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Essay on Dr. Faustus: A Morality Play Without a Moral?

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          To answer the question proposed by the title there are two aspects which must be considered. Firstly we must decide whether Dr Faustus is a morality play; I will do this by discussing the play's form, content and subject matter in an attempt to categorise the play. I will also offer an alternative argument by saying that the play is in fact a tragedy. Secondly we must decide whether or not it has a moral; to do this I will consider the tone of certain parts of the play, in particular the Chorus' speeches as well as the speech of other characters.

Let us first deal with the categorisation of the play. To determine if Dr Faustus is a morality play or not we must first know what a morality play is. Morality plays are essentially dramatised sermons usually based on the subject of repentance; typically an Everyman figure will begin in innocence, be led into temptation by others, to be finally redeemed. In Dr Faustus Marlowe uses the structure of the morality play intensively, most noticeably in the characters he uses as many of them are representations of type rather than being individuals. For example, the characters of Valdes and Cornelius are known as 'the tempters', thus fitting the morality definition as the characters who tempt the main character into sin (although they are not alone in this ). The Good and Bad Angels can also be seen as morality play characters, although this depends on whether or not we see them as real characters from another world or as externalisations of Faustus' own thoughts and conscience. There is nothing in the text which precisely determines which view is correct. However Faustus' speech in Act II scene i, implies they are externalisations of his conscience;

Why waver'st thou? O som...


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...ecause of the style of the time or because it had the right form for what Marlowe wanted to say. Concerning the moral within the play, there is certainly one (at least) which is offered by several characters. However I do not believe the play was written with the sole intention of offering a moral and would be equally as strong without one. Despite the moral given and the aspects of the morality play structure the play remains, primarily, the tragedy of an individual.

 

Bibliography

Marlowe, Christopher Dr Faustus in ed. WB Worthen (1996) The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, 2nd edn., Texas: Harcourt Brace

Steane, J.B (1965) Marlowe Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wilson, F.P (1953) Marlowe and the Early Shakespeare Oxford: Clarendon Press

The Oxford English Dictionary (1989), Second edition, Volume xviii. Oxford: Clarendon Press

 


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