The Renaissance period is characterized by a grand desire for acquisition of knowledge and a passion for emerging individuality. "Scholars and educators . . . began to emphasize the capacities of the human mind and the achievements of human culture, in contrast to the medieval emphasis on God and contempt for the things in this world" (Slights 129). However, the whirlwind of change brought on by the budding ideas of Humanist thinkers was met with a cautious warning by one the greatest writers of the era. Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus acts as mask, containing and disguising the dramatist's criticisms of Renaissance thinking.
Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is, in many ways, reflective of humankind's struggle to balance new ideas with existing traditional thoughts as the world neared the 17th century. At the time this play was written, "Elizabethans saw the world as a vast, unified, hierarchical order, or 'Great Chain of Being,' created by God" (139). At the very depths of this hierarchy lay the innate objects and at the top sat God and the angels, with the plant and animal kingdoms falling somewhere in the middle. Humans were believed to sit just above the animals, as they possessed souls and free will. It is said that humans could develop and reside "a little lower than the angels" or degenerate and fall to the level of the animals (139). Faustus is striving to rise towards the angels in his quest for human advancement, but ironically, he ends up plummeting to the depths of Hell.
The drama Dr. Faustus illustrates Marlowe's two main concerns for the human mind at the turn of the 17th ...
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...twines the vast differences with prolific language and a shocking storyline. The play's tragic conclusion marks Marlowe's detachment from the morale plays of his generation. Its tragic conclusion leaves the Renaissance audience with a sense of despair, but also with a resolve to avoid the wicked desires embodied by Faustus.
Barnett, Sylvan, ed. Doctor Faustus / Christopher Marowe: edited and with an introd. by Sylvan Barnett. New York: New American Library, 1969.
Etienne, Gilson. Reasons and Revelations in the Middle Ages. New York: New York, 1938.
Marlowe, Christopher. "Doctor Faustus." The Genius of the Early English Theatre. Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman & William Burto, eds. New York: Meridian, 1990. 95-161.
Slights, William. New Ways of Looking at the Renaissance. Binghamton, New York: Renaissance English Text Society, 1993.
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