Dr. Faustus “As Tragic Hero"
Q. Marlowe’s heroes confront the fate; they are not the support of destiny. Discuss with reference to Dr. Faustus.
Discuss Marlowe’s Faustus as an over-reacher, drawing closely on the text. (PU-2005)
Ans. One of the greatest contributions of Marlowe in the development of English tragedy is the concept of a tragic hero. Marlowe was the first playwright in England to realize that a tragic action must have its origin in the mind of the character.
Marlovian tragedy is significant due to its newness, Renaissance influence, Machiavellian morality, powerful and passionate expression, element of tragic inner conflict, tragic hero, popular literary type, high seriousness, bombastic language and blank verse.
Before Marlowe, there was no convention of a tragic hero in the early English plays, e.g. Moralities and Miracles of the pre-Elizabethan age. Even in his contemporaries and in the writers of early tragedies, there was no awareness of any such need. Hence, Marlowe was the first to introduce such titanic and secular minded characters as his heroes, like Tamburlaine, Barabas and Faustus. Thus:
“Liberating English tragedy, Marlowe widened its scope.”
Marlowe introduces ordinary persons as the heroes in his tragedies. He picks up day-to-day themes and in accordance to these themes, he selects commonplace persons as his heroes. However, these persons are distinct in their respected groups because of their special qualities. As Barabas is an ordinary moneylender, Tamburlaine is a shepherd, while Faustus is an ordinary scholar in divinity. Hence, Marlowe makes his tragedy the story of everyone. According to the Greeks, a tragic hero is a conspicuous man, such as king and princes, falling from prosperity to adversity. But Marlowe’s hero struggles against the hostile forces. Thus he brings the drama out of the forte.
“Marlowe’s heroes reflect the struggle of a brave soul”.
His protagonists have a towering personality, who play the most dominant role, rising head and shoulders high above all the minor characters and attain a titanic stature of a superman size. They are just like Gulliver amongst the various Lilliputians. In “Dr. Faustus”, Faustus is the only figure focused throughout the play and “The Jew of Malta” focuses the “Jew” everywhere. Hence, hero is the sole interest of Marlowe’s play. However, Shakespeare takes much care of his minor characters too.
Maarlovian heroes are ambitious and passionate men with their great but limited capabilities. But they want to fly high in the sky. He desires:
“His waxen wings did mount above his reach.”
He wants to hold the powers of the world.
“All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at my command”.
Their passion urge them to undertake mighty actions; even they violate all the accepted moral codes. They are terribly inclined to evil. Faustus wants to attain the highest power of Omnipotence, even at the cost of God and religion. He says:
“Divinity adieu: These metaphysics of magicians and necromantic books are heavenly.”
He further thinks:
“A sound magician is a mighty God: Here Faustus tire thy brain to gain a deity.”
Another great contribution of Marlowe is that he interiorized the drama. Greek tragedies and the Pre-Elizabethan dramas focus at the outer conflict of the protagonists, with the forces of nature or destiny. But Marlowe introduces both inner as well as outer conflicts in the minds of his heroes. The minds of his heroes are generally tom off between two extremes. In “The Jew of Malta” and “Tamburlaine”, the conflict is mainly external but in Dr. Faustus it is most of the time internal. The object of the author is to delineate the psychological conditions of Faustus, though Faustus wants to repent yet he has to carry on his passions as well:
“Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again,
To God? He loves thee not”
All of the heroes of Marlowe also reflect the zealous spirit of renaissance. They are embodiments of Machiavellian ideals.
Renaissance is famous for adventure, ambition, extremely individualistic approach, sensuous pleasure and the longing for infinite power and knowledge. And Marlovian protagonists are true representatives of these qualities. They are self-made individuals, working at cross ends with the world for personal benefits. Marlowe presents three basic of his age in his three well renowned and genuine heroes. In this regard, Tamburlaine strives for universal power, The Jew runs after infinite riches while Doctor Faustus longs for universal knowledge. All these thing are unattainable yet fascinating. Hence, Faustus says:
“O what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, of omnipotence,
Is promised to the studious artizan!”
Marlovian heroes are the portraits of the author himself. Marlowe himself held renaissance spirit and was fascinated by the various ambitions of this age. Therefore, he portrayed his own passions and ambitions in his heroes. Shakespeare did not project himself in his heroes, but Marlowe did it successfully but they are not the thorough picture of Marlowe himself. His heroes are very prominently the mouthpiece of their author in their poetic expressions. Dr. Faustus of all Marlowe’s heroes is the most poetic with his passionate love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasure. He says:
“Was this the face that launched thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium!
Sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss”.
Another major characteristic of Mariovian heroes is that they are very skeptical and anti-dogmatic. They do not hold any regard for social norms and values confronting their policies. They are irreligious and even atheistical in their views.
Faustus is also anti-religious and says:
“Never name God, or to pray to him,
To burn his scriptures, slay his ministers,
And make my spirits pull his churches down.”
He also holds an opinion:
“That holy shapes becomes a devil best.”
Marlowe’s major characters also do not believe in matrimonial bliss or marriage e.g., when Mephistophilis tells Faustus about marriage, he says:
“Tut, Faustus, Marriage is but a ceremonial toy.”
Another important characteristic of Marlovian heroes is that they meet their death because of their over ambitiousness. As in “The Jew of Malta” Barabas dies because of his excess lust for wealth and this lust leads him to his death.
“Die, life! Fly, soul! Tongue, curse thy fill, and die!”
And same is the case with Faustaus, he says:
“My God, my god, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breath a while!
Ugly hell, gap not! Come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books! - Ay, Mephistophilis!”
We can conclude that Marlowe conceives his heroes as ordinary men, capable of great qualities, raise to high position, because of their over ambitiousness and their insurmountable ambition brings their fall and doom. Thus, we can say that Faustus suffers from his fall because of his unconquerable will and unrelenting ambition.