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Doctor Faustus

By varshagupta9 May 26, 2012 4345 Words
The Conflict Between Medieval and Renaissance Values
Scholar R.M. Dawkins famously remarked that Doctor Faustus tells “the story of a Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one.” While slightly simplistic, this quotation does get at the heart of one of the play’s central themes: the clash between the medieval world and the world of the emerging Renaissance. The medieval world placed God at the center of existence and shunted aside man and the natural world. The Renaissance was a movement that began in Italy in the fifteenth century and soon spread throughout Europe, carrying with it a new emphasis on the individual, on classical learning, and on scientific inquiry into the nature of the world. In the medieval academy, theology was the queen of the sciences. In the Renaissance, though, secular matters took center stage. Faustus, despite being a magician rather than a scientist (a blurred distinction in the sixteenth century), explicitly rejects the medieval model. In his opening speech in scene 1, he goes through every field of scholarship, beginning with logic and proceeding through medicine, law, and theology, quoting an ancient authority for each: Aristotle on logic, Galen on medicine, the Byzantine emperor Justinian on law, and the Bible on religion. In the medieval model, tradition and authority, not individual inquiry, were key. But in this soliloquy, Faustus considers and rejects this medieval way of thinking. He resolves, in full Renaissance spirit, to accept no limits, traditions, or authorities in his quest for knowledge, wealth, and power. The play’s attitude toward the clash between medieval and Renaissance values is ambiguous. Marlowe seems hostile toward the ambitions of Faustus, and, as Dawkins notes, he keeps his tragic hero squarely in the medieval world, where eternal damnation is the price of human pride. Yet Marlowe himself was no pious traditionalist, and it is tempting to see in Faustus—as many readers have—a hero of the new modern world, a world free of God, religion, and the limits that these imposed on humanity. Faustus may pay a medieval price, this reading suggests, but his successors will go further than he and suffer less, as we have in modern times. On the other hand, the disappointment and mediocrity that follow Faustus’s pact with the devil, as he descends from grand ambitions to petty conjuring tricks, might suggest a contrasting interpretation. Marlowe may be suggesting that the new, modern spirit, though ambitious and glittering, will lead only to a Faustian dead end. Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Dr.Faustus’, A Play of Renaissance

Faustus as a man of renaissance: Renaissance means the great revival of art. Faustus insatiable desire and thirst for knowledge and learning, his deep interest in necromancy, his fanaticism, his supra-mundane aspirations and strong will in the pursuit of ideas of beauty or power proved him to be a man of renaissance. Faustus rejection of the traditional subjects of study and turning to magic and practicing it for obtaining profit, delight, power, honour and omnipotence show that he was a man of renaissance. He dwells upon the advantages which he will gain as a magician. His ardent curiosity, his desire for power and pelf, and his nationalism are sound qualities of the renaissance. Renaissance was the great age of discovery of English history. Faustus desire for gold, pearls, pleasant fruits and princely delicacies for far off places speak of his enlarged outlook and extended horizon.

In his last soliloquy, Faustus offers to burns his books of magic. It gives us the impression that he attributed his downfall considerably to his wrong learning. He certainly embodies the new enquiring and aspiring spirit, audacity of thought and temper to renaissance. He is exuberant and bold in his actions, thoughts, deliberations, disputing, conjuring, philosophizing, defying God and undertaking the hazards. This shows that he infused the old medieval or Christian moral equation with the novel and ambiguous dynamic of the Renaissance. Marlowe made Faustus the first modern man and gave him unique fascination and dignity. The story represents a soul torn between over-enthusiastic desires on the one hand and the claims of the old teaching which if defied could grow into a sense of alienation from society.

The legend of Faustus is an eye-opener to all Christians to beware of the pitfalls of science, pleasure and ambition which had brought about damnation of Faustus. The Good Angel warned Faustus that he would only incur God’s wrath upon his head if he reads the book of magic. He also makes him to think of Heaven. The Evil Angel exhorts him to proceed with the famous art of magic and to become the commander of the earth. The appeal to vague and healthy ambitions of an aspirant soul represents the natural ideal of the renaissance. We are all praise for his love of life, trust in nature and his enthusiasm for beauty. Power, curious knowledge, enterprise, wealth and beauty are the characteristic of Faustus and same are assessed most by renaissance.

Influence of Religious Attitudes
The play takes place in an explicitly Christian cosmos of angels and devils. •Although Faustus’ journey ends in damnation, the essential message of the play upholds the Protestant belief: that the journey to spiritual redemption is a personal one requiring no intermediary. People damn themselves through their own actions but they can repent. •Faustus is not a typical Elizabethan thinker because he rejects ‘good’ knowledge and yearns for knowledge ‘more than heavenly power permits’. •The play contains Medieval and Renaissance concepts of Hell. Hell is shown as a physical place, but there is also the interesting idea that Hell has no location and may be defined as the absence of God. •Faustus expresses atheistic beliefs (‘I think hell’s a fable’) and turns his back on the redemptive power of God. On the surface the play has a Christian moral, as Faustus is damned for abandoning God. However there are reasons to be suspicious, as Marlowe was widely believed to be an atheist. There is a lot of blasphemy in the play, as well as powerful sacrilege hidden in the Latin phrases. •Marlowe uses the scenes in Rome to satirise institutions sacred to the Catholic Church. The Pope is represented as a greedy, power-mad fool, and the power-struggle between Rome and Germany is treated as a joke by Faustus and Mephostophilis. The pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church is also ridiculed.

Christian Morality
In the Elizabethan age there was a strictly dichotomised attitude towards right and wrong, and the framework of Christian morality was one by which most people aimed to live: religion was of much more central importance than it is now. Abandoning God and turning to the path of sin would be seen as a shocking and unforgiveable crime, as would experimenting with black magic and forbidden knowledge. Elizabethan audiences would be more familiar with the concepts of sinful distraction and the soul-poisoning influences of the Seven Deadly Sins. Elizabethan audiences firmly believed in the Christian cosmology of angels and devils.

The Renaissance
Marlowe’s Faustus has been called ‘Renaissance Man’ – a personification of the spirit of the Renaissance. A man of great learning in all areas of human knowledge, he strives to achieve even greater understanding. Renaissance, of course, means ‘rebirth’, and is the name given to the period of European history which followed the Middle Ages. Its development has been attributed to a new confidence in the potential of man. Wherever its influence spread, the Renaissance was characterised by great achievements, both culturally and in the advancement of geographical and scientific knowledge. Renaissance Humanists revived and extended the study of Greek and Latin classics, enlarging immensely the stock of ideas, materials, literary forms and styles which could be used by Renaissance writers. Combined with developments in science and astronomy, the new learning of the humanists represented a massive assertion of the learned person’s right to challenge accepted orthodoxy and continue to push at the boundaries of human knowledge. So the Renaissance can be characterised as a revolt against the restrictive authorities of the Middle Ages, a confidence in the potential of the human mind, and a spirit of intellectual curiosity, and a new individualism in life, thought, religion and art. Doctor Faustus: Renaissance Man? Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus the main character struggles with the lack of knowledge that he thinks he has, as well, the effect of all the deaths that were caused by the plaque. This troubled Dr. Faustus because he felt at one time that he had the knowledge that he could come to a medicine that would have saved the people from death. He seems to think that he has failed and has convinced himself that he has not knowledge and that he will never gain the kind of knowledge that he dreams of. Here he is weakened into turning to black magic and hoping that it will give him the knowledge that he seeks. This causes the a evil spirit named Mephostophilisto appear and try to encourage Dr. Faustus to give him twenty-four years for the powers that Dr. Faustus seeks, even thought Mephostophisto refuses to tell him the secrets of the creator the lord. The wReligion at this time, which tended to be a catholic influence, believed that one of the deeds of the devil is to try to stray mankind from the lord by tempting man with things that might be superficial or non-human. This I feel is a major indication of religion on the writings. This is a belief that many religions practice and is stated in the bible numerous times. Another indication of religious impact is that Faust wants to be married to that special person and to have a family. Mephistopheles quickly replies to this idea of marriage because marriage is a bondage that is encouraged by the lord and is look upon heavily by religion. Mephistopheles does not condone this because it is against the devils wishes and that this is another way to pull him away from the lord. Towards the end Faust feels that he does not want to fall to the devil and deicide that he wants to repent to be save and not to be taken to the under world. Here again a major concept for religion is that if a person wants to be forgiven by the lord and to be saved for all the sins that he has committed then the lord will forgive if he asks to be forgiven. This is a concept that is a large part of the bible. The lord sacrificed his only son so that we could be forgiven for our sins to be saved and to spend eternity in heaven with him and not as slaves to the lord.hole idea of trading his sole form powers is a concept that is introduced in the bible. Christopher Marlowe (baptized February 26, 1564 - May30, 1593) was an English dramatist and poet who was well known for his magnificent blank verse and overreaching protagonists. Marlowe based his play Doctor Faustus on stories about a scholar and magician, Johann Faust, who allegedly sold his soul to the devil to gain magical powers.. The age in which Marlowe wrote was an age of exploration, quest for knowledge, zest for life and advancement of science and technology, the age of emerging renaissance, an era of political change. Above all, the age where the literature had shifted from being heavily religiously influenced like the mystery and morality plays of medievalism to writings that focused more on the controversial topics of that particular time, for instance the struggle of power, the celebration of the free individual and the scientific exploration of nature, the emerging renaissance ideals . In the medieval academy, theology was known as what the critics call “the queen of the sciences” whereas in Marlowe’s world of Renaissance, secular matters had started to take the center stage. The protagonist in most of Marlowe’s play is a renaissance man in pursuit of power or knowledge. For instance, Barabbas in the Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine in Tamburlaine the great and Faustus in Dr. Faustus. Marlovian scholars over the years have projected contrasting views of Dr. Faustus. Some assert that it is the story of a medieval man whose “aspirations and dabbling in satanic art are judged and condemned” according and import" to Christian doctrine. Douglas Cole comments that Doctor Faustus is "thoroughly Christian in conception[1] where Faustus is himself responsible for his fall as he knowingly transgresses the religious boundaries by committing sin, does not repent and faces eternal damnation which were the orthodox values of the middle ages. Unlike the medieval times, in renaissance individual achievement, quest for knowledge, and personal aspiration were the emerging values . Keeping that in mind, Other critics emphasize the humanism of the play, interpreting the character of Faustus as a “Promethean image representing the aspirations of the Renaissance”[2] and dr. Faustus as a “ supreme archetype of renaissance man”. However, According to R.M Dawkins, Dr. Faustus is a “renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price to be one”. Dr. Faustus is neither strictly medieval nor wholly renaissance but a play that possesses both medieval and renaissance values at different points. In the opening scene of the play Dr. Faustus after having acquired the knowledge of medicine, religion and superb skill in astronomy grows dissatisfied with the limitations of this traditional knowledge. This German scholar now aspires to reach beyond the legitimate boundaries and desires to seek the condemned art of necromancy when he says: “These metaphysics of magicians,/And necromantic books are heavenly;/Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;/Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires./O, what a world of profit and delight”(1.i). proving to be the “renaissance man” who defies the medieval belief of adhering to the limitations set by Christian religion. Faustus’ determination to explore the condemned is a trait of the renaissance humanists who believed in the emerging idea of individualism and scientific discoveries, an ambition that the Renaissance spirit celebrated but that medieval Christianity denounced as an expression of sinful human pride.

Also keeping in mind the medieval ideology, Man was placed in a certain position by God and was expected to remain content with this postition in life. Faustus’ ambition to go seek further knowledge and his desire “Of power, of honor, and omnipotence” is also considered as his pride as “omnipotence” is a trait solely attributed to God. This act of pride for a medieval person was a cardinal sin that always leads to a man’s fall and damnation. Also the church preached that Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride when he revolted against God, an idea also endorsed in Paradise Lost by John Milton. So the lines spoken by the chorus “" heavens conspired his overthrow" could be a reference to Lucifer and his rebellious attempt to overpower God. Thus, it could also be said that the chorus was making reference to Faustus attempting to outwit God just like Lucifer, being blinded by his pride. This presents the stark contrast between the Medieval values and the renaissance ideals. The medieval world placed God at the center of existence and shunned all that was not Christian. Transgression and disobedience was a sin whereas the Renaissance was a re-birth of learning in which people openly questioned divinity as with much more. Dr. Faustus in wanting to attain limitless power aspires the position of God which represents the renaissance aspect of a humanist exercising the freedom of expression and opposing the Supreme authority as shown in these lines spoken by Faustus in his speech. All things that move between the quiet poles/Shall be at my command: emperors and kings Are but obeyed in their several provinces;/But his dominion that exceeds in this Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man;A sound magician is a demigod: Here tire, my brains, to gain a deity. The act or thought is unholy in itself and open transgression against God’s word which is why it can be said that it’s the transgression of a medieval belief by a renaissance man. Disobedience to God was another cardinal sin in medieval world. In the beginning of the prologue, the chorus presents a comparison between Icarus and Faustus. " Till swoll'n with cunning, of self conceit,/ His waxen wings did mount above his reach/ And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow!"(Prologue. 19-21.). The playwright here eludes to a greek myth in which Icarus’ father, made wings for both of them to fly from the isle of Crete. But Icarus flew so close to the sun that the wax holding the feathers of his wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. The myth presents the well established medieval moral – aspiration to cross boundaries leads to damnation. Thus,through this allusion, The chorus makes it seem that Faustus is a “sinner” because he wants to seek the condemned knowledge. This presents the play to be based on medieval Christian religious values. . Marlowe, later in his play introduces two angels being Faustus’conscience and desires ; the good angel and the bad angel. The Good Angel in the play represents the virtues, where as the Bad Angel signifies the vices. The Good Angel pulls Faustus towards acting righteously and not transgressing the defined limits. The angel says: "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!" ( 1.1.67-69 ). This Angel is eluding to Medieval ideals by saying that these books of magic are 'damned' and will bring 'God's heavy wrath' upon Faustus . 'That is blasphemy' is yet another reference to books not being of God. The Good Angel acts as Faustus’ key to salvation. Whereas the Bad Angel tempts Faustus by telling him that 'all nature's treasure is contained' in his books.."Go forward Faustus, in that famous art/ Wherein all nature's treasure is contained / Lord and commander of these elements!"( 1.1.71-74 ). Furthermore, the Angel misleads Faustus that through this he could attain the position of a god, urging his to make his own choice and strive for power which reflects the renaissance ideals. Faustus is encountered by his conscience on one side and his strong desire to attain the forbidden knowledge on another. This conflict between his conscience and his desires is also a conflict between the religious medieval values with the individualism and questioning of belief system of the emerging renaissance. It could also be said that Faustus represented the Renaissance man who lived between two worlds. The world of medieval Christian where a set of rules were blindly followed which no longer existed for him. On the other hand, a world of scientific exploration and quest for greater knowledge as well as power where he had not yet found the stability and security for his life. This signifies the “duality” in the society of Marlowe’s era. In other words, Renaissance man in Marlowe’s time may indeed have found himself suspended between faith and reason, where half are pulled towards the righteous medieval morals and the others toward liberated Renaissance ideals. Faustus ignores the warnings of the good angel and pays more heed to the bad angel. He sticks to his never ending quest for knowledge and makes the choice of his life. He decides to sell his soul to Lucifer in return for twenty four years of absolute power. Thus, Faustus embraces his Renaissance persona by not only making but acknowledging his life choices.

Morality plays were a tradition of the medieval era and were scarcely being written in the elizebathan era. A characteristic feature of these plays was that the characters were personified abstractions of virtue and vices which is also there in Dr. Faustus. The Good and Evil angels, one leading to salvation and the other to damnation . Then the old man appearing, telling Faustus that he is there “To guide’ thy steps unto the way of life”and The seven deadly sins present in a grand spectacle to cheer up the despairing soul of Faustus. All these could be viewed as allegorical abstractions of virtue and vice respectively, a characteristic feature not of renaissance but of the medieval literature. Another important aspect of these plays was they were didactic in nature and often ended with a specific moral:“Whosoever discards the path of virtue and faith in God and Christ is destined to despair and eternal damnation”. In dr. Faustus towards the end of the play when the final hour approaches Faustus on the verge of his eternal damnation cries out in despair: “My God, my God, look not so fierce to me!” also the chorus in the play laments the tragic downfall of ‘the branch that might have grown full straight’, who is punished for reaching beyond that which ‘heavenly power permits’. Through this, Marlowe endorses the medieval idea of not crossing religious boundaries and reverence to the supreme deity and gives the lesson that he who desires to be God, is doomed to eternal damnation which brings out the medieval aspect of the play yet again. Many critics keeping these ideas in mind have called Dr. Faustus a morality play. According to Stephen Hudson “No finer sermon than Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus ever came from the pulpit.”

After acquiring the worldly knowledge Faustus compares himself with the most learned of the medieval authorities like Aristotle, Galen and Justinian. He feels that he has attained all their knowledge that was possible through human tools and wants to move outside the realm of nature, to strike out on his own. This Thirst for more knowledge was a secular spirit of the dawning modern era, the restless spirit of the renaissance. The underlying purpose of Faustus to acquire absolute knowledge is actually his association of it with the desire for bodily pleasures which is evident from his yearning for the beautiful Helen of Troy. He believes that this knowledge will not only get him power but is also a possibility to satiate his physical, sensual desires. For this purpose he asks Mephistopheles for an exquisitely beautiful German maid as a wife which gives us Faustus' insight into the working of his mind. Faustus' admiration for beauty when he marvels at Helen’s by saying Was this the face that launched a thousand ships/ And burnt the topless towers of Ilium and desire for bodily pleasures is evident from his yearning for Helen and kissing her. This is a manifestation of the renaissance spirit of love and the reverence to classical beauty.

Faustus is provided with many chances to repent. At some instances he tries to repent but is either talked out of it or just chooses otherwise. As s result He does not repent and decides to accept and hold onto what he has done with his life and follows his Renaissance persona. Towards the end of the play when the promised years of power and glory come to an end Faustus fears his eternal damnation and seems to feel remoarse and turn back but then it is too late to fret. This this axample it could be said that he was a renaissance man but did not completely refute the orthodox Christian values. Marilyn Michaud in her critical study of the play comments that Renaissance man would have empathized with Faustus but would have agreed that he went too far. The desire for new, practical knowledge, and the lust for riches and beauty did not include the complete denial of salvation and heaven. Orthodox Christianity still prevailed. Faustus threatened both social and religious structures; although he seemed to want to repent, he had passed the point of no return.

In another place during his conversation with an arch devil, Faustus refutes the existence of heaven and hell and despite the many warnings given to him about the heinousness of hell, he still follows the path of damnation .This clashes with the idea of the remains of medieval beliefs in Faustus and depicts Faustus as a secular Renaissance man, contemptuous of traditional medieval religion. Ironically, Faustus is being scornful of the orthodox tradition calling hell a “fable” while he is conversing with Lucifer the Devil who has come from Hell . In one of the final scenes of the play, while Faustus is lavishing Helen with praises, asks her to suck the soul out of him. “Sucking the soul out” is an attribute only associated with God. Thus, when Faustus asks Helen to do so, he is committing blasphemy yet again which is one of the dominating features of the age of renaissance. In the final lines of the play, Marlowe through chorus shows us Faustus’ tragic end. Marlowe here acts as a defender of the established religious (medieval) values, and is warning us of the horrific consequences that Faustus had to face as a consequence of Rejecting God and committing blasphemy throughout the play. Through Faustus’ example it could be said that the playwright is showing his audience the terrible fate that awaits the Renaissance man who rejects God and struggles for power. On the contrary by investing Faustus with such tragic grandeur, According to some critics, Marlowe may be suggesting a different lesson. Perhaps the price of rejecting God is worth it, or perhaps Faustus pays the price for all of western culture, allowing it to enter a new, more secular era[3]. Hence, Dr. Faustus was written by a renaissance man in an era that was breaking away from conventions of medievalism and contains the values of medieval as well as the emerging renaissance. Faustus is neither wholly a morality play nor strictly renaissance in nature but it could be aptly said that Marlowe's hero, Dr. Faustus, is the quintessential Renaissance man; a lover of knowledge, beauty, and power, operating in a society that had not yet released its grip on the medieval contempt for the world.

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