Doctor Faustus as a Morality Play

“The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is a play by Christopher Marlowe based on the “Faust story”, in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange of power and knowledge. The play starts, like classic tragedy, with the protagonist at the zenith of his achievement and ends with his fall into misery, death and damnation from which we get a solemn moral. Now we are going discuss the play as a morality play.

         “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is a play by Christopher Marlowe based on the “Faust story”, in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange of power and knowledge. The play starts, like classic tragedy, with the protagonist at the zenith of his achievement and ends with his fall into misery, death and damnation from which we get a solemn moral. Now we are going discuss the play as a morality play.

          To discuss Doctor Faustus as a morality play, we are to, at first, know what the morality play is. Actually it an allegorical drama in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstraction (such as death and youth) and in which moral lessons are taught. Morality plays are essentially dramatized Sermons (ধর্মোপদেশ), usually based on a subject of repentance; typically an Everyman figure will begin in innocence, and then will be led into temptation by others, to be finally redeemed. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe uses the structure of morality play intensively most notably in Faustus’s character.

          The conflict between Good and Evil is a recurring theme in the medieval morality plays. From this point of view, Marlowe’s play is the dramatized version of the medieval morality play, Everyman. Doctor Faustus becomes a morality play in which heaven struggles for the soul of renaissance Everyman namely Faustus.

          In the play, the Good Angel and the Bad Angel derived from the medieval morality plays like “The Castle of Perseverance”. They are, sometimes, regarded as the externalization of the thoughts of Faustus. The Angels are independent absolutes, one wholly good and one wholly evil. They appear in the play like allegorical figures of a morality play. They reflect the possibility of both damnation  and redemption .

          The presence of seven deadly Sins (Pride , Covetousness, Wrath , Envy, Gluttony , Sloth , Lechery  in Doctor Faustus is another feature of the tradition of morality play. In the play to divert Faustus’s attention from Christ, Lucifer comes with his attendant devils and then, presents the pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins as diversion ).

        In morality play, the hero often is tempted by evil force. In the play Faustus, the hero is misguided by his sky-kissing ambition and extreme desire of worldly power. As he says:

“All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at my command”

He also wants to conquer the time, apace and tries to unfold the secret of Heavens; prospect to gain “a world of profit, and delight, of power, of honour”. To accomplish his expectation he signs a deal with Lucifer that will serve him roe twenty for years as his personal servant and at the end he will give his soul to Lucifer as payment and spend rest of the time as one damned to Hell.

Faustus’ attempt to repent to God and Jesus is also a device taken from medieval morality play.

Faustus, as we see, appeals to Hell not to receive him; he prays to Lucifer not to take him away and he offers to burn his magic books which once he considered heavenly. Faustus, to save his soul, wants the mercy of god and one drop even half of the of Christ’s blood. As he says:

          “One drop would save my soul, half a drop: oh, my Christ!”

But the moments when he names the God and Christ, the Devil begins to rend his heart. As he cries:

          “Ah, rend not my heart for names of my Christ!”

At that moment he wants to be little drop of water which could mingle with the ocean and get lost forever. As Faustus says:

                   “O soul, be into a little water drops

                   And fall into ocean, never be found”

But all of his appeals are useless; Mephistopheles appears and takes away the soul of Faustus.

          Like medieval morality play, we find in Doctor Faustus a moral teaching that, human should try to cross the humanly limitation and should be so much ambitious which prompts his down fall. We are informed of its moral at the very beginning of the play by Chorus.

                                                             “… of a-conceit

 His waxen wings did mount above his reach

And, melting, heavens conspir’d his over throw”

          Last of all we can say that, the basic beliefs of Christianity are found in every line of Doctor Faustus.  Marlowe has also added medieval morality and renaissance temper in play. So it has been an icon of the renaissance morality play.

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6 Comments
  1. tasnim
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

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  6. sam
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

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