Doctor Faustus as Apollonian Hero

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Doctor Faustus as Apollonian Hero

How long will a man lie i' th' earth ere he rot? - Hamlet, V, i, 168

The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus is Marlowe's misreading of the drama of the morality tradition, the Faust legend, and, ironically, his own Tamburlaine plays. In the development of the character of Doctor Faustus, we find one of the supreme artistic achievements of English dramatic literature, a milestone of artistic creativity and originality. The force of Marlowe's dramatic poetry resonates with lyrical intensity in its dialectic between world and will. Not only is Faustus the first true dramatic character of any psychological, moral, and philosophical depth in English literature of the modern period, but in his creation of this unique character we see Marlowe on the verge of Shakespearean characterization, that supreme artistic achievement that Harold Bloom calls the invention of the human personality.

The play itself is a study of the development of the inner self of a character, the evolution from a type who unfolds into a soul who develops. Bloom calls Marlowe Shakespeare's "prime precursor and rival Ovidian" (xx). All of Marlowe's major characters are of one type: each strives single-mindedly and obsessively towards one ever-evasive end. Faustus is the most philosophically oriented of this motley band, the one who comes closest to embodying the incredible vastness of human personality. Bloom notes that "Marlowe never developed, and never would have, even had he seen thirty" (xxi-xxii). While this judgment may be argued true, we must not regard his want of artistic maturity against Marlowe for the characterization he does achieve remains unprecedented in English literary history. The Faustus that we come to know, to loathe, and, at times, to idealize is both a human figure in all of his flaws and a natural force, "not so much intelligence as energy" (Steane 131).

Marlowe's tragedy stands in a uniquely transformative relationship to the tradition of England's morality plays; more than simply an evolution, the play assimilates, incorporates, and creates new uses for the conventional elements of the morality play. The morality play, the most popular examples of which include Everyman and Mankind, was rooted in the didacticism of medieval Christian theology and developed as a means for the conveyance of Biblical truth to the masses. Its basis, as a literary work, was "an archetypal human perception: the fall out of innocence into experience" (Potter 9).
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