The Tragic Fate of Marlowe’s Tragic Hero

January 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the world of theatre, there are many plays in which the central figure is one who harnesses extreme personality traits above all others. For example, Sophocles’ Oedipus is a fatherly king with great ambition and strength; and Shakespeare’s Macbeth is evilly ambitious, while Romeo and Juliet are driven solely by their love for one another. These traits give these characters unbelievable success … for a time. In these stories, these attributes bring about each character’s downfall and death, qualifying each as a tragic hero, one whose strength leads to weakness. Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is a definite member of this class of characters, an arrogant yet impressively ambitious scholar who desires grandiose knowledge without the help and guidance from the world’s major religion, Christianity. In Dr. Faustus, Marlowe uses tragic irony concerning Faustus’ misunderstanding and rejection of God to illustrate the downfall of this tragic hero.Faustus’ character is established with his first soliloquy in the very first scene. Desiring to acquire knowledge, he distrusts logic, medicine, and law, claiming that he “hast attained [the] end[s]” and mastered these areas (253, lines 1-36). When he considers religion, “divinity,” he quotes Romans 6:23 which says, “The reward of sin is death,” and continues with 1 John 1:8, saying that everyone sins and therefore there is “no truth in us” (253, lines 37, 40, 44). From this, Faustus concludes that there is no reason in believing in a seemingly hopeless faith where the only outcome is death, and so with a haughty goodbye he says, “What doctrine call you this? … Divinity, adieu!”(253, line 49). Faustus is entirely too quick to form conclusions. If he wants knowledge, the last action he should take is not learning all about a possible flaw. Modern journalist Lee Strobel says in his faith-strengthening book The Case for Faith about difficult questions people pose about the Bible, “[B]ecause [someone isn’t] able to answer them [doesn’t] mean there [aren’t] answers” (196). The astounding irony of this scene is Faustus’ failure to read the next verse after 1 John 1:8: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Faustus’ arrogance and conceit will not let him become fully knowledgeable to see hope, and therefore he has personally lost all hopes for his dreams by painting Christianity in a negative light.Faustus further condemns himself by looking to magic in order to be a “demi-god,” but even more so by believing a pact with the highest devil, Lucifer, will give him his dreams (253, line 63). He gives a message to Mephistophilis, a devil, that says:He surrenders up to [Lucifer] his soul,So he will spare him four and twenty years,Letting him live in all voluptuousness,…To give [him] whatever [he] shall ask. (256, lines 91-93, 95)In his pursuit of knowledge, now believing his soul-selling has proven successful, Faustus asks Mephistophilis questions about the planet, and the heavens, which are very readily answered. However, when Faustus asks, “[T]ell me who made the world,” Mephistophilis replies, “I will not” (260, lines 71-73). Now that Faustus believes he has been granted all knowledge, the irony exists in his inability to discover the answers to the ultimate questions of how the universe came to be, and more important, who made the universe. If he knew this, his knowing it would lead him directly back to God the Creator, and therefore to all knowledge whatsoever. But Faustus is now detached from God, unable to acquire the knowledge he desires.By the end of the play, Faustus is so far detached from God that he literally has no chance of salvation. Faustus, of course, doesn’t believe this. Although he recognizes his impending end (“What art thou, Faustus, but a man / condemned to die?”), he assumes he can have salvation at the last second, for “Christ did call the thief upon the cross,” alluding to Christ’s forgiving of a thief the day of Christ’s (and the thief’s) crucifixion (271, lines 36, 40). But as the sky runs with Christ’s blood at Faustus’ end, and as he cries out,O, I’ll leap up to my God…See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!One drop would save my soul, half a drop! Ah, my Christ! (277, lines 154-156)It becomes apparent that Faustus is doomed, unworthy of God’s free grace as he is taken to Hell. His tragic end reiterates his misunderstanding of Christianity by taking out of context the passages from Romans and 1 John. If Faustus really were knowledgeable, he would have known Jesus’ statement:I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12: 8-10)Faustus lived for twenty-four years completely devoted to Lucifer, the chief opposition to God, never choosing right, thus signing his eternal death warrant.Marlowe details the life of someone who misses completely the idea of God. The Christian faith does not teach a hopeless future that was given to Faustus through his ambition and stubborn delusion of grandeur. Instead, there is hope and was for Faustus. The Good Angel appears to Faustus to tell him to return to God, because “if [Faustus] hadst given an ear to [him], / Innumerable joys [would have] followed [him]” (276, lines 108-109). Also, the Old Man who comes to Faustus near his end urges him to repent, telling him to “call for mercy and avoid despair” (274, line 65). God’s power is implied to be frightfully stronger than that which Lucifer gives, as when Faustus is in Rome with the devil Mephistophilis, who says even he fears the friars’ chants from God (266, lines 95-96). Faustus continually contemplates his decision to sell his soul, whether it was right or if he has condemned himself, however, he ultimately chooses to keep his satanic pact. Marlowe emphasizes through his tragic hero that no matter how condemned and sinful one feels, there is always a chance for salvation if one is willing to see it.Works CitedHoly Bible, New International Version. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1986.Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Boston: Bedford, 2001.Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

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