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Dr. Faustus and Conflict

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Faustus and Conflict Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus" presents a story that is filled with various forms of significant philosophical conflict. While, on the surface, the play is intended to focus on the "form of Faustus' fortunes," the scope of the play includes commentary on several other important themes (Prologue.8). Marlowe uses Faustus's position to demonstrate a sharp contrast between the values of the medieval time period with the developing values associated with the Renaissance movement. Faustus's story shows a direct conflict between the traditional and the modern in its form, its ideology, and its view of religion. Since Marlow maintains an ongoing struggle between these various elements throughout the play, a struggle also exists between the tragic and comedic elements of the story. Marlowe's ambiguity toward the primary direction of the play creates a situation in which the ultimate purpose of the play's comedic scenes remains uncertain even after Faustus's final moments. The content of Faustus's story superficially focuses on Faustus's struggle to maintain control over the destiny of his own soul. Faustus's desire to become "a mighty god" leads him to make a deal with Lucifer, in which he exchanges his soul for twenty four years of demonic power (1.62). Throughout the play Faustus struggles with repentance and disbelief, and he is eventually condemned to Hell for his actions. Symbolically, Faustus's story is more appropriately a representation of the struggle, evident during Marlowe's time period, between the traditional ideas of the medieval period and the modern ideas of the Renaissance. ...read more.


The conclusion of the play demonstrates that the comedy depicted in the play, in addition to its theatrical purpose of providing a comedic interlude, provides a critical depiction of Faustus's fall from grace. One of the first comedic scenes in the play occurs when Faustus asks the demon Mephistopheles to reappear in the habit of a friar since "[t]hat holy shape becomes a devil best" (3.26). While the depiction of a devil in the garb of a Catholic friar would have undoubtedly been hysterical to Marlowe's staunchly Protestant audience, the scene also carries significant meaning. By having Mephistopheles disguise his true figure, Faustus, despite his fearless speech, seems unable to stomach the true nature of Hell. Even when Mephistopheles seems to warn Faustus that his own "pride and insolence" have forever barred him "from the face of heaven" and that he is now "tormented with ten thousand hells," Faust clings to his own diluted version of Hell (3.67-68, 79). He delusionally envisions Hell as a continuation of an earthly existence, and criticizes Mephistopheles for his lack of "manly fortitude" (3.85). The comedy within the play is continued by the antics of the characters Wagner, Robin, Rafe, and the Clown. Most of these comedic actions seem to foreshadow Faustus's own downfall. The first depiction of Wagner and the Clown mirrors Faustus signing his soul over to Lucifer. During this scene, Wagner convinces the Clown to become his servant for seven years, and the Clown jokes about how he would sell his soul for a shoulder of well-seasoned mutton. ...read more.


He recalls that "Christ did call the thief upon the cross," believing that he too will be brought into paradise. Faustus, particularly during his last hours on Earth, seems to exhaust every possibility of incorporating religion into his life. He offers to make deals with God, begs for mercy if not redemption, and even turns to Helen of Troy, a representation of feminine virtue or Mother Mary, for reprieve. Faustus's condemnation demonstrates how Faustus has been simultaneously failed both by traditional religion and by the beliefs held by modern Renaissance thinkers. In conclusion, the comedy within this play serves a variety of purposes. Like many of the other elements in the play, the comic and tragic elements seem to struggle with one another throughout the play. This struggle is also seen in Faustus's struggle between Renaissance thought and form and a more traditional view of life and religion. When coupled with these various forms of conflict, the comedic scenes within "Doctor Faustus" cause the play to constantly waver between tragedy and comedy, leaving the audience without any knowledge of how the play will ultimately end or of the true meaning of the play. Most of the comedy seems to mock Faustus's decision to embrace a modern philosophy toward life, but, when religion ultimately fails him as well, Faustus seems to be a completely hopeless representation of man. The play's comedic scenes are another method, employed by Marlowe, to create confusion and veil the true significance of the play. ...read more.

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