Opening Speech in Doctor Faustus

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The Elizabethan Age is conflicted in philosophical and religious views and it also gives birth to a wide variety of literature catering to all classes. Christopher Marlowe writes in the age of Shakespeare but he carves his own distinct identity as a playwright with historical plays like Edward II and Tamburlaine and his most famous pay Doctor Faustus. Doctor Faustus is rich in issues prevalent in those times and has elements of a morality play as well as tragedy. The opening speech of Doctor Faustus reflects an ideological battle between Orthodox Christianity and Renaissance Humanism. It functions within a Christian framework where hubris and gluttony are deadly sins and within a moral paradigm which predicts Faustus’s fall.

The opening speech introduces the protagonist, Doctor Faustus who is a great scholar and a very well respected man. However, he is “swollen with cunning, of a self-conceit” and this becomes his tragic flaw thereby, rendering a tone of tragedy to the play. Despite having excelled in his field of knowledge, Faustus wants unparallel power and knowledge. The opening speech is ripe with words like ‘swollen with cunning’, ‘glutted’, ‘surfeit’, suggesting over-indulgence and something sensual about his pursuit of knowledge. Written in the Elizabethan Age, the aspiring mind of Faustus confronts the restraints of conventional Christian morality. Renaissance Humanists were trying to break through the established beliefs of Orthodox Christianity. With the revival of Greek literature and philosophy, the idea of man having open absolute freewill started to emerge. This spirit is shown in Faustus who asserts his will and dares to choose the practice of necromancy. Juxtaposed to this idea is the Calvinistic ideology which dictates that God has the absolute and ultimate power over mankind and any non-Christian act will entail damnation unless He chooses to save you. This conflict between these two schools of belief runs throughout the play and not just...
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