The Tragic Downfall of Dr. Faustus
Christopher Marlowe's play, its genre an English tragedy of the sixteenth century, presents the tragic conflict of the Faust theme in the tradition of medieval morality plays. The concepts of good and evil in these plays and their psychological implications reflect a historical background in which the church dominates the ethical and moral concepts of their time. Faustus defies society's norms and embraces the devil with courageous desperation, fully aware of the inevitable consequences, but incapable of being satisfied with his human limitations.
The play is divided into five acts, each of them representing a progressive stage of Faustus' downfall, his moral and ethical decline. In the prologue preceeding the first act, which is written in the form of a poetic commentary, Faustus is allegorically compared to Ikarus, the Greek mythological figure, through the alliteration of "waxen wings" (Prologue line 20). Ikarus' actual flight represents symbolically Faustus' intellectual endeavors to unreached heights. The melting of Ikarus' wings find their parallel in Faustus' downfall and destruction. The language used, discloses hierarchical thought pattern: scholarly pursuits are high standing in value. The closeness to the sun that causes Ikarus' fall foreshadows Faustus' destruction and his desire to become like God. This reflects the pre-renaissance understanding of social order - people are to stay in their "God-given" place in society.
But the image of Ikarus' death is also to be taken literal. "Heavens conspired his overthrow" (Prologue line 21) foretells Faustus' actual death while the blame for it is being placed scornfully and s...
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...t of sin, "but Faustus, in hell is all manner of delight"(II,ii,179).
The struggle between Faustus' superego/good angel and his id/bad angel continue throughout the play and the possibility of achieving a balance doesn't seem to exist. In the society of the sixteenth century repressive moral standards prohibited a possible balance between ethical demands and human passions, causing psychological traumas as the reader can observe it in this play. Society of this time, forcing their limited understanding of God on people, caused thinkers like Faust to lose their chance for a supernatural experience with God that could have solved their questions. It would take another two hundred years until in the period of Enlightenment a new Faust, created by Goethe, would retain his noble character and conquer with reason the trivial attempts of Mephistopheles.
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