Author: Christopher Marlowe
Title: Doctor Faustus
Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) is famous as a great English playwright. He is also known for his great influence on the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. He is described as the “predawn light that ushered in the sunrise of William Shakespeare.
Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is considered as one of the best morality plays which deal with the Christian theme of sin and damnation. Dr. Faustus is the story of a great soul whose ambition has gone awry. A man of humble origin but highly qualified, Dr. Faustus rejects religion because it hampers his boundless desires. He falls victim to worldly vices and craves for unlimited wealth and luxury. Hence, he is ready to do anything to gain the knowledge of black magic. He believes “A sound magician is a demi-god ”
Dr. Faustus succeeds in calling up Mephistophilis and strikes a bargain with him. Accordingly, in return for selling his soul to the devil, Dr. Faustus demands for himself twenty four hours of voluptuous joys. He intends to have Mephistophilis by his side to fulfill his demands and answer his queries.
Dr. Faustus starts exploiting his dearly bought powers. He goes on a rampage in the Vatican. He harasses the Pope and the emperor. He conjures up Charles V and takes revenge. He troubles Duke and Duchess of Vanholt and tricks a horse dealer. He indulges in various trivialities, thus causing his own downfall. The Good Angel warns him against incurring God’s heavy wrath and later two scholars perceive the danger of his soul. But, Mephistophilis entertains Dr. Faustus by an informal show of the Seven Deadly Sins and distracts him from the thought of repentance.
At the beginning, Dr. Faustus feels a few misgivings, but he arrogantly silences the voice of conscience and justifies his deeds. In fact, he tries to instill courage in Mephistophilis by denying the existence of hell. He ignores God’s warning “Homofuge” appearing on his arm, thus deliberately setting his will against God. The struggle between Faustus’ uncontrolled appetite and the power of heaven continues. He even tries to commit suicide which would have resulted in eternal damnation, for God may forgive murder but not suicide. Fortunately, the old man intervenes and assures Faustus that there was still chance of obtaining God’s mercy.
Dr.Faustus’ mind starts oscillating between good and evil, but Mephistophilis entices him by offering the company of Helen of Troy. Once again falling victim to his lust, Faustus stretches forth his hand to pluck the fruit of the Forbidden Tree. He commits the sin of demoniality with the apparition of Helen, thus further ruining his chance of atonement.
Later, in the company of some of his destitute students, Dr. Faustus indulges in malpractices and gets expelled from the university. By the time he finally thinks of begging God’s mercy, he realizes that his imminent damnation is inevitable.
“The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned”
Faustus appeals for time, almost shrieking ‘a year, a month a week, a natural day------’ but, it is too late. He suffers in agony. His end is pathetic. He dies not with ‘Amen’ but with Mephistophilis on his lips.
Christopher Marlowe has depicted the character of Dr.Faustus as a person who for lower values gives up his higher ones. The tragedy of Faustus is not in his desire for unlimited power, but in the means he adopts for it. He dares to put himself before God. He goes on destroying any possibility for eternal life and deliberately opts for the life of sin and damnation. The play is appreciated as the finest dramatization of the Christian idea of Sin and Redemption.
The play has become timeless because ‘there lurks a Dr. Faustus in every person’s mind’ Human beings are easily tempted by wordly vices. The only thing that restrains them from falling victim to temptation is the fear of sin and damnation.
Notes compiled by J. Prabha