An Analysis of Marlow's Dr. Faustus

An Analysis of Marlow's Dr. Faustus

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In 1564 Christopher Marlow was born in Canterbury. His father was a shoemaker, and it was only through scholarships that Marlow was able to attain his education. He attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he wrote Tamburlaine. According to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Marlow wrote Dr. Faustus in the last stages of his life. Christopher Marlow only lived to be twenty-nine years old; he was killed in London during an argument over the bill at a bar (1: 970-971). This essay will discuss the aspects of plot and theme as well as explaining the purpose of the chorus in Christopher Marlow's Dr. Faustus.

The prologue of Dr. Faustus introduces the audience to Faustus' character through the use of a chorus. The play opens with Faustus concluding that magic is the only art form great enough for his mind. The Good and Bad Angel first appear in Scene 1 of the play. Two scholars are introduced in the next scene. One of the two scholars thinks Faustus can still be helped while the other believes it to be too late. Mephostophilis comes to Faustus in Scene 3. He agrees to tell Lucifer that Faustus will sell his soul for 24 years of power. The audience is offered some comic relief in the next scene when Wagner, Faustus' servant, conjures two demons to scare a clown into being his servant. It is in Scene 4 that Faustus shows any regret for what he has done. He calls out to Christ for help, but is easily diverted with a promise from Lucifer. Faustus performs a sort of mockery himself in the next scene when he visits the Pope and torments he and his friars. Faustus rescues Bruno from the Pope and in the next scene they return him to the Emperor. After scamming a horse courser in Scene 10, and entertaining the Duke and Duchess in Scene 11, Faustus' 24 years is coming to an end. Regret begins to enter Faustus' mind again in Scene 12, where an old man tells him there is still time to repent. Instead of repenting Faustus is persuaded otherwise by a conjured figure of Helen of Troy. In the final scene Faustus pleads with God for help, as the devils drag his body out of the room. The chorus arrives on stage again and warns the audience of falling into the evils that Faustus did.

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(1: 991-1023)

The major theme in Dr. Faustus is his struggle with limitations. Having acquired all the knowledge a man can, Faustus becomes restless in his studies. He wishes to gain the knowledge and power of a god. Faustus proves this theme when he says, "Here Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity." (1.3). The irony in Faustus' need to exceed limitations is that with his power come the most ultimate limitations. He is limited to one fate, and that is to be forever held in damnation. His limitation comes in the form of not understanding repentance. He is aware of the facts, but his pride limits him to a full understanding. In Scene 13 a scholar says to Faustus, ."..look up to heaven; remember God's mercies are infinite" (13.13-14). Yet still Faustus cannot accept the theory of redemption. He responds, "But Faustus' offense can ne'er be pardoned" (13.15).

The chorus in Dr. Faustus is similar to the chorus in several Greek tragedies. The difference in the chorus here and the Greek chorus' is Dr. Faustus chorus appears only periodically throughout the play (mainly the beginning and end) instead of becoming a character of it's own. In the prologue the chorus foreshadows what is to come, "His waxen wings did mount above he's reach," (Pro. 21). They are alluding to Icarus, who tried to overstep his limitations was thrown back down to the earth and died. In the epilogue the chorus reminds the audience of what Faustus could have been, "Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight," (Epi. 1).

After a brief overview of the plot of Dr. Faustus it is apparent that the theme of his struggle with limitations applies to the main character. His greediness for knowledge and pride

for being the best causes a once great man to overstep the boundaries provided by faith. The chorus introduces this theme in the Prologue and continues to serve as an aid in understanding the downfall of Faustus. Personally, I enjoyed Dr. Faustus. Marlow's style of writing, although hard to follow, provides a storyline with a message. No man can overstep the boundaries provided by a higher power, Faustus was an extreme example that proved the point well. His personal values began to suffer more and more as the play went on, and to me this is a realistic interpretation of living your life in sin. The temptation might be very great, but the rewards are never present.
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