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“Morality plays were dramatized allegories of a representative

Christian life in the plot from a quest for salvation, in which

the crucial events are temptations, sinning, and the climactic

confrontation with death.” - M. H. Abrams (224)

Doctor Faustus is magnum opus of the central Sun of the University Wits,

Christopher Marlowe. In the great Elizabethan drama, Marlowe has rightly been called the

morning star. This play has been treated as a link between the miracle and morality plays and

the illustrious drama of Elizabethan period. A morality play is a form of allegorical drama in

which the protagonist, representing everyman, is persuaded by personified virtues to choose a

divine way of life and shun evil. Marlowe constructed the character of Faustus as an

Aristotelian tragedy intended to inspire pity and fear.

Throughout the sixteenth century morality plays were continued to be performed. The

tradition remained strong in Marlowe’s lifetime, and he profited by it in writing Doctor

Faustus. Morality features are frequent in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. In so far as he felt

himself to belong to the new age, he endorsed the aspirations of this representative

Renaissance man and devoted some of his most eloquent and elated verse to expressing them;

in so far as he retained, or had recovered, an orthodox abhorrence of presumption or pride, he

considered Faustus’ course of action to be impious and finally self-defeating and employed

the morality form to convey his judgement of it. John D. Jump remarks:

Faustus is flanked by his Good and Bad Angels, like Humanum

Genus in The Castle of Perseverance; he leagues himself with

allegorical representatives of the forces of evil, he delights in a

show of the Seven Deadly Sins; and he comes close to repentance

when exhorted by an Old Man who might well be the personified

abstraction Good Counsel. (25)

Doctor Faustus’s main action divides conveniently into three parts. Firstly, Faustus

makes his decision and after some hesitation and backward glances, commits himself to evil.

The second part introduces by Chorus, in which Faustus exploits his dearly-bought power in

Rome, in Germany, and in Vanholt. The third part of the play shows Faustus’ behaviour as

his end approaches and, as far as is practicable, it shows that end itself. Of these three parts,

the second seems to contain very little writing by Marlowe; but the first and the third appear

to be principally his. According to Erich Heller:

...speaking about Dr. Faustus means to speak about

the exceptionalness, in at least one respect, of the

last three-hundred, or even four-hundred years. (2)

Though we find the elements of mystery and miracle primarily, mainly we find the

elements of morality in Doctor Faustus. The main concern of the morality plays was to teach

the moral lessons to the people of that time. In Doctor Faustus we can see constant

contradiction between good and evil, crime and punishment, personification of abstract ideas,

unbound desire of human being and downfall of protagonist as a result of the disobedience of

the orders of God.

In Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Faustus grows bored with life, believing he has learned

all he can of this world. Faustus uses Mephistophilis as a messenger; he summons

Mephistophilis to make a deal with Lucifer to sell his soul to the devil for twenty-four years

of service from Lucifer's demon. This deal is to be sealed in the form of a contract written in

Faustus' own blood. Then Faustus cutted his arm, the wound is divinely healed and the Latin

words Homo, fuge! then appear upon it. Faustus tells Mephistophilis:
I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command... (Marlowe, 12)

All of such qualities we find in Faustus when he was making a comparison among

medicine, logic, philosophy and law. Faustus found all these branches of knowledge fruitless.

According to Faustus:

Too servile and illiberal for me.

When all is done, divinity is best. (Marlowe, 5)

The good side of his soul emphasized him to learn the knowledge related to God, related to

eternity, but the bad side of his soul did not let him to go with divinity. And shortly after

when he started reading from the Bible, he saw that if someone commits sin, he will be

definitely punished in Hell through death, and it seemed very difficult to him.

The moralities impress us by their simple, grave enunciation of important general

truths. They can also exhibit a remarkable psychological subtlety. This does not manifest

itself in the portrayal of individual real characters of great complexity, such as many of those

of Shakespeare, Racine, and Ibsen, but in the presentation of general human experience by

the interaction of personified abstractions. Because of his crime, he must be punished. When

he wants to rue, his heart becomes stiff and he could not do so, as we find in the case of The

Old Mariner in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Faustus states,

“My heart’s so harden’d,

I cannot repent” (Marlowe, 23)

Faustus ultimately surrenders to the allurements of The Evil Angle, thereby paving his

way for external damnation. At the end of the play, we can relate it with the beginning of the

play by Gill’s words. According to Roma Gill:

The play ends where it began, in the solitude of Faustus’ study,

and it is here that Faustus finally damns himself, although for a

moment, just after the Old Man’s speech, he comes very close to

repentance and salvation. (15)

To sum up, we can say that Doctor Faustus is truly an extraordinary morality play.

Faustus, who was at center of the play, tells us a moral story of a man throughout the play,

who was seeking for knowledge pledged his soul to the devil, only to find the misery of a

hopeless repentance. Moreover, the subject of the play is the central morality subject, the

struggle between the forces of good and evil for the soul of man—in this case, of Renaissance

man. Faustus’ exaggerated ambitions not only made him a sufferer in this world, but also

damned him eternally in the world.

Works Cited:

Abrams, M.H., Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New Delhi: Cengage

Learning, 2013. Print.

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed. John D. Jump. New York: Routledge, 1965.


Marlowe, Christopher. New Mermaids: Dr Faustus. Ed. Roma Gill. London: A & C Black

(Publishers) Limited, 1989. Print.

Heller, Erich. “Faust's Damnation: The Morality of Knowledge.” Chicago Review 15 (1962):

1-26. Web

Marlowe, Christopher. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Ed. C. Bhaskara Menon.

New Delhi: Macmillan, 1976. Print.