“Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe is a seminal work of Renaissance literature and can be discussed as a quintessential Renaissance tragedy. This is evident in several key aspects of the play:
Renaissance Humanism and Individualism: The character of Doctor Faustus embodies the Renaissance spirit of humanism and individualism. Faustus is a scholar who seeks to go beyond the accepted boundaries of human knowledge and power, which reflects the Renaissance pursuit of individual achievement and mastery over various fields of knowledge. His ambition and desire to gain supernatural powers demonstrate the Renaissance ideal of human potential and greatness.
Challenging Established Norms: The play reflects the Renaissance trait of challenging established norms and authorities. Faustus challenges the limits set by religion and traditional scholasticism. His pursuit of necromancy is a direct challenge to the religious and moral boundaries of the time, echoing the broader Renaissance questioning of traditional authority and the pursuit of new knowledge.
Tragic Flaw and Fall: As a tragedy, the play follows the classic Aristotelian model where the protagonist has a tragic flaw leading to his downfall. Faustus’ tragic flaw is his overreaching ambition or hubris. He is not satisfied with human knowledge and craves divine powers, which ultimately leads to his tragic end. This mirrors the Renaissance tension between ambition and hubris, where seeking too much can lead to destruction.
Use of Classical References: The play is rich in classical references and allusions, reflecting the Renaissance revival of classical antiquity. Marlowe incorporates elements from Greek and Roman mythology, and the structure of the play is influenced by classical tragedy.
Conflict between Medieval and Renaissance Values: “Doctor Faustus” portrays the conflict between medieval and Renaissance values. Faustus’ struggle can be seen as a representation of the tension between the medieval worldview, which emphasized the limitations of human knowledge and the importance of divine grace, and the emerging Renaissance ideals of humanism and personal achievement.
The Role of the Supernatural: The play’s use of the supernatural, with its focus on magic, demons, and the devil, reflects the Renaissance fascination with mysticism and the unknown. This also ties into the scientific and exploratory spirit of the time, as Faustus seeks to explore and master these supernatural forces.
Moral and Ethical Questions: Finally, the play raises profound moral and ethical questions, a key feature of Renaissance literature. Faustus’ deal with the devil and his subsequent struggles reflect the Renaissance debate over morality, free will, and the consequences of human actions.
In conclusion, “Doctor Faustus” can be seen as a Renaissance tragedy not only in its thematic content and character portrayal but also in its reflection of the broader intellectual and cultural currents of the Renaissance era.