A Central Preoccupation of English Renaissance Drama Is the Tension Between Individual Free Will and the Workings of Fate. Compare the Treatment of This Theme in Dr Faustus and Hamlet Respectively.

Topics: Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan era, Elizabeth I of England Pages: 5 (2099 words) Published: January 31, 2013
A central preoccupation of English Renaissance Drama is the tension between individual free will and the workings of fate. Compare the treatment of this theme in Dr Faustus and Hamlet respectively.

In the Elizabethan period in which both Dr Faustus and Hamlet were written ambition and greed was a big element of society as people tried to gain favour and power with Elizabeth and her court, often resorting to murder in order to move further up the social ladder and gain more status, or in some cases, to stay at the status they had managed to achieve for themselves. The Tudor monarchies had made some progress in controlling lawlessness but Robert Watson claims that there must have been some basis for the “persistent jokes about incompetent constables and watchers in Elizabethan comedies” (ed. McEachern, 2002, pg.160). With so many crimes committed by un-punishable criminals and many crimes against women, the poor and even different religious minorities, not even considered to be crimes there is little wonder why people developed such an appetite for revenge stories such as Hamlet which was written after Thomas Kyd had such a huge commercial success with The Spanish Tragedy around 1587, whose plot looks very similar to that of the plot in Hamlet as the main character feigns madness in order to get revenge on the people who had killed his son and were socially higher up than him.

The themes of fate and freewill within the story of Hamlet are based around the idea as to whether or not he was fated to kill his uncle in revenge for his father’s death or if he is culpable for his actions and the many deaths he is responsible for within the play as he tries to gain revenge and if he was acting of his own free will or whether or not it is fate that Ophelia kills herself within the play or again she was acting of her own free will and could have changed her fate . In contrast, Dr Faustus written by Christopher Marlowe is a tragedy with an end that the main character had the chance to change as the question of fate and free will is based around whether or not he is destined to go to hell because of his pact with the devil and his actions, as well as ambition. Highly reflecting the mood in Elizabethan society ambition was seen as a “particularly alluring and dangerous sin” (ed. McEachern, 2002, pg. 160) with people reflectively ridiculing opportunists and people trying to gain more than what is rightfully theirs. However the over side of the argument, which people tend to lean more on when analysing the actions of Dr Faustus is the opinion that he was acting of his own free will and that it was because of his pride in refusing to repent and ask forgiveness and mercy from God that led him to eternal damnation.

Dr Faustus as a story pokes fun and ridicules the Catholic idea of heaven and hell and tries to reflect the feelings of the state at the time as Protestantism was, if not a little shakily, the dominant religion in England in 1600 when the play was written. Within the play, Faustus, a great scholar, who is the embodiment of the Renaissance man who came from humble beginnings to become a renowned intellectual individual who is highly respected in his field. However it is because of this climb from his humble beginnings that seem to have led him to develop his excessive hubris, which is ultimately his greatest flaw when he wants to become as mighty as God, not realising he is being tricked by Lucifer’s servant, Mephastophillis and does not have the powers he thinks he has, haven agreed to only another twenty-four years on earth before eternal life in hell in return for ‘God-like’ powers. Is Faustus fated to eternity in hell because of his deal with the personified devil, Lucifer or is it is hubris and own feelings of greed and ambition that stop him from repenting to God and asking for mercy, actions of his own free will, the reason why he ends up serving Lucifer forever. Within the prologue of the play itself, Marlowe...
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