“Is Faustus a Tragic Hero, ” Discuss.

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Much of the information in Dr Faustus is derived from a collection of semi-fictitious German stories (the ‘Faustbuch’) in which the life of German scholar and purported necromancer, Georgius Faust are narrated. Where the Faustbuch narrates a simple tale of sin and retribution, Marlowe creates a tragedy in which a human being makes a clear choice for good or bad, with some knowledge of the possible outcome. In order to do this, Marlowe has drawn on the conventions of classical Greek tragedy, many of which dictate the nature of the hero or heroine. In ancient times, a hero achieved heroic status not because of saintliness or wickedness, but because of the acts he performed in life. The hero should have a socially elevated status and suffer a reversal of fortune in which he experiences great suffering. This is all certainly true of Faustus, who is highly regarded as both a lecturer at the University of Wittenberg, and an accomplished scholar. During his life, he performs extraordinary feats, which were unlike anything experienced by lesser mortals. Even by modern standards, the notion of necromancy is disturbing; for a contemporary Elizabethan audience, for whom religion permeated all aspects of life, it would have been inconceivably horrific. Once Faustus is “glutted with learning’s golden gifts and surfeited upon cursed necromancy” he uses his powers to embark upon amazing adventures (for example learning the secrets of astronomy upon the summit of mount Olympus) which, again, are befitting of the tragic hero. Faustus reversal of fortune is also typically tragic. During the final scene of the play, in which we witness Faustus’ final hour before being taken off to hell, he is, like all heroes of classical tragedy, completely isolated. There is a poignant contrast in Faustus’ degeneration from the successful, revered conjurer of the previous scenes, to the disillusioned scholar we see here. In despair, he tries to conjure and command the...
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