This Non-African play Dr. Faustus is a
medieval play. It presented allegorical characters to represent the life
of man, the experiences of temptation, the sins and the struggle for
salvation and death. Dr Faustus contends with the forces of good and
evil in the form of personified ab stractions including the Good
and Bad Angels, the seven deadly sins and the Devil. The play is
didactic in purpose intended to instruct the audience in Christian
virtues and to warn against vices. Also in the play, one is taken beyond
the frontiers of mental world into the region of space and the
1.1 Purpose of study
The aim of this study is to explain the themes and styles employed in the play Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. There exists a detailed study of styles in the text in relation to the themes.
1.2 Scope of Study
This essay examines the themes and styles in the play, Dr Faustus
by Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe uses these elements to realize the
subject matter of the work. My choice of Marlowe as a literary artist is
informed by his specialty in portraying the essence of man in the light
of gaining all but losing his soul. The themes and styles appeal to my
literary judgment between renaissance and medieval values, the divided
nature of man, power as a corruptive influence which is the focus of
This is a quantitative research. The primary source of information for this long essay is the text Dr Faustus. Others includes; M.H Abrams’ A
Glossary of Literary Terms, Anthology: An introduction to literature,
Mc Cullen ,J.T., “Dr. Faustus and renaissance learning”, Collier’s
Encyclopedia and Comprehensive Literature by Martins Amechi.
1.4 Theoretical Background
The play, Doctor Faustus
by Christopher Marlowe, has the background of Moralistic approach.
This approach is concern with: values, lessons, messages that can help
readers improve their lives and understand the world better. This play
reinvents the Christian dictum: What shall it profit a man to gain the
world and lose his soul?
Doctor Faustus sells his
soul to the devil and is sent to hell. Marlowe explains Dr. Faustus
religious beliefs: in Acts 1, in Faustus is given the chance to ask
Mephistopheles questions about hell. He could be thought of as an
atheist because he denies that there is God and thinks of religions as a
He states: “My
heart is hardened, I cannot repent. Scarce can I name salvation, faith
or heaven, swords, poisons, halters and envenomed my steel
Aare land before me to dispatch myself… I am resolved, Faustus shall not repent” (45).
When he finally asks for forgiveness and wants to repent to God, he is denied and is forced to spend eternity in hell.
The theme of moralistic play
is good conduct this play resonates with a wealth of themes that
teaches ethical values and lessons to the readers.
1.5 Life and works of the Author
Christopher Marlowe was born
in 1564 to John Marlowe, a shoemaker. He had two sister named Dorothy
and Ann. He attended king’s school, Canterbury and proceeded to Benet
College of Corpus Christi’ Cambridge. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in
1583. In 1587 he proceeded to a master’s degree program which did not
pull through as the university had threatened to withhold his final
degree. He later completed the program, after which he preceded to
His first play Tamburlaine
was acted in 1587 or 1588. The story is drawn from the Spanish life of
Timur by Pedro Mexia. This won him immediate popularity. It was
followed in 1604 by Doctor Faustus, a great advance upon Tamburlaine.
Others include The Jew of Malta, Edward 11, the massacre of Paris and the Tragedy of Dido. In addition to these he wrote short poems such as: come live with me and be my love translated from Oxid’s Amores and Lucani’s pharsalia and a glowing paraphrase of Musaeus’ Hero and leanoler, a poem completed by Chapman.
Marlowe was reputed to be an
atheist who held dangerous implication of being an enemy of God. Often
he has been described as a spy, a brawler and a heretic, as well as a
“magician”, “tobacco- user”, and “counterfeiters”.
J.A. Donnie and Constance Koriyama have
argued against these speculations but J.B Steane remarked: “it seems
absurd to dismiss all of these Elizabethan rumors and accusations as the
Marlowe myth. Worthy of note is that Marlowe was murdered in prison and
died at the age of twenty-nine.
1.6 Review of Criticism
Available literature shows that works have been done on Dr Faustus,
themes and styles. However, my research reveals these facts about the
text. Arian Sachs, who interprets the play as an exploration of
protestant theology with an orthodox moral, asserts that: in general,
the scheme of values in which the action of Doctor Faustus
takes place is the fundamental Christian outlook which prevailed in the
Western world from the decline of Roman secularism to the disintegration
of the dogmatic tradition long after the play was written. For Sachs,
any interpretation of the play which considers Faustus as a figure to be
admired by the audience simply overlooks the religious- historical
context in which the play was produced.
Robert Ornstein similarly dismisses the idea of Faustus as an admirable humanist.
Joseph T. McMullen argues that Faustus’
down fall comes about as a direct result of his “culpable ignorance”. As
Mike Pincombe states “for all Faustus’ learning, he is still a
dilettante when it comes to wisdom. “This argument is not without
evidence; Faustus knowingly signs away his soul, despite Mephistopheles’
words of experience which warn him to “leave these frivolous demands,
which strike a terror to my fainting soul!” (Acts3.83-84). He takes his
academic skepticism to an absurd degree, challenging the description of
hell offered by Mephistopheles. He offers himself visible proof of its
inexistence, with the retort “come, I think hell’s a fable”.
(Acts1.1.130). despite his reputation in the academic world, one can
question Faustus abilities as a scholar; the syllogism that he
constructs in the first soliloquy provides an example:
Jerome’s Bible, Faustus, view it well. (He reads) Stipendium peccatimors est.
The reward of sin is death. That’s hard.
(He reads) Sipecass negamus, fallimum
Et nulla est in mobis veritas if we say that we have no sin We decisive ourselves and there’s no truth in us.
Why then be like we must sin and so consequently (Acts1.1.38-48)
From the evidence that Faustus provides
his assertion is logically sound, but, through either ineptitude or
negligence, the biblical quotations upon which it is built are taken
entirely out of context, a fact observed by David Belington: “For the
wages of sin is death but the gift of God’s is eternal life through
Jesus Christ our lord” (Romans 6:23); the second, “if we say we have no
sin, we deceive our selves, and truth is not in us. If we acknowledge
our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness”. (1 John 1:8).
In his Poetics, Aristotle postulated the constituents of tragedy. He states that:
Tragedy is an imitation of an action
that is admirable, complete and possesses magnitude; in language made
pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed
by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the
purification of such emotions.
Nearly two thousand years
later in Marlowe’s life time-echoes of Aristotle’s definition of the
genre can be heard in Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry. He invests tragedy with a more didactic and utilitarian purpose than does Aristotle.
J.C. Maxwell presupposes that: Faustus is everyman and his sin is a re-enactment of the sin of Adam-pride”.
Marlowe Dr. Faustus as a tragedy set in 18th
Century Elizabethan Era is an example of the definition of tragedy
postulated by Aristotle. According to his definition, tragedy or tragic
situations can only happen to a man born of high reputes, rise so high
or achieve so high to become master over all his surveys. Such a man
must have a basic flaw in his nature or character that would make him
fall from that pinnacle and in most cases, that flaw must be of hubris
proportion. Pride against the gods.
According to Laura Reis Mayer, Dr Faustus
is a morality play, a historical allegory, the tale of a hero gone bad
due to the dilemma presented by an ever changing world. (3)
The Greek playwright Sophocles explored the basic themes in Dr Faustus
in Oedipus when the fallibility of the protagonist was attributed to
his harsh and rash temper. Shakespeare also employs this basic theme in
tragedy Julius Creaser, King Lear and Macbeths.
Arthur Miler the 20th Century American playwright contrasted Aristotle’s definition of tragedy in his classic play of Death of a Sales Man when he explains the tragedy of the common man as opposed to tragedy relating to a man of high birth.
Looking at the above reviews, it becomes obvious that works have been done on Dr Faustus.
My research is different from all these because it centers on the
themes and styles. I chose the topic because it has ethical values that
are realistic and relevant to modern societies. The situation in the
text depicts life and human experiences in modern day society and this
is what the topic of this essay examines.
1.8 Thesis Statement
This essay resonates with a wealth of themes such as the
conflict between medieval values and renaissance, power as a corruptive
influence, the divided nature of man and the styles in the text.