Faustus: Renaissance Martyr or Tragic Hero
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Faustus: Renaissance Martyr or Tragic Hero Faustus died a death that few could bear to imagine, much less experience. After knowing for many years when exactly he would die, he reached the stroke of the hour of his destiny in a cowardly, horrid demeanor. Finally, when the devils appeared at the stroke of midnight, tearing at his flesh as they draw him into his eternal torment, he screams for mercy without a soul, not even God Himself, to help him. However, what to consider Doctor John Faustus from Christopher Marlow's dramatic masterpiece The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus is a very debatable issue. For example, one can see that he threw his life away for the sake of knowledge, becoming obsessed with the knowledge that he could possess. In this case, he is unarguably a medieval tragic hero. However, when considering the fact that he died for the sake of gaining knowledge, pushing the limits of what is possible in spite of obvious limitations and, eventually, paying the ultimate penalty, he could be considered a Renaissance martyr. These two points of view have their obvious differences, and depending on from what time period one chooses to place this piece of literature varies the way that the play is viewed. However, the idea of considering him a martyr has many flaws, several of which are evident when considering who Faustus was before he turned to necromancy and what he did once he obtained the powers of the universe. Therefore, inevitably, the audience in this play should realize that Faustus was a great man who did many great things, but because of his hubris and his lack of vision, he died the most tragic of heroes. Christopher Marlowe was borne on February 6, 1564 (Discovering Christopher Marlowe 2), in Canterbury, England, and baptized at St. George's Church on the 26th of the same month, exactly two months before William Shakespeare was baptized at Stratford-upon-Avon (Henderson 275).
Faustus does go to extremes by chancing damnation in order to gain his knowledge; however, he is considered tragic and God himself is seen as the bad guy because He set forth limitations on knowledge and makes man suffer eternal damnation when trying to exceed those limitations. The comedy then comes out when one thinks that man was created by God and, therefore, given his thirst for knowledge by God. When he tries to gain knowledge, then, he is damned forever. This divine comedy is one of the ironies that one can perceive in Marlowe's play. However, this Renaissance view of Marlowe being a martyr much less realistic when considering Faustus to be a medieval tragic hero. In fact, for the very reasons that one can argue that Faustus is martyr, one can give strong evidence that he fell from grace and became a tragic hero. First of all, the Faustus claims that he is a master in all fields of study. In medicine, his "[prescriptions are] hung up like monuments / Whereby whole cities have escaped the plague" (1.1.20-21). He is bored with the study of law for "this study fits a mercenary drudge / Who aims at nothing but external trash, / Too servile and illiberal to me" (1.1.34-36). With theology, Faustus claims that he is dumbfounded by the loose translation of the quote from Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death." This final area is where the irony is greatly seen in the play. Throughout the play, Faustus is given the option to repent for these sins and turn back towards God. When the Good Angel and the Bad Angel appear to him throughout the play, both sides try to persuade Faustus that they are right. The Bad Angel tells Faustus about how he should delve into necromancy, for this art is "wherein all nature's treasury is contained" (1.1.75).
Faustus was indeed a tragic hero. Many scholars and literary experts may debate that, because this play was written in the Renaissance, Christopher Marlowe intended that Doctor Faustus be seen as a martyr trying to attain that which was forbidden to man in a time when doing so was the noble thing to do. This is not true, however. Doctor Faustus was a tragic hero through and through, and the way that he presents himself in the play is solid evidence for this. To begin with, he feels that he can justify his turning to witchcraft and necromancy by his gaining of all other knowledges. The irony here is that he never did, or he would have realized that even after he had committed blasphemy by conjuring spirits, he could have turned back to God. He also is a tragic hero because of his methods of using his new power. Instead of using it to attain the secrets of the universe, he plays petty tricks and tomfoolery on various important people around the world, including the pope and the German emperor. Finally, he proved his tragic nature by trying to move above and beyond the limitations set by God himself. Faustus knew that he had to abide by certain laws and rules that God set aside for all of mankind. Faustus knew his limitations, and thus by trying to break those, he damned himself to eternal torment. Ironically, Faustus could have been the most incredible human being who ever lived. If he had repented, the world would have seen that God is truly merciful because he forgave such a blasphemous heathen as Faustus. Faustus could have become an example for all of mankind and proven that if he could be forgiven, then all could be forgiven. However, because he was stubborn, ignorant, and blind, he refused to see that he was never truly damned until he was drug by the devils into the heart of hell itself.
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