Character of Doctor Faustus as an Antihero Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Nov 29th, 2019


One of the most interesting and somewhat complicated plays in the British literature is Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus tragic story. Tragic stories or plays are forms of dramatic fairy stories that involve an awful demise of the noble characters. Although very common in the literature, the play portrays the character of Dr. Faustus’s in a complicated manner that makes it uneasy for individuals to understand the real attributes of this actor.

As noticed by Kostić (209), “Marlowe’s play has been the subject of almost as many controversial interpretations as the Faustian legend itself.” With different contrasting misinterpretations following different retelling approaches, the play and the character of Doctor Faustus seem more convoluted.

In this poetic drama, Dr. Faustus appears with the character of anti-heroism, where several other attributes become eminent in the play. This essay explores the concept of anti-heroism and demonstrates how the character of Doctor Faustus is an antihero. Moreover, it presents some of the major traits inherent in Dr. Faustus that shows anti-heroism.

Doctor Faustus is an antihero

Marlowe existed during the immense revolution of the Western Europe, when literature and art during this moment was receiving substantial changes. This made the play about Dr. Faustus receive different perception over the character of Dr. Faustus, with confusion as whether to regard him as a tragic hero or an absolute villain (Kostić, 209).

In the traditional western culture, a hero possessed certain attributes. In the traditional mythology, a hero was one who possessed high confidence, intelligence, and elegant character, with few weaknesses (Kostić, 211).

Talking about intelligence, his fate in hell resulted from his irrational decision making behaviour that subsequently hindered his personal judgement. Therefore, an antihero in a drama or any form of art is a protagonist who acts contrary to most of the historical attributes of a true hero (Poole, 104). Despite being a difficult argument to ascertain whether Dr. Faustus is a villain or a hero following his mixed character, some attributes protracting from the play reveals some significant connection to an anti-heroism character.

Before identifying the major attributes of Faustus, it is first important to understand what the tragic heroes imply. Typically, a tragic hero must be born from a splendid family background, suffer from a mistake caused by his character, and the mistake make him perpetrate a fatal error, that make people isolate him and later realize his fault.

Tragic heroes play the role of heroes and villains combined, and selfishness is one of the attributes that demonstrate the tragic-heroism (Poole, 108). The self-centredness character of Dr. Faustus makes him appear as an antihero or a tragic hero in several other circumstances within the play.

His unreasonable decision-making in the vow between him and Lucifer, endlessly anticipating for individual power and sovereignty, makes him appear as an antihero. “Governed by a selfish fear for his life, he renounces his humanity, which is the crime that actually damns him” (Kostić, 218). Egocentrism is the mistake in Faustus’s character, which makes him decide irrationally by selling his soul to Lucifer in exchange for superhuman knowledge.

A great conviction about the perception of many analysts in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is that he portrays the role of a medieval tragic hero, with a motive of possessing certain supernatural powers.

Dr. Faustus is merely an unethical misfit, with protagonist character where in the entire play, he acts awkwardly in a temptation motif, struggling between his personal convictions and religious ethics (Kostić, 214). Selfishness is one of the attributes of antiheros in many plays, and Dr. Faustus demonstrates this disposition through his actions within the play.

He is a selfish and arrogant man, who breaches the forbidden lines and remains seduced by evil to do things for his egocentric gain, riches, and even power. Selfishness of Doctor Faustus contributes to him emerging as an antihero or a medieval tragic hero, who continues to substantiate his guiltiness and failure despite foolishly exchanging knowledge for his soul (Poole, 96). Following a lack of intelligence required by an ideal hero and pushed by his egocentrism, Dr. Faustus lives in trepidation, seeking infinite powers of the devil.

Tragic heroes or antiheroes as demonstrated by Aristotle, have the character of self-honour, which is a component of self-centeredness. He remains a selfish man driven by his self-urge to acquire power, wealth, and honour.

Faustus explains that his irrational decision to engage in vow with Lucifer to acquire the black magic was because of “a world of profit and delight, of power, of honour, of omnipotence,” with all creatures under his command and receiving submission from numerous provinces (Kostić, 215). His selfish desires to gain sovereignty over worldly things makes Faustus appear as an antihero fighting for his personal interests rather than for the good of everyone.

Despite living in the midst of the poor and hungry people, his frivolous purposes to make a selfish decision, aims at acquiring infinite power and individual prosperity, rather than assisting those in needy situations. Tragic heroes are normally proud or have the character of self-conceit, which afterwards contributes to their downfall, and Faustus was a typical character of the sort.

Pride in Dr. Faustus was eminent throughout the twenty-four year duration from the moment of initial power acquisition to other several scenes in the play. “Till swollen with cunning of a self-conceit, his waxen wings did mount above his reach” (Kostić, 214).

This aspect of anti-heroism or tragic heroism makes Faustus appear as an actor with little moral awareness and ignorance that contributes to his demise. Classical antiheroes within the traditional paragon normally suffer from the consequences of their bad character and this makes them suffer after engaging in deals that haunt them (Poole, 111).

Antiheroes tend to overcome their weaknesses rather than conquering the enemy, and Dr. Faustus is a replica of this character. His fraud-fail deal makes him identify the lapses in his moral reasoning and finally identifies mistakes he committed in making the vow with Lucifer. After the devil turns against him, trapped in his own decisions, he finally notices his weakness. His tragic heroism appears eminently towards the end when he agrees to despair and repent.


Aristotle is among the earliest authors who identified the need to distinguish characters in a play or a drama. Antihero or tragic hero is a form of an actor, who possesses a mixture of heroic and villain traits, and tends to learn from his/her weakness rather than overcoming the opponent.

Typically, a tragic drama entails a downfall of the noble characters and the Marlowe’s, The Tragic Downfall of Doctor Faustus, is an example of this drama. Although not with all characteristics of a tragic hero, Dr. Faustus is a replica of a tragic hero, who possesses necessary features of the tragic heroes.

Heroes are selfless actors who act to ensure the wellness of all people, but Dr. Faustus is contrary to this disposition. Dr. Faustus, egocentrically pushed by his irrational decisions, engages in agreement with Lucifer in order to acquire supernatural powers that included possessing infinite powers, wealth, and pride. This makes him appear as an antihero. His nature makes him an antihero, who learns from his mistakes.

Works Cited

Kostić, Milena. “The Faustian Motif in Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.” Linguistics and Literature 7.2 (2009): 209-222. Print.

Poole, Kristen. Dr. Faustus and Reformation Theology, New York, Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

This essay on Character of Doctor Faustus as an Antihero was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Read more