Different periods in history had their different authors, and their characters reflected, more often than not, what was happening in that society. Chris Marlowe lived from the middle of the middle age to the early years of the renaissance, where his work is based. Doctor Faustus, like many other works of art, has a hero, a proponent who carries the day throughout the plot. The work of art in question is an Elizabethan comedy, which ends tragically. Written in the renaissance period, Doctor Faustus is portrayed as a hero in the modern world that is free from religion, God, and the limits to which human beings could reach in the medieval period.
Human beings are portrayed as capable of possessing some other powers such as Doctor Faustus who tries to strike a balance between magic and being a scholar. The work is a tragicomedy, but for the most part is a comedy. To achieve the goal of the work, Chris Marlowe uses many literary elements to deliver the work in a culturally diverse German culture.
The work also portrays a sharp contrast between the medieval period and the renaissance period in which it is written. While the medieval period was characterized by conservatism, the renaissance period is marked with human liberty and free will. The literary elements discussed in this paper are irony and paradox, Magic and Religion, and Symbolism, Imagery, and Allegory.
Chris Marlowe uses irony to characterize the person that is Doctor Faustus. A German scholar, the protagonist desires higher powers than the average man.
He, therefore, signs a pact with Lucifer through Mephistopheles, where he gets knowledge for twenty-four years, all in exchange for his soul. While magic and necromancy are not in any way related to God, godliness continues to be the parameter against which Faustus measures his progress. Doctor Faustus is greatly experienced in humanities disciplines such as medicine, religion, and law. While he understands that a man is limited in what he knows according to some religious beliefs, he still wants to know more, even going to an extent that he uses satanic powers to gain knowledge. The doctor wishes to use all of the powers under his reach, but he is always held back by the standards of religion that he wishes to defy. What an irony? When he signs the pact that he will enjoy the powers for 24 years and then he gives his soul to Lucifer, Faustus seems to have made up his mind. It is ironic, therefore, that he pleads with the ‘good angels’ to save his soul from destruction.
According to Cole, it is ironic that Faustus tries his best to assure himself that he is outside the religious systems of his time, while he still uses the Bible and Christianity as the basis of gauging his works. He says he is sure of what he has chosen but seems undecided of the consequences. Reading the script shows that Faustus knows that ‘the wages of sin is death, but still holds on to sin, but becomes fearful of the wages at the end. As a necromantic, is it not ironical that Faustus continues to cherish God, the power he so willfully rejects? To Faustus, the necromantic books are heavenly, and the magician he wants to become is to him a ‘mighty God’. Even in his rebellion, it is ironic that Faustus continues to include God in his quest for evil powers. Irony runs throughout the drama, but it is Mephistopheles who caps it all by saying that their revolt against God was an act of insolence and greed . It is paradoxical that Faustus’ revolt increases the awareness of a divine God, who he fears to death.
This is a theme that runs throughout the tragicomedy. During the renaissance period when this work was composed, the attitudes of the society were inclined towards religion, and the only major conflicts were between Catholics and Protestants. It was almost taboo to introduce the topic of magic and divinity in such a community. Chris Marlowe thus sets the stage for a conflict in this culturally sensitive community (Karim, 146). How would they handle a scholar they respected, who had now decided to take on topics that were touchy during the time? While the catholic and protestant leaders of Faustus’ time would execute those who seemed to deviate from the norm, Faustus promotes an anti-religion and atheistic agenda among the people.
To display the sharp contrast between the medieval and the renaissance periods, Karim states that Doctor Faustus presents an entire shift from placing too much emphasis on God and focusing on the individual. The protagonist in this work of art stands out as one who wants t cross the boundaries of human knowledge through the use of powers other than those bestowed upon humanity by God. At the initiation stage of his magic, Faustus asks Mephistopheles who created the world, a question that the latter is not ready to answer.
Actually, it is the only question he does not answer. The existence of this theme is to expound on the conflict between major powers during this period. The use of this theme in communicating is made efficient by several characters such as Valdes, Cornelius, and Wagner, who instruct the protagonist in the ways of black magic. While Faustus breaks the boundaries and starts ruminating on a better life with magic, his fellow scholars urge him to repent for they recognize the power of religion and God in their times. To them, Faustus is doomed for eternal damnation for his disobedience to the rules of the time. The conflict between magic and religion suffices to the end of the drama, with Faustus still considering the power of religion over magic. However, it is too late for him; the deal is sealed.
Many works of art use these literary elements/stylistic devices to enable readers to connect with something that is familiar to them. Christopher Marlowe does not fall short of this expectation, and he uses quite a wide range of things to make the work of art realistic to the reader. One of the greatest forms of allegory in this tragicomedy is the Seven Deadly Sins as they appear in the Bible. This reflects the values of the medieval culture where Marlowe portrays Faustus as belonging. In the traditions of the medieval culture, it was believed that rebellious people were subject to eternal damnation as a result of their sinfulness. The deadly sins are rightfully employed in this work of art to try imbibing some sense into an individual’s choices.
Marlowe personifies the sins and they tell Faustus exactly who they are, their parentage, and their effects (Marlowe, 27-29). The sins are brought on board to show where Faustus belongs, according to the standards of the time. Ironically, he laughs when the sins ‘tell’ him where he belongs; the devil’s side. Symbolism is used in this literary work where Faustus is made to seal the deal with Mephistopheles, the devil’s agent, with blood. Before he signs the pact, the blood clots, and Faustus thinks that the blood must be communicating something to him, that he should not sign the deal.
One would actually conclude, having known that Faustus is indecisive all along, that the blood symbolized the part of him that was not ready to take sides with the devil while the other part was really for it. Lucifer’s insistence that the pact must be signed with Faustus’s blood also shows symbolism. The blood is to represent the protagonist, and without it the pact is not complete. There are many other forms of allegory, symbolism, and imagery in this literary work. They include the good and bad angels, the deed of gift, and the old man. All the literary elements in this work point out to the period in which the author and the protagonist lived, and they indicate the cultures, beliefs, and the changing attitudes in the 17th century, especially in regard to godliness and humanity.