Faustus as a Medieval Morality Play

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Faustus as a Medieval Morality Play
By K.Friedman
Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has been influenced by the conventions of a Medieval Morality play through Marlowe’s purely didactic use of the text to encourage Christian values. He uses various dramatised moral allegories that together encompass the themes of divided nature of man allegorised through the good and bad angels that demonstrate virtue and vice, alongside the concept of sin and degradation allegorised by the Seven Deadly Sins, the notion of fate versus free will, displayed by a lack of characterisation of God and the possibility of redemption through Christian framework. Such characteristics create the makings of a medieval morality play.

Marlowe influences Faustus by the conventions of a medieval morality play by a dramatized moral allegory of good and bad angels, which illustrate the morality play convention of the divided nature of man, whereby the main character (in this case Faustus) stands for all of mankind. He has many virtues - such as his sweeping visions and ambitions and a yearning passion for knowledge - merits, that caused him to overcome the considerable disadvantage of a lowly birth, to rise to the pinnacle of his profession. He is however, not without vices (like any human). He is unsustainably ambitious, driven by pride and vanity alongside his compulsive overreaching. As Faust deals with this internal conflict, the entire play explores the battle of good and evil. The persuasions of good and evil ultimately affect his choices that contribute to his inevitable damnation. When he is visited by angels, the good angel urges him to repent his pact with Lucifer, meanwhile, the evil angel urges him to pledge allegiance to hell. It is clear that Faustus is aware of how to differentiate between good and evil and right and wrong, but his uncontrollable thirst for knowledge and power blinds him and baffles his direction, which ultimately leads him to his demise. The good angel verbally attacks: “O Faustus, lay that damned book aside, And gaze not on it lest it tempt thy soul, And heap God’s heavy wrath upon thy head: Read, read the Scriptures; that is blasphemy’’ (line 69-72). Yet the bad angel rebuts:

“Go forward Faustus in that famous art, wherein all nature’s treasury is contained: Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky, Lord and commander of these elements”(Line 73-76) Marlowe uses antithesis in these two pleads to convey the opposites in the possible contrasting conclusions for Faust. By Marlowe’s use of juxtaposition in good and evil, the sharp contrast between the good and evil characters are obvious to his audience, to whom it is visible that the persuasion by the bad angel is more convincing and attractive to Faustus.

Faustus is undoubtedly subjected to the characteristics of a medieval morality play by a dramatised moral allegory of sin and degradation, characterised by The Seven Deadly Sins. The Marlowe interpretation of the legend allows little adherence to its predecessor in that it offers a grave conclusion for Faustus, in the fact that he ultimately damned. This shows the links between sin and degradation in the play, and highlights Marlowe’s didactic undertone. Faustus becomes the symbol of the ‘overreacher’, of the man who tries to exceed his own limitations through sin and comes to degradation and grief as a result. Like Icarus with waxen wings, Faustus tried to ‘mount above his reach’ and was punished for his presumption: ‘heavens conspired his overthrow’. Marlowe allegorises the Seven Deadly Sins through Faustus himself, as he sins further and further into degradation. Faustus encompasses the sin of pride through casting aside the doctrines available to him, scorning them for being too easy or simplistic. He expresses Covetousness by requesting that Mephistopheles bring him ‘money, possessions and sensual delights’. Faust experiences Envy – for the Emperor, the Pope, Lucifer and even God for having power and...
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