'Dr. Faustus Is a Morality Play Without a Moral.' Discuss.

Topics: Tragedy, Tragic hero, Morality Pages: 9 (2767 words) Published: February 2, 2009
In forming an answer to this question there are two aspects which must be considered. Firstly we must decide whether Dr Faustus is a morality play; I will do this by discussing the play's form, content and subject matter in an attempt to categorise the play. I will also offer an alternative argument by saying that the play is in fact a tragedy. Secondly we must decide whether or not it has a moral; to do this I will consider the tone of certain parts of the play, in particular the Chorus' speeches as well as the speech of other characters.

Let us first deal with the categorisation of the play. To determine if Dr Faustus is a morality play or not we must first know what a morality play is. Morality plays are essentially dramatised sermons usually based on the subject of repentance; typically an Everyman figure will begin in innocence, be led into temptation by others, to be finally redeemed. In Dr Faustus Marlowe uses the structure of the morality play intensively, most noticeably in the characters he uses as many of them are representations of type rather than being individuals. For example, the characters of Valdes and Cornelius are known as 'the tempters', thus fitting the morality definition as the characters who tempt the main character into sin (although they are not alone in this ). The Good and Bad Angels can also be seen as morality play characters, although this depends on whether or not we see them as real characters from another world or as externalisations of Faustus' own thoughts and conscience. There is nothing in the text which precisely determines which view is correct. However Faustus' speech in Act II scene i, implies they are externalisations of his conscience;

Why waver'st thou? O something soundeth in mine ear,
'Abjure this magic, turn to God again.'
Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again.
To God? He loves thee not. (II.ii.7-10)

The struggle that Faustus is voicing here is identical to the arguments typical of the Good and Bad Angels. It is significant that immediately after this struggle of conscience the Good and Bad angels enter, as they do when Faustus seems in most trouble or is doubting his decision. This indicates that they are in fact externalisations of Faustus' conscience and therefore not really part of the morality play structure. There is also ambiguity concerning Mephistopheles and the other Devils. Although the lesser devils who appear, such as Banio and Belcher and to a certain extent Lucifer, can be seen as representational, Mephistopheles certainly seems to be more of an individual. We see more of him in comparison with the other Devils because he is Faustus' companion; by consequence we learn something of his character. His speech about the joys of heaven is highly passionate and makes Mephistopheles appear somehow more real,

Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss? (I.iii.74-77)

However, as this is the only time Mephistopheles speaks so rapturously about heaven, it would seem these were his true thoughts, yet he manages to control them throughout the rest of the play in order to obtain Faustus' soul. Despite this though even Mephistopheles can be seen as an aspect of the morality play as he tempts the protagonist into sin and subsequent damnation. As he himself admits,

Twas I, that when thou wert I' the way heaven
Damned up thy passage. (V.ii.92-93)

This speech from Mephistopheles can be used as further evidence of the morality aspects in Dr Faustus as it shows that Faustus was a man led into damnation, in fitting with the tradition of the morality plot. Again, though, there is ambiguity as Faustus is not merely an innocent victim, for example his view that 'necromantic books are heavenly' (I.i.46) and his obvious refusal to accept human limitations, both serve to contribute to his damnation.

The comic scenes in the play are...

Bibliography: Marlowe, Christopher Dr Faustus in ed. WB Worthen (1996) The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, 2nd edn., Texas: Harcourt Brace
Steane, J.B (1965) Marlowe Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Wilson, F.P (1953) Marlowe and the Early Shakespeare Oxford: Clarendon Press
The Oxford English Dictionary (1989), Second edition, Volume xviii. Oxford: Clarendon Press
'Renaissance to Restoration ' seminar and lecture notes
A-level class notes
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