Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus

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Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus

For a play that has retained much of its scholarly value over the four hundred and ten years, there is surprisingly little known about Christopher Marlowe’s masterpiece, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. The date of its first performance is unknown, and is highly obscured by the added facts that there are two texts of Doctor Faustus, one published in 1604; the other in 1616 (Ribner viii). Christopher Marlowe, even in these early times, set a standard for tragic plays, which would not be rivaled until Shakespeare unleashed his literary landmarks at around the same time Marlowe’s career ended. Despite the lack of specifics on this seminal work, it is still easy to feel the pain Christopher Marlowe wished to convey with this text. Within the rich dialogue of The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe attempts to communicate a personal struggle; both emotional and spiritual, between what Marlowe views as human nature and what the world views as God’s desires for man, and the overwhelming feelings of loss which accompany this struggle.

Doctor Faustus is a play that thrives primarily on the discourses that abound throughout its length. In the dialogue between the two main characters, Doctor Faustus himself, and the demon Mephistophilis, one finds almost the entirety of the play. Doctor Faustus “…is a man who of his own conscious willfulness brings tragedy and torment crashing down on his head…”(Cole 191). Faustus finds himself melancholic with the pursuit of knowledge he has thus far attained, commenting:

“Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold,

And be eternized for some wonderous cure…

Why, Faustus, hast thou not attained that end?

Is it not thy common talk sound aphorisms?” (Ribner 5)

He has grown sick of the pursuit of knowledge as he sees it, and believing himself to have become educated in all of the worlds major subjects, seeks the power of God himself (Ellis-Fermor, 74). Through the art of conjuring spirits, commenting, “…A sound magician is a mighty God…” (Ribner 7). The human lust for power has reached a new height in Faustus, and to attain what he desires, the easiest means are demonic. On his way to making the decision to enlist infernal forces in his quest for power, Faustus is prodded by friends, Valdes and ...

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