Doctor Faustus Tragedy Of Individualism

Topics: Individualism, Christopher Marlowe, Faust Pages: 10 (3082 words) Published: December 3, 2014
S&S Quarterly, Inc.
Guilford Press

Doctor Faustus: Tragedy of Individualism
Author(s): Clarence Green
Source: Science & Society, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Summer, 1946), pp. 275-283 Published by: Guilford Press
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ChristopherMarlowe lived during the infancyof modern individualism. To the nostalgicit has sometimesseemed an angel infancy,when it was heaven to be alive. A new world was arising-a world that, on the whole, probablyseemed betterto the ordinaryEnglishmanthan the one it was superseding. Whetherbetteror not, it was certainlydifferent fromthe old one, and based on different

premises,one of the most imwithin
limits,the individual,
like Adam Smith's later laissez-faireindividual, was in duty bound tò pursue his own interest. Thus Marlowe's Faustus pursues his own interest,reckless. In doing so, he brings disasterupon himself. We of the twentiethcenturycan understandthisoutcome betterthan Marlowe could possibly have done. We have seen this grandiose cult of the omnipotentindividual play itself out. In the light of the recurrent failureof individual endeavorlackingsocial implementation,the tragedy of Faustys assumesnew meaning. Marlowe is not the only writerwho has said more than he meant.

v Insistence
upon the individualisticsignificanceof Doctor Faustus does
no violence to the fact that the play depicts one phase of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It runs counter, certainly, to the naive notion that the Renaissance succeeded all at once in overthrowinga wholly bad state of thingsand in settingup in its place a whollygood one. If such a revolutionhad actually occurred,it would be hard to explain how a Renaissance man like Marlowe ever came to consider the Faustus storyfitfor tragedy.1 If Faustus is a type of enlightened and heroic Renaissance rebel; if his revolt is good because it is directedagainst a benightedmedieval system,he obviously ought to go to heaven, not to hell.

It may be objected that Faustus suffersbecause he is a transitional figurewho has not entirelyfreedhimselffromthe superstitionsagainst whichhe is in revolt,and thathe falls back in the end on the verysuperlThc eighteenth-century Lessing,when he sketcheda scene for a Faust play, revealed his intentionof givingit a happyending.See The Historyof the Damnable Life and DeservedDeath of DoctorJohnFaustus,159«,modernizedand edited by WilliamRose (New York,1930),p. 51-53.


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stitionsrejectedby himin thebeginning.Actually,as I hope to show, is neitherthesimpleone of thesinner
hç doesnotdo this. His tragedy
rewho repentstoo late nor theequallysimpleone of thehalf-hearted suchas
who,becauseof a lack of staminaor of real convictionMarx suspectedin the Faust-likeByron-re-embraces the systemhe atto
of theestablished...
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