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AS and A Level: Christopher Marlowe

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Five pieces of background knowledge that will help you write a well informed and persuasive essay on 'Dr Faustus'

  1. 1 Knowledge about literary influences, eg. medieval morality plays.
  2. 2 Knowledge about the historical context, in particular religious attitudes to hell and damnation.
  3. 3 Knowledge about dramatic conventions such as the purposes for which soliloquy is used.
  4. 4 Knowledge about the possibilities and limitations of Elizabethan stagecraft.
  5. 5 Knowledge about the philosophical debate on free will versus fate.

Common mistakes in 'Dr Faustus' essays

  1. 1 Writing a one-sided arguments – for example, by not presenting the case both for and against whether Faustus can be considered heroic.
  2. 2 Making a point but not supporting it by detailed textual reference.
  3. 3 Failing to distinguish between Dr. Faustus the play and Dr. Faustus the character by appropriate use of quotation marks or italics.
  4. 4 Failing to analyse the language carefully in order to explore how effects are achieved.
  5. 5 Lack of thought about the structure of an essay, resulting in short paragraphs and disjointed arguments.

Ensure that you know the meaning (and spelling!) of the following words and include them in your 'Dr Faustus' essays

  1. 1 Hubris.
  2. 2 Predestination.
  3. 3 Necromancy.
  4. 4 Redemption.
  5. 5 Salvation.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 4
  • Peer Reviewed essays 1
  1. In what ways and with what effects does 'Dr. Faustus' question the acquisition and the use of power?

    This intervention of Mephastophilis lessens Faustus as a tragic figure because it takes away the element of choice even though essentially it was Faustus who summoned him from Hell in the first place. Dr. Faustus questions the acquisition of power by pushing what is acceptable, i.e. the dominant rules of the Church, he gains a false sense of power in defying God and selling his soul to the devil; Faustus vows never to look to heaven, Never to name God, or to pray to him, To burn his scriptures, slay his ministers, And make my spirits pull his churches down2 (v.

    • Word count: 2051
  2. "Look again at Faustus' opening soliloquy, from 'Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin' to 'Here tire, my brains to get a deity'. What aspects of Faustus, revealed here, are important to our understanding of him later in the play?

    This can be seen later in the play - for example in Act I Scene III, he states to Mephostophilis that he is willing to sell his soul, without any hint of hesitation, though two scenes later he is seen back in his study wrestling with the problem, unsure which path to take before being influenced by the Evil Angel. In lines 3-7 I believe that Faustus is demonstrating that he has succeeded in understanding all that one needs to know in the field of knowledge and philosophy.

    • Word count: 2478
  3. How far would you say that the novel is not so much about Brighton as about Heaven and Hell?

    The amusements are a series of clich�s: ghost - trains and shooting galleries, paper hats and sticks of rock. A supposedly festive location, often by way of contrast (as here), proves highly effective for a story about evil and crime. On the day of the Whitsun bank holiday, though the sun shines there is a chill wind; the author uses pathetic fallacy as a metaphor for Hale's sense of danger and isolation. Though the crowds enjoy the sea front amusements they do not know the impoverished streets behind it, the home of Rose and, before her, Pinkie.

    • Word count: 2243
  4. "An impressive opening, a marvellous ending, an indifferent middle". Does this twentieth century comment represent to you a fair summary of Dr. Faustus? Support your views by detailed illustrations of the text.

    When Faustus proclaims that "a greater subject fitteth [his] wit", and that the next step in his education must be necromancy, our worst fears are confirmed. It is important to note that whilst the modern audience may be only slightly shocked by this revelation, to Marlowe's contemporaries it would have been horrifying in the extreme. In Elizabethan times, religion permeated all aspects of life, and the majority of people were devout Christians; such and explicit display of blasphemy would have been unheard of!

    • Word count: 2058
  5. Do Renaissance texts deal primarily with Renaissance concerns, or with universal human emotions and themes? Illustrate your answer from at least TWO texts.

    In a similar sense, Marlowe's daring tale of black magic and evil was written at a time when these topics were a taboo, yet Dr Faustus also deals with universal human concerns. Spenser's The Faerie Queene was originally meant to consist of twelve books, but Spenser only wrote and published six before he died. The first book concentrates on the adventures of a staunchly Protestant 'Knight of Holiness' who goes on a quest to kill the dragon that has imprisoned his loved-ones parents.

    • Word count: 2642
  6. Comment on the relationship between the comic and serious material in Dr Faustus.

    In Dr Faustus there are two types of comic scenes, one type is the farcical, slapstick comedy that provides a light relief to the more dramatic events of the play. This type of comedy is also a microcosm of other events in the play but with a much more satirical tone, for example Scene Four. This type of comedy is used to illustrate Faustus' decline into using cheap conjuring tricks and is thought to have been written by a collaborator and not Marlowe himself.

    • Word count: 2154
  7. "In Dr Faustus Marlowe is only incidentally concerned with the state of Faustus' soul: his main interest lies in the nature and limits of human desire." Do you agree?

    So right from the beginning it is fair to say that Marlowe, and Faustus, are definitely more concerned with ambition and the fulfilment of human desire; in Faustus' case (at this stage of the play anyway) this seems to be the need for everything; riches, power and knowledge: O what a world of profit and delight, Of power, of honour, of omnipotence Is promised to the studious artisan! (I, 53-55) Faustus himself seems to rule out the question of concern for the state of his soul from the beginning; he does not seem to care about the consequences and is

    • Word count: 2367
  8. What does the play show us about attitudes to sin and damnation?

    We can guess that Marlowe has a negative view of what Faustus did because he compares him to Icarus from Greek mythology when he says, "His waxen wings did mount above his reach, And melting heavens conspired his overthrow. For falling to a devilish exercise" By saying this, Marlowe is expressing that going against God and selling his soul was the ultimate sin that caused Faustus to be damned. Although Faustus' act is presented in this negative way we can assume that many people in Marlowe's audience would have admired Faustus' desire for knowledge beyond the scope of man, as this is what people of that time were aiming to acquire.

    • Word count: 2712

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Discuss the presentation of Faustus' inner conflict in Act 1 scene 5 of Doctor Faustus.

    "In conclusion we, as the audience, are clearly able to see that towards the beginning of Act 1 Scene 5, Faustus demonstrates his inner turmoil and uncertainty as to what is the right decision for him to make. His inner turmoil is presented primarily, through his monologues, which let the audience know what is happening in his mind, and the through the contrary manifestations of the "Good" and "Evil" Angels. The "Good" and "Evil" Angels symbolise the two extremes of his conscious thought and make it easier for the audience to see Faustus' confusion. By the end of the scene it is made clear that through the temptation of Mephastophilis, the terror of Lucifer and Belzebub and the lies of the "Evil" Angel, Faustus' soul will be contractually damned to hell and he does not have a hope of salvation."

  • Discuss the role of Mephistopheles - How much of a role does he play in Faustus' damnation? How does Marlowe complicate his character and inspire our sympathy?

    "In conclusion, Mephistopheles is perhaps the most complicated character in the play. Marlowe's character goes against the traditional beliefs of a medieval audience, but is a far more compelling figure. Not only does his cunning and determination lead to Faustus' damnation, but his own torment and irritation leads us to feel sympathy for him, perhaps even more than we do for Faustus."

  • Marlowes original title was The Tragicall history of Dr. Faustus. To what extent do you consider Faustus a truly tragic figure?

    "In conclusion, I belief that Faustus is a tragic hero because although he committed terrible sins he is merely guilty of being human with immoral urges. Dr. Faustus is a morality play, it illustrates to the audience how one should not behave but it also illustrates the temptations that are put to them. Faustus had great ability but he unfortunately channeled his abilities in the wrong fashion. A tragic figure, according to Aristotle should be of high status so he would have further to fall, the hero should bring his own peripeteia because of his hamartia; the audience would also most likely have pathos for Faustus, sympathy because Faustus, other than his fateful flaw is actually a likeable character. The audience should also appreciate Faustus's fear because they can relate to his fall from grace and finally a tragic hero must have a moment of anagnorisis. Faustus has all these qualities in him and hence this is the reason why I believe that Faustus is a tragic hero."

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