Dr. Faustus- Ambition

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"Marlowe's biographers often portray him as a dangerously over–ambitious individual. Explore ways this aspect of Marlowe's personality is reflected in ‘Dr. Faustus.' "

Christopher Marlowe lived during the Renaissance period in 16th century England. Although this was a time of change, the Elizabethans still had fixed moral values. ‘The Chain of Being,' a concept inherited from the Middle Ages, can be described as a hierarchy of society, with the monarch at the top and the lowliest peasants at the bottom. Below people were animals, plants and rocks. During the Elizabethan era, ‘dangerous ambition' would probably involve trying to break the ‘Chain of Being' and striving to increase one's social status. It was believed to be necessary to accept one's place in the chain, as to disrupt it and overcome the set order of society could mean chaos would follow.

Faustus was an exceedingly ambitious man, even in relation to what is considered to be ambitious by people in today's society. In the prologue, The Chorus sums up Faustus' background and early life, emphasizing his ordinary background and academic success. It seems that Faustus' intellect made him become proud and this fired up his ambition. When Marlowe presents Faustus in scene 1, Faustus methodically shuns great authors and classically intellectual subjects, such as medicine and law because they hold little attraction to him, (line 11)

‘A greater subject fitteth Faustus' wit.'

The above quote shows how Faustus elevates himself above taking up an intellectual pursuit that would be highly esteemed by the Elizabethans. Another sign that Faustus holds himself in high regard is that he refers to himself in the third person, also shown in the above quote. Faustus' discusses beliefs that he will no longer hold and describes what he wants to achieve in his opening soliloquy. Faustus may be seen as blasphemous in the opening speech, implying that he would only be a doctor if he could be equal to God, (lines24-6)

‘Couldst thou make men live eternally
Or, being dead raise them to life again,
Then this profession were to be esteemed.'

This is made more obvious when Faustus lastly says, (line 62)

‘A sound magician is a mighty god.'

Marlowe portrays Faustus as being over-ambitious by his turning to magic, which is a much more sinister and much less conventional pursuit than others that he had been discussing previously. Faustus hopes that magic will make him omnipotent and god-like. There is little evidence to suggest that Marlowe himself wanted power over others, but his rise in society from a shoemaker's son to a scholar at Cambridge University and later, a spy, was extremely rare at the time. Marlowe did not lead a normal Elizabethan life; in fact, one could say that it was similar to fiction. The over-ambitious part of Marlowe's personality is reflected in Faustus because it seems Marlowe must have wanted success in his life, and to over-reach his set path in life.

It becomes clearer as the play continues that Faustus is a dangerously ambitious person when in scene 3 he discusses the deal with a devil, Mephastophilis, concerning the selling of his soul to the Devil in return for earthly power. When Faustus makes the contract, it seems as if he is not thinking ahead as his attitude is carefree. He possibly does not believe in Hell, or that he has a soul, or about the reality of the bargain. His attitude at this point can be summed up by the following phrase (Scene 4, lines 103-4),

‘If I had as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all for Mephastophilis.'

Faustus' ambition for power and lack of foresight are what doom him later on in play. Arguably, ambition can be said to have caused the downfall of Marlowe himself. His violent murder in a London tavern in 1593 was mysterious and historians often question possible motives for killing Marlowe; his drive to succeed may have made other people envious and resentful. In ‘Dr....
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