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Can Faustus truly be regarded as a tragic hero?

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Introduction

Elena Solaro 13M Can Faustus truly be regarded as a tragic hero? Much of the information in Dr Faustus is derived from a collection of semi-fictitious German stories (the 'Faustbuch') in which the life of German scholar and purported necromancer, Georgius Faust are narrated. Where the Faustbuch narrates a simple tale of sin and retribution, Marlowe creates a tragedy in which a human being makes a clear choice for good or bad, with some knowledge of the possible outcome. In order to do this, Marlowe has drawn on the conventions of classical Greek tragedy, many of which dictate the nature of the hero or heroine. In ancient times, a hero achieved heroic status not because of saintliness or wickedness, but because of the acts he performed in life. The hero should have a socially elevated status and suffer a reversal of fortune in which he experiences great suffering. This is all certainly true of Faustus, who is highly regarded as both a lecturer at the University of Wittenberg, and an accomplished scholar. During his life, he performs extraordinary feats, which were unlike anything experienced by lesser mortals. ...read more.

Middle

Faustus is given a chance to repent on several occasions; before signing the contract with Mephastophilis, he seems to heed the voice of the good angel, and is about to "turn to God again", but denies this as a possibility because God does not love him. However, despite the "vain fancies" of God and heaven which clearly plague him, Faustus is resolute and clear about what he is committing himself to. Here, we see another trait of the classical tragic hero, hell bent on a course of action which he believes is right, even thought he knows it will eventually bring about his downfall. Even at the very end of his 24 years, when the hope of salvation comes along in the form of the old man, Faustus (fearful of the wrath of Lucifer) instructs "sweet Mephastophilis" to torture his would-be saviour. When Faustus chooses to kiss the image of Helen of Troy, whom he knows is nothing more than a demonic spirit in disguise, we feel that he must realise he has made a fatal choice. ...read more.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Faustus essentially cheats, twisting quotes from the Bible in order to justify his intended pursuit, one cannot help but feel that he shows insight into the problems raised by fate/free will, concluding that what is meant to be shall be ("che sara, sara"). In conclusion I would say that for the most part, Faustus is the perfect example of the tragic hero. He is an engaging character who holds the audiences' attention until the very last, even when we do not find his personality particularly appealing. Indeed, the arrogance and blasphemy apparent in many of Faustus' speeches ("a greater subject fitteth Faustus' wit", "Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity" etc) are characteristic of the classical tragic hero. For example, Faustus' pride and arrogance (which the Greeks called 'hubris') is strikingly similar to that of Aeschylus' tragic hero, king Agamemnon. As far as the issue of free will is concerned, I think that Faustus does have the opportunity to make his own decisions, despite Marlowe's paradoxical portrayal of a God whom, whilst able to control our predestination, cannot (when it comes down to it) control or undo the contract which Faustus makes. ...read more.

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