance of Minor Characters

The inevitable consequence of making the central a colossus representing one great passion is that the other figures lose their individuality—they are almost non-existent. In the words of Nicoll, “all his heroes, by their very greatness, stand alone. We have the feeling that they have no moral force to fight against. They are lonely figures in a world of Lilliputians. This may be, to a certain extent, a characteristic likewise of the Shakespearean tragedy, but always Shakespeare has given more of individuality to his lesser figures than has Marlowe. Horatio, Cassio, Banquo and Kent have independent existence such as Meander and Wagner never could have.”

(ii)  Absence of Women

Marlowe’s pre-occupation with the overmastering central character, who is always a male, gives no scope to introduce women. Perhaps there was something in his temperament which made him unable to study women. The gentle grace, feminine loveliness, the warmth of devoted love, the softness and charm of womanly care-all these seem to lie beyond the range of Marlowe’s limited comprehension. While Peele, Greene and Lyly in their romantic comedies or pastoral dramas were holding forth charm and grace of feminine love and devotion, Marlowe’s Zenocrate in Tamburlaine plays a shadowy part; her beauty is celebrated by the mighty Scythian but we have no acquaintance with her personality. So also in The Jew of Malta Abigail remains always in the background. (Only Isabella in Edward II is something of a woman; but her womanliness is less prominent than her part in inflicting the tragic death of her husband). Helen in Dr. Faustus appear only as a vision. The poetry in which the magician turns to her is noble and sublime but there is no touch of her character.

(iii) Disproportion in Dialogue

Still another consequence follows this one in the direction of dialogue. Marlowe’s craze for high-flown, deep-sounding verse and well-turned echoing phrases blinds him to the artistic need of suiting the dialogue to the mouths of different characters. Very often the insignificant, ordinary characters in his plays speak in the high-brow swaggering manner of the main character.

(iv) One-man Show

Each of the three main tragedies of Marlowe Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta and to a great extent his chronicle play of Edward II may be spoken of as a one-man show. The central character of the hero so much dominates the play from beginning to end that his towering personality overshadows everything. “With Marlowe we are in the presence of a distinctly passionate but unbalanced genius, a man lacking the serenity and the calm-eyed power which gave to Shakespeare a large part of his greatness.”

(v)  Want of Humour

Another deficiency in Marlowe as a dramatist lies in his utter lack of humour. His plays are too serious; there is no comic relief as there is even in the most serious of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth in the Porter Scene, or Hamlet in the Grave-diggers Scene. The comic scenes in Dr. Faustus are so inapt and incongruous with the tragic sombreness of the main theme that they shock the sense of artistic propriety of even a sympathetic critic of Marlowe like Wynne who is forced to remark, “Marlowe must be blamed for the utter incongruity of so many scenes with high tragedy. The harmony which rules the construction of Tamburlaine, giving it a lofty coherence and consistency, is lamentably absent from Dr. Faustus.”

(vi) Lack of Patriotism

Though Tamburlaine and to some extent Dr. Faustus with their passionate declaiming swelled the English heart with dreams of distant conquests, limitless power and mastery of the world, it is remarkable to note that in none of them, not even in the chronicle play of Edward II, Marlowe breathes any spirit of national patriotism. There is no note of exaltation of England which we find so blatant in Peele’s Arraignment of Paris, as Diana pronounces her eulogy on England and of course, there is nothing of the spirit of patriotism which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of John of Gaunt in Richard II.


Silhouetted against the crowded and rather confused literary firmament of the pre-Shakespearean age, Christopher Marlowe shines with singular scintillation. Standing in the shadow of Shakespeare without being overshadowed by him, Marlowe, of all the Elizabethan dramatists, is next only to him in poetical status.

A master-idealist, Marlowe is one of the foremost representatives of the Elizabethan artistic movement, a writer who lived in and for his art. Possessed by his art rather than holding it in possession, he made his literary work not a mere episode in his life but his very life itself. Revelling in a reckless, quick and passionate Bohemian life, he had yet the strength and the good fortune to stand at the centre of renascents of English national life—a life conscious of a new-found power, a life that galvanized the nation into a living body self-organised around splendid objects of common interest, pride and admiration. Somewhat without balance, immoderate and extravagant, he was yet a great, ardent and aspiring spirit. With a hunger for the unattainable, a thirst for knowledge infinite and a fertile imagination hallowed by its own fiery energy. Disregarding with sublime indifference the grand notoriety of insolent atheism that was heaped upon him by some of his contemporaries on account of his ever-enthusiastic yearning for lawless pleasure and forbidden fruits, Marlowe lived the life of a typical artist, in outlook and utterance. His was the enviable privilege of discerning the authentic gem or art lying concealed in the labyrinthine mass of unmastered possibilities and of perceiving the capacities for noble art inherent in the “Romantic Drama.” It was he and no other who effected a magic transfiguration of dramatic matter and dramatic metre, moulded a new type of heroic and tragic character, designed tragedies on a magnificent scale and elevated them to heights as yet unapprehended in his days made the instrument of language produce rolling thunders and whispering sighs, and draped his plays in the purple robes of his imperial imagination. What wonder then that Marlowe was ‘in that age thought second to none’ and that his name has become ‘Fame’s Marlowe is to be remembered and valued not as a mere impulse-giver and path-finder who paved the way for the typical English tragedy, not merely as the wielder of blank verse as a noble poetic instrument, a master of the ‘mighty line.’ He was an unconscious artist whose mind forever voyaged through strange seas of thought, alone. With a god-like curiosity and daring ebullience worthy of the foremost Elizabethan adventurer, Marlowe sought to conquer Africa from the quadrangle of a Cambridge college. Drawing his inspiration mostly from abstract ideas and not from the concrete characters of men, he longed for spectacular action, titanic passion and the quick march of life. Indubitably born a poet, he was the proud possessor of a magnificent and matchless poetic force. His wonderful freshness, energy and emotion transmuted themselves into raptures—‘all air and fire,’ Having in him ‘those brave translunary things that the first poets had’, he created types of the Lusts unlike others who made types of the Virtues. With his ‘fine madness’, he is an admirable painter of the human passion, of the ‘Impossible Amour’—‘the love or lust of unattainable things: beyond the reach of physical force, of sensual faculty, of mastering will; but not beyond the scope of man’s ever-craving thirst for beauty, power and knowledge.’ Standing ‘upto his chin in the Pierean flood’—he revealed himself as a rapturous lyrist of limitless desire and infinite aspiration.

Marlowe appeared differently to different sections of his contemporaries. There were those who regarded him as an individual with violent passions and obstinate questioning, of dangerous opinions and haughty cynicism, as one who took a morbid delight in playing the role of an intrepid iconoclast of cherished idols without offering the solace of any substitute. Others there were who looked upon him as a sort of Lucetius exhorting men to be fearless of fear, to see with unhooded eyes the errors and hypocrisies and the ignorance that is the breeding ground of all sin, as one who was indiscreetly pitiless in his portrayal of these things. Still others admired him as a man of powerful intellect and fertile imagination, of indomitable courage and invincible confidence, as a poet of wonderful vision and voice, of peerless beauty and lustrous intensity and as a supreme master of his own gifted mind, of golden thought and silver speech. To yet others he was the young Apollo of his age and the glorious Titan of the stage.

Marlowe blazed a new trail both in thought and technique, —in matter as well as manner and in its footsteps a new perfection tread. Not his the familiar domain of men’s manners and habits, customs and conventions, but his concern was with the needs and necessities of human souls. Not man’s relation to man but man’s relation to God and to the universe was the theme dear to Marlowe. The element that is eternal in man, the spirit that is significant of man—this element and this spirit which have the potency of arraying themselves against the universe if necessary—these were his sole concern as a playwright. He sought the cause and explanation of that searching-out of man’s spirit towards a truth which can be apprehended but never expounded. And thus he leads us to a realization that dazzles and stupefies by its absoluteness and its finality: ‘Marlowe lost himself as it were, in case less isolated reveries of experiments in the power of the mind.’ Inspired by his own lofty idealism and daring enthusiasm, he was like a hardy explorer voyaging on endless uncharted seas fondly believing in the existence of some yet undiscovered possibility, eagerly hoping to arrive at the white foaming shores of some yet unknown island where he could plant the flag of his unique triumph. He belonged to the race of Admiral Drake and Walter Raleigh.

Marlowe was one who was loved by the gods. Hardly twenty-rune years did he live when he was invited to join the chorus of the inheritors of unfulfilled renown. Had he lived longer he would surely have achieved greater name and fame and proved himself to be a serious rival to Shakespeare. As it is, he remains a poet of fiery promise, but which mere promise excells the achievements of any other but one among the Elizabethan poets. He is the companion and comrade-in-arms of Collins, Chatterton, Shelley, Keats and Rupert Brooke. Like them, he too strove to shatter ‘the dome of many coloured glass’ and catch a glimpse of the ‘white radiance of eternity.’ And as in their case, not so much the possession of the prize as the rapture of the race was his. Maybe Marlowe’s work is fragmentary: may be the expression of some of his ideas is imperfect. Yet the authenticity of his ultimate vision is beyond doubt or dispute. As one Marlowe-admirer has appropriately observed: “Whatever men are preoccupied with the ‘Why?’ rather than the ‘How?’, in whatever periods of history thought turns back to question the nature of man’s being and the part he plays in the universe, there the thought of Marlowe will be found to be at heart of Man’s most vital experience. Whenever fundamental instincts and intuitions have been overlaid by convention, superstition or hypocrisy, until it becomes necessary to question again the purpose of life in order that life may again be sane, there Marlowe’s trenchant and fearless mind will be found warning men ‘not to be afraid of bug bears.’ He is the Lucretius of the English language, and though he does not accompany men closely in their daily lives, as does Shakespeare, his poetry and his aspiration will be heard in times of doubt and confusion, of disillusionment and corruption, when more familiar and better-loved voices are silent.”

Three and a half centuries have not lessened the importance of Marlowe in English drama, nor have they dimmed the glorious lustre that was his in his own day. With everything mighty about him, he shines for us across the span of the centuries in the blaze of his own marvellous gifts. ‘A boy in years, a man in genius, a god in ambition’, Marlowe has carved for himself an abiding niche in the Temple of Fame. And the dear nightingale of his poetry survives still and shall long survive in Apollo’s laurel boughs making music to enchant the ears of man and send his spirit winging into the topless towers of thought.




Critics are divided in their opinion regarding the date of composition of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Hence it has become a subject of great controversy. But all agree that it is the second play from Marlowe’s pen and must have been written soon after Tamburlaine. Now it has been more or less established that the play was first put upon the stage by Lord Admiral’s company in 1588, but it was not printed during the life-time of Marlowe.

And the first known printed edition of the play is the Quarto edition of 1604. After many reprints another edition came out in 1616, but this one contained some other new scenes—specially the clownage ones, which according to many scholars are nothing but later interpolations. All these gave rise to various controversial opinions. The earlier critics are decided in their opinion that the date of composition should be between 1588-1589. Let us now take up the internal as well as external evidences in favour of the opinion of earlier critics like Dr. Ward and others.

External Evidences

The first external evidence shows that Marlowe wrote the play for Lord Admiral’s company and it was also staged by this company in 1588. And then in the Stationer’s Register for the year 1588-1589 there is an entry of Ballad of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. And the Ballad was definitely based on Marlowe’s play which earned great popularity. Then again Marlowe’s play is mentioned for the first time in Henslowe’s Diary and the date isSeptember 30, 1594. But it has not been recorded as a new play and hence it must have been the revival of a popular play after Marlowe’s untimely death. We also find a close similarity between Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, published during 1590-92. All these external evidences point out that the composition of Marlowe’s play must have been completed before 1590.

Internal Evidences

There are at least two clear references in the play that help us to a great extent for fixing up the date of composition. In the very first scene of Doctor Faustus there is a reference to the Prince of Parma. While dreaming of becoming Lord and Commander of the elements, Faustus feels certain that with the help of the spirits:

“I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,
And reign sole king of all our provinces”;

Now the activities of the Prince of Parma, the Spanish Governor General of the Netherlands, ended in 1590 and he died in 1592. This establishes thatDoctor Faustus must have been written earlier than 1590. Then, in the very same stanza there is the reference to ‘the fiery keel’ at Antwerp’s bridge. And the incident happened during the siege of Antwerp in 1585. This clearly shows that the play was written after 1585. Taking into account all these internal and external evidence majority of the critics and scholars opine that the play is very likely to have been written between 1588-89.

Dr. Boas and the Date of Composition

Dr. Boas has outrightly rejected all the above conclusions by various critics. According to him the date of composition can in no case be earlier than 1592, if we take into account modern researches on this matter. It is an established fact that the main source of Marlowe’s play is the German Historia Van D. Johann Fausten and this was first published in 1587 atFrankfurt. Marlowe never knew German, so Marlowe’s source book must have been the English version, “The Historic of the damnable life and deserved death of Doctor John Faustus, published in 1592. So the play must have been written later than 1592. But again there are some scholars who hold that there might have been an earlier edition of the English version, as the words ‘newly imprinted’ occur in the title of 1592 edition. But some entry in the Register of the stationer’s company on December 18, 1592 has been discovered and has been made public in 1930. And this casts aside aboveassumptions and assigns the date of writing later than 1592. Then the great difference between the 1604 quarto and Wright’s 1616 quarto edition points out that Wright might have followed some other original manuscript. All these have given rise to a lot of controversies regarding the date of composition as well as the date of publication.


Whatever may be the controversies and the differences of opinion among the scholars, if we accept the inner evidences as more authentic, we may assign the date of composition to some time between 1588 and 1590.


Introduction: Faustus Epic

The evidences so far gathered clearly establish the historical basis of the Faustus legend. And the evidence has been very painstakingly gathered by Dr. Ward in the scholarly introduction to his edition of Marlowe’s play. In his introduction he has mentioned a number of references or supposed references by some of the contemporaries to this far-famed magician. In spite of some minor discrepancies there can be hardly any doubt regarding the actuality of Johannes Faustus. We get various discriptions about him: a Doctor of Medicine and Divinity or a necromant and imposter, or a wandering scholar. He is supposed to have journeyed through ‘all countries, principalities and kingdoms and made his name known by everyone there.’ His birthplace has also been variously given as Knutlingen and as Rhodes. He is also known to have displayed his black art at Wittenberg, Salzburg,Venice and many other different places. It is said that Faustus had dog that always followed him at his heels and the dog was nothing but the incarnation of Devil. A lot of stories had gathered round him during his life-time and these were woven into Faustus legend soon after his death. It is said that he died in 1545 in a village of the Duchy of Wertenberg. The terrible manner of his death has also been related vividly. He was killed by the Devil and was found in the morning with his face frightfully twisted and distorted. Another notable feature is that all the tales of magic that had been handed down through the ages are attributed to him. This is in keeping with the manner of a legend’s growth and the medieval mind quite readily accepted such legendary tales. So naturally the full story of his life passed into literature and was published at Frankfurt-on-the Main in 1587. It should be noted that this was-the first of the Faustbuch and is the origin of all other subsequent versions of the great Faustus story.

Marlowe’s Source

The original German book —Historia Von D. Johann Fausten was translated into English by P.F. Dent in all probability before 1592, as the words ‘newly imprinted occur in the title of 1592 edition of the English History of Dr. Faustus, and this 1592 translation is the earliest yet discovered. So Marlowe might have seen an earlier edition or the manuscript of 1592 edition. And all the critics are one in their opinion that Marlowe hasborrowed the theme and plot of his play from the translation from the original German Faustbuch. To justify this we have a very striking piece of evidence. While drawing up the contract in the fifth scene of Doctor Faustusthe peculiar phrase used is—‘shall do for him and bring for him whatsoever’; and this phrase strikingly resembles the wording—‘that Mephistophilis should bring him anything and do for him whatsoever’—in 1592 edition of the English History of Doctor Faustus. Scholars, specially Professor Ward, have found other internal and external evidence to establish the point that Marlowe was mainly indebted to the English Faustbuch for the plot and theme of his Doctor Faustus.

The Faust Legend in English ‘Faustbuch’

Before taking up Marlowe’s treatment of the legend, let us have an outline of the story as found in the English Faustbuch. In this English version of the famous German legend we find a magician studying necromancy. He surrenders his soul to Lucifer. The condition is that he will have a familiar spirit fully at his command and he would be allowed to live a life of luxury and mundane pleasures without any limit for twenty-four years. The terms are accepted and Faustus had his own will for the stipulated period. But after the expiry of the above period the Devil’s disciples appear amidst thunder and lightning to snatch away his soul to hell for eternal damnation. So the main theme of the German story deals with the tragic doom that awaits Faustus, the magician, for bartering his soul away to the Devil for enjoyment of sensual and voluptuous pleasures of life just for twenty-four years. A close and comparative study of both the books—Doctor Faustus and the Faustbuch will enable us to understand Marlowe’s dependence upon and departure from his source book.

Transformation of the Legend: Character of Faustus

Marlowe has no doubt based his play on the famous German legend as found in the English Faustbuch, but he has changed many of the details and by lending poetic colour to it has made it more interesting and appealing. He has a new attitude to the story. The German legend gives us a commonplace story of magic, the main source of interest of which is only the extravagant feats of the magician. Faustus, the magician is without any good traits, without the least ambition to seek further knowledge with the help of the devils. He is an example of wickedness and has been shown just as a cunning and wicked magician. But Marlowe’s hero has been painted in bright and dazzling colours. Doctor Faustus of Marlowe is rather an embodiment of the spirit of the Renaissance with its dreams and desires, with its yearning for limitless knowledge and power, with its craving for sensuous and mundane pleasures of life and not just a cunning magician of the medieval age indulging in his miraculous feats. That is why Marlowe’s Faustus bids farewell to Divinity, and to him:

“These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promis’d to the studious artizan:
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command…..”

Then we find that Marlowe’s Faustus has a revolutionary spirit and that is why he challenges God, religion, conventional morality and dogmas of medieval Christianity. The great scholarship and intellectual learning enable Marlowe’s hero to appreciate the songs of Homer and peerless beauty of Helen. But in the German story we find the low appetite of a necromancer whose only pleasure lies in cunning acts and display of cheap tricks. Then the German legend reveals no touch of sympathy and besides its usual sensations and coarse buffoonery, its only appeal lies in its moral that warns its readers against magic. So we find that Marlowe has given a significance much beyond that of medieval magic to his great tragic play. Thus, a crude and sensational tale has been transformed by Marlowe into a great work of art.

Tragic Appeal

In the German legend we find no tragic element, but Marlowe has infused a real tragic vein by making his hero inordinately ambitious to attain limitless knowledge and power and then by showing the frustration and tragic end as he deviated from the right path and sold his soul to the Devil to achieve his end. J.P. Brockbent has rightly said: “Faustus’s passion for knowledge and power is in itself a virtue, but diverted from the service of God it threatens to become totally negative and self-destroying.” Herein lies the tragic appeal of Marlowe’s drama that lifts it up far above a common story full of sensational activities and stale moral preachings.

Inner or Tragic Conflict

Then the spiritual conflict or the psychological struggle in the heart of Marlowe’s hero arouses our sympathy and a sense of veneration. The scenes in which we find the summoning of Mephistophilis, the signing of the contract, the sudden outburst of repentance before the vision of Helen and the poignant death scene reveal Marlowe’s artistic capabilities to depict the inner struggle raging in the soul of his titanic hero. In the German legend greatest stress is laid upon the great wonders of supernatural activities, whereas in Marlowe’s drama such scenes always reflect the spiritual struggle or the inner conflict.

Concentration and Effective Elaborations

In the Faustbuch, the prose chapters dealing with Faustus, signing of the contract is full of elaborate details of the contract alongwith supernatural wonders and lot of moral commentaries. Marlowe in his scene has artistically discarded the unessentials.

Then again in many other scenes we find Marlowe for greater dramatic effect elaborating some casual points. The best example is the scene in which Faustus signs the bond with his own blood. Faustus’s fear at the sight of the warning inscription on his arm and some other points have been very briefly touched in the Faustbuch. But Marlowe has effectively elaborated the points.

Another important feature of Marlowe’s drama is that his devils are not simply the grotesque and funny figures of medieval conception. He has endowed them with some tragic glory of fallen angels.


It is an undisputed fact that Marlowe borrowed the theme and plot of hisDoctor Faustus from the English translation of the great German legend, but what Marlowe’s genius achieved is that he could transform a crude and commonplace tale of magic into a magnificent work of art. We may conclude with Harold Osborne’s most illuminating remark on this subject: “Marlowe follows the English Faustbuch very faithfully. His main additions are (1) Faustus’s soliloquy in Act I on the vanity of human science; (2) Good and Bad Angels; (3) The substitution of Seven Deadly Sins for a pageant of devils. In general he carries still farther the tendency of the English translator of the ‘German Historia’ to emphasize the intellectual aspiration and minimize the vices of Faust. His Faust would travel widely in space and in the realms of the spirit, led on by the glamour of knowledge. He is rather tempted by the intellectual excitement of the sense of power than by the baser enjoyments of power. The material allurements of Mephistophilis make little appeal to him except for Helen; for she represents the acme of that well nigh unrealisable beauty of the Greeks, which penetrated Marlowe’s spirit to the depths. Marlowe’s omissions from the English Faustbuch are more significant than his additions. By judicious selections he was able to shape the rather rambling and incoherent story into a dramatic unity, so that Goethe remarked upon the admirable construction of Dr. Faustus even in the mutilated form in which he knew it.”



This drama should be regarded as a skeletal structure of the play written by Marlowe, for the surviving manuscripts are so interspersed with comic scenes and the lines themselves so often revised according to whims of the actors that the original writing must be culled out of the surviving version.

Even so, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is worth reading and study because of the many remaining examples of the poet’s skill it contains. In addition to the adulterated poetry in this play there is also the problem of the tainted characterization and symbolism; for a while the personality of Mephistophilis is often caricaturized and while the exploits of Faustus are frequently rendered pure low comedy, still the Marlowe version of the two principal characters is evident in the sober and more consistent moments of the play. As an added contribution to existing Faustian literature, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is an artistic effort, although not comparable in-depth or scope to the treatment given to this theme by Goethe.

Eternal Significance

There is evidently more than what meets the eye in Doctor Faustus, otherwise, its story-element which is too brief and simple, has not by itself the power of creating a lasting impression and an abiding appeal. The play may have had an immediate interest to the people of the Renaissance age because it was written in and for that age, and also because Faustus typifies the genuine Renaissance passion for infinite knowledge. The play, it is true, is a typical Renaissance rendering of the story upon which it is based. But the fact that it is still a favourite of every reader of English drama in spite of three-and-half centuries of changing tastes and temperaments, proves that Doctor Faustus has its greatness not as a mere typical Renaissance play but as a play embodying eternal significance.

Central Figure of ‘Dr. Faustus’

Faustus, the chief and central figure of Marlowe’s play, stands not for a character, not for a man, but for everyman. The grim tragedy that befalls him is not a personal tragedy, but one that overtakes all those who dare ‘practise more than heavenly power permits.’ The terrible conflict that rages in his mind is not peculiar to him alone, but common to all who waver between truth and delusion. The play presents not the conflict between man and man, but the eternal battle between the world-old protagonists—Man and Spiritual Power. And the battle takes place not in any known battlefield but in the invisible and limitless region of the mind. And the object of fight—not sceptres and crowns, not kingdoms and empires, but the knowledge of man’s final fate!

Conflict in Dr. Faustus

The mystery of life is an alluring and impenetrable one. Innumerable have been the attempts of scholars and scientists, poets and prophets, to pluck out the heart of this mystery. Yet baffling one and all, it continues to be a mystery. Part at least of this mystery is due to the perpetual conflict between good and evil—a conflict without beginning and end. The conflict is terrible, but in that very terror there is an irresistible fascination. It is such a fascination that the play of Doctor Faustusexercises on its readers. Faustus, the Teutonic and medieval sceptic, personifies disbelief in all its strength and weakness. Tired of what he calls barren knowledge, he deliberately seeks to learn and practise magic, magic that has been practised since the beginning of the history of thought by those who have chosen the wrong road. Blind in his blind determination, Faustus becomes deaf to the counsels of good that are constantly whispered into his ears by the Good Angel. Such is the power of Evil that when once it takes a man by the throat, it will not leave him until it strangles him. This kind of crucifixion which carries with it its own moral, cannot but make an appeal to the mind of man in all ages and countries. Sin working out its own nemesis, brings the catastrophe of the play into vital relation with human conduct. And who can resist its appeal?

Fascinating Appeal: The Attempt to Acquire Forbidden things and the Attempt to Secure Martyrdom

And too, there is ever present in man an irrepressible temptation to reach that which is beyond his grasp, to conquer the infinite, to touch the impalpable, to see the invisible, to attain the impossible. In spite of examples from history, in spite of warnings and threats, man never gives up this instinct of his, never rests contented with what he has. He is forever eager to follow the dubious trail of some melting mirage of the mind and ready to stake his all, if necessary, in its pursuit’. Doubtful though of his success, he still throws his red gauntlet in the face of fate, defies chance and circumstance, and hopes to reach his goal. May be the roses of reward will not be his, but his surely will be crown of martyrdom. And both the attempts—the attempt to acquire forbidden things and the attempt to secure martyrdom have their fascinating appeal. And Faustus, as we know, is both the hero and martyr of forbidden knowledge.

An Interesting Story

The story of Doctor Faustus may be synoptically stated thus. There was once a German scholar, John Faustus by name. He was a Doctor of Divinity—excelling all ‘whose sweet delight disputes in heavenly matters of theology.’ Not satisfied with ‘learning golden gifts’, he took to the study of cursed necromancy. He was convinced that ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’, and that if he became one, all things that move between the quiet poles will be at his command. So he decided to enlarge his sphere of knowledge by cultivating magic. He conjured up Mephistophilis, servant to great Lucifer—‘arch-regent and commander of all spirits.’ Mephistophilis told Faustus that he could not serve him without Lucifer’s permission. Faustus then voluntarily offered to surrender his soul after twenty-four years, if during that period Mephistophilis promised to be his slave and did his biddings. Lucifer agreed, and demanded a promise executed in Faustus’ blood. Faustus did so and set out in quest of knowledge and pleasure, travelling about invisible. He had an aerial flight ‘seat in a chariot burning bright’, and visited Trier, Paris, Naples, Campania, Venice,Padua, Rome. By way of demonstrating his power and superiority, Faustus fooled the Pope, called up the spirits of Alexander and his paramour, provided grapes to the Duchess of Vanholt in mid-winter and, at the request of his scholar-friends, summoned the spirit of Helen of Troy—Helen whose face ‘launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium.’ At times Faustus was seized by the desire for repentance but the exhilaration of pleasure was too great, and the powers of Evil too strong. Finally, as the period of contract expired, Faustus made frantic appeals to God and Christ: but precisely at the stroke of twelve, he was borne away by the Devils to his everlasting doom.

Plot of ‘Doctor Faustus’

As already mentioned Doctor Faustus consists only of scenes, of fourteen short scenes. Marlowe never cared to arrange them in Acts and Scenes according to the traditional manner. Some of the recent editors, have, however, attempted to do so. According to this arrangement the First Act consists of the first four scenes. The next two scenes constitute the Second Act. The seventh, eight and nineth scenes, with the Chorus preceding it, is the Third Act. Scenes ten, eleventh and twelveth with Bologue are marked off as the Fourth Act. The last two scenes form the Fifth Act.

Whatever argument we like and follow, the fact remains that the interest and appeal of the play does not in the least depend upon its division into Acts and Scenes, or Movements or Episodes. Lacking as it does structural unity and technical perfection, the play has the greater merit of unity of character. It is the dominating figure of Faustus that holds the play together and imparts to it such dramatic quality and emotional appeal as can never belong to it by any other method. As inHamlet, so in this drama, the central personality himself is the play, a living play with living acts and scenes, and incidents and episodes. His adventure itself in the realm of knowledge is full of dramatic possibilities; and the conflict in his mind between his allegiance to the Devil and his desire to repent for it and seek God’s pardon is, of course, dramatic in the extreme.

Characterisation of ‘Doctor Faustus’

Characterization in Doctor Faustus is, in general, weak and shadowy. Marlowe concentrates all his power of character delineation on Faustus. Mephistophilis too, gets his share, though to a much less degree. But all the other characters are faint and feeble. In fact, Marlowe seems to have designed these minor characters, Valdes and Cornelius, the scholars, the Old Man, the Good and the Evil Angels, in such a manner as to heighten the character of Faustus by contrast. “Each and all of these subordinate characters are dedicated to the one main purpose of expressing the psychological condition of Faustus from various points of view—the perplexities of his divided spirits, his waverings of anguish and remorse, the flickerings of hope extinguished in the smoke of self-abandonment to fear, the pungent pricks of conscience soothed by transient visions of delight, the prying curiosity which lulls his torment, at one moment, the soul’s defiance ‘yielding to despair, and from despair recovering fresh strength. To this vivisection of a ruined man, all details in gloomy scene contribute. Even the pitiful distractions—pitiful in their leaden dullness and blunt edge of drollery—with which Faustus amuses his worse than Promethean leisure until the last hour of his contract sounds, heighten the infernal effect.”


Despite defects Doctor Faustus is a great play and a great tragedy. A close examination will reveal to us how wonderfully Marlowe has succeeded in producing a work of art from the chaotic Northern and Teutonic Faustiad. The most striking thing that endows the play with a tragic unity is the character of the hero—whose mind is a battleground between the forces of curiosity and conscience. Marlowe’s indisputable merit consists in delineating with great tragic power the figure of a great tragic hero. Marlowe’s Faustus, scholarly and sceptical, defiant and desperate, combines in himself the characteristics of a medieval rebel and a Renaissance adventurer. It is the psychological study of this character that Marlowe draws with great mastery, and it is this that makes Doctor Faustus more a dramatic poem than a drama proper. The mental conflict of Faustus is presented with great tragic intensity, enhanced every now and then by the whispers of the Good and Bad Angels. We witness the course of this conflict with alternating moods of fear, pity, sympathy, and awe, till in the final scene when Faustus cries out his very soul, we just watch incapable of having any one particular feeling. Plot or no plot, Doctor Faustus engulfs the reader in the waves of tragedy that fret and foam in its serious scenes.


Early Life of Faustus

Faustus had been born of base stock in Rhodes, Germany. In his maturity, while living with some relatives in Wittenberg, he studied theology and was called a doctor. However, Faustus was so swollen with conceit that, Daedalus-like, he strove too far, became glutted with learning, conspired with the devil, and finally fell, accursed.

Merits and Demerits of Different Subjects of Study

At the outset of his downward path Doctor Faustus found himself complete master of the fields of knowledge which men at that time studied. As a medical doctor he had already achieved huge success and great renown. But after obtaining good health for men no challenge remained in medicine except immortality. Law, Faustus concluded, was nothing but an elaborate money-making scheme. Only divinity remained, but theology led to a blind alley. Since the reward of sin was death and since no man could say he was without sin, then all men must sin and consequently die.

Necromancy greatly attracted Faustus. Universal power would be within his reach, the whole world at his command, and emperors at his feet, were he to become a magician. Summoning his servant Wagner, Faustus ordered him to summon Valdes and Cornelius, who could teach him their arts.

Lure of Necromancy

The Good Angel and the Evil Angel each tried to persuade Faustus, but Faustus was in no mood to listen to the Good Angel. He exulted over the prospects of his forthcoming adventures. He would get gold from India, pearls from the oceans, tasty delicacies from far away places; he would read strange philosophies, cull from foreign kings their secrets, control Germany with his power, reform the public schools, and perform many other fabulous deeds. Eager to acquire knowledge of the black arts, he went away to study with Valdes and Cornelius.

Scholars’ Lament

Before long the scholars of Wittenberg began to notice the doctor’s prolonged absence. Learning from Wagner of his master’s unhallowed pursuits, the scholars lamented the fate of the famous doctor.

Mephistophilis Explains

Faustus’s first act of magic was to summon Mephistophilis to assume the shape of a Franciscan friar. The docile obedience of Mephistophilis elated the magician, but Mephistophilis explained that magic had limits in the devil’s kingdom. Mephistophilis claimed that he had not actually appeared at Faustus’s behest but had come, as he would have to any other person, because Faustus had cursed Christ and adjured the Scriptures. Whenever a man is on the verge of being doomed, the devil will appear.

Interested in the nature of Lucifer, Faustus questioned Mephistophilis about his master, the fallen angel, and about hell, Lucifer’s domain. Mephistophilis was wary. He claimed that the fallen spirits, having been deprived of the glories of heaven, found the whole-world hell. Mephistophilis urged Faustus to give up his scheme, but Faustus scorned the warning, saying that he would surrender his soul to Lucifer if the fallen angel would give to Faustus twenty-four years of voluptuous ease, with Mephistophilis to attend him.

Good Angel and Evil Angel

While Faustus indulged in a mental argument concerning the relative merits of God and the Devil, the Good Angel and the Evil Angel, symbolic of his inner conflict, appeared once again, each attempting to persuade him. The result was that Faustus was more determined than ever to continue his course.

Lucifer Accepts his Terms: Contract Signed

Mephistophilis returned to assure Faustus that Lucifer was agreeable to the bargain, which must be sealed in Faustus’s blood. When Faustus tried to write, however, his blood congealed and Mephistophilis had to warm the liquid with fire. Significantly the words, “Fly, man,” appeared in Latin on Faustus’s arm. When Faustus questioned Mephistophilis about the nature of hell, the devil claimed that hell had no limits for the damned. Intoxicated by his new estate, Faustus disclaimed any belief in an after-life. Thus he assured himself that his contract with Lucifer would never be fulfilled, in spite of the devil’s warning that he, Mephistophilis was living proof of hell’s existence.

Faustus Wavers: Lucifer Consoles

Faustus, eager to consume the fruits of the devil’s offering, demanded books that would contain varied information about the devil’s regime. When the Good Angel and the Evil Angel came to him again, he realized that he was beyond repentance. Again, the opposing Angels insinuated themselves into his mind, until he called Christ to save him. As he spoke, wrathful Lucifer descended upon his prospective victim to admonish him never to call to God. As an appeasing gesture Lucifer conjured up a vision of the Seven Deadly Sins.

At the Palace of Pope and the Emperor

Faustus travelled extensively throughout the world, and Wagner marvelled at his master’s rapid progress. In Rome, at the palace of the Pope, Faustus, made invisible by his magic arts, astounded the Pope by snatching things from the holy man’s hands. Like a gleeful child Faustus asked Mephistophilis to create more mischief. When Faustus returned home the scholars questioned him eagerly about many things unknown to them. As his fame spread, the emperor invited him to the palace and asked him to conjure up the spirit of Alexander the Great. Because a doubtful knight scoffed at such a preposterous idea, Faustus, after fulfilling the emperor’s request, spitefully placed horns on the head of the sceptical nobleman.

Return to Wittenberg

Foreseeing that his time of merriment was drawing to a close, Faustus returned to Wittenberg. Wagner sensed that his master was about to die when Faustus gave his faithful servant all his worldly goods.

The Old Man and Faustus: Vision of Helen

As death drew near, Faustus spoke with his conscience, which, assuming the form of an Old Man begged him to repent before he died. When Faustus declared that he would repent, Mephistophilis cautioned him not to offend Lucifer. Faustus asked Mephistophilis to bring him Helen of Troy as a lover to amuse him during the final days of his life.

Tragic End

In his declining hours Faustus conversed with scholars who had loved him, and the fallen theologian revealed to them his bargain with Lucifer. Alone, he uttered a final despairing plea that he be saved from impending misery, but in the end he was borne off by a company of devils to hell for eternal damnation.

Page No : 51-65


Introduction: The Tragic Hero

All the tragic heroes of Marlowe are towering figures of superman size rising head and shoulders above all other minor characters of the plays and completely dominating over them. By the side of these titanic characters the minor ones look like tiny Lilliputians moving around towering Gulliver.

Marlowe seems to have conceived his titanic heroes more or less in keeping with Aristotle’s conception of a tragic hero. The hero should essentially be a superior person and according to Aristotle he must have some ‘tragic flaw’—that is some great defect-which ultimately bringsabout his ruin and disaster. His destiny or choice is to go down fighting rather than submit to insurmountable odds and thus to pluck a moral victory from a physical defeat. So in Doctor Faustus also we find Marlowe concentrating all his powers of delineation of character on Faustus. Mephistophilis may get a little bit of care but all other characters pale into insignificance before Faustus’s dazzling and dominating personality. “Each and all of these subordinate characters are dedicated to the one main purpose of expressing the psychological condition of Faustus from various points of view.”

Doctor Faustus and His Tragic Flaw

Before the drama opens we know from the Chorus that Faustus was born in a town in Germany and his parents were ‘base of stock’. We also come to know that he got his higher education at Wittenberg and got his degree of doctor of Divinity from there. He also excelled all those who liked to take part in discussions relating to theology. The Chorus also tells us that he became puffed up with pride for his vast knowledge and scholarship and started indulging in black art of magic to attain super-human powers. As a result he was destined to have a great fall just like Icarus who tried to fly too near the sun with ‘his waxen wings’.

So in the very first scene of the drama we find that Faustus is disappointed with all branches of knowledge that he has so far mastered. Physic, Philosophy, Law and Divinity—all are absolutely inadequate for his purpose. In spite of mastering all these great branches of knowledge

“Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a Man.”

The soul of Faustus is afire with inordinate ambition yearning for limitless knowledge and with a craze for superhuman powers and supreme sensuous pleasures, he utters these memorable lines:

…………“Divinity Adieu:
These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly:
O’ what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command;
A sound magician is a mighty God:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”

So herein lies the great tragic flaw in his character: he wants ‘to gain a deity.’ In spite of all his greatness and other humane qualities we sadly witness how this great flaw or drawback in his character brings about his ultimate doom and destruction. He perfectly knows that to achieve his purpose he will have to abjure God and the Trinity. He was also not void of conscience and that is why we find the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, the symbols of virtue and vice in his soul making their first appearance just after Faustus’s final decision in favour of cursed necromancy. In spite of all scepticism and atheistic bias of Faustus—and Faustus is decidedly a self-portrait of Marlowe, his emotional attachment to the medieval doctrines of Christianity is too deep to be rooted out. So the Good Angel, his voice of conscience, urges him to shun ‘that damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But the Evil Angel, the voice of his passion, scores a victory by luring away Faustus with the assurance that by mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be:

“Lord and commander of the elements.”

Then at the end of third scene of Act I we find Faustus telling Mephistophilis that he has already abjured the Trinity of his own will and has firmly made up his mind to sell his soul to the Devil to gain limitless powers with the help of Mephistophilis as his abject slave and ‘to live in all voluptuousness’ for twenty-four years. Then in the first scene of Act II we find Faustus finally surrendering his soul to the Devil and writing the bond with his own blood. It may be noted that Marlowe was a child of the Renaissance with its dreams and desires and Faustus expresses the ideas and aspirations of his creator quite faithfully.

Spiritual or Inner Conflict

Before accomplishing the object act of surrendering his soul to the Devil, Faustus experiences the trick of conscience and the two angels appear again to externalise the spiritual conflict in his soul between vice and virtue, between will and conscience. And henceforth, we find that the entire action of the play is fluctuating between the weak and wavering loyalties of Faustus to these two opposing forces. Generally this inner conflict takes place when a man is faced with two alternatives one of which he must have to choose but finds himself pulled in opposite directions. And Nicoll has rightly observed: “In Doctor Faustus Marlowe attempted something new, the delineation of struggle within the mind of the chief figure. This struggle is certainly somewhat primitive in its expression but it is a foretaste of those ‘inward characteristics’ towards which drama in its development inevitably tends. Faustus in this respect is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in sixteenth century literature outside the work of Shakespeare.” In fact there is very little external action in this play—the delineation of a psychological or spiritual conflict in the mind of the hero is the chief thing. And with what great dramatic skill Marlowe has depicted this spiritual struggle, these waverings and vacillations in his mind! To gain limitless power and pelf, Faustus may discard godly order, may denounce the doctrines of Christianity and may take to necromancy.

Faustus may discard and denounce God and the Trinity, but he is definitely attached to them emotionally. So a guilty conscience dogs him from the beginning to the end. And the heart of Faustus turns out to be the field where the forces of good and evil are trying to overwhelm each other. We can follow this tragic conflict and troubled career of Faustus to its terrible end.

Eternal Damnation


In the closing scene of the drama the spiritual conflict of a doomed and dejected soul reaches its climax and then culminates in an overwhelming catastrophe. Faustus realises to his utter dismay that he is doomed to eternal damnation with the least hope for redemption. The poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus starting just before an hour of his final doom reveals in a very forceful manner the deep agony of a horror-struck soul facing its impending doom. His last minute frantic appeal to the ‘ever-moving spheres of heaven’ to stand still or to the ‘Fair Nature’s eye’ to rise again to make perpetual day—‘That Faustus may repent and save his soul’—is absolutely of no avail—

“The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The Devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.”

And when the final hour strikes, there is thunder and lightning and the Devil’s disciples come and snatch away the trouble torn soul of Faustus to hell to suffer eternal damnation.

To conclude we may quote the very relevant remarks of E.A. Baker regarding this great tragedy:

“This great symbolic tragedy deals with a theme which was part, not only of the author’s inner experience but of the very stuff which nourished the Renaissance spirit. The pride of intellect by which both the Faustus of Marlowe and the Lucifer of Milton fell, was the most subtlest and dangerous temptation of the age. After wandering for centuries through the mists of ignorance, man found himself once more before the tree of knowledge. There, within his reach, burned ‘like a thousand lamps the coveted fruits of his desire; but there, too, coiled about the roots, lay the old serpent, still unconquered, still thirsting for his soul’s blood.”

Role and Significance of Dr. Faustus in the Play

It has already been mentioned, that on Faustus, however, Marlowe concentrates all his attention and all his powers of subtle character-portrayal. He has achieved the very difficult task of laying bare Faustus’s mind at some extraordinary and critical moments. The play opens with Faustus in his study, taking stock of his accomplishments and considering the plans he should pursue in the future. Seeing one by one the books in the shelf before him, Faustus realises how logic, law, physics and divinity which have yielded up their treasures to him, have not been able to quench his intellectual thirst. They have proved to be but feeble instruments for the display of the forces of his will, and afforded him no opportunity of surrounding himself with beaming manifestations of the transcendent might of his own will. Dissatisfied with mere knowledge and philosophy, Faustus (in the first scene) is in the mood of a man, “who wakes from a dream of mountain tops to find himself still in the plains, or of a man who, having reached the mountain-top, is more than ever oppressed by his earth-bound nature and by the mocking distance of the skies towards which he had seemed to be climbing; yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.” Faustus recognises the power of magic—‘a sound magician is a mighty God.’ And it is magic, that ravishes him; and nothing shall daunt his determination to command all things that move between the quiet poles-with the help of the metaphysics of magicians and heavenly necromantic books. Valdes and Cornelius, professed magicians, are sent for by Faustus to help him in his efforts at mastery of magic. Meanwhile the Good Angel and the Bad Angel—‘who dramatically objectify the double impulses of appetite and conscience’—appear on the scene, the one discouraging and the other encouraging his resolve. Valdes and Cornelius serve the purpose of inflaming Faustus further, ‘with the splendid pictures of material pomp and sensual delights’ they present. They lend him books and instruments of magic with instructions for their proper use at the proper time.

At night, in a solitary grove, Faustus begins his incantations to conjure forth Mephistophilis. As the spirit appears, Faustus realises the virtue in his heavenly words, the efficacy of his spells and the force of magic. His vanity is inflated, and he hails himself as a conjurer-laureate who can command great Mephistophilis. For ‘letting him live in all voluptuousness’, and for the unconditional service of Mephistophilis during this period of time, Faustus brushes aside the timely warnings of conscience and enters into a compact with the Devil, signing the bond with his own blood.

Faustus takes the utmost possible advantage of the service of Mephistophilis. It is this fallen angel with his sinister sincerity and unaffected frankness that resolves for Faustus the doleful problems of damnation, and indirectly helps to heighten the intrepidity of the sin-steeped scholar and his spiritual arrogance. It is Mephistophilis that clears Faustus’s doubts in astronomy and cosmography, helps him to ride triumphantly in a chariot round the world, scanning the planets in the firmament and the Kingdoms of the earth. It is with the help of Mephistophilis, the embodiment of his dearly purchased power, that Faustus surfeits his sense with carnal pleasures, not coarse delights, however, but highest and deepest enjoyments. His longing is for the fairest maid of Germany, for the beauty of Helen that makes man immortal with a kiss. He chooses no other song but that of Homer, no music but that shaken from Amphion’s harp. He uses sweet pleasure to conquer deep despair. Faustus’s mind is delighted with the dumb-show of Devils that Mephistophilis presents before him. Even the repulsive masque of the Seven Deadly Sins attracts and soothes him for the time being.

Travelling far and wide, Faustus displays his new-won power. He fools the Pope and the Friars to the top of his bent, calls up the Spirits of Dead Alexander and his paramour before the Emperor, and plays a practical joke on the horse-courser. In the midst of all this, however, the horror of damnation seizes him every now and then. It increases with the passing of years and the drawing near of the end. He is unable to take advantage even of the last chance that is given to him by the Old Man. He would well have listened to the advice of the Old Man, repented for his sin and rectified his character, but the pull of the evil forces with which he had associated himself for long, is too much for Faustus to resist. Moreover, Mephistophilis is there near at hand threatening—

Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul
For disobedience to my sovereign lord;
Revolt, or I’ll in piecemeal tear thy flesh.

Faustus’s own pleasant vices turn into instruments to plague him. The last scene in which Faustus is torn between conflicting feelings, is the best of its kind, the most memorable in Marlowe’s plays, the most poignant in English tragedy. The Good Angel and the Bad Angel— ‘Faustus’s own thoughts objectified’—do their duty for the last time. Faustus spends the last hour in bursting out in a powerful soliloquy—counting the minutes by the ‘sand-grains of his agony.’ He implores the ‘ever-moving spheres of heaven to stand still’ calls upon the sun to rise ‘and make perpetual day.’ But what do they care for his prayers and pathetic appeals?—

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.

One is always alone in suffering. Faustus’s fate is not different. No response is there to his cries of anguish and his appeals for mercy. He longs to leap up to Heaven, but where are the wings to his spirit? In the heat of his anguish, he beholds Christ’s blood streaming in the firmament. One drop of that blood, he realises, will save him. But then his heart is rent by the Devil for the very naming of Christ.

‘A threatening arm, an angry brow’ torment his mind. He appeals to the hills to hide him, to the mountains to fall on him, to the earth to harbour him, to the stars to save him. He curses himself, his birth, his parents, and Lucifer. There is no more salvation for him, only damnation. As the clock strikes twelve, Faustus is borne away to hell by the devils and we recall his words: The reward of sin is death: that’s hard.’ And we listen to the Chorus who speaks the epilogue and points the moral.

Faustus is a tremendous figure of terrible tragic stature as delineated by Marlowe. The well-versed Wittenburg scholar rises to be the ally of Lucifer and the enemy of God. Insatiable hunger for knowledge and the power that knowledge gives is the dominant passion of Faustus. And this becomes as fatal a passion as the consuming lust of power is in the case of Tamburlaine. “Faustus is the Paracelsus of Marlowe. Over the soul of the Wittenburg doctor the passion for knowledge dominates, and all influences of good and evil, the voices of damned and of blessed angels reach him faint and ineffectual as dreams, or distant music or the suggestions of long forgotten odours, save as they promise something to glut the fierce hunger and thirst of his intellect.” It is interesting to note how in Faustus, the scholar never disappears in the magician. He is ever a student and a thinker. He wants all ambiguities to be resolved, and all strange philosophies explained. Even in the last scene, when the two scholars take leave of him, Faustus retains about him an ‘atmosphere of learning, of refinement, of scholarly urbanity.’ Faustus is made of the stuff of which heroes are made. He has an unbridled passion for knowledge infinite, a limitless desire for the unattainable, a spirit of reckless adventure and a tremendous confidence in his own will and spirit. And, too, he has dignity, tenacity, patience, profundity, and a vein of unsuspected humanity and tenderness. But all these are thrown into the background by the isolation of his position and the horror of the course he pursues. He weaves the threads of his tragedy with his own hands, signs his own death warrant. Himself the battlefield for one of the greatest mental conflicts of man, Faustus creates in us a feeling of loss and a sense of waste. What abiding wonders would he not have achieved in the realms of the mind had he pursued pure scholarship and legitimate studies. Missing the honour of a master-mind, he has only the recognition of a magician. He would have been a scholar-prince, but he chose to be a conjuror-laureate.


(Character of Mephistophilis.)

Introduction: Tragic Hero and Minor Characters

Marlowe’s tragic heroes are all titanic figures towering over all the minor characters so much so that they all fade into insignificance in his one-man plays. Hence in Marlowe’s hands, the minor characters have very little individuality or independent existence of their own. They seem to be so many sketches with very little delineation and their main purpose is to bring out the individuality of the towering heroes.

That is why Ronald M. Frye has justly remarked regarding Doctor Faustus; “Indeed, in Faustus there is no plot apart from character, no plot apart from what Faustus himself says, thinks, feels and does. Here character and plot are so completely integrated that neither is possible without the other, and the two so interconnected as to explain, justify, and complete each other.”

Mephistophilis: Original Treatment

Among the minor characters of Marlowe his Mephistophilis may, to a fairly good extent, be considered as an exception, as Marlowe is definitely original in its creation. Mephistophilis is no doubt a devil, but it is no longer a devil of the Moralities and Miracles with his funny and comic pictures just to cater to the taste of the groundlings of that age. In Doctor Faustus, Mephistophilis is rather a symbolic figure with considerable dramatic significance. From the very beginning of Faustus’s meteoric rise and anti-Christian career, till the terrible tragic end, Mephistophilis is his constant companion and he is the source of Faustus’s rise as well as his downfall.

Character: Symbolic Aspect

Mephistophilis has been introduced in the play as a deputy of Lucifer, the Prince of Hell. He is also a fallen angel who associated himself with Satan’s revolt against God. Unlike the Devils of Miracle and Moralities, Mephistophilis is not just a villain but is endowed with some redeeming features. In fact he confesses to Faustus that he is keenly and sadly conscious of his sufferings in hell and that the loss of Heaven and God’s blessings are a constant source of deep mental anguish for him. He is no doubt the evil genius of Faustus, but he has not been shown as the real cause of his degradation and downfall. It is Faustus who first abjured God and the Trinity of his own accord. And it is Faustus who first calls it the spirit of Mephistophilis from the underworld. Thus we find that when Faustus asks Mephistophilis if he has not been raised by his conjuring speeches, Mephistophilis replies:

“That was the cause, but yet per accidents:
For when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scripture and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;
Nor will we come, unless he uses such means
Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d.”

And Faustus boldly confirms it:

“So Faustus hath
Already done; and holds this principle,
There is no chief but Belzebub;”

Hence it is obvious that the evil is really within Faustus himself and so we conclude that Mephistophilis is nothing but the symbolic representation of the evil in Faustus’s soul. According to an eminent critic: “Mephistophilis symbolises power without conscience, the danger of which is the motif of the play.”

Mephistophilis may also be treated as a symbol of dramatic irony. In the very same scene as above (Act I Sc. III) we find Mephistophilis warning Faustus about the inevitable doom awaiting one who deviates from the right path and denounces God and the Saviour. Even Lucifer, an angel ‘most dearly lov’d of God’, fell due to pride and insolence. But Faustus, the victim of his own pride and inordinate ambition ‘to gain unlimited knowledge and power turns a deaf ear to his timely warning and very audaciously asserts:

“Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain:
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.”

Faustus dreams that he will be as ‘great as Lucifer’ and fondly believes:

“A sound magician is a mighty god.”

and so he will tire his brains ‘to gain a deity.’ Thus, Mephistophilis has been made the symbol of a deep and touching dramatic irony.

Dramatic Significance

Unlike most of the minor characters of Marlowe, Mephistophilis really plays a significant role in Doctor Faustus. It is a fact that it was not Mephistophilis who lured Faustus away from the path of virtue; that was his own decision. But undoubtedly it was Mephistophilis who paved the way for his tragic doom and eternal damnation. It is he who is the most important minor character in the drama, who makes the greatest contribution to the development of the character of Faustus. That is why, we find him to be the constant companion of Dr. Faustus till the tragic end.

Significance of Contract

Faustus has made up his mind to surrender his soul to the Devil to gain limitless power and knowledge, to live a life of luxury and voluptuousness for twenty-four years. And Mephistophilis is there to get the contract properly executed and informs him with all seriousness:

“But, Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
And write a deed of gift with thine own blood;
For that security craves great Lucifer.
If thou deny it I will back to hell.

And when the blood congeals, there is Mephistophilis ready with his ‘chafer of coals’ to make the blood flow and thus to smoothen the path to hell for Faustus. And from now, begins the very close relationship between Faustus and Mephistophilis.

Cunning and Artful Mephistophilis

We find the artful Mephistophilis playing rather a double role in his relationship with Faustus. When Faustus is normal and sticks to the conditions of his contract with the Devil, Mephistophilis is his most obliging slave. It is Mephistophilis who tries to satisfy his thirst for knowledge by answering all his questions to the best of his ability. But he refuses to reply like a stern guardian, when Faustus requests:

“Tell me who made the world.” And then again when Faustus expresses his keen desire

“……….to see the monuments
And situation of bright-splendent Rome,”

Mephistophilis helps him to make his journey through air—

“Being seated in a chariot burning bright,
Drawn by the strength of yoky dragon’s necks.”

Then again, when Faustus wants to marry the most beautiful maiden of Germany, he very cleverly dissuades him from marrying like a true Christian; but to satisfy his carnal desire and thirst for youth and beauty he conjures up Helen, “whose heavenly beauty passeth all compass.” But when Faustus’s soul is wavering between heaven and hell and he is thinking of prayer, and repentance to gain God’s mercy, Mephistophilis is there like a cruel master to threaten him thus:

“Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul
For disobedience to my sovereign lord:
Revolt, or I’ll piece-meal tear thy flesh,”

Strangely and very ironically, Mephistophilis also appears along-with other devils in the final scene to snatch away Faustus’s soul to hell for eternal damnation and the last word wrung out from the depth of his terror-stricken soul is ‘Mephistophilis,’


We may interpret the character of Mephistophilis symbolically as the projection of Faustus’s own evil self or we may accept him, just as a powerful deputy of the Prince of Hell. It must have to be admitted “that it is Mephistophilis and only Mephistophilis who plays the most significant role as a minor character to develop as well as to bring out all the important traits in the character of the mighty hero; we may rather conclude by saying, that, had there been no Mephistophilis, there would have been no Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s magnificent tragic drama.

Of the subordinate characters, Mephistophilis alone has a certain individuality and importance. Mephistophilis is the right-hand spirit of Lucifer. He describes himself modestly as ‘a servant to Great Lucifer.’ Part of his work seems to be to ‘win souls for hell by the allurements of despair, playing with open cards and hiding no iota of the dreadfulness of damnation.’ At any rate, that is what he does with Faustus. He makes Faustus sign a bond with his own blood, and reminds him of it at the end; nay, makes Faustus keep his word and submit himself to the Devils finally. True to his promise, Mephistophilis remains loyal to Faustus, follows him in his aerial flight from place to place, and does his bidding obediently. It is he, again, that explains to Faustus the secrets of the elements, the spheres and other allied details. Thus, Marlowe’s Mephistophilis is a commonplace drudge of the internal powers. The first time when Mephistophilis appears in the play, (Scene three), he impresses us by his quiet dignity. ‘He speaks as one who has come not over-willingly and with no desire to inveigle. His replies to Faustus’s eager questioning are almost wearily abrupt.’ All the same, he cannot help to restrain his tragic passion and burst fort:

For when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scriptures and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;

Signs of Mephistophilis’s remorse and passion are also evident in the lines:

Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells:
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.



[From the quarto of 1604]


























Spirits in the shapes of Alexander the great, of his paramour, and of Helen.



Page No:78-167


Page No:(168-181) It’s mandatory




There cannot be any denying of the fact that the most glaring weakness of Doctor Faustus lies in the lack of well knit or an organic plot. A careful study of the play reveals that it has no regular plot in the conventional sense of the term. In fact it was the stringing together of just fourteen important scenes in its original form. We find this regular division into acts and scenes only in the early eighteenth century edition. In this respect it is very much linked with the old Miracle and Morality plays.

And that is why Schelling has sternly remarked: “As we have it ‘Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’ by Marlowe, is little more than a succession of scenes void of continuity or cohesion, except for the unity of the main figure and the unrelenting progress of the whole towards the overwhelming catastrophe. Moreover, the fragment—for the play is little more—disfigured and disgraced by the interpolation of scenes or clownage and ribaldry.”

Natural Division or Movements

Even if the play with its loose structures may not be divided into Acts, in keeping with the rules of conventional or classical drama, some critics have pointed out that there is some well-marked natural divisions or movement in the play. So R.V. Hunt mentions about five natural divisions and he writes: “For convenience of reference there being no standard division observed, I divided the play naturally, and found that there happened to be five convenientsections. These are not acts of the sort imposed upon Shakespeare’s play, for the first section is almost as long as the four others combined, but each section gives a sight of Faustus at a different stage in the twenty-four years. There is no attempt at the chronological development of character, but five separate movements in the period of the pact are chosen. They are related to each other only by being presentation of events in the history of Doctor Faustus and have no such relation as the Acts of classical drama.”

Hunt and Ellis-Fermor’s Division

This is how Hunt has divided the drama into five movements in his remarkable edition of Doctor Faustus:

Movement I—The striking of the bargain: it is from the beginning of the play to the end of the scene in which Robin, confounds Ralph, with his pretended knowledge of magic.

Movement II—Faustus at Rome: it begins with the Chorus narrating how Faustus went about to know the secrets of astronomy and ends with Robin-Ralph-Vintner interlude.

Movement III—Faustus at the Emperor’s court: it begins with the speech of the Chorus and ends in the episode in which Benvolio, Frederick and Martino have their heads and faces besmeared with blood, mud and dirt.

Movement IV—Demonstrations magical: it consists of the Horse—Courser scenes and the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt scene.

Movement V—Climax and Death: it begins with the scene in which Wagner guesses his master’s intention to die, and ends with Faustus’s death and the scholar’s comment upon it.

Una Ellis Fermor—has also analysed the whole action on an interesting way and she writes: “We can trace six main episodes in the play, roughly equivalent to six acts, followed by a catastrophe.”

Main Drawbacks

Even after accepting the justification of the above learned critics to some extent, the fact that the play is structurally very weak cannot be overlooked. It is mainly a one-man show as it is the hero who completely dominates the stage. Let us take up Aristotle’s five distinct divisions of an ideal plot of a tragedy and apply them to the plot-construction of Doctor Faustus. We have first the initial incident or ‘Paritass’ giving birth to the conflict and there is the rising action or ‘Epitass’ to intensify the conflict; thirdly we get the climax, the turning point or ‘Peripetora’ and fourthly there is denouement, the falling action or ‘Calabasm’; and finally we have the Catastrophe or conclusion in which the conflict is brought to its inevitable end. Now a critical study of the play in the light of the above division will clearly reveal the drawbacks of the plot-construction of Doctor Faustus. In the first few scenes we get the initial incident of the plot. This is well-planned. When we find Faustus discarding all other branches of knowledge to accept only the art of necromancy as sole subject of his study the birth of conflict takes place. Then in the scenes in which Faustus raises the spirit of Mephistophilis and ultimately sells his soul to the Devil by writing a deed of gift in blood, we have the rising action and climax of the drama developed to a great extent on the right lines. But then comes the scenes—specially the comic scenes—which serve very little purpose in the development of the plot to reveal the denouement, or the falling action leading to the catastrophe. From the stand point of plot-construction this middle portion of the play is the weakest. These scenes may be treated as separate episodes without any organic unity with the structure of the drama. But just like the beginning, the end is also nobly executed. The final action of the play has been executed in the most sublime and poignant manner. The last scene in which the conflict is brought to its natural tragic end is probably unsurpassed in English dramatic literature with its most poignant monologue of a horror-struck soul facing eternal damnation. Levin’s comment on the structural weakness of the play is just and quite relevant: “Examined more technically the play has a strong beginning and even a stronger end but its middle section, whether we abridge it or bombast it out, is unquestionably weak.”

Three Plots

There are some modern critics who ascribe three plots to Doctor Faustus: the main plot, the under plot and the over-plot. The first one deals with Faustus’s inordinate ambition to acquire super-human power by mastering the art of unholy necromancy bringing about his ultimate doom and damnation. The under-plot with its fun and frolics is more or less, a foil to the main plot. The main plot and the under plot represent the two main facts of life—pleasant and painful or comic and tragic. The over plot according to them is the philosophical plot that reveals the conflict or struggle between the forces of good and evil in the external world as well as in the soul of man. And it is this philosophical plot that adds real greatness and grandeur to this tragic play. The arguments regarding the significance of the main plot and the over-plot undoubtedly carries weight, but the points put forward in favour of the comic scenes do not seem to impress. Almost all the critics are unanimous that the comic scenes with its frivolity and buffoonery dilutes the tragic effects and are discordant with its general tone.

Goethe’s Remark

After all these critical discussions about the weakness of structure and design of the play, Goethe’s remark—“How greatly it is all planned?”—may seem to be very confusing. But this also must be noted to a great extent the structural unity has been given to this play by the towering figure of the hero. The hero is the unifying force and Marlowe was solely concerned with the acute conflict between the Good Angel and Evil Angel, between conscience and passion in the soul of the hero leading to his doom and damnation. And every critic admits that the play is nobly planned and it ‘has a strong beginning and even a stronger end.’


Whatever may be the drawbacks and deficiencies, Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is a great and magnificent tragedy—the greatest of tragedies outside Shakespeare. Marlowe was a genius—and geniuses like alchemists can transform base metal into gold. So Marlowe produced a great work of art from the crude Faustus legend. And the greatness of the drama lies in its absorbing inner conflict. And Ellis Fermor rightly observes: “But as in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the protagonist is man and his spiritual powers that surrounds him, the scene is set upon on the physical earth, but in the limitless region of the mind, and the battle is fought, not for kingdoms and crowns, but upon the questions of man’s ultimate fate. Before him lies the possibility of escape to spiritual freedom or a doom of slavery to demoniac powers. Thus, in such terms, is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to present.”


Marlowe and the Spirit of Renaissance

At the very outset we should note that Marlowe belonged to the age of Renaissance and he was to a very great extent the product of Renaissance—Renaissance with its spirit of revolt, with its supreme lust for wealth and power without any regard for moral limits, with its great yearning for limitless knowledge and craving for worldly and sensual pleasures. And all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are embodiment of the Renaissance spirit.

Faustus—An Embodiment of the Epoch

Doctor Faustus is also an embodiment of the epoch. His mind and soul is afire with an inordinate desire for attaining supreme power through knowledge by any means, fair or foul. With the revival of learning, people began to believe that knowledge enabled man to become all powerful. So Faustus even after getting his degree of Doctorate and studying all the important branches of learning like Philosophy, Physic, Law and Divinity realises that he is ‘still but Faustus and a man.’ All are inadequate and none of these subjects can help him to become as powerful ‘on earth, as Jove in the Sky.’ Faustus’s dream is to gain super-human power so that:

“All things that move between the quiet poles,
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings,
Are obey’d in their sev’ral provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds,
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretched as far as doth the mind of man.”

Decision to Become a Magician

This inordinate desire to attain super-human powers is absolutely in keeping with the adventurous spirit of the age of Renaissance. And to attain this Faustus makes the supreme but tragic decision of his life:

“A sound magician is a mighty god;
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”

But immediately after Faustus feels the prick of conscience as he is going to do something against the will of God. But the Evil Angel or the over-riding desire carries the day, as Faustus dreams of becoming as powerful:

“….as Jove is in the sky.
Lord and commander of the elements.”

To Attain Super-Human Power at Any Cost

And he would attain this power at any cost even by selling his soul to the Devil. Knowledge is no doubt power; but Faustus, who is the embodiment of the dreams and desires of the rising bourgeois of his age forgets in his fit of passion that there is a limit to man’s powers and possibilities and that knowledge may also become a source of ruin and destruction if it is abused. Puffed up with his vast knowledge and learning he ignores the fact that to make an attempt to fly too near the sun with waxen wings means certain doom and destruction. Thus to Faustus:

“Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss.”

Hence, in the end just like other tragic heroes of Marlowe, Faustus, also with his limitless lust for power and pelf, ultimately finds with horror how the flush and glory of his temporary success brings about his doom and eternal damnation. This is the theme of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

Theme Revolving Round Faustus—Surrenders His Soul to Devil

We find the theme entirely revolving round Faustus, a great German scholar with a degree of Doctor of Divinity. Even with his great achievements in different branches of learning he took to the study of unholy necromancy to gain super-human power on this earth. He discarded the advice of the Good Angel, rather turned a deaf ear to the voice of his conscience, and conjured up Mephistophilis, a deputy of great Lucifer the Prince of the Devils. Faustus was prepared to surrender his soul to the Devil after enjoying for twenty-four years; a life full of voluptuous pleasure and after acquiring mastery over the black art of Magic to enable him to display miraculous feats. Mephistophilis was also to become his slave for the whole period and carry out all his commands whatever they might be. Even he wrote a deed of gift to this effect with his own blood.

Conflict Between Conscience and Passion

But then very often doubts and diffidence arise in his soul. He thought of saving his soul by means of prayer and repentance. The Good and Evil Angels had their share in trying to exert influence over him in their own ways. A bitter conflict raged in his soul between his conscience and passion. But threatened by the Devil, he submitted to him once more without any reserve and renewed the deed with his blood again. With his mastery over the black art and with the help of Mephistophilis, his constant slave, he gained immense super-human power and moved across the earth and sky to well known cities, had the spirit of Helen, the matchless beauty as his paramour and demonstrated miraculous feats before kings and courtiers.

Tragic and Terrible End

But the sands of time were running out. Ultimately the final hour approached when Faustus was to surrender his soul to the Devil. The fervent appeal of his scholar friends at the last moment to ‘look up to Heaven’ was of no avail. He realised that ‘Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned.’ Finally, he was left pitifully alone in his room to face his inevitable doom and damnation. Horror of the impending doom made him tragic and his terror-stricken soul fervently wished that movement of time might stop or the final hour might be lengthened so that he could have a last chance to repent and pray for God’s mercy. But nothing is of any avail. The Devils appear and carry away the soul of Faustus for eternal damnation. And thus:

“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough,
That sometime grew in this learned man.”

Doctrine of Medieval Christianity

Thus, by depicting the terrible end of Faustus, Marlowe has also presented in this drama the most awe-inspiring doctrine of the medieval Christianity that tells us that ‘to practise more than heavenly power’ means ‘eternal damnation.’


In the end we may quote a few words from J.A. Symonds to elucidate in brief the theme of this great drama: “Marlowe concentrated his energies on the delineation of proud life and terrible death of a man in revolt against the eternal laws of his own nature and the world, defiant and desperate, plagued with remorse, alternating between the gratification of his appetites and the dread of God whom he rejects without denying.”




A study of Marlowe’s great tragedies cannot but convince us that Marlowe possessed the power in its fullest degree of projecting himself into his chief characters. In fact one of the most remarkable elements in all his dramatic works is this subjective or autobiographical note. Herein also lies the great difference between Shakespeare and Marlowe as dramatists. There is a complete effacement of Shakespeare’s personality in his plays.

We can never assert that this play or that passage of Shakespeare reveals his mind or personality. But Marlowe could not but project his personality into the chief characters of his plays, especially in his four great tragedies: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Maltaand Edward II.

Marlowe’s Life and the Spirit of Renaissance

Before taking up this note of subjectivity in Marlowe’s dramatic works we should have a fair idea of Marlowe’s life, career, the influence of the spirit of Renaissance on him and his ambitions and aspirations. Marlowe came of ‘parents base of stock’—he was the son of shoe-maker. But he was fortunate enough to have school education, had a chance to go to Cambridge to specialise in theology and got Doctorate in Divinity. As an Archbishop Parker’s scholar he was intended for a Church career. But he abandoned the holy order and joined the theatrical companies in London to become a dramatist. In Cambridge, he also studied classics and various other subjects and became an erudite scholar. But here also he had the bitter experience of finding his young companions belonging to a wealthier class with much better status and a greater scope for enjoying pleasures of life, although they were much inferior to him in other respects. Probably, in his later life this was the main cause of his rebellion against the established order. He also imbibed his sceptical attitude to the established religion and religious authority and was reputed as an atheist by rejecting Christian dogma. Marlowe also developed a dual personality—especially during his life in London. He was a poet, a dramatist as well as an agent of secret service. In London he freely mixed with many a reputed nobleman as well as shady characters of the under-world. He was to a great extent violent in temperament and Bohemian in character.

Then we are to remember that Marlowe was a man of the Renaissance and an embodiment of the spirit of his age. He was saturated with the spirit of Renaissance with its great yearning for knowledge and learning, with its hankering after sensual pleasure of life and with its inordinate ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf. He was also profoundly influenced by Machiavelli, the famous Italian social and political writer, who disregarded all conventional moral principles to achieve the end by any means, noble or ignoble, fair or foul.

Reflection of Marlowe’s Personality in His Tragic Heroes

A close and critical study of works of Marlowe convinces us that all his tragic heroes clearly reveal the chief characteristics and temperament of the great dramatist. His great tragic heroes, Tamburlaine, Faustus, Jew of Malta, and Edward II—all are absolutely dominated by some uncontrollable passion for gaining some ideal or finding the fulfilment of some inordinate ambition. To achieve their end they throw overboard all established moral scruples or religious sanctions and never scruple to adopt even the most cruel and horrible means. His cruel, tyrannic Tamburlaine with his craze for limitless power defies all authorities on earth as well as in heaven. His stone-hearted Barabas is dominated by a senseless craze for gold and does not shirk from committing the worst type of crimes to achieve his end. He seems to be an embodiment of Machiavellianism. To gain super human powers through knowledge, his Doctor Faustus, with his over-weening ambition takes to the study of the black art of necromancy and even sells his soul to the Devil to gain his end. And Edward II and Mortimer pay the heaviest price—the former for his passion for is base minions and the latter for his craze for power. Influenced by the spirit of Renaissance, Marlowe developed a deep sense of egotism. All his great creations are also deeply egotistical having the highest regard for their own power and personality. Hence, we find his Tamburlaine speaking thus:

“I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains.
And with my hand turns fortune’s wheel about.”

His heroes have also scant regard for religion or godliness. His spirit of the atheist is clearly revealed in the following line from the “Prologue to the Jew of Malta”:

“I count religion but a childish toy”

Another relevant point to note is that just like Marlowe all his great tragic heroes, excepting Edward II, are born of ‘parents base of stock’ with a great sense of superiority. Thus, proclaims Tamburlaine:

“I am a lord, for so my deeds will prove,
And yet a shephered by my Parentage.”

And Baldock, the clerk, in Edward II proudly asserts:

“My name is Baldock, and my gentry
I fetch from Oxford, not from Heraldry.”

Another significant point is that almost all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are poets and convey their feelings and emotions to the audience in the superb poetical language. And Marlowe himself was a great poet of passion. Hence, this lyrical quality of his great heroes reveal their creator’s moods and passions.

Marlowe and Doctor Faustus—Striking Parallelism

Of all Marlowe’s tragic heroes Doctor Faustus bears out the most striking reflection of Marlowe’s own self. After a close study of the play we are struck by the close similarity between the life and career of Marlowe and that of Doctor Faustus. We know that Marlowe was the second child of a Canterbury shoe-maker and in the very beginning of the play Doctor Faustus, the Chorus tells us of Faustus’s parentage:

“Now is he born, his parents base of stock.”

Harold Osborne has briefly pointed it out thus:

“Marlowe himself, like Faustus, came of parents of ‘base stock’ and was destined for the church but turned elsewhere; he was undoubtedly keenly interested in secular knowledge; was reputed as scoffer of religion and incurred the charge of blasphemy.”

We should not press the analogies too far. But we cannot ignore them as the parallelism is so very obvious.

Personal Tragedy: Spiritual Suffering

Doctor Faustus expresses very powerfully Marlowe’s innermost thoughts and authenticexperiences. So it can be regarded as the spiritual history of Marlowe himself. Marlowe’s inordinate ambition led him to revolt against religion and society, to defy the laws of man and laws of God. And such defiance is bound to bring about acute mental conflict resulting in deep despair and certain defeat. So, both Marlowe and his creation Doctor Faustus experience terrible mental pangs and agonies. Osborne has rightly said:

“The descriptions of Faustus’s repentance, despair and mental anguish are among the most vivid and poignant parts of the play. It is, of course, possible to suppose that Marlowe had passed through a stage of youthful scepticism in religion and that with a sounder and deeper faith he had come to the knowledge of repentance. Nor indeed is he ever the pure scoffer. It is certain that the author of “Faustus” must himself have walked some way along the path of religious doubts and gropings and must have known the sufferings attendant upon that journey.” Hence, in Doctor Faustus we get a faithful portrait of an agonised condition of mind wavering between its ‘Good and Evil Angels, between God and the Devil.’ And it very much seems that Faustus is for Marlowe when he gives vent to his deep anguish of his soul before his scholar friends: “But Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned: the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus….O, Would I have never seen Wittenberg, never read book and what wonders I have done, all Germany can witness, yea, all the world; for which Faustus hath lost both Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself………..”

The end of the play reveals the influence of Reformation on Marlowe. It seems in spite of all his great achievements, Marlowe, like Faustus, ultimately realised that they did not in any way helped to fortify his soul but to lose it as it was cut off from the rich natural resources of inspiration and faith.

Hankering after Power, Knowledge and Sensuality

As regards passion for knowledge and craving for sensual pleasure of the world there is remarkable affinity between Faustus and Marlowe. It is true that Marlowe lived a Bohemian, profligate and boisterous life. Marlowe who was to go for the Holy Orders gave up divinity for the career of a poet and a playwright. Faustus seeks knowledge just for the power it gives and to have opportunities for the gratification of sensual pleasures. If Ellis is correct regarding the circumstances of Marlowe’s tragic death, then Faustus’s doting over the lips of Helen shortly before his death bears a very close resemblance with those of Marlowe’s death over ‘bought kisses.’

Poetic Spirit

All the tragic heroes of Marlowe are undoubtedly poets. But of all of them his Faustus is poet par-excellence just like Marlowe himself. The superb oft-quoted apostrophe to Helen beginning with the lines:—

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

reveals his wonderful poetic temperament. Wynne is perfectly correct in saying: “This passage has probably never been surpassed in its magic idealisation of that which is essentially base and carnal.”


Even in their short span of life and in their tragic death there is real affinity between Marlowe and his creation, Doctor Faustus. After living twenty-four years a life of sensual pleasures and superhuman achievements, Faustus had to surrender his soul to the Devil for eternal damnation. Marlowe’s boisterous and Bohemain life also came to a tragic and premature end in a tavern brawl at the hands of a shady character of the London underworld at the age of twenty-nine. And there is really something occult in the mournful melody of the Chorus in the closing line of this tragedy:

“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,
That sometimes grew within this learned man.”

It is given only to Shakespeare to write dozens of plays without projecting his personality into them in any detectable manner. He has so lost himself in his works and yet so skilfully kept himself away from them that it is almost impossible to say with any stress of certainty that a particular play or even isolated passage reveals his mind and personality. Marlowe does not share this unique privilege of Shakespeare. He is there in every play of his, and especially in his four great tragedies—Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II. These plays give us not a shadowy idea but an intimate glimpse of the quivering personality of Marlowe and the intense thoughts that were his at the time of writing them. It is therefore neither desirable nor possible to separate Marlowe the poet and dramatist from Marlowe the man. His subjectivity, however, is not as obvious and insistent as that of Shelley, for instance. It is the subjectivity of the type that Milton gives us in his Comus, Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes.

Doctor Faustus is strewn with unmistakable autobiographical suggestions. Reading the play we cannot refrain from concluding that it is the spontaneous expression of its writer’s innermost thoughts and authentic experiences. The storm of doubt and despair, of suffering and sin, that sweeps through the serious scenes of the play, does not seem to be the work of a mere imaginative artist who conjures it forth from the confines of his own mind, but of one who must have stood up to the chin in such experience. There is no doubt that the writer of Doctor Faustus appears to be one who has experienced a great spiritual tragedy, one whose sense of harmony between his mind and the universal forces around him is shaken, one who is heavy with a feeling of loss. What his sufferings and losses are, the dramatist does not make clear. Caught in a chaotic maze of conflicting emotions, he is busy searching for the meaning of the calamity that has overtaken him. Part of it he seems to discover in blind servitude to barren learning. Marlowe, like Faustus, seems to have realised that all he had learnt and known, all he had attempted and achieved with the help of his intellectual equipment, helped not to strengthen his soul but to lose it, by being cut off from the rich natural resources of inspiration and of faith.


Tragedy Before Marlowe

We may begin by quoting Swinburne’s very just and relevant remarks regarding Marlowe: “Before him there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.”

Gone were the great days of Miracle and Mystery plays. After the Reformation of Movement Mysteries and Moralities lost all their influence on the audience; they were rather disliked by the people because of their link and association with old Church. In response to public demand came the Interlude with its fun and frolics and the masques and Pageants with their costume displays gorgeous colours. Hence, comedy captured the mind of the English people. But everything was in a chaotic and formless state before the advent of University Wits the greatest among whom was Marlowe.

It was in the fifteenth century that tragedy came to English dramatic field. And this was due to the influence of the Revival of Learning and the translation of great Italian tragedies of Seneca. In fact Italian Renaissance had a tremendous influence upon the development of the English drama. And the first English tragedy wasGorboduc (1562) by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. In style and treatment of theme Seneca was very much their model. Although this tragedy showed some innovation, yet most of the Senecan characteristics—long sententious speeches, lack of action, talkative ghosts and horrible scenes of gruesome murders, were very much there. Tragedies that followed Gorboduc had the same Senecan characteristics. It required the mighty efforts of a great genius to free the Elizabethan drama from the worst features of the Senecan tragedy. And it was Christopher Marlowe who is credited with this outstanding achievement in the realm of England’s dramatic literature. He threw the gauntlet when he penned these forceful lines in the Prologue to his first drama Tamburlaine:

“From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits.
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine,
Threatening the world with high astounging terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.”

We may now discuss about the various characteristics of Marlovian tragedy to point out how he formulated the English drama, specially the tragedy which was improved upon and perfected by a genius like Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s Tragic Hero

The first great thing done by Marlowe was to break away from the medieval conception of tragedy, as in medieval drama, tragedy was a thing of the princes only. It dealt with the rise and fall of kings or royal personalities. But it was left to Marlowe to evolve and create the real tragic hero. Almost all the heroes of Marlowe—Tamburlaine, Faustus or Jew of Malta—are of humble parentage, but they are endowed with great heroic qualities and they are really great men. His tragedy is, in fact, the tragedy of one man-the rise, fall and death of the hero. All other characters of a Marlovian drama pale into insignificance beside the towering personality and the glory and grandeur of the tragic hero. Even various incidents of the drama revolve round the hero. His heroes are men fired with indomitable passion and inordinate ambition—his Tamburlaine is in full-flooded pursuit of military and political power, his Faustus sells his soul to the Devil to attain ultimate power through knowledge, and his Jew of Malta absolutely discards all sense of human values with his blind and inordinate aspiration towards wealth as an ultimate end. But what Marlowe really depicts and dramatises with thoroughness is that all his mighty heroes with all their sky-kicking aspirations find that the flush of their temporary success leads to ultimate failure bringing about their tragic and terrible end. Herein lies the greatness of Marlowe.

Working of a Passion

We have just seen that Marlowe’s heroes are dominated by some inordinate ambition or passion-may be a supreme lust for power, wealth or knowledge. And kindling such passion in their souls Marlowe imparted great vehemence and force in his drama. But in this we may trace the distinct influence of Machiavelli on Marlowe. Marlowe must have read his far-famed book The Prince and derived this idea of ambition from him. In his book Machiavelli praised ambition as the only desirable virtue in a prince and denied all morality except that morality which operated for the good of the individual. Thus, we find all his heroes dominated by inordinate ambition discarding all moral codes and plunging headlong to achieve their end. Such intense passion and pitiless struggle with super-human energy, to achieve their end makes Marlowe’s tragic heroes great indeed and adds glory and grandeur to their personality. Thus, Marlowe discarded the old conception of tragedy as descent from greatness to misery and supplanted it by the greatness of individual worth. His heroes believing that the ecstasy of earthly gain and glory is its own reward also proclaimed the true Renaissance outlook.

Inner Conflict

Another great achievement of Marlowe was to introduce the element of conflict, specially inner struggle in two of his great tragedies—“Doctor Faustus” and “Edward II.” Conflict may be on physical as well as on spiritual plane. The spiritual or moral conflict takes place in the heart of man and this is of much greater-significance and much more poignant than the former. And a great tragedy most powerfully reveals the emotional conflict or moral agony of the mighty hero. In this respect, in the realm of England’s dramatic literature Doctor Faustus may be reckoned as the first great spiritual tragedy or tragedy of the soul. In this epoch-making drama the deep moral agony and the painful spiritual conflict has been superbly laid bare before us by Marlowe. And this inner conflict reveals the real significance of character as the main-stay of a great tragedy. Like the heroes of ancient tragedy, Marlowe’s heroes are not helpless puppets in the hands of blind fate. The tragic flaw was in their character and the tragic action also issued out of their characters. This was really Marlowe’s greatest contribution to English tragedy.

Blank Verse

Another great achievement of Marlowe was to introduce a new type of blank verse in his tragedies. A new spirit of poetry was breathed into the artificial and monotonous verse of old plays. In fact, the whole of the Renaissance drama was enlivened by a new poetic grandeur.

Moral Conception

It was Marlowe who first discarded the medieval conception of tragedy as it was distinctly a moral one. In those dramas the aim was always to inculcate some moral lesson by showing the fall of hero into adversity. There is no such intrusive morality in Marlowe’s plays. The main interest in Marlovian drama centres on the towering personality of the heroes -with their tremendous rise and tragic fall.

Some Other Features

Another notable characteristic of Marlowe’s tragedies is its high seriousness and hence there is complete lack of humour. According to many a critic, the scenes of clownishness in Doctors Faustus are nothing but later interpolations. The women characters are also conspicuous by their absence. Zenocrate in Tambulaine, the Duchess and Helen in Doctor Faustus and Abigail in the Jew of Malta are either figureheads or spirits or shadows. As regards plot-structure, Marlowe followed the old chronicle tradition of separate episodes just loosely knit together in hisTamburlaine and Doctor Faustus. Only in the Jew of Malta and specially in Edward II he first attempted a regular plot and succeeded to some extent in the former and to a greater extent in the latter. Most of the above features may also be treated as Marlowe’s drawbacks as a dramatist; and probably due to these limitations Marlowe could not succeed in reaching the loftiest summits of the tragic art. But we must remember he was pioneer and a path-finder; and what he did was really magnificent and he is justly regarded as the father of English tragedy, as the ‘morning star of Elizabethan drama.’ He was really ‘the Columbus of the new literary world.’ We may conclude by the illuminating remarks of Schelling: “Marlowe gave the drama passion and poetry; and poetry was his most precious gift. Shakespeare would not have been Shakespeare had Marlowe never written or lived. He might not have been altogether the Shakespeare we know.”

Page No: 199-210 (it’s mandatory)


Allegory and Symbolism—Their Meaning

In Greek, ‘Allegoria’ means to imply something else. Allegory is just a form of art presenting a second meaning beneath the surface meaning. It may be taken as an extended metaphor in which the characters, action or ideas stand for some others. The meaning is always implied not expressively stated. Hence, the reader of an allegory is expected to get not only the apparent or surface meaning of the story but also the second meaning or the hidden truth lurking behind it.

Very often allegories are simple stories conveying metaphorically some spiritual or ethical ideas with a didactic purpose. All Morality plays in English literature are more or less allegorical. We also get allegories in the form of prose, poetry or drama. Spenser’s Fairie Queene, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Swift’s Tale of a Tub are outstanding works in this form of art.

Symbolism in general means the presentation of objects, moods and ideas through the medium of emblems or symbols. It is a conscious and deliberate technique of the use of symbols in art and literature. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word ‘symbol’ means “thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought.” Thus lion symbolises courage, the moon symbolises a lovely face and the cross symbolises Christanity. So symbols are words that mean much more than their simple literal meaning.

Moral Allegory in the Play

A close and critical study of Doctor Faustus enables us to go deeper and get the hidden truth or moral allegory of the play that relates “the form of Faustus’s fortunes good or bad.”

This engrossing tale of a proud and an inordinately ambitious medieval magician who sold his soul to the Devil is undoubtedly allegorical. It has a moral allegory of universal significance. In spite of Marlowe’s agnosticism and atheistical inclinations his “Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” turns out to be a religious, rather Christian, moral sermon, and the sermon is that whoever shuns the path of virtue, denounces God and His laws, and aligns himself with the forces of the evil to gain limitless power and position is doomed to despair and eternal damnation. SoHudson has rightly said: “No finer sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus even came from the pulpit. What more fearsome exposure was ever offered of the punishment man brings upon himself by giving way to temptations of his grosser appetites?” And the mournful monody of the Chorus makes the moral allegory of the play crystal clear:

“Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.”

Then the introduction of the stock devices of the Miracle and Morality plays, such as the Good and Bad Angels, the Devils, the Old Man, The Seven Deadly Sins etc., clearly points out the moral and allegorical aspect of the play. All the above characters or apparitions deserve symbolical or allegorical interpretation. We may take them up one after another for such interpretation.

(i) Significance of the Good and the Evil Angel

Two Angels and Tragic Conflict

It should be noted that there is hardly any external action in the play. We find that the real action presented in the play is the spiritual conflict within the soul of the hero—a conflict, we may be sure, between law and desire, religion and scepticism, or between curiosity and conscience. Hence, Ellis Fermor rightly remarks that “the scene is set in no spot upon the physical earth but in the limitless regions of the mind and the battle is fought, not for kingdoms or crowns, but upon the question of man’s ultimate fate. Before him lies the possibility of escape to spiritual freedom or a doom of slavery to demoniac powers. Thus, and in such terms is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to present.” And in the light of this remark Faustus may stand as the symbol of man in general with the strange admixture of virtue and vice in his soul. And then the Good and Evil Angels also appear in the play with their own symbolic significance personifying the two aspects of Faustus’s character. The former stands for order, virtue or goodness and the latter represents the baser spirit of Faustus, his indomitable passions and desires. One stands for his conscience and the other, his curiosity for ‘unlawful things.’ Hence, Harold Osborne has rightly observed: “The Good and Evil Angels are really externalisations of the two aspects of Faustus’s own character on the one hand, conscience, and on the other, that aspiration to the novel and romantic that led to his downfall.” It may be noted that Marlowe is quite original in the use of his angels and they differ a lot from those abstract figures in the Morality plays.

(ii) Significance of Helen and the Old Man

As Faustus’s fascination for Helen, the ‘only paragon of excellence’ reveals the Renaissance characteristic of love and adoration of classical art and beauty, Helen epitomises the charms of classical art, learning and beauty. And her shade or apparition may also be the symbol of sensual pleasures of life which are but transitory, and lead to despair and damnation. If it is so, the Old Man represents Christian faith with its obedience to laws of God and its need for prayer and penitence that can assure eternal joy and bliss. The Old Man also represents another moral aspect; that is one who has firm faith in God can boldly face the temptations and tortures presented by the forces of Evil and ‘can ascend to heaven while the fiends sink back into hell.’

(iii) Significance of the Show of the Seven Deadly Sins

We have this pageant of Seven Deadly Sins in the sixth scene or second scene of Act II. This spectacle also shows that Marlowe in his Doctor Faustus adopted some of the conventions of the old Miracle and Morality plays. So the Seven Deadly Sins—Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery—of good old Morality plays are also very much here in this play in a grand spectacle to cheer up the wavering and dejected soul of Doctor Faustus. But Marlowe is quite original in his treatment of the scene. In the ‘Faustbuch’, or ‘Faust Book’ it is a masque of the seven animal forms representing the seven principal Devils. We get this pageant of Seven Deadly Sins also in Spenser’s Faerie Queene and this also might have been a source for Marlowe.

Some critics are of the view that the show is meant for comic relief for the audience. But this is hard to accept. In fact the show is not meant for any comic relief but is really meant for bringing back Faustus to the path of hell when he was much irritated by Mephistophilis for not giving right answers to some of his questions related to the creation of this universe. And we find Lucifer, Belzebub alongwith Mephistophilis appearing on the stage, the moment, Faustus, to a great extent disillusioned, utters the name of Christ with a fervent appeal to save his soul:

“Ah, Christ, my saviour,
Seek to save distressed Faustus’ Soul!”

They put up the show to cheer up his drooping mind and lure him back to the path of hell; and they succeed mightily when Faustus in rapture expresses his delight after the show:

“Oh, this feeds my soul!”

Symbolically it means Faustus’s abject surrender to these deadly sins who lead to the path of hell. In fact the sins are already there in his soul and the show of the sins simply symbolises or externalises them. Another point to note is that Pride leads the procession. In fact Pride deserves this, as Pride is the worst vice that brings about the downfall. And our Faustus was puffed up with pride to fly too near the Sun with ‘waxen wings’ to bring about his own ultimate doom and damnation.

(iv) Significance of The Character of Mephistophilis

If in Doctor Faustus there is any other character other than Faustus that deserves some consideration, it is Mephistophilis. He is with Faustus from the very beginning of his proud career till his tragic downfall. He is considered to be one of the seven spirits of second rank. He is also called Lucifer’s vice-regent. But the Mephistophilis of Doctor Faustus with his ‘signs of remorse and passion’ is Marlowe’s unique creation.

Of course we may treat Mephistophilis as the villain of the play as it is he who seems to lure away Faustus to the path of hell. But a closer study reveals that Faustus himself with his extreme pride and inordinate ambition is the root cause of his own damnation. The point is made clear when Mephistophilis in the very third scene of the Act I tells Faustus in response to his query:

“For, when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scriptures and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his soul;
Nor will we come, unless he uses such means
Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d.”

So it was Faustus who first racked the name of God and abjured ‘the scripture and his Saviour Christ’ and only then Mephistophilis, the Devil, flew ‘in hope to get his soul.’ And this leads to the symbolic significance of the character of Mephistophilis. The evil is actually in his own soul and Mephistophilis is the symbolic representation of it. He is nothing but a projection of the self of Faustus. We may also say with a critic that ‘he symbolises power without conscience, the danger of which is the motif of the play.’ And this power without conscience ultimately brings about the downfall and eternal damnation of Doctor Faustus. If Mephistophilis sometimes warns him against the evils of practising the black art of magic, that is, the brighter aspect of Faustus’s mind, an acute struggle between the good and the evil rages in his soul. So Mephistophilis may also be said to be externalising the split conscience of Doctor Faustus.

Then again, we may also treat Mephistophilis as the symbol of dramatic irony in the play. Having bitter experiences of hell as a fallen angel, Mephistophilis warns Faustus of the evils of necromancy and the suffering in hell. But Faustus with his pride and ambition turns a deaf ear to all this, shuns the path of virtue and dreams of becoming ‘as great as Lucifer’ or to be as powerful ‘as Jove in the sky’ and ‘Lord and Commander of these elements.’ And thus Mephistophilis is made the symbol of dramatic irony that intensifies the tragic appeal of this great drama.



Marlowe has rightly been called the ‘Morning Star’ of the great Elizabethan drama. Among the first pioneers of Elizabethan drama, he was definitely the greatest. Undoubtedly, it was Marlowe who raised the matter and the manner of the English drama to a high level and set it firmly on the straight road to greatness by drawing it from the old rut of Morality and rambling Interlude.

So Marlowe’s contribution to the evolving of Romantic drama was really great. But the fact is that the Romantic drama was a curious blend of indigenous and classical traditions. Hence some of the characteristics of medieval Miracle and Morality plays are quite evident in the plays of Marlowe. And in this respect Doctor Faustus may be treated as a connecting link between the Miracle and Morality plays and the illustrious drama of Elizabethan period.

Miracle and Mystery Plays and “Doctor Faustus”

The English dramas of the Middle Ages which presented the miracle of the saints and, very often, scenes from the Bible were generally and correctly, called Miracle plays. Scholars, from time to time, have attempted to distinguish between the Miracle play and the Mystery—the former as the saints-play and the latter as the Bible play. But both terms are still used for both types with very little discrimination. The production of these plays was at its height in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Saints-plays were earlier than Biblical plays. Those who wrote and produced them called them Miracles, shows or pageants. There is no doubt that the chief purpose of these plays was religious and ethical teaching, but between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, these plays, which developed from liturgical dramas became secularised. In such plays, generally a large number of scenes depicting the life of a saint was stringed together and the structure was always loose. But in the process of secularisation, comic scenes with coarse buffoonery found their place. The story of the plays was confined to the two books of the Bible. The Devil had also its part to play, though the plot, if there was any, centered round the main character allowing very little scope to minor figures.

In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus we can easily trace some of the characteristics of the Miracle plays. In Scene IV of Act I we find two devils, Baliol and Belcher, entering just to frighten the clown. Devils also appear in Act II, Sc. I and II and also in Act IV, Sc. Ill and Act V, Sc. II. The tradition of Chorus is also maintained. We find the Chorus introducing the story just before the beginning of the first scene and subsequently filling in the gaps in the narrative and announcing the end of the play with a very solemn moral. The looseness of the structure is quite evident, and as in the Miracle plays the story centres around a single towering figure, Doctor Faustus. From the very name of this type of plays it is obvious that the main figures must have performed some outstanding miracles. And here in this drama we find Faustus performing amazing feats of Miracle.

Morality Plays and “Doctor Faustus”

The Morality play is really a fusion of the medieval allegory and the religious drama, of the Miracle plays. It developed at the end of the fourteenth century and gained much popularity in the fifteenth century. In these plays the characters were personified abstractions of vice or virtues such as Good Deeds, Faith, Mercy, Anger. The outstanding Morality play, Everyman, has characters like Wealth, Good Deeds, Death and others. The general theme of the Moralities was theological and the main one was the struggle between good and evil powers for capturing man’s soul and the journey of life with its choice of eternal destinations. Very often the Seven Deadly Sins were found engaged in physical and verbal battle with cardinal virtues. Even though the Morality plays were essentially religious or ethical and didactic, they were also not dull like the Miracle plays. The antics of vices and devils etc., offered a considerable opportunity for low comedy or buffoonery and thus farcical elements developed in a great way.

The Morality play, more or less, disappeared after mid-fifteenth century but the trace of its influences appears in Elizabethan drama. In this respect we may call Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus a belated Morality in spite of its tragic ending. And even Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not free from its influence as this play also presents a conflict between the good and the evil.

“Doctor Faustus”

Let us take up Doctor Faustus exclusively. If the general theme of Morality plays was theological dealing with the struggle of the forces of good and evil for the soul of man, and the aim was to teach doctrines and ethics of Christianity, then Doctor Faustus may be called a religious or Morality play to a very great extent. The play definitely worked out in a tone of medieval theology. We find Marlowe’s hero, Faustus, abjuring the scriptures, the Trinity and Christ. He surrenders his soul to the Devil out of his inordinate ambition to gain super­human power through knowledge by mastering the unholy art of magic. And thus he says to himself to make up his mind regarding the subject he wishes to study in future:

“Divinity adieu!
These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly.”

By selling his soul to the Devil he lives a blasphemous life full of vain and sensual pleasures just for twenty-four years. He does not shirk from insulting and even assaulting the Pope with the Holy Fathers at Rome. Of course, there is a fierce struggle in his soul between his over-weening ambition and conscience, between the Good Angel and Evil Angel that externalise the inner conflict. But Faustus ultimately surrenders to the allurements of the Evil Angel, thereby paving his way for eternal damnation. And what does happen to this great egotist as well as agonistic with his craze for limitless power and pelf, with his inordinate ambition to unravel all the mysteries of the universe? When the final hour approaches, Faustus, to his utmost pain and horror, realises that his sins are unpardonable and nothing can save him from eternal damnation. And before the devils snatch away his soul to burning hell, the excruciating pangs of a deeply agonised soul find the most poignant expression in Faustus’s final soliloquy:

“My God, my God, look not so fierce to me!
Adders and serpents, let me breath a while!
Ugly hell, gape not: come not Lucifer:
I’ll burn my books: Ah, Mephistophilis!”

Thus we find Marlowe in keeping with the traditions of Miracles and Moralities, depicts the destiny of a man who denies God to be finally doomed to eternal damnation.

Moral Sermon or Didactic Aim

The chief aim of Morality plays was didactic—it was a dramatized guide to Christian living and Christian dying. Whoever discards the path of virtue and abjures faith in God and Christ is destined to despair and eternal damnation—this is also the message of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. And it has found the most touching expression in the mournful monody of the Chorus in the closing lines of the play:

“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough,
That sometimes grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall.
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise.
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits”

Hudson has rightly said: “No finer sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus ever came from the pulpit. What more fearsome exposure was ever offered of the punishment man brings upon himself by giving way to temptation of his grosser appetites.”

Allegory or Personified Abstractions

It has already been mentioned that in Morality plays the characters were allegorical—they were personified abstractions of vice or virtues. So in DoctorFaustus also we find the Good and Evil Angels, the former standing for the path of virtue and the latter for sin and damnation. Then we have the Old Man appearing in Scene I (Act V) “to guide thy steps unto the way of life.”—symbolising the forces of righteousness and morality. The Seven Deadly Sins of good old Mystery and Morality plays are also very much there in a grand spectacle to cheer up the despairing soul of Faustus. And the old favourite and familiar figure of the devil is also not missing. Mephistophilis, an assistant if Lucifer, appears as servile slave of Faustus in many scenes in the guise of a Fransiscan Friar symbolising power without conscience. But Marlowe’s Devil is a devil with difference, as he has been endowed with some original traits.

Comic Element

The comic scenes of Doctor Faustus also belong to the tradition of old Miracle and Morality plays. The comic scenes with its buffoonery were not integral parts of those plays but were introduced to entertain and to raise hoars-laughter, as in the case of a realistic comic scene where Noah was shown beating his wife for refusing to enter the ark. The same is the case with almost all the five comic scenes in Doctor Faustus—especially in Scene I of the third Act where Faustus is found playing vile tricks on the Pope and the IInd scene of Act IV where the horse-courser is totally outwitted and befooled by Faustus.

Other Elements

In the earlier plays there is no inter-play of character. In Doctor Faustus, also there is only one towering central figure and all the action and incidents centre round him. Then, just like the earlier Miracle or Morality plays, it also suffers from looseness of construction—specially in the middle part of the play.


In spite of all its links with medieval Miracles or Moralities, Doctor Faustus can never be treated wholly as a Morality play. It is the greatest heroic tragedy before Shakespeare with its enormous stress on characterisation and inner conflict in the soul of a towering personality. We may conclude in the words of a critic: Doctor Faustus is both the consummation of the English Morality tradition and the last and the finest of Marlowe’s heroic plays. As a Morality, it vindicates humility, faith and obedience to the law of God; as an heroic play it celebrates power, beauty, riches and knowledge, and seems a sequel to the plays of “Tamburlaine the great.”

Page No: (220-222)



Critics and admirers of Marlowe through ages have recognised Marlowe as one of the greatest poets of English literature. According to some, Marlowe’s name would stand high among the great English poets even if he had never written a single poem and many others opine that Marlowe was first a poet and afterwards a dramatist. Marlowe’s poetic excellence was highly appreciated even by his contemporaries. The following lines of eulogy expresses Drayton’s highest admiration for Marlowe’s poetry:

“Neat Marlowe, bathed in the Thispian Springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things
That your first poets had; his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear:
For that fine madness still he did retain.
Which rightly should possess a poet’s brain.

This is how Swinburne pays his tribute: “The first great English poet was the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse.” And, Saintsbury of our age says of him in his Elizabethan literature: “Marlowe one of the greatest poets of the world whose work was cast by accident and caprice into an imperfect mould of drama.”

The romantic quality and the lyrical simplicity of his great pastoral, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and the wealth of imagination revealed in his unfinished narrative poem, Hero and Leader, go a long way to establish Marlowe’s claim as one of the purest and greatest poets of England for all time. The former got a place in English Helican in the year 1600 and the latter has been held by many critics—one of them of Boas—as superior to Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis for its freshness ‘and winding beauty of melody.’

So Bradley, in his considered opinion has nicely remarked: “Marlowe had many of the makings of a great poet—a capacity for titanic conceptions which might with time have become Olympian; an imaginative vision which was already intense and must have deepened and widened; the gift of style and making words sin…. a time to live in such as no other generation of English poets known.” Alas! Marlowe’s genius could not blossom to its full glory as his life was cut short by the sharp dagger of a cruel assassin.

Introduction of Poetry into Drama

Marlowe might essentially have been a poet and a great poet too, but it was he who was the first great English poet to make use of drama as a medium of poetic expression. Harold Osborne is just in his estimate when he says: “Marlowe’s greatest achievement was the introduction of poetry into the English drama. He is first and foremost the lyricist of the English stage.” We may rightly say that Marlowe poetised the English Drama or fused together the lyric and the dramatic elements of his contemporaries. Hence we find all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are as much poets as Marlowe himself. And if imagination and passion are the essential ingredients of poetry then all his heroes are undoubtedly inspired poets who express their passion and imagination in superb poetical language. In spite of all hard-hearted cruelty of a Tartar, Tamburlaine is also endowed with a poet’s sentiments. This is wonderfully revealed in his lyrical outburst while praising the loveliness of Zenocrate:

“Zenocrate lovelier than the lover of Jove,
Brighter than is the silver Rhodope,
Fairer than whitest snow on Scythian hills,
Thy person is more worth to Tamburlaine
Than the possession of the Persian crown,
Which gracious stars have promised at my birth.”

And of all Marlowe’s heroes, Faustus is the most poetic, as he is a prototype of Marlowe himself with his passionate love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasures. According to Nicoll, “Marlowe is the poet of passion par excellence, and nowhere does he show his genius for high astounding phrases so much as he does when he is speaking of the rapture of beauty.” And the ecstatic quality, the vitalising energy of Marlowe’s poetical genius is magnificently revealed in Faustus’s oft quoted apostrophe on Helen:

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of thousand stars:
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appeared to hapless Semele:
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In Wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms:
And none but thou shall be my paramour.”

Wynne’s comment on this passage is worth noting:

“This passage has probably never been surpassed in its magical idealisation, of that which is essentially base and carnal.”

Here is another passage in which Faustus expresses in glowing terms the great delights that his magic has offered him:

“Have not I made blind Homer sing to me
Of Alexander’s love and Oenon’s death?
And hath not he, that built the walls of Thebe
With ravishing sound of his melodious harp,
Made music with my Mephistophilis?”

Then the poignant soliloquy of Faustus in the final scene is probably the most poetic in fancy and stirring in expression. It is also extremely dramatic in its effect. Such memorable passages in Marlowe’s tragedies, specially inDoctor Faustus with its rich phrasing and the sonorous music of words, with its judicious use of myth and legend that contributes to the music and melody of his verse, with its bright and lucid simplicity free from the rhetorical declamation and a vain display of learning, establishes Marlowe’s claim to be the first and foremost ‘lyricist of the English stage.’ And Nicoll has rightly remarked: “Marlowe seeks to conquer the impossible in drama, to find the complete expression for all his hopes and desires, and he can put that same passion into the ambition for earthly dominion, for power over the intangible, for limitless revenge.” It must be remembered that in Marlowe’s dramas poetry is an essential ingredient that impregnates the play and gives it its substance, quality and character.

Marlowe and Blank Verse

Marlowe may not be credited as the pioneer for introducing blank verse to drama for the first time. That credit rightly goes to Sackville and Norton, the co-authors of Gorboduc, the first tragedy in the domain of British drama. But if we compare the blank verse of Gorboduc with that of Marlowe’s dramas we find how artificial, unformed and monotonous it was. From the very beginning of his literary career Marlowe was quite conscious of his great role as a poet as well as a dramatist. That is why we find his bold assertion in the Prologue to Tamburlaine:

“From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war.”

And Marlowe’s genius worked wonders; at one stroke he freed it from formalism, regularity and conventional restrains. The blank verse ofGorboduc with its end-stopped lines and regular beats was extremely monotonous, wooden and mechanical. In its place, Marlowe introduced run-on lines, varied the accents here and there and shifted the caesura—that is pause about the middle of line—to suit the sense and the subject. He also introduced feet other than iambic ones and created a wonderful rhythm of extreme flexibility and power. Credit must go to Marlowe for perfecting the blank verse to a great extent and giving it amazing force, variety and rhythm; and the magnificent poetic flights in his dramas, specially in Doctor Faustus,were possible for Marlowe because he could evolve this suitable medium, the blank verse, and develop it on right lines to serve the purpose of his poetical as well as dramatic genius. What Marlowe achieved for blank verse can be best illustrated by quoting below two passages—one from Gorboduc and the other from Doctor Faustus. Below is one from Gorboduc:

“O hard and cruel hap, that thus assigned
Unto so worthy a wight so wretched end:
But most cruel heart that could content
To lend the hateful destinies that hand
By which, alas, so heinous crime was wrought.”

Now the following lines from the most poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus in the closing scene reveal to us to what great heights did Marlowe carry the blank verse as a medium for dramatic expression with its poetic and passionate, yet genuinely spontaneous language and the sonorous music of words:

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned,
O’ I’ll leap to my God: who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ!

So Wynne is correct in his observation when he says:

“He was the first to demonstrate that imagination could not madly in a wealth of imagery, or soar far above the realms of logic or cold philosophy to summon beautiful and terrible pictures out of the cloud and of fancy, without losing hold upon earth and language of mortals. He knew that the unspoken language of the impassioned heart is charged with poetry.”

Conclusion: The Dramatist and the Poet

It is beyond dispute that Marlowe’s contribution to the Elizabethan drama was great and manifold and that he was Shakespeare’s greatest predecessor and also showed the way to Shakespeare. It was he who wrote the first great tragedy or tragedy of the soul displaying the most acute spiritual and emotional conflict paving the way for Shakespeare. But Marlowe as a pioneer had to make his path for himself. His career was cut short by the dagger of a cruel assassin. So as, a dramatist he could not perfect or fully develop his dramatic technique. Critic after critics has pointed out some serious drawbacks in his plays. And the most serious of them is that he neglected both plot and character which are the most important elements that make a play. All his dramas except Edward II, is very much deficient in the art of plot construction. Even his greatest tragedy,Doctor Faustus, seems to be a series of loose connected heterogenous scenes. Then his heroes ‘are lonely figures in a world of Lilliputians.’ His minor characters pale into insignificance before the towering heroes without having much scope in the development of the drama. Besides these, his dramas reveal some minor defects also such as absence of real women characters, lack of proper comic relief and some others.

As regards Marlowe’s poetic genius almost all the critics are one in their opinion. None would dispute that Marlowe was superb and masterly in the use of blank verse and by perfecting which Shakespeare became so famous. Wynne’s view of Marlowe as a poet and a dramatist is quite comprehensive when he remarks: “Marlowe masters us by his poetry, and is lifted by it above his fellows reaching the pedestal on which Shakespeare stands alone. Marlowe is no doubt the rapturous lyricist of limitless desire whereas Shakespeare is the majestic spokesman of inexorable moral law. It has been said indeed, that Marlowe is too poetical for a dramatist, but a very little consideration of the plays of Shakespeare will tell us how much the great dramatic productions owe to poetry……Into indifferent material, poetry can breathe that quickening, flame without which the most dramatic situations fail to satisfy. Marlowe had a supreme gift of creating moments, sometimes extended to whole scenes; he had to learn, from repeated failures the art of creating plays.”

Page No: 228-243 Mandator



Literally soliloquy means talking to himself aloud when a person is alone or is supposed to be alone. In a play it means the talking on the part of the character regardless of the presence of hearers. From the very days of ancient dramatists soliloquy has been used as a technical device of considerable importance. It has been generally used sometimes to supply information regarding the plot and at some other time to reveal the secret workings in the minds of a character.

It is always assumed that the character is talking to himself, but in truth he is addressing the audience gathered before him. In fact a dramatist has not the freedom of a novelist to elaborate or speak for his characters in detail. Hence this is the dramatist’s great technique to enable him to take us down to the innermost recesses of a character of his drama.

Different Uses of Soliloquy

We find the Elizabethan dramatists, including the great Shakespeare, making varied use of this significant dramatic technique. So the function of soliloquy may be manifold. Firstly, it can be used to provide information about the incidents that happened in the past. It may also tell about some thoughts or feelings that developed in the past. As in the case of Faustus’s first soliloquy, it nicely sums up his life and growth of his ideas that took place before the actions that are going to occur on the stage. Sometimes a soliloquy enables us to understand the motives of a character, as from the comments of Shakespeare’s Iago on himself we are able to know about the motive of his actions. And one of the most significant uses of the soliloquy is to reveal a deep experience or a typical state of mind with all its waverings and inner conflict. Sometimes a soliloquy may reveal the moral underlying a play as we find in the case of the soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Othello and that of Marlowe’s Faustus in the last scene.

Significance of Soliloquies in “Doctor Faustus”

In Doctor Faustus we have also some very significant soliloquies that take us deep into the innermost recesses of an inordinately ambitious soul sometimes revealing his dreams of becoming ‘a mighty god’ by mastering the black art of magic, sometimes showing the troubled waverings in his mind or the raging of conflict between passion and conscience in his soul; and in the end it wonderfully reveals the different moods and deep anguish of a terror-stricken soul.

From the very first soliloquy we come to know of the workings in the mind of a proud and inordinately ambitious soul-workings that will lead him to surrender his soul to the Devil. We come to know how he is disillusioned-about all the subjects that he has mastered and how he is led to believe that:

“A sound magician is a mighty god.”

And this fond and blind faith is to bring about his ultimate doom and damnation. Then the soliloquy of the first scene of the second Act divulges to us that. Faustus has already become a prey to his pricks of conscience just before the final surrender of his soul to the Devil. This is how he reveals himself:

“Now Faustus, must
Thou needs be damn’d and canst thou not be sav’d”

Last Hour Soliloquy

Then in the most poignant last hour soliloquy of the closing scene Marlowe reached the most magnificent flights of imagination and as a lyrically as well as dramatically single passage it remains unsurpassed in the whole range of English dramatic literature. The clock strikes eleven and Faustus has just one hour to live on this earth and his soliloquy opens with these intensely emotional lines:

“Ah, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damn’d perpetually”

And then these fifty lines from the mighty pen of Marlowe have most forcefully revealed the varying moods of a deeply anguished soul. The man who once dreamed of becoming a Jove on this earth:

“Lord and commander of these elements”

is now an absolutely broken down personality and very ironically wishes to be transformed into a beast to escape eternal damnation. Like a senseless foolish child he appeals to ‘Fair natures eye’ to rise again ‘and make perpetual day.’

“That Faustus may repent and save his soul”

And the anguished cry of a terror-stricken soul facing its impending doom and damnationfinds the most powerful expression in the closing lines of this poignant soliloquy:

“O, it strikes, it strikes: now body turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!                    Enter Devils
………………………… My God, my God look not so fierce to me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books! Ah Mephistophilis!


Critics and scholars are one in their opinion that the last soliloquy of Doctor Faustus is one of the most magnificent pieces of poetic passages in the whole range of English literature. Such marvellous poetic passages with its lyrical and emotional intensity, with its grand flights of imagination and with its splendour of poetic diction undoubtedly established Marlowe’s claimas the greatest poet and dramatist before the advent of Shakespeare.


Page No 247-253 It’s mandatory


Introduction: Conflict—The Essence of Tragedy

Tragedy is regarded as the highest aspect of the dramatic art as in it our emotions are more profoundly stirred than in comedy thereby rendering it more universal in its appeal. And conflict is the essence or the soul of the tragedy and it is born of some strong motivating cause. This conflict may be on two planes: physical plane and spiritual plane. Hence there may be external conflict, and internal or spiritual conflict.

The external conflict generally occurs between the forces of two rival groups. The hero belongs to one of these rival groups and the conflict often takes the form of a battle, a conspiracy or the like. Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Edward II and the Jew of Malta, all illustrate this external conflict as it takes place between the hero and his adversaries. But the hero’s heart and soul is the great battlefield for the internal or spiritual conflict. Two opposite thoughts, desires, emotions, loyalties or affiliations may contend against each other in human soul giving rise to most acute spiritual conflict. And of all tragic conflicts, the most tragic one is the losing battle of the good in man against the evil that ultimately comes out triumphant. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the most outstanding tragedy before Shakespeare, illustrates this supreme spiritual conflict in the most forceful manner.

“Doctor Faustus”: Internal or Tragic Conflict

Marlowe’s contribution to English or Elizabethan drama was great and manifold. And one of his greatest is the introduction of this internal or spiritual conflict in the mind of his proud and ambitious hero in Doctor Faustus. Nicoll has rightly observed: “All previous dramas including Tamburlaine had dealt with the single-minded individuals. If a struggle in the heart of hero was introduced, that struggle normally took the form which is to be seen in the Morality plays—the struggle being symbolised by conflicting bodies of minor characters. In Dr. Faustus, Marlowe attempted something new—the delineation of a struggle within the mind of the chief figure. This struggle is certainly somewhat primitive in its expression, but it is a foretaste of those ‘inward characteristics’ towards which drama in its development inevitably tends. Faustus, in this respect, is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in sixteenth century literature outside the work of Shakespeare.”

So in Doctor Faustus we find the conflict or the psychological struggle raging in the heart and soul of the hero. In fact there is hardly any external action in this play—“the delineation of a psychological struggle or spiritual conflict in the mind of the hero is the chief thing.” But then why is this struggle and to what is this due? Generally this inner conflict takes place when a man is faced with two alternatives, one of which he must have to choose but finds himself pulled in opposite directions. Now Faustus is inspired by the spirit of Renaissance, by dreams of gaining limitless knowledge and super-human powers. These he can attain only by taking to unholy necromancy, by discarding godly order or by denouncing doctrines of Christianity. Faustus may reject all these intellectually but he is definitely attached to them emotionally. Hence starts the conflict in his soul—the waverings and vacillations. The conflict may be said to be the conflict between will and conscience externalised by the Bad Angel and Good Angel respectively. So the heart of Faustus is the field where the forces of good and evil are trying to overwhelm each other. We can follow this conflict and career of Faustus in the play in three stages.

The First Stage

In the first part of the drama we have the scenes that depict how intellectual pride and inordinate ambition lead Faustus into a vicious bargain with the Devil. In the very first scene we find that Faustus is disappointed with all branches of knowledge like Physic, Philosophy, Law and Divinity as they are absolutely inadequate to serve his purpose. Finally he decides in favour of the black art of magic as:

“These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly.”

And he convinces himself that:

“A sound magician is a mighty god”

That is why Nicholas Brooke has observed that “the dramatic tension of the Faustus story as Marlowe presents it, lies in the fact that Faustus is determined to satisfy the demands of his nature as God has made him—to be himself a deity—that is forbidden: it can be achieved by a conscious rejection of God who created him in his own image, but denied him (as much as Lucifer) fulfilment of that image.” But Faustus’s emotional attachment to the medieval doctrines of Christianity is too deep to be rooted out. Hence just after his final decision in favour of necromancy he feels the prick of conscience and in this very scene the Good Angel and the Evil Angel make their first appearance on the stage. These two Angels, in fact, represent the two aspects of human mind. Hence here the Angels are externalising the inner conflict between vice and virtue, between will and conscience raging in the mind of Doctor Faustus. And we will find that, henceforth, the entire action of the play is fluctuating between the weak and wavering loyalties of Faustus to these two opposing forces. The Good Angel urges Faustus to shun ‘that damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But the Evil angel scores a victory by luring away Faustus with the assurance that by mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be: “Lord and commander of the elements.” After meeting and talking to his two friends who also encourage and inspire him to go for necromancy Faustus is determined that: “This night I’ll conjure, though I die therefore.” Then at the end of third scene of Act I we find Faustus telling Mephistophilis that he has already abjured the Trinity of his own will and has absolutely made up his mind to sell his soul to the Devil to gain limitless powers with the help of Mephistophilis as his abject slave and ‘to live in all voluptuousness’ for twenty-four years. His imagination takes wings and he tells us:

“Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.
By him I’ll be great emperor of the world.”

And then he starts indulging in day-dreams.

Undoubtedly, Faustus abjured God and the Trinity and decided to surrender his soul to the Devil of his own will, but in the beginning of Scene I of Act II, we find Faustus experiencing the prick of Conscience and a tussle between will and conscience starts raging in his soul. It begins to dawn on him that he is going to be eternally damned and can in no way be saved. And he gives vent to his sense of despair thus:

“Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again,
To God? He loves thee not:
The god thou serv’st is thine own appetite,
Wherein is fix’d the love of Belzebub:”

The Good Angel and the Evil Angel, the symbols of his passion and conscience make their appearance again. But the lure of wealth and honour scores over the voice of conscience that urges him to pray and repent. He is now determined to write the bond with his own blood for surrendering his soul to the devil. But when Faustus starts writing the bond his bloodcoagulates. Then again when he has already ‘bequeath’d his soul to Lucifer’ he has optical illusion: the words ‘Homo, fuge’ have been inscribed on his arm. All these are outward expressions of the voice of virtue in him.

The Second Stage

In this stage is depicted Faustus’s pathetic struggle to escape his impending doom and damnation and his deep sense of helplessness. This is revealed when he confesses to Mephistophilis that:

“When I behold the heavens, then I repent,’
And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,
Because thou hast depriv’d me of those joys.”

The two Angels appear again—one urging him to pray and repent so that he may still have God’s mercy and the other tells him that as he is a spirit, God can never pity him. Faustus very sadly realises “My heart’s so harden’d, I cannot repent:” And he would have killed himself out of despair had the sweet pleasures provided by Mephistophilis not dispelled his gloom of despair. Again at the end of this very scene the conflict in his soul becomes very acute when Mephistophilis refuses to answer some of his questions and the Good and Evil Angels reappear to externalise his inner conflict.

This time the Good Angel’s appeal has some effect on his mind. But the Evil Angel tells him that the devils will tear him to pieces if he listened to the voice of conscience. Realising the critical situation Lucifer himself, Belzebub and Mephistophilis appear before him and finally warn him not to think of God so that there may not be any breach of his bond. And Faustus has to submit to the demand of the Devil once more. And to pull up his drooping mind the Devil puts up the flimsy show of Seven Deadly Sins.

The spiritual conflict takes the most acute turn in the first scene of Act V after Faustus has raised the spirit of Helen and when the Old Man, the symbol of the good and divine in him, appears before him. His was the last attempt to guide his steps ‘unto the way of life’. The acute mental tension is revealed forcefully in the following lines:

“Where art thou Faustus, wretch what hast thou done:
Damn’d art thou, Faustus, damned, despair and die.”

Out of desperation, Faustus is just going to commit suicide; but it is the same Old Man who prevents him from taking this desperate step with a fervent appeal ‘to call for mercy, and avoid despair.’ But alas! Faustus ultimately seals his own fate by surrendering himself into the arms of sweet Helen to make him ‘immortal with a kiss’ just to forget the intense agony of his troubled and despairing soul.

The Final Scene

In the closing scene we find the climax culminating into a terrible catastrophe. Faustus has realised that he is doomed to eternal damnation without the least hope of redemption. The most poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus starting just before an hour of his final doom reveals forcefully the deep agony of a horror-struck soul. His last-minute frantic appeal to the ever-moving spheres of heaven to stand still or to the sun to rise again to ‘make perpetual day’ “That Faustus may repent and save his soul!”—is absolutely of no avail. And when the final hour strikes the Devil’s disciples snatch away the agonised and trouble-torn soul of Faustus to hell to suffer eternal damnation.

We may now conclude with the very illuminating remark of Ellis-Fermor. “In Marlowe’s great tragic fragment, the conflict is not between man and man for the domination of one character over another, or in the inter-action of a group of characters. But as in Aeschylus’s Eumenides, the protagonists are man and the spiritual powers that surround him, the scene is set in on spot upon physical earth but in the limitless region of the mind and the battle is fought, not for kingdoms or crowns, but upon the question of man’s ultimate fate. Before him lies the possibility to escape to spiritual freedom or a doom of slavery to demoniac powers. Thus, and in such terms is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to present.”


Introduction: Marlowe’s Tragic Hero

One of the greatest achievements of Marlowe was that he broke away from the medieval conception of tragedy. In medieval dramas, tragedy was a thing of the princes only dealing with the rise and fall of kings or royal personalities. But it was left to Marlowe to evolve and create the real tragic hero.

Almost all the heroes of Marlowe’s great tragedies Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus or the Jew of Malta—are of humble parentage, but they are endowed with great heroic qualities. His tragedy is in fact the tragedy of one man—the rise, fall and death of the tragic hero. His heroes are titanic characters afire with some indomitable passion or inordinate ambition. Marlowe himself was saturated with the spirit of the Renaissance and so he enlivened his heroes with all its robust and fascinating characteristics, so much so that his towering heroes became the true embodiments of the Renaissance dreams, desires and ideals. And this is powerfully revealed in Tamburlaine’s pursuit of military and political power, in Jew of Malta’s aspiration toward wealth as an ultimate end and in the most captivating way is Faustus’s supreme quest for the ultimate power through knowledge infinite.

Working of a Passion: Discarding Ethical Values

We have just discussed that Marlowe’s heroes were dominated by some uncontrollable passion or inordinate ambition. And they also seem to be inspired by Machiavelli’s ideals of human conduct and human desires. Machiavelli’s well-known book—‘The Prince’ preached the doctrine of complete freedom of the individual to gain one’s end by any means-fair or foul. Thus we find his tragic heroes afire with an indomitable passion discarding all moral codesand ethical principles and plunging headlong to achieve their end. Such intense passion and pitiless struggle with super-human energy to achieve earthly gain and glory make Marlowe’s heroes great indeed and adds shining glory and grandeur to their personality.

The Cause of Faustus’s Tragedy: Tragic Flaw

According to Aristotle, one of the most important characteristics of a tragic hero is that “he should have some inherent weakness, some ‘tragic flaw’ in his character. And then he should neither be totally good and virtuous nor an absolutely vicious or corrupted character. And Doctor Faustus invariably satisfies these conditions. Faustus has also a serious flaw in his character. He is puffed up with pride in his great learning and scholarship and is dominated by inordinate ambition to acquire knowledge ‘infinite’ and through it to gain superhuman powers. And this we know from the Chorus before the action of the drama starts—

“Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspired his over throw;
For falling to a devilish exercise.
And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;”

Then in the very first scene of the play we find, how due to his pride and ambition Faustus is disappointed with all the branches of learning that he has mastered so far. Physic, Divinity, Law, Philosophy—all are absolutely inadequate for his purpose, as even after mastering all these great branches of knowledge:

“Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.”

And hence—“A greater subject fitteth Faustus’s wit.” Faustus’s soul is afire with intemperate ambition and with a craze for super human powers and supreme sensual pleasure of life. He utters these memorable lines in his very first monologue:

……….Divinity adieu:
These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly:
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promis’d to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command….
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”

So Faustus wants ‘to gain a deity’, to soar above his mortal bounds. And herein lies the great tragic flaw in his character.

Surrendering Soul to the Devil

In spite of all his great learning and scholarship and other human qualities we sadly witness how this flaw or great drawback in his character brings about his ultimate doom and damnation. When he bids adieu to divinity, Faustus perfectly knows that to achieve his uncommon purpose he will have to shun the path of virtue and abjure God and the Trinity. But he was at the same time not absolutely void of conscience and that is why we find the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, the symbols of virtue and vice in his soul, making their first appearance just after Faustus’s decision in favour of cursed necromancy. The God Angel urges him to shun ‘that damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But the Evil Angel, the voice of his passion, scores a victory by luring Faustus away from the path of virtue by assuring him that after mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be:

“Lord and commander of the elements.”

Then at the end of third scene of Act I we find Faustus telling Mephistophilis that he has already abjured the Trinity of his own accord and has firmly made up his mind to sell his soul to the Devil to gain limitless powers with the help of Mephistophilis as his pliant slave and ‘to live in all voluptuousness’ for a period of twenty-four years. And in the first scene of Act II, Faustus finally surrenders his soul to the Devil and writes the bond with blood from his own veins.

Inner Conflict: A Modern Tragedy

This learned scholar from Wittenberg never realised that though he abjured God and the Trinity and denounced Christian dogmas and doctrines yet his emotional attachment to them was too deep to be rooted out. So we find that even before surrendering his soul to the Devil Faustus is experiencing the prick of conscience. And henceforth, we find the entire action of the drama fluctuating between the weak and wavering loyalties of Faustus to these two opposing forces. Thus the heart of Faustus turns out to be the battle-field where the forces of good and the evil are trying to overwhelm each other. A guilty conscience dogs him from the beginning to the end and we can follow his troubled career and the inner conflict in his soul from the beginning to the end of this tragic drama. Generally this inner conflict takes place when a man is faced with two alternatives one of which he must have to choose but finds himself pulled in opposite directions. And in a modern tragedy we find the expression of the free will of man. He makes his choice good or bad and thus becomes the architect of his own fate. And Faustus makes his own choice to take to the black art of magic deliberately and then sells his soul to the Devil of his free will. Thus Faustus is like a modern man whose conscious self is opposed by the subconscious self as it is still deeply attached to the conventional doctrines and dogmas of Christian theology. These are some of the very significant characteristics for which we may regard Doctor Faustus as a modern tragedy.


Thus the main cause of the tragedy of Doctor Faustus is ‘aspiring pride and insolence’ for which the Lucifer of Milton also fell. Pride and presumption obscure the clear vision and lead a man to take things for granted. So his inordinate ambition and proud presumption leads him to commit the sin of practising more than heaven permits and to take it to be granted that by mastering the black art of magic he will become a ‘mighty god’ and:

“All things that move between the quite poles,
Shall be at my command”:

And that is why Faustus abjures God and the Trinity, denounces Christian theology and ultimately sells his soul to the Devil. The irony of this tragic drama is slowly revealed when we find how all his sky-high expectations are belied during his career as a renowned magician. And this grim irony reaches its climax in the last scene when we find this proud and presumptious scholar of Wittenberg who once dreamed of becoming Jove on this earth, who deliberately denounced God and the Trinity appealing like a pampered child to ‘fair nature’s eye to rise again and make perpetual day’:

“That Faustus may repent and save his soul!”

We may conclude with the very relevant observations of Helen Gardner: “The great reversal from the first scene of Doctor Faustus to the last scene can be defined in different ways: from presumption to despair; from doubt of the existence of hell to the belief in the reality of nothing else;…….from aspiration to deity and omnipotence to longing for extinction. At the beginning, Faustus wishes to rise above his humanity, at the close he would sink below it, be transformed into the beast or ‘into little water drops.’ At the beginning he attempts usurpation on God, at the close he is an usurper upon the Devil.”



In the pageant of Seven Deadly Sins in the second scene of Act II, Pride has been shown leading all other deadly vices that follow. Thus pride has been given the pride of place among all other Deadly Sins. And Doctor Faustus has committed this very great sin of sins. In the prologue of the play the Chorus informs us how Faustus puffed up with pride and afire with inordinate ambition takes to the black art of Magic and how he is going to meet his doom just like Icarus whose ‘waxen wings did mount above his reach.’

Theological Concept of Evil or Sin

Marlowe was a student of theology, so he could not but have a first hand acquaintance with the current theological concept of sin or evil as stated and formulated by St. Augustine in his classic work. According to his concept the commission of any sin means turning away from God and godly things and turning towards things which are evil and evanescent. And naturally the sin of man must lead to his damnation. According to this concept and Christian theology the greatest sin of man is pride—pride that brought about the fall of Lucifer, ‘most dearly lov’d of God’ from heaven. In this connection Douglus Cole has justly remarked: “There is no denying the fact that in Doctor Faustus Christopher Marlowe, whatever his personal views of Christianitymay have been, has fashioned a play that is thoroughly Christian in conception and import. Christianity was of course explicit in Marlowe’s source, the English Faustbuch. But in adapting that meandering collection of anecdotes about the famous German magician Marlowe gave it a more concentrated intellectual shape by reorganizing his material along a more sophisticated line of philosophical and theological concept of evil. That theology had been given its classical and enduring formulation by St. Augustine with whose Marlowe, as a student of theology, had first hand acquaintance.”

Pride and Insolence

When Faustus asked Mephistophilis how Lucifer, ‘an angel once’, became the prince of devils, he rather gave a very clear warning in his relevant reply:

“O, by aspiring pride and insolence!
For which God threw him from the face of heaven.”

And this very sin is going to be committed by Faustus. We find the play opening at a very crucial juncture of his life. In the very first scene of the play we find him disappointed with all branches of knowledge that he has so far mastered. Physic, philosophy, law, divinity, all are absolutely inadequate to fulfil his inordinate ambition. In spite of mastering all these great branches of knowledge he is ‘still but Faustus and a man.’ Human mind very often reveals a very great tendency to venture beyond limits set by religion and ethical principles. But this also is a very dangerous tendency that often bring about ruin and disaster, both physically and morally. And the soul of Faustus is afire with a supreme yearning for infinite knowledge and a craze for limitless superhuman power and supreme sensual pleasures of life. And we can clearly understand whether the wind blows when Faustus takes his final decision to leap into the darkness or into the lap of the Devil when he utters these memorable lines:—

“……….Divinity, Adieu!
These metaphysics of magicians.
And necromantic books are heavenly;
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence, .
Is promised to the studious artizan!
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command……………
A sound magician is a mighty God:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”

So Faustus wants to tire his brain ‘to gain a deity’ and to become—‘Lord andcommander of the elements.’ And this desire to be a god himself is one of the greatest sins on the part of a Christian as it reveals ‘aspiring pride and insolence’ beyond limits. And Faustus commits it.

Deliberate Commission of Sin

The worst thing for Faustus is that Faustus commits his sin deliberately. He sins knowing fully well what he is doing or going to do. Puffed up with such pride and afire with such inordinate ambition a man is bound to discard God and turn to Devil. And Faustus does so wilfully and deliberately. Thus in the third scene of Act I when Mephistophilis tells him without anyambiguity that the easiest method to call up the spirits of hell, is to abjure God and the Trinity and to ‘pray devoutly to the prince of hell.’ Faustus’s reply was deliberately insolent:

“So Faustus hath
Already done! and holds this principle,
There is no chief but only Belzebub!
To whom doth Faustus dedicate himself.
This word ‘damnation’ terrifies not him,
For he confounds hell in Elysium”,

And then he had audacity to declare:

“Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.”

Thus quite deliberately and of his own will Faustus firmly makes up his mind to sell his soul to the Devil to gain superhuman powers with the help of Mephistophilis as his pliant slave and ‘to live in voluptuousness’ for twenty-four years. And in the first scene of Act II we find Faustus finally surrendering his soul to the Devil and writing the bond with the blood from his own veins—‘a deed of gift of body and soul.’ Then again, when Mephistophilis frankly tells Faustus that he would be condemned to hell as he had given away his soul to the Devil, Faustus’s reply is defiant and audacious according to Christian theology:

‘Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain:
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives, tales.

Had Faustus committed his sin out of passion or due to ignorance then his moral responsibility could have been mitigated to a great extent. But all his utterances in the very first few scenes establish beyond any doubt that he had discarded the path of virtue ‘to gain a deity’ deliberately and of his own accord.

Presumption and Arrogance

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus may rightly be regarded as a tragedy of presumption. Literally ‘presumption’ means arrogance as well as taking things for granted. In fact pride and presumption go together. And it is his excessive pride and intemperate ambition that lead Faustus to commit the folly of presumption. Even after mastering almost all the important branches of study and in spite of his vast scholarship Faustus is still far from satisfied as he still cannot ‘make men to live eternally’ and is unable ‘to raise the dead to life again.’ And hence he bids farewell to Divinity and the ‘metaphysics of magicians’ and necromantic books seem heavenly to him. Vanity and sky-high ambition obscure his vision completely and lead him to take things for granted blindly. Faustus takes it to be granted that by mastering the black artof magic,

All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obey’d i’ their several provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds:
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man!
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.

What proud and presumptuous utterance these are! He takes it for granted that a ‘sound magician’ is like a mighty god and that his mastery over theblack art of magic will enable him to become as powerful a monarch on this earth as Jove is in heaven.

Diffidence and Degradation

The irony of the situation is that Doctor Faustus, in spite of all his erudition and scholarship, could not realise that although he was denouncing Christian doctrines intellectually with his scepticism and atheistic bias, his emotional attachment to them was too deep to be rooted out so easily. And then he is also not devoid of conscience. Hence we find Faustus becoming a prey to his own doubts and diffidence and his mind wavering between his God and the Devil. And that is why the Good Angel, the voice of his conscience, appears and urges him to shun that ‘damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But lust for sensual pleasures of life have completely obscured his vision and vitiated his soul. He turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel and his voice of passion, the Evil Angel, scores a victory by turning his soul away with the assurance that by mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be like Jove in the Sky:

“Lord and commander of these elements”.

Even almost at the end of this tragic drama, in the first scene of Act V the old man fails in his sincere attempt to guide his ‘steps unto the way of life.’ In the pageant of Seven Deadly Sins we have Sin of Lechery to come last of all. It means when a man gets absolutely degenerate he is ultimately bound to become an abject victim of his carnal desires. So Faustus’s degradation is complete when we find him making a frantic appeal to the apparition of that peerless. Helen of Greece to make him immortal with a kiss. And thus Faustus gives up the last possibility of his redemption and becomes an abject prey to dejection and despair is also a sin for a devout Christian namedCuriosity. Another important aspect of his sin is his limitless curiosity. Of course this was one of the most significant characteristics of the Renaissance. But Faustus’s boundless curiosity led him to practise more than heavenly power permits; he begins wondering at unlawful things and thus bringing about his own doom and damnation. Hence in the epilogue the Chorus warns us all:

“Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things.
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.”



There is a poem in one of our Indian languages whose central idea is that no body knows how far is heaven or hell from us; but we are certain about one thing that human heart is the abode of both God and the Devil or heaven and hell. In all probability our poet might have remembered the following famous lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself,
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

But there is the idea of conventional physical Hell also mainly propounded by myths and mythologies. It is a limitless and terribly dark place where burns a liquid fire eternally for torturing the damned souls of despicable sinners. And then there is the spiritual hell created by the mind of man within himself and the source of suffering of this hell is the consciousness of impending doom and a damnation as well as the loss of eternal bliss of heaven.

Concept of Hell in “Doctor Faustus”

In Doctor Faustus the concept of hell is mainly a spiritual one. We come across the first talk about hell in the third scene of Act I, when Mephistophilis appears before Faustus after his first magic performance. In reply to a question from Faustus, Mephistophilis replies that he is one of these:

“Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer.”

and is condemned to ever-lasting hell. Then again when Faustus asks him how he is out of hell at that time, the reply from melancholy Mephistophilis is deep and poignant:

“Why this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?”

Thus Mephistophilis reveals it quite forcefully that by losing both God and Heaven he experiences a constant gnawing at his heart. Hence the hell is actually within his own self.

Then again, after finally surrendering his soul to Lucifer and signing the deed with the blood from his own veins, Faustus desired to know from Mephistophilis the actual location of hell; and Mephistophilis quite explicitly explains the nature of hell thus:

“Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortur’d and remain for ever!
Hell hath no limits nor is circumscrib’d
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be.

Milton in his Paradise Lost has also given us the same idea—‘Hell flies with Satan’, and Satan himself announces clearly “Myself am Hell.” Thus it is crystal clear from Mephistophilis’s explanation that hell is not something outside the man. It is really located within the heart and soul of a sinner and the terrifying tortures of hell are experienced by a man within his own self.

Faustus’s Sin and his Sufferings

According to Christian theology the greatest sin of a man lies in his ‘aspiring pride’ to become a god himself by rejecting God and renouncing Christianity. And for this ‘aspiring pride and insolence’ even Lucifer, ‘an angel once and most dearly loved by God’, was turned out of heaven to be damned for ever. Faustus committed this very great sin by surrendering his soul to the Devil ‘to gain a diety’ and by renouncing Christianity of his own will. And there were two ways left for him. The first was the path of prayer and penitence to gain God’s mercy and the other was to sink deeper and deeper into the mire of sins and the pit of hell losing all hope of salvation. And Faustus rolled down this smooth path of hell. With his intellectual pride and insolence, with his typical Renaissance paganism, he turns a deaf ear to Mephistophilis’s timely warning and arrogantly asserts:

“Think’st them that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That after this life, there is any pain?
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.”

But could he avoid the mental tortures that must follow every act of sin or crime? After the commission of his act of surrendering his soul to the Devil, Faustus becomes a prey to his own doubts and diffidence and an acute conflict between heaven and hell starts ranging in his soul and lasts till his tragic end. So just like Mephistophilis Faustus also becomes hell itself with his sense of sin and folly, with the painful pricks of his guilty conscience. Faustus may discard and denounce God and the Trinity, but he is undoubtedly attached to them emotionally. That is why a guilty conscience dogs him almost from the beginning to the end of this tragic drama.

In the closing scene we find that to his utter dismay, Faustus realises that he is doomed to eternal damnation without any hope for redemption. And the most poignant soliloquy of Doctor Faustus starting just before an hour of his final-doom reveals in a very forceful manner the deep agony of a horror-struck soul facing its impending doom. And here in Faustus’s last hour soliloquy we have the concept of both the types of hell—conventional or physical hell as well as the spiritual hell. The dim and awful prospect of a gaping hell strikes deep and uncanny terror in the heart of Doctor Faustus and just like Mephistophilis, Faustus is also tormented with thousand hells, “… being deprived of everlasting bliss?” And the excruciating pangs and tortures of ‘thousand hells’ finds the most poignant expression in such forceful lines as:

“O God,
If thou wilt not have mercy on my soul,
Yet for Christ’s sake, whose blood hath ransom’d me,
Impose some end to my incessant pain.
Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years,
A hundred thousand, and at last be saved!”


Introduction: The Renaissance

The word ‘Renaissance’ itself means in general any rebirth or re­awakening. The term is specifically applied to the widespread cultural revival which marks the division between the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ and the modern world. In fact it began in the fourteenth century in Italy. And we find the new wave gradually spreading over western Europe and England in the following two centuries.

The revival of learning, new geographical discoveries and more significantly the rebellion against the medieval pattern of living and thinking dominated by religious dogmas and Christian theology were the main sources of stimulation. Another great contributory factor for the growth of this movement was the revival of interest in the classical antiquity or the Greco-Roman culture. The main ingredients of this new spirit were individualism and worldliness; and these two traits found manifestation in many forms such as its great yearning for knowledge and learning without fetters, its love of beauty and hankering after sensual pleasures of life, its brave spirit of adventure and its sky-high ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf in this world. Then the epoch making work, The Prince by Machiavelli, the famous social and political writer of Italy, profoundly influenced the spirit of the Renaissance. It was Machiavelli’s forceful writings that encouraged the men of that age to disregard all ethical and conventional moral principles to achieve the end by any means, fair or foul.

Marlowe and the Renaissance

In fact Christopher Marlowe himself was the product of the Renaissance. He was saturated with the spirit of the Renaissance with its great yearning for limitless knowledge, with its hankering after sensual pleasures of life, with its intemperate ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf and finally with its spirit of revolt against the medieval pattern of living, its orthodox religion and conventional morality and ethical principles. We may unhesitatingly call Marlowe the first champion of the Renaissance, as he was more than any-body else greatly influenced by Italian Renaissance. Hence it was but natural that his great works should reveal the main characteristics of the Renaissance. And then, unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe could not but project his personality into the great and mighty characters of his plays, specially in his four great tragedies: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II.

Marlowe’s Tragic Heroes

Thus we find that not only Doctor Faustus but all the titanic heroes of Marlowe’s great tragedies reveal some of the most important characteristics of the Renaissance and Machiavellian doctrine of complete freedom to gain one’s end by any means, fair or foul. With their spirit of individualism they all are dominated by some uncontrollable passion for gaining some ideal or finding the fulfilment of some intemperate ambition. They all seem to be inspired by Machiavellian ideals of human conduct and human desires, and hence the common moral conventions and the established religious sanctions can never thwart them from striving to gain their end. His Tamburlaine, the most cruel despot, with his craze for limitless power defies all authorities on earth as well as heaven. In his Jew of Malta, the stone-hearted Barabas dominated by a senseless lust for gold throws to the wind all common moral conventions and does not shirk from committing the most cruel type of crimes to achieve his heinous end. And his Edward II and Mortimer pay the most terrible price, the former for his passion for his base minions and the latter for his intemperate lust for power.

Doctor Faustus: Spirit of Revolt

Of all Marlowe’s heroes, Doctor Faustus seems to be the veritable incarnation of the genius and spirit of the Renaissance, as his character reveals a great yearning for limitless knowledge, power and pelf, a craving for sensual pleasures of life, a defying spirit of atheism or scepticism and also a spirit of revolt against conventional religious doctrines, and Christian theology. One of the most significant characteristics of the Renaissance was individualism that led to the spirit of revolt to free the human mind from the shackles and dogmas of the Church and feudalism. And Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with all his erudition and scholarship, with his abnormal pride and presumption discusses in his very first monologue, in the first scene, the merits and demerits of all the important branches of study and has the great audacity to take his own decision, right or wrong, and to declare without the least hesitation:

“Philosophy is odious and obscure,
Both law and physic are for petty wits;
Divinity is basest of the three,
Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible and vile;
‘Tis magic, magic, that hath ravished me.

Thus Faustus boldly asserts his individualism and raises the standard of revolt against the medieval restrictions on the mind of man.

Craving For Knowledge and Power

Faustus’s craving for ‘knowledge infinite’, his insatiable curiosity and supreme lust for power and pelf very clearly reflect the spirit of the Renaissance. And the black art of magic fascinates him only because he will be able to gain limitless knowledge and through knowledge superhuman powers that are beyond the scope of other subjects of study that have been mastered by him till then. The necromantic books thus become heavenly to him. Hence he turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeals of the Good Angel ‘to lay that damned book aside’ and does not make any delay to make up his mind when the Evil Angel whispers to him:

“Be thou on earth as Jove in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements

And then Doctor Faustus as the true embodiment of Renaissance spirit starts dreaming of gaining super-human powers and of performing miraculous deeds with the help of spirits raised by him:

“I’ll have them read me strange philosophy,
And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;
I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And chase the prince of Parma from our land,
And reign sole king of all the provinces:”

All these proud assertions clearly reveal Faustus’s Renaissance spirit of adventure and supreme craze for knowledge and power without any limits. And finally as a true follower of Machiavelli, we find Faustus discarding God and defying all religious and moral principles, when he sells his soul to the Devil to master all knowledge and to gain super-human powers.

Sensual Pleasures and Love of Beauty

To Faustus knowledge means power and it is power that will enable him to gratify the sensual pleasures of life. Faustus’s request to Mephistophilis to get the most beautiful German maid as his wife gives us a chance to understand the working in his mind. And then Faustus’s keen longing to have Helen, ‘that peerless dame of Greece’ to be his paramour and to find heaven in her lips reveal his supreme love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasures. The magnificent apostrophe to Helen in the most inspired and lyrical passage of the play wonderfully illustrates the Renaissance spirit of love and adoration for classical beauty as well as urge for romance and mighty adventures.


All the towering heroes of Marlowe’s great tragedies, Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, Barabas and Edward II are really the embodiments of the spirit of the Renaissance. Marlowe himself was a child of the Renaissance and he invariably projected his personality into the mighty characters of his towering heroes. And of all his heroes, it is Doctor Faustus who may be taken as the very ‘incarnation of the genius of Renaissance’ with his great yearning for ‘knowledge infinite’, with his craving for limitless power and pelf, with his hankering after sensual pleasure of life and finally with his deliberate revolt against the conventional moral ideas and religious ideals and superstitions.



Before the very action of the play starts the Chorus tells us that after obtaining his doctorate degree Faustus became puffed up with pride in his vast knowledge and scholarship and, dominated by inordinate ambition, began to dabble in the black art of magic aspiring to venture into unknown depths of knowledge. The Chorus also informs us that he is going to be punished by God for his pride and inordinate ambition:

“Till with cunning of self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above the reach,
And melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow.”

So Faustus commits the sin of pride, the form and fount of all other sins; his pride and arrogance is to bring about his ruin and damnation in the end.

Straying into Forbidden Path

As the drama unfolds and the action of the play advances, we are able to trace the various stages of Faustus’s damnation. In the very first scene of the play we find Faustus sitting in his study and arguing within himself which branch of study he should take up to gain limitless knowledge and power. One after another, he dismisses all the traditional subjects, because all are absolutely inadequate for his purpose. By mastering all these subjects he is ‘still but Faustus, and a man.’ He can neither make men to live eternally nor ‘raise them to life again.’ So he ignores all these traditional subjects and finally turns to magic as the necromantic books seem heavenly to him. And his pride leads him to presume:

“O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, or omnipotence.
Is promis’d to the studies artizan:
All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command;…..
A sound magician is a mighty God:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”

As a student of theology Marlowe must have had a good acquaintance with the current theological concept of sin or evil as stated and formulated by St. Augustine in his classic work. He must have known that the commission of a sin means turning away from God and godly things and turning towards things which are evil and evanescent and thus to pave the way for doom and damnation. And according to Christian theology the greatest sin of man is pride. In spite of all this, Faustus, out of his intemperate pride and presumption is going to submit to the allurements of the black art of magic as he takes it for granted that ‘a sound magician is a mighty god.’ Then at the end of this very first scene his two great friends, Valdes and Cornelius, serve as Devil’s decoys by painting a very glowing picture of the immense possibilities for one who will master the black art of magic. So when Valdes urges to remain firm in his decision, Faustus’s reply is firm and resolute:

“Valdes, as resolute am I in this
As thou to live: therefore, object it not.”

Thus we find Faustus taking the first step to move towards the path of his doom and damnation.

And this he does, disregarding the voice of his conscience, externalized by the Good Angel, who urges him to lay aside ‘damned book’ and to read the scriptures. The Evil Angel, his voice of passion or curiosity, scores over the Good one by assuring that by mastering the black art of magic, Faustus will become as powerful on this earth as Jove is in heaven.

Raising Mephistophilis: Pact with the Devil

Next in the third scene of Act I we find Faustus very much elated when he succeeds in raising Mephistophilis, one of the attendant spirits of Lucifer, ‘commander of all spirits.’ But Mephistophilis in his very first appearance makes it clear to him that:

………..the shortest cut for conjuring
Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity,
and pray devoutly to the prince of Hell.”

And Faustus’s reply is unpardonably insolent when he says that he has already done so and he is fully prepared to surrender his soul to the Devil as:

“This word ‘damnation’ terrifies not him,
For he confounds hell in Elysium”

This impertinent assertion clearly reveals the working of his mind and distinctly points out that Faustus is one step further into the path of eternal damnation. Another point that is clear to us from his talks with Mephistophilis that he is going to surrender his soul to the Devil not only to gain limitless knowledge and power but also to live in all voluptuousness for a period of twenty four years. So Faustus not only yearns, for ‘knowledge infinite’, but also craves to enjoy carnal and sensual pleasure of life to his heart’s content. He has also a craze for limitless power and pelf in this world. So the seeds of decay and destruction are already there in his soul from the very beginning.

Pact with the Devil

In the first scene of Act II Faustus signs the bond with the blood from his own veins writing ‘a deed of gift of body and of soul’ for the prince of the devils. Henceforth, nothing can stop the gradual deterioration of his soul. And the worst thing for Faustus is that he does it deliberately, knowing fully well what he is doing or going to do. Such intemperate pride and vaulting ambition must lead a man to discard God and turn to Devil, thereby paving his way for utter ruin and damnation. And Faustus does so deliberately and of his own accord. Then, in this very scene when Mephistophilis frankly tells Faustus that he is going to be condemned to hell, Faustus’s response is audacious and insolent according to Christian theology:

“Thinkest thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain:
Tush these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales”

So Faustus, as he mentally and morally deteriorates, gradually becomes more and more proud and insolent. And we know that great Lucifer, ‘most dearly loved by God’, also fell for his ‘aspiring pride and insolence.’ Thus at this stage it is clear that dreams of limitless power, pelf and of sensual pleasure of life has completely obscured his clear vision and hence he cannot think of the bitter consequences of his presumptuous and insolent actions.

Dramatic Irony: Further Deterioration

After the signing of the deed, as the action of the drama proceeds on, the deep dramatic irony and Faustus’s further deterioration is gradually unfolded before us. If we follow the career of Doctor Faustus after the surrender of his soul to the Devil we find how all his great expectations are belied. The man who wanted ‘to gain a deity who dreamed of becoming great emperor of the world’, of making ‘a bridge through the moving air’ or of chasing the Prince of Parma from his land, ultimately turns out to be a buffoon and just a magician of repute. What is Faustus’s real achievement excepting the ride in a chariot—’drawn by the strength of yoky dragon’s necks’—across ‘Jove’s high firmanent?’ He just earns fame as a magician displaying his miraculous feats in the courts of kings and emperors or playing nasty tricks sometimes on the Pope, sometimes on a common horse courser. Even before this we have seen how Faustus was delighted to see the coarse dance of the devils just before he signed the bond. Again when Faustus, disgusted with Mephistophilis for his refusal to tell him about the creator of this universe, thought of listening to the voice of conscience, Lucifer intervened personally and by dire threats compelled him to write his bond for the second time. And after such strain and stress we find Faustus deriving extreme pleasure from the flimsy show of Seven Deadly Sins. What a deterioration in the taste and temper of the great scholar from Wittenberg.

Faustus—A Spirit

We have seen that the first clause of his agreement with the devil is—‘that Faustus may be a spirit in form and substance.’ We have also seen that by ‘devils Mephistophilis means the ‘unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer.’ So in this play ‘spirits’ definitely means ‘devils.’ And the degraded soul of Faustus does not shirk from accepting the status of an abject devil. And the point is made absolutely clear when Lucifer himself tells Faustus: “Christ cannot save your soul, because he is just. He won’t interfere with the soul which has been pledged to me.”

Union With Helen: Last Stage

In the first scene of Act V comes the climax of Doctor Faustus’s career in his union with the apparition of Helen, the peerless dame of Greece. Before raising the spirits of Alexander and his paramour Faustus himself made it clear to the emperor that it was not in his power to bring before him the two great princes bodily, as they must have turned into dust long ago. The same must hold good for Helen too. So in spite of all his love of beauty in nature and art and his very sensitive appreciation of classical beauty, Faustus becomes an abject prey to his carnal desires. And the slow moral degradation and disintegration reaches its final stage and completion when Faustus ardently kisses the spirit of Helen—and a spirit is nothing but a devil—and makes a frantic appeal to this apparition to make him ‘immortal with a kiss.’ And thus Faustus gives up his last chance of redemption to become ultimately an object prey to his own despair and dejection. Even the Old Man leaves him with a heavy heart with the sad comments:

“Accursed Faustus, miserable man,
That from thy soul exclud’st the grace of heaven,
And fly’st the throne of his tribunal seat”


Page No: 279-291

“Doctor Faustus is the tragedy of an aspiring intellect that is doomed to failure.” Discuss.


Doctor Faustus, a unique creation of Christopher Marlowe, conveys a deep conception of tragedy. In awe inspiring and terror, the play fulfils one of the true functions of tragedy. It thrills us because there is something of the ‘desire of the moth for the star’ of Faustus’s desire to conquer human limitation, in all of us, and we are fascinated by the audacity with which he persists in his desperate course.

Extraordinary Courage and Indomitable Will

Doctor Faustus deals with the heroic struggle of a ‘great souled’ man doomed to inevitable defeat. The entire interest in a Marlovian tragedy centres round the personality of the hero, and the pleasure comes from watching the greatness and fall of a superhuman personality. And ordinary German scholar, in the beginning, Faustus’s intellectual endowment raises him to the status of a great hero. He has the genuine passion for knowledge infinite. With his inordinate ambition he soars beyond the petty possibilities of humanity, leagues himself with superhuman powers and rides through space in a fiery chariot exploring the secrets of the universe.

Marlowe’s Faustus aspires to be more than man and therefore repudiates his humanity and rebels against the ultimate reality. Being a true Renaissance hero, he surpasses his mortal bounds to be as powerful on earth as Jove in sky. He finds some hope only in Necromancy. He, therefore, turns to Magic and is elated by its prospects of profit, delight, power, honour, for:

All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command…………
A sound magician is a mighty God……..

Endowed with extraordinary courage and will to pursue his goal relentlessly and recklessly, without caring for good and evil, Faustus is really a tragic hero. He strives to satisfy his overriding desires, rejecting the will of God or servitude, and asserting his will both in opposition to God as well as the Devil.

Tussle between orthodoxy and quest for intellectual freedom: A deep spiritual conflict

Marlowe’s Faustus, the tragic hero, is afire with an indomitable passion. He discards all moral codes and ethical principles and plunges headlong to achieve his end. But in rejecting Christian values, there arises in his mind a deep conflict between the pull of tradition, the Will of God, and the desire to learn more and more to taste the fruits of the forbidden tree. The heart of Faustus turns out to be the battlefield where the forces of good and evil are trying to overwhelm each other. Faustus makes his own choice to take to the black art of magic deliberately and then sells his soul to the Devil of his free will. Faustus is a modern man whose conscious self is opposed by the subconscious self which is deeply attached to the conventional doctrines and dogmas of Christian theology.

Throughout the play, Faustus staggers between doubt and faith symbolised by the warnings of the God Angel and the seductions of Bad Angel, as he moves towards his inevitable doom. He has been told by Mephistophilis the meaning of Hell, but in his blind arrogance, he refuses to really grasp the implications of his action. Indeed, before the end of the play Faustus undergoes the mental torture born out of the opposing pulls of his rational and emotional selves. To Mephistophilis, he can arrogantly assert:

Thinkest thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That after this life, there is any pain?
Tush! these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.

But Faustus cannot avoid the mental tortures that must follow every act of sin or crime. A guilty conscience pricks him almost from the beginning to the end of this tragic drama. Doctor Faustus is a tragedy connected with man’s intellectual faculties and his rejection of voluntary subjection of them to an orthodox order of Christianity.

Tragedy the outcome of the hero’s inherent weakness and presumption

Marlowe’s Faustus prides himself in his great learning and scholarship. He is dominated by ambition to acquire knowledge infinite and through it to gain superhuman power and satisfy his sensuous and mundane pleasures of life. His weakness is not a mechanical outcome of his pact with the Devil. The seeds of decay are in his character from the first, half hidden in the Marlovian glamour cast about him, though he has intense desire to know the truth and he comes to make his rash and fatal bargain. Furthermore, in the true Aristotelian sense, he is blind to the actual implications of his action. This is the tragedy. His sensual pleasures override all other passions and blind him to the dreadful truth. The vision of Helen conceals the vision of Absolute Truth from the eyes of Faustus. Faustus is conscious of the weakness, but he has no control over his overriding desires. ‘The vision of Helen’ allures him and her unrealisable beauty penetrates his spirits to the depths:

Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Faustus, we realize, is doomed, far from being able to reach immortality.

Tragic irony is the essence of all great tragedy, and Doctor Faustus embodies this irony poignantly

Possessed with supernatural powers to perform great things, Faustus fails due to his uncontrollable human weakness. He sets out to gain a deity, but ends with a wish to be turned into something inanimate. He comes to understand his predicament towards the end and cries: “But Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned, the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus.” In the last but one hour of his life, Faustus stands on the brink of everlasting ruin and damnation, waiting for the fatal moment. He realizes that the pact with the Devil has got him nothing. He had sought to control the stars once but they:

Move still, time runs, the clock will strike.
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned…….

The play, in its final twist, turns supremely tragic as Faustus collapses into simultaneous submission to both his bosses, Lucifer and Christ. Doctor Faustus depicts the human soul as a tragic battlefield where the hero meets with tragic failure.

Cathartic effect: the emotions of pity and fear

In the hands of Marlowe, Faustus acquires a spiritual greatness which, in the finest moments of the play, wins him our sympathy, and at his death arouses that pity and terror which great tragedy demands. Marlowe has felt and conveyed the sense of tragedy in Faustus’s aspirations and downfall. Faustus is seen as a symbol of Marlowe’s times when wonders of the mind and of the world were being discovered and people’s hopes of the attainable were full of ardour.

Faustus’s summoning of Mephistophilis, his signing of the contract, his vision of Helen, and his final death and damnation are the outstanding scenes of the play, in which “the medley of desire and fear, the poignancy of regret, the ecstasy and the terror are depicted with sureness and strength which give them a place among the greatest emotional situations in Elizabethan tragedy.” Faustus’s final monologue is unsurpassed in English drama, in the expression of sheer agony and horror. As he cries with ringing despair:

O I’ll leap up to my God, who pulls me down?
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament,
One drop would save my soul, half a drop, ah, my Christ…..

The tragic emotions of pity and fear at the plight of such a great man tugs at our heart. The tragedy achieves its climatic cathartic effect in Faustus’s last shriek, “Mephistophilis.”


Doctor Faustus is a tragedy of an aspiring intellect which seeks to pierce through to the centre of all knowledge. Such ambition is doomed to failure because of its very nature, for man is a limited being. The courage of the challenge, however, is awesome.

Write A Note On Marlowes Conception Of The Character Of Doctor Faustus

Faustus the protagonist who falls through his own will.

Faustus Is The Central Figure Of Marlowes Doctor Faustus. Faustus Is a Character Ideal To be The Hero Of A TragedyWhere man alone is the Maker of his fate. Good or bad. He falls, not by the Fickleness of Fortune or the decree of fate, or Because he has been Corrupted by Mephistophillis, the Agent of Lucifer, the Devil, but beca of his own will.

Faustus :no king or prince, but a great scholar .

Faustus is An Ordinary German of Parents base of Stock’ who goes to Wittenberg for Higher Studies, mainly Supported by his Kinsmen. But in Course of time, he Graces the Golden field of Learning and Before long Obtains a Doctors  Degree in Divinity for his Unsurpassed skill in Dispute on Heavenly Problems. He has Attained Mastery over Various Vranches of study. Thus Faustus is a break from the traditional Concept of the tragic hero to The extent that he is not of Royalty or any noble parentage. But he is great all the same, Because of his Scholarship.

Faustus is a man of extraordinary calibre.

He Possesses Richimaginative Faculty. He Cherishes the idea that as a Magician he Will be greater than Emperors and kings, and his Dominion will stretch “As Far as doth the mind of man”.  He will Become a mighty God. Endowed exceptional Imaginative power, he visualizes as a Magician the bright dreams of his Future.Faustus is a born poet. Poetry is an innate Gift with him. He Makes  blind Homer sing to Him of the love of Paris and Oenone and he Makes  Amphion Produce Ravishing music from his Melodious harp. In The Final Soliloquy, Faustus calls upon the Heavenly Spheres to stop Moving So That Time ceases and Midnight never comes. But the most Wonderfu Among his passages is his Apostrophe to Helen. His speech to Helen bespeaks Of his high imaginative faculty and is pregnant with mythological Allusion.Faustus like Icarus running too high : Presumption the  Cause Of his tragedy.Faustus is not satisfied with his vast Knowledge in Various Subjects of the University, for still he is an Ordinary man. Faustus Want To be a Superman ; he Wants to be a “mighty God”. He is “Swollen With  Cunning and of a self-conceit”-to such an Extent that he Become The “Icarus” of Classical Mythology. And he aspires on the Artificial Wings Of  his Knowledge to soar above human limits, to reaches the status Of A “Jove in the Sky. Pride is the sin for which the angels fell And In  consequence of it, heaven Conspires the Overthrow of Faustus.Faustus: the child of Renaissance.Faustus, With His yearning for Knowledge, Proceeds to study Necromancy.He Responds to the Suggestions of the Evil Angel, to attain The Position, of a ‘Lord and Commander’ of the World. He Tries His brain “to gain a deity and he Commits a sinful act. But He Is not at all terrifield of “Damnation’. He does not Believe in Pains after death. He sells his soul to Mephistophilis to acquire unlimited power to probe the secrets of the universeFaustus’s mental conflict: a study of his mind.Faustus’s choice of necromancy is made after inner conflict. The appearance of the Good Angle and the Bad Angel side by side are the personifications of his good and evil impulses. His conventional heart is Opposed to his self-damnation and this is clearly hinted when his blood congeals as he proceeds to write : “Faustus delivers his soul to the Devil”. But he ignores these warnings and completes the scroll. But the conflict arises again in .his mind-the conflict between his impulse to fly to God And his resolution to stick to the pledge made to the Devil. As the time rolls on he becomes more and more disillusioned about the profits he expected from Magic, and the growing sense of loss and of the wages of damnatio begins to sting him like a scorpion:When I behold the heaven, then I repent. And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis.Because thou hast deprived me of those joy But it is he himself, and not Mephistophilis who is to blame.Faustus the complex character dominated by ambition.The more Faustus turns towards God, the greater becomes the force of the Devil to drag him back into his trap. Faustus is an inordinately ambitious hero. He denounces God, blasphemes the Trinity and Christian doctrines and sells his soul to the Devil to gain superhuman power and to live a life of voluptuousness for twenty four years. The die is cast when in his very first monologue Faustus bids Divinity adieu. He turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel to lay that damned book aside, and is carried away by the allurements of the Evil Angel who tells him to be “on earth as Jove in the sky”. It is Faustus who utters such blasphemous words:

Had I as many souls as there be stars,I’d give them all for Mephistophilis.By him I’ll be great emperor of the world

The uttering of the phrase “consummtumest” after signing the bond with his own blood is nothing but blasphemous irony. Discussing about hell and heaven with Mephistophilis, Faustus tells him that he is not worried by such “old wives’ tales and damnation.Faustus is isolated from his surroundings. He does hot die suddenly. And before dying. Faustus reaches that point of horror, when even pride is abandoned Faustus would like to retrace his steps and repent of his surrender to the Devil. But Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mephistophilis appear and demand the fulfillment of the conditions to which Faustus had agreed by signing a bond with his blood. Finding no other way, Faustus begs the forgiveness of the devils and vows never to mention God or pray to Him or to look to Heaven. But Faustus’s conscience is not absolutely dead. On hearing the Old Man’s exhortation, Faustus immediately becomes aware or his predicament and says to himself.

Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch. What hast thou done?Damned art thou, Faustus, damned ; despair and die.

Faustus’s inner conflict reappears in a more acute and agonising form. He feels that hell is calling him with “a roaring voice” Mephistophilis offers him a dagger so that he may kill himself and go to hell. Faustus is distressed. When the Old Man comes and tells him not to commit suicide and that he might yet receive the mercy of God, Faustus’s distressed soul is comforted. Faustus, therefore, tries to repent. But he is not allowed to repent by the devils

What motivates Faustus towards his doom?

Faustus Is  unsurpassed in his magic idealisation of that which is essentially base and carnal. He seeks immortality in the kiss of Helen-a spirit.
Faustus is not one consumed with a thirst of knowledge, says Arnold Wynne, for we see him exercising his supernatural gifts in the most puerile and useless fashion. “It is impossible, therefore, to regard his ambition as a lust for knowledge in the usual meaning of that term,differentiating it from sensual experience. If Faustus is to be liable according to his dominant trait, then let us describe him as the embodiment of sense-gratification”.
Marlowe’s Faustus, the legendary German scholar, is an insatiable speculator. His brilliant mind dismisses all subjects one by one. Magic ravishes him and nothing should daunt his determination to command all things that move between the quiet poles. Faustus aspires to unlawful knowledge because it is an instrunent of power. It is the passion for omnipotence rather than omniscience that urges Faustus to summon Mephistophilis by incantation to his side. He puts some questions to Mephistophilis on astrology, Lucifer and hell, but the fruit of experience is disillusionment. The replies of Mephistophilis hardly satisfy him. Wagner’s narration of his aerial voyages for cosmography and Faustus’s discussion on geography with his attendant spirit–all this exemplifies the insatiable passion of Faustus for knowledge, but he seeks knowledge because knowledge is power. Faustus employs his magical power not only to acquire knowledge but also for his sense-gratification. He is a sensualist from the moment he takes up the book of magic to ponder oven what it may bring him

Faustus not fit to be a tragic hero according to some critics. 

The element of sensuality is so much emphasised in the character of Faustus that some critics have gone to the extent of regarding him as an incarnation of lust, and as such, unfitted to support tragedy. His ator, according to these critics, inspires him with his own Bohemian joy in mere pleasure, his own thirst for fresh sensations, his own vehement disregard of restraint-a disregard which brought Marlowe to a tragic and unworthy end. But, as if in mockery, he degrades him with unmanly, ignoble qualities that excite our derision. His mind is pleased with toys that would amuse a child; at the conclusion of an almost incredibly trivial show of the Seven Deadly Sins, he exclaims “O, how this sight doth delight my soul! His practical jokes are unworthy of a court jester. The congealing of his blood agitates his superstitious mind far more than the terrible frankness of Mephistophilis. “Miserably mean spirited, he seeks to propitiate the wrath of the fiend by invoking his torments upon an old man whose disinterested appeal momentarily quickened his conscience into revolt. Finally, when we recall the words” with which Tamburlaine faced death, what contempt despite the frightful anguish of the scene is aroused by Faustus’s screams of terror at the approach of Lucifer to claim him as his own! In his vacillations we see not the Noble conflict of good and evil impulses but an ignoble tug-of-war between timidity and Appetite” as Wynne observes.
Faustus, though proud as he is, lacks firm Determination : he wavers and Vacillates “his character is in fact not one of fixed Determination as it is so often Asserted he Constantly wavers, and his purposes change Sometimes he sounds Immovable, but at other Moments he is Furiously torn by conflict.


Tragedy of Faustus is symbolic.


Faustus stands not for a character not for a man, but for Man, for Everyman. The grim Tragedy that befalls him is not a Personal tragedy, but a tragedy that Overtakes all those who dare “Practice more than Heavenly power permits”. The terrible Conflict that goes on in his mind is not Particular to him alone, but Common to all who waver between opposites. In the Character of Faustus “there are no details, no personal traits, no Eccentricities or habits, Nothing that is intimate or individual. Marlowe could not have told us where or in what way, Faustus differed from any other man. He was Concerned only with the part of him which was Common to all men, yet in virtue of which he Exceeded all men, his mind. And that mind is Marlowe’s-the limited desire, the unbridled Passion for the infinite, a certain reckless, high Confidence in the will and spirit of man”. The doubts and fears which rock the mind of Faustus are not of one Character alone : these doubts and fears about hell, heaven, God Salvation and damnation have been experienced by all Inquisitive men in all ages.

Faustus wavers Between his good and evil angels Between god and devil, so we may see Marlowe Hesitating Between the Submissive Acceptance of a dogmatic system and a pagan Simplicity of outlook to which instinct and Temperament Prompted him. It will be to Hard To Condemn Marlowe as an atheist. His Sceptical and rebellious Temperament was not simply his Personal tendency rather he Was impressed by the prevailing tendency for free Thinking on religious matters. In the same sense, Faustus, with all Doubts and fears about Hell and Damnation, believes in Christ and God. Faustus in the Beginning is A bold, defiant and Adventurous spirit of the Renaissance but at The approach of his doom he Reaffirms his faith in Christ and God. In the  Final hour, the fact of Redemption to which Faustus has closed his eyes For so many years Becomes Apparent to him and he cries:

See, see, Where Christ’s blood streams in the Firmament, One drop Would save my soul, half a drop…

A Person who Believes in the blood of Christ as the ransom for all the sins of the Human, or that turns to God after Having once abjured Him, cannot be Regarded as an atheist. Faustus Discovers that intellectual Pride and Insolence of man are Responsible for Dragging him away from Good and true religion. “Faustus’s Passion for knowledge and power is in Itself  a virtue, but Diverted from the Service of God it Threatens to Become  totally negative and self-Destroying”, as O. P. Brockbent says.

Examine the view that for all its Renaissance elements in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is essentially a medieval morality play.

Characteristics of the Morality play

The Morality play, an early form of drama, owes its origin to the miracle play of the middle ages. It flourished in the middle ages, was at its height in the first half of the fifteenth century, disappeared after the second half, but reappeared in part in Elizabethan drama. It conveys a moral truth or lesson by means of personified abstractions and dealing with some problems of good and evil. The general theme of the morality play was theological and the central theme was the struggle between good and evil powers for capturing man’s soul with choice for eternal damnation.

The Seven Deadly Sins were found engaged in physical and verbal battle with cardinal virtues. The antics of vices and devils etc., offered a considerable opportunity for low comedy or buffoonery and thus farcical elements developed in great way. The morality plays were essentially religious or ethical and didactic.

Doctor Faustus: A morality

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in spite of its tragic ending, is a belated “Morality vindicating the humility, faith and obedience to the law of God.” In a way it marks the culmination of the English morality tradition, presenting the conflict between good and evil. The basic beliefs of Christianity are inherited in it and the doctrine of damnation pervades it. The characteristics of the Morality play in Doctor Faustus are discussed in the following paragraphs.

  1. Doctor Faustus is a play of medieval theology

Faustus, the hero, abjures the scriptures, the Trinity and Christ. The Devil and Hell are omnipresent in this play and are terrifying realities. Faustus makes a bargain with the Devil, and for the sake of earthly learning, earthly power and satisfaction goes down to horrible perdition. He surrenders his soul to the Devil out of his inordinate ambition to gain superhuman power through knowledge by mastering the unholy art of magic.

Thus the drama is a Morality play in which Heaven struggles with Hell for the soul of the ‘Renaissance man who loses the battle on account of his psychological and moral weakness. Faustus is not the noble victim of a tyrannical Deity. God is exceedingly good in His gifts to the hero, until the hero becomes the victim of his own insatiable desires and even then God is willing to forgive if he repents. But Faustus wilfully refuses all aid and goes to damnation. The moral values of this play are established through the chorus, Faustus’s own recognition, the Good Angel, the Old Man, the action itself, and even Mephistophilis, the agent of Lucifer the Devil. The deterioration and the coarsening of Faustus’s character and his indulgence in cheap, sadistic fun emphasise the Christian viewpoint.

  1. Struggle between Good and Evil for the soul of Faustus

At the very beginning of Faustus’s temptation, the Good Angel urges Faustus to lay aside the damned book of magic and to read the scriptures. The Good Angel is the voice of God, and also the externalization of Faustus’s conscience. The Evil Angel, who is the emissary of Lucifer, encourages Faustus to continue his study of magic. And Faustus listens to the Evil Angel and is elated by the promising rewards of magic—Power, profit, delight, omnipotence and honour. Faustus has intellectual pride to a great degree, but he is also desirpus of vainglory. Faustus is a complete egocentric and relishes the inflated sense of his own abilities. Faustus indulges in a delusion of self-importance: he thinks Mephistophilis has come solely at his command, but Mephistophilis disillusions him about this. In answering Faustus’s questions about Lucifer, Mephistophilis says that Lucifer fell because of his “aspiring pride and insolence”, and anticipates Faustus’s fall in Lucifer’s. Faustus is guilty of insolence, and pride, reprimands (though warned by the Devil himself) Mephistophilis for cowardliness.

  1. Faustus is not a Superman but an Everyman prone to sin.

Faustus sells his soul to the Devil, and in return wants to live for twenty-four years “in all voluptuousness”, to have Mephistophilis attend on him always, to bring him whatever he demands, and to tell him whatever he wanted to know. He represents the Everyman of Renaissance—in his inordinate curiosity and desire for satisfying the senses. But too much of these are sinful in the Christian scheme.

  1. Free Will and Free Choice: another aspect of Christian Theology

Faustus is free to affirm or deny God. He has every right to pledge his soul to the Devil, as he says that his soul is his own. After signing the Document, Faustus says: “Consummatum est” (this is finished), which were the last words of Christ on earth (according to the Gospel of St. John). With superb insight Marlowe puts these blasphemous words in Faustus’s mouth. Good life and the possibility of reaching heaven are indeed being finished for Faustus. Thereafter, God’s warning Homo fuge (man, fly) appears on Faustus’s arm, and Faustus affirms the very God he denied by the conflicting impulses he exhibits.

As Faustus deliberately sets his will against God’s Will, Mephistophilis summons a few devils who offer crowns and rich garments to Faustus, thereby offering Faustus sensual satisfaction in order to distract his mind from spiritual concern. When Faustus tries to numb his uncomfortable conscience by asking for a wife, Mephistophilis promises to satisfy his appetite with beautiful courtesans.

  1. Repentance and non-repentance: struggle in Faustus’s mind

In Act II, Faustus blames Mephistophilis for his misery and says that he will “renounce this magic and repent.” Faustus recognises that repentence is still possible. The Good Angel asserts Faustus’s feelings by saying: “Faustus repent; yet God will pity thee.” But continuous practice of sin is steadily eroding Faustus’s will-power, and he says: “My heart is hardened, I cannot repent.” This conclusion is undoubtedly egocentric.

Again, Mephistophilis tells Faustus to think of hell only, as Faustus is damned. And Faustus once more characteristically blames Mephistophilis for his wretched condition. “ ‘Tis thou hast damned distressed Faustus soul.” Faustus is in distress and the Good Angel tells him to repent. But the Evil Angel threatens that he would be torn into pieces. Faustus calls upon Christ to save his soul, whereupon Lucifer, Belzebub, and Mephistophilis appear to remind Faustus of his promise. Once more Faustus promises “never to name God, or to pray to him.” Faustus is then regaled with the parade of the Seven Deadly Sins who are staple ingredients of the Morality play.

In Act V, Scene II, Faustus feels distressed but he is still capable of rapid self-delusion. The Old Man tells Faustus to repent as Faustus is still capable of repentance. But Faustus sees no hope. He wants to kill himself with the dagger offered by Mephistophilis, but the Old Man stops him. Faustus thanks the Old Man and asks to be left alone “to ponder on my sins.” But when left alone, Faustus undergoes an acute mental conflict.

Hell struggles against Heaven, and despair against repentance. As Mephistophilis threatens Faustus. Faustus begs pardon and offers to confirm with blood his former vow. Blaming the Old Man, he becomes a brute while begging Mephistophilis to torture the Old Man “With greatest tortures that our hell affords.” Faustus then asks Mephistophilis to bring Helen so that by making love to her, he will forget the pangs of his conscience. For the sake of bodily pleasure, Faustus gives up the last possibility of redemption. He aggravates his sin by making love to a devil in female form.

  1. The “moral.”

“For vain pleasure of twenty-four years hath Faustus lost Eternal joy and felicity.” Faustus gave up higher values for the lower ones. And so Faustus must endure all the horrible tortures of hell. Thought of hell, that is everlasting punishment from God, causes much spiritual unrest to Faustus. Thus we find that Marlowe in keeping with the traditions of Moralities, depicts the destiny of a man who denies God and is finally doomed to eternal damnation. The Morality play is didactic—it is a dramatized guide to Christian living and Christian dying. Whoever discards the path of virtues and abjures faith in God and Christ is destined to despair and eternal damnation.

Spirit of Elizabethan drama in Morality framework

Hudson truly says: “No finer sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus ever came from the pulpit. What more fearsome exposure was ever offered of the punishment man brings upon himself by giving way to temptation of his grosser appetites.” Doctor Faustus is an “artistic expression of Christian theology.” However, while all the points enumerated above show the Morality play elements in Doctor Faustus, it would not do to call the play a medieval Morality play rather than an Elizabethan drama. Marlowe uses the machinery of the Morality play, but the passionate words, the excruciating mental struggle, the sheer poetry and the soaring ambition to master all spheres of knowledge and pleasure, make his Faustus a tragic figure much more vivid and gripping than the Everyman of Morality plays.


Doctor Faustus is, to a great extent, a “Christian Document”, but in the final fall of Faustus, one feels “O the pity of it” that marks all great tragedy. Indeed, one may say that, Morality elements notwithstanding, Doctor Faustus is the first of the truly Elizabethan or Renaissance dramas.

Discuss Doctor Faustus as an allegory

What is Allegory.

Allegory is an extended Metaphor in Which the Characters, Actions or Ideas Imply Some Other Meanings. Often Allegories are Simple stories Conveying Metaphorically Some Spiritual or ethical ideas with a Didactic Purpose. Morality Plays are more or less Allegorical in which the Meanings are Implied and not Expressly stated.

Moral allegory in Doctor Faustus.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is a play which Embodies a moral Allegory relating ‘the form of Faustus’s Fortunes. Good or bad’, and this Moral Allegory is of universal Significance. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus Serves as a Religious, Rather Christian moral Sermon which Announces that he, who shuns the path of virtue, Denounces God and His Laws, and aligns himself with the Forces of evil to gain limitless Power and Position, is Doomed to Despair and eternal, Damnation.Doctor Faustus as an allegory .The  Following lines clearly express the moral Allegory of the play:

Faustus is gone : regard his hellish fall.Whose fiendful Fortune may exhort the wiseOnly to wonder at Unlawful thingsWhose Deepness doth entice such Forward witsTo Practice more than Heaverly power Permits.

 “No finer Sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus ever Came from the pulpit. What more Fearsome Exposure was ever Offered of the Punishment man Brings upon himself by giving way to Temptations of his Grosser appetites?”

Faustus-An allegory embracing realism.

Miracle and Morality plays have some stock devices and Marlowe’s Doctor Evil A with the Faustus is no exception to this. The Good Angel and the Bad Angel. The Devils, the Old Man, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc. Introduced in the Play are open to Allegorical Interpretation. The two Angels are Messengers of Power Independent of Faustus, while Helen, Though a Phantom, is not just a Figment of Faustus’s Imagination.
Helen Represents the lust of eye and flesh in the world.The play, though an Allegory, does not Altogether exclude realism; it employs Realism as an Instrument. Certain Characters of the play are Chosen to Serve a Double Purpose: Characters are Significant as Symbols by virtue of what they Symbolise, but they are Significant also as Themselves by Virtue of what they are. And they ; are not Significant now as the one thing, now as the other, by a sort of Alternation : but Continuously and Simultaneously as both.

The Good Angel and the Bad Angel.

The Good Angel Represents the Principle of Goodness and this principle is not Affected by whether Faustus is loyal to it or not. Faustus can neither Increase nor Lessen its perfection: nor can he create or destroy it. But the Good Angel also Symbolises a part of Faustus’s nature Only by loyalty to this Part of his Nature can Faustus attain his own Perfection and Thereby get peace : if Disloyal, he is Tormented by regret for the perfection he has Missed. And thus the allegory Suggests a Synthesis : that Faustus’s life Though Single and Indivisible, is both his and not his own.The Good Angel Could Ensure lasting Happiness, While Helen Ensures a Momentary Happiness, as she is a shade and Not Substantial

Allegorical devices of space and time .

Between Faustus and the Good Angel, the Distinction Relating to Space is a Between Faustus’s death and his Signing of the bond, the Separation Relating to time is also A device. The two are Separated by a Period of Twenty-four Years. This period is Significant as itself, but it is Symbolical also of the Moment of Signing, Which is the Moment of Faustus’s Plunge to Spiritual Death.He kills his soul for it Does not need twenty-four years to Weaker or to Wither. But as death, Whether Spiritual or Physical, does not Destroy a soul, the Consequences of Signing the bond are not Restricted to a moment. Faustus is Allowed to Explore evil with all Patience and Diligence. During this Period each of the Angels Continues in his Double role : as part  Of Faustus, Expressing his Preoccupations, and as External agent, either Encouraging those Preoccupations or to end them. The Evil Angel and the devils are more Prominent in the earlier Scenes. And Faustus Cannot resist any Invitation to evil

Symbolic significant of characters .

Faustus is a man with the Admixture of Virtue and vice in his soul. “The Good and Evil Angels are Really externalisations of the two Aspects Of Faustus’s own Character: on the one Hand, Conscience, and on the other, that Aspiration to the novel and Romantic that led to his Downfall” Helen, the only paragon of Excellence. Fascinates Faustus. And the Repeals the Renaissance Characteristic of love And Adoration of Classical art and beauty. Her shade or Apparition Bespeaks of Sensual Pleasures of life which are but Transitory, and lead to Despair and Damnation. The Gifts of the Devil can Never Satisfy and Cannot be Everlasting.Faustus has Obtained Power and Wealth.But once the Attempt is Ma And Adoration of Classical art and beauty. Her shade or Apparition Bespeaks of Sensual Pleasures of life which are but Transitory, and lead to Despair and Damnation. The Gifts of the Devil can Never Satisfy and Cannot be Everlasting.Faustus has Obtained Power and Wealth.But once the Attempt is Made to use Them, Disillusion Begins. Faustus in his Inexperience Thinks that, Having sold Himself to the Devil, he will be Allowed to Retain Some part of his Integrity: for Instance that he may use the New-found Wealth to set up a Household. That is Why he asks for a wife: she is Brought but proves to be an ugly devil. Faustus’s Fleshly Desires are Satisfied, But the Result is that his Spititual Desires Become the More Insistent. The devil is Summoned to Discuss ‘Divine Astrology But the joy of learning is no more Permissible to Faustus than that of Domestic bliss. Faustus has Renounced Learning that can lead to Knowledge, love, and Ultimately the Vision of God. Mephistophilis Refuses to Answer when Faustus asks: “Tell me Who Made the world. The Whole Economy of hell is disturbed : Lucifer Appears with his Fellow-Prince, Belzebub, and Demands Obedience. As a Substitute for the vision of God Lucifer Shows him the Seven Dealy Sins, and at the end of the parade Faustus says: “O, this feeds my soul”. Then he goes on to express a desire to see hell and return: O, might I See Hell, and return again.How happy were I then !” Thus Faustus falls a Victim to the Vice of curiosity

Significant of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Faustus is Not an Ordinary man to be Moved by the Seven Deadly Sins.The Show of the Seven Deadly Sins Brings Faustus Back to the Path of Hell.Sins are Already in the soul of Faustus and the show Externalises them.The Whole Procession is led by Pride. Pride is the Worst voice that Brings about Downfall.And Faustus is puffed up With pride to fly too Near the Sun with Waxen wings” to bring about his own Ultimate Doom and Damnation.The Stipulated span Draws to a Close and Before the Allegory ends,the Last Gift (Helen) of the Evil Angel Has Already Crumbled in the Hands of Faustus.

Significant of the Old Man.

Faustus Neglects the Eternal that Cannot but Avenge itself.By the choice of evil,Faustus Has Forfeited not only Spiritual but Physical Integrity, as he is Destroyed by the Passage of time (in the allegory).The Old Man Reminds him of this.Faustus Becomes Furious with the Old Man and asks Mephistophilis to Torment him. But Mephistophilis is Powerless Against one who,unlike Faustus lays fast Hold on the eternal. The Old Man will fly into his God’ but Faustus has Nowhere to fly but to what Remains of his youth

Allegory :not simple but complicated .

In the play one picture is not Substituted for and, Therefore, Weakened by another: two pictures are Retained and Strengthen one Another.Faustus suffers not merely by Seeming to Struggle with an Outside enemy, but he Actually has such an enemy; he does not Merely seem to be torn Within, but he is so torn. Against Lucifer he must Struggle With the Persistence Called for Against Himself: And Against Himself he must Struggle with the Violence for Which Lucifer calls.The Temporal Allegory is Effective in a Similar way. As Long as Faustus is Alive,he has Hope and,Therefore, pain of this Intensity. At the Same time, he has no Hope, for he is Already Dead in a way.He must Continue after death to Suffer the Utmost that he has ever suffered in life.
Allegory Provides Material And Machinery for the Body of the Play and also shapes it.The play Begins with a Monologue and Ends with one. Towards the End the stage thins out, and Faustus is Left Alone with the Scholars.The Scholars are Conveniences to Allow him to Soliloquize in public.The Same holds true with the Allegory of time.In the Body of the Play Scene succeeds scene, not indeed in any order, But in One Which is More of Psychological than Chronological Significance.Towards the End,References to Time Begin to multiply.In the Final Monologue a clock is on the Stage, and Faustus’s Imagery, now Seeking to halt time, now Yielding to it in Despair, only Succeeds in Making it fly the Faster. Thus he Seems to be Rushing Upon his Doom.And in the opening Monologue, he rushes on to the act from Which the doom Proceeds. Both Points are the same,for the Consequences follow Immediately upon the act.The play is Symmetrical as well as a closed Circle : it ends Where it Begins: it leaves Faustus Where And as it Found him–doomed

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“How greatly it is all planned” (Goethe). Comment with reference to Doctor Faustus.


A charge of a lack of structure against Doctor Faustus has been made by several critics. Aristotle had observed that a play should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Doctor Faustus, it has been said, has an impressive beginning and an undeniably magnificent ending, but no “middle” to speak of. Faustus makes his bargain, and if the end of that bargain is inevitable, it does not seem to matter much what happens in the intervening time. But there is more to the middle portion of the play than the inconsequential horseplay and farce involving magic.

Slow development towards self-realization in Faustus

The “middle” of the play is to be sought in those scenes which depict the acute inner conflict and self examination undergone by Faustus. His suffering is not meaningless, for it is all part of true self- realization. The man who once scoffed at Mephistophilis about hell and damnation, learns that hell is not a fable through bitter experience vindicating Mephistophilis’ quiet ironic words, “Think so still, till experience change thy mind.” Thus the play has a middle of some kind, consisting of Faustus’s experiences which change his mind completely about hell and damnation.

Knowledge is central to the play

Faustus, as the play proceeds, slowly but surely realizes that his deal with the devil is unsatisfactory. He sets out to conquer all knowledge, dissatisfied with what he has mastered so far. Magic seems to open a way to the infinite reaches. But as the goal becomes increasingly illusory, Faustus gains a knowledge of a more ultimate kind—he learns from Mephistophilis that hell is not localised but a state of mind. He does not believe this—thus refusing to accept the very first fruits of his new knowledge. He is quite willing to be damned. But he slowly learns that he has gained nothing much from the contract. Ordinary questions about the mechanical workings of the natural world are inevitably linked with the question of who makes it work and why. To these ultimate questions there are no new answers; his new knowledge has nothing further to offer than what he knew before the signing of the contract. His supernatural powers leave him where he was—he is unable to do anything truly worthwhile with it. The magniloquent acts he dreams of remain unperformed. All he does is play some stupid tricks on the Pope and bring grapes out of season for the Duchess of Vanholt. He can but summon the “spirits” of Alexander and Helen, not recreate their living figures. Magic fruits are insubstantial. And Faustus slowly but steadily gains this self-knowledge—that he has gained nothing. And we see the change that takes place in him—the steady moral deterioration towards complete despair. These changes rather than the idiosyncratic practical jokes constitute the “middle” of the play. Thus, we cannot quite accept the view that the play lacks a “middle.”

No plot in the Aristotelian sense

Doctor Faustus is more a study of a character’s mind than an attempt at a well constructed drama. Thus it consists of a series of scenes, almost detached from one another except for their loose inter-connection in a time sequence, leading to an expected catastrophe. In the sources of the play, the various exploits of Faustus were emphasised. But Marlowe chose to chiefly concentrate on the mind of Doctor Faustus—his initial grandiose dreams, increasing vacillations, the agonising torture of mind towards the end and the terrible end itself. It is the development of inner conflict that gives the play its sense of unity.

Play to be seen in light of moral cause and effect

Actually speaking, whether the play has a dramatic development or not depends on how we look at the “contract” with the devil. If we consider Faustus as doomed the minute he signs the contract, then there is no more dramatic interest left in the play. This is where one has to consider the legalistic aspect as against the moral aspect. Legal cause and effect is over at the signing of the bond—Faustus is damned at that moment. But there are several indications that Faustus is not a prisoner of the act of signing the deed. The Good Angel continues to urge Faustus to repent, indicating that there is mercy as well as justice in God. Furthermore, if the contract were so very final, it is strange that the devils themselves do not seem too sure of Faustus’s soul. They appear off and on to threaten, cajole and bully Faustus into submission. The Old Man appears at a very late stage in the play to try and bring Faustus to repent. Even at that stage “Hell strives with grace for conquest” over Faustus. It is the mind of Faustus which slowly deteriorates. He thinks of Hell now as “our hell” as he tells “sweet Mephistophilis” to torment, the Old Man. Increasingly he requires more powerful narcotics to subdue his spiritual anguish. His final degeneration comes with the abandonment to the sensual delight of the vision of Helen—a symbol of not only beauty but of destruction as well.

Faustus, one may say, is a prisoner of his own conception and legalistic attitude. He is more convinced than the devils themselves that the bond is to be honoured. He feels that “Hell calls for right” and he has to go to “do thee right.” He simply cannot believe that repentance can release him from the bond. This is the moral failing in him—his lack of faith even while he cannot quite break away from that faith. The play records the gradual change in this man. Its dramatic and imaginative power depends upon the moral cause and effect of Faustus’s action of signing the bond.

Analysis of the plot

The first scene is compact and a masterly presentation of Faustus’s resolve to turn to magic, and his remaining determined in this resolve despite the intervention of the Good Angel, or his own good impulse. The comic interludes in Scene II and a little later are weak, but have some relevance in being a parody of the more serious bargain with the Devil. Further, we must not forget the practice of the Elizabethan dramatists to interpose a comic scene against a serious scene to relieve the tension as well as heighten the poignancy of the main plot. The conjuration of Mephistophilis and the signing of the bond follow quite logically. Act II, Scene I, the contract scene, is emotionally intense and Mephistophilis is impressive in his quite dignity. One is immediately struck by the enormity of Faustus’s action. Between this scene and the next an interval of time is supposed to have passed in which Faustus has been indulging in various pleasures bought by his newly acquired powers.

But the later exploits of Faustus—in the Pope’s chamber, at the Emperor’s court etc.—compare unfavourably both with his dreams and his earlier conjuration of Homer’s song and Amphion’s music on his harp. The later exploits singularly lack the Marlowe touch. The comic scenes of Acts III and IV are clear flaws, strucrually as well as thematically speaking.

The last Act is, however, an organic part of the play’s design. Faustus conjures the spirit of Helen for the benefit of the scholars. The Old Man’s appearance pricks Faustus’s conscience and invokes despair in his heart—“Damned art thou, Faustus.” He is just prevented from committing suicide, and once more laments his fate. But “Hell” emerges victorious in the tussle. Scene II of this Act presents Faustus, quiet but on the verge of collapse, telling the scholars that he has sold his soul for twenty-four years of “vain pleasure.” Faustus’s final monologue is justly famous for its gripping but poetic revelation of a mind tortured in its conflict-between wanting to repent and the conviction that it is too late to repent. The devils take away Faustus and the play ends with the monody of the Chorus—on a quiet tone after all the tension as tragedy demands.


Doctor Faustus does not conform to the Unities as propounded by Aristotle. It ranges over a period of twenty-four years and, as for place, all over the earths. Unity of action is also, more or less, absent. The episodes do not grow logically from the preceeding one, as they ought to. There is much that is irrelevant and, therefore, heterogenous and discordant to the organic unity of the play. However, it is undeniable that the play produces a single impression in the mental torment of a man who, while seeking to break traditional ties, finds those ties too strong in him to discard.

“Merely to make and carry out a contract is not itself the material of drama; the dramatic, imaginative power of the play depends not upon legal but upon moral cause and effect”. Illustrate from Doctor Faustus.

Ans: Refer to the discussion of Questions 5,6 and 6 (Please see by using own no)

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