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Can Faustus truly be regarded as a tragic hero

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Introduction

Faustus, a tragic hero? 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. Even by modern standards, the notion of necromancy is disturbing; for a contemporary Elizabethan audience, for whom religion permeated all aspects of life, it would have been inconceivably horrific. Once Faustus is "glutted with learning's golden gifts and surfeited upon cursed necromancy" he uses his powers to embark upon amazing adventures (for example learning the secrets of astronomy upon the summit of mount Olympus) ...read more.

Middle

Mephastophilis sums this up perfectly when, in response to Faustus' desperate, remorseful accusation: "thou hast deprived me of the joys of heaven", he reminds Faustus that "'twas thine own seeking...thank thyself". However, when we consider the religious beliefs held by most of Marlowe's contemporaries, there appears to be a contradiction in Faustus' apparent free will. In Elizabethan times, the ideas of a popular branch of Christianity known as Calvinism (of which Marlowe himself would certainly have been aware) were widespread. Calvinists held the belief that human beings, as a direct consequence of original sin, have no free will. Also, Christianity has traditionally taught of God's omnipotence and omniscience- i.e. God knows all and sees all. It follows, therefore that God has planned our fate and knows it long before we are even born. If this is the case, then doubt must be cast upon the notion of Faustus as a true tragic hero; if his fate was already mapped out then all the 'choices' presented to him are rendered arbitrary. ...read more.

Conclusion

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. By now the tragedy is inevitable; of his own free will Faustus has rejected all hope of salvation and the audience waits in trepidation for his impending doom. In conclusion 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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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

A very well written and well-constructed essay, which shows strong understanding of the conventions of tragedy and effectively places the play in its literary and historical context.
The essay would benefit from more reference to events in the text however, in order to achieve the perfect balance between contextual comment and textual exploration.

Marked by teacher Val Shore 01/03/2012

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