Central Conflicts In Marlowes Dr Faustus English Literature Essay

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In constructing this theme, Marlowe also draws upon the idea of an internal religious conflict/tension in Doctor Faustus. Contextually the play was written and performed for a Protestant Elizabethan audience, who still resented Catholics for their persecution during the reign of Mary the first as Cheney states, "the English Church promoted the view that Roman Catholicism had become the province of the Antichrist: Satan and the Pope were understood as virtually identical." [10] In Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe replicates this religious conflict by showing Faustus to ridicule Catholics. As the Pope was an unpopular figure, Marlowe is able to evoke humour from audiences by presenting Faustus, whilst invisible, to use trickery against him; for example by "[snatching] the meat from [him]" (68). To further illustrate the theme of religious conflict, this scene in the B text is reworked to construct the Pope as a caricature through the addition of exaggerated responses, such as "O, I am slain!"(105) These add to the conflict in that they encourage Protestants to direct their laughter at the Catholic leader more so than in the A text. Additionally, Marlowe's repetition of the phrases, "Cursed be he that" (69) and "Maledicat Dominus." [11] (69) powerfully enforces the theme of conflict and damnation. The monotonous repetition of these sounds accentuates the curse bestowed upon Faustus by the friars, who are arguably responsible for his condemnation. Another example of such religious conflict in the play is when Faustus first conjures Mephistopheles saying:

This systematic elimination escalates to his rejection of the law because he would have to serve under others. In the same way, with religion he blasphemously judges that it is not beneficial to him as he would have to serve under god and also because he cynically questions that "The reward of sin is death?" (29) Marlowe's choice to order the rejections in this sequence is effective in emphasising Faustus' need for power in that each dismissal escalates a level from its predecessor. This builds up tension until finally achieving a dramatic climax when Faustus settles to study necromancy and declares that "A sound magician is a mighty god." (30) In this way Marlowe clearly shows that Faustus seeks ultimate power over everything, that "he does not pursue knowledge for the sake of truth, but for power, superhuman power, the power over life and death." [12] As this draws upon the idea of "man's moral limitations" [13] and desire to better himself as suggested in the prologue, Marlowe allows his audience to reflect on Faustus' quest for power and to decide for themselves "The form of Faustus' fortunes good or bad." (26) Additionally, Marlowe uses the prologue as a way of communicating knowledge and power as a theme in the play by telling us: where the play is not set, "Not marching in the fields of Thrasimene," (26) and what the play is not about "Nor sporting in the dalliance of love/...Nor in the pomp of proud audacious deeds," (26) In a sense, this repetition of the word not/nor replicates Faustus' desire for knowledge and power in the audience because we do want to know what the play is about and in this respect, gain the power of knowing what to expect.

Linking this theme of knowledge with the dominant theme of tragedy in Doctor Faustus, in the prologue Marlowe constructs Faustus as an allusion to both Icarus, who was "a familiar Elizabethan symbol of self-destructive aspiration," [14] and Shakespeare's Hamlet. Faustus is linked to Hamlet in that they both attended Wittenberg University and their fates end in tragedy. In this sense Marlowe links knowledge with tragedy in that although university positively connotes knowledge, its link to Hamlet makes this negative; this enables Marlowe to foreshadow knowledge as central to Faustus' tragedy. The added allusion to Icarus' downfall,

Till, swollen with cunning, of a self conceit,

His waxen wings did mount above his reach,

And melting heavens conspired his overthrow. (27)

enhances this negative image in the audience's minds as it refers to the greed of knowledge and foreshadows Faustus' downfall as hellish. These allusions are effective in linking the theme of knowledge and power with tragedy in that they prefigure the idea that:

Doctor Faustus is a man who of his own conscious willfulness [sic] brings tragedy and torment crashing down upon his head, the pitiful and fearful victim of his own ambitions and desires. [15] 

Marlowe appears to have strived towards intertwining the central themes of Doctor Faustus as they are all intimately linked; for example, he connects knowledge and power with his employment of the theme of temptation. In order to communicate this to audiences, Marlowe, as previously mentioned, draws upon medieval traditions [16] . He uses the morality play convention of the seven deadly sins [17] (Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery) as a way for Lucifer to tempt Faustus who, after seeing them, exclaims: "O this feeds my soul" (62); as Cole states, this "morality tradition provided Marlowe with both a thematic precedent and devices of dramaturgy on which to draw." [18] Marlowe also uses psychomachy as a way of conveying conflict, as mentioned above, as well as temptation through the physical battle between good and evil. [19] In scene five the dialogue between the two angels:

Sweet Faustus, think of heaven, and heavenly things.

No Faustus, think of honour and of wealth. (47)

communicates temptation through the contrast of eternal and earthly pleasures; thus Marlowe conveys the theme by using "the Angels in emphasising the conflict between good and evil [to] bring the issue to a heightened dramatic clarity." [20] This reinforces Faustus' tragic flaw in that he is provided with the opportunity to choose between the two and that "the choice is his own and unconstrained". [21] 

Finally, redemption and damnation are presented powerfully throughout the play. The way in which Marlowe constructs Mephistopheles contributes to this theme in that he doesn't conform to our expectations of what a devil should be like. Instead of the traditional concept of devils denoting evil and trickery, Marlowe is able to suggest that even devils like Mephistopheles can regret their mistakes. To illustrate, in scene three Mephistopheles says, "Oh Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,/ which strike a terror to my fainting soul" (41). This is used to firmly emphasise the concept of the soul being of high value and worth, relating back to the play's religious roots. Despite being a hellish figure, Mephistopheles is stuck in a moral dilemma because in one respect he, arguably, feels compelled to warn Faustus to repent, yet at the same time knows that it is his duty to "obtain his soul!"(50) In this way, Mephistopheles serves as a parallel to Faustus as his actions are replicated in him. Added to the comedic scenes of the play, where Faustus' downfall is replicated in Robin and Rafe, Marlowe is able to convey that Doctor Faustus is an exaggerated representation of mankind's struggle in the sense that four characters of differing backgrounds have the same "hellish fall," (93).

Marlowe also manipulates language to effectively convey this theme. In the dialogue between the Good Angel, Evil Angel and Faustus, Marlowe uses a repeated parallelism of the initial phrase: "God will pity thee." (54) By succeeding it with the quotes, "God cannot pity thee." (54) and "God may pity me." (55) Marlowe foregrounds the idea of an internal battle in Faustus over whether or not to repent.

Again conforming to morality play traditions and the theme of redemption, Marlowe constructs the old man as the virtuous character that attempts to get Faustus back on track: [22] 

The fact that the virtuous character does not succeed in converting Faustus is highly significant because it highlights that his greedy ambition is beyond the help of religious characters. In this way the old man is created as a foil to Faustus, who admits that he is wary of harming his good soul. In this sense, the theme of redemption also feeds into Doctor Faustus as a tragedy because it could be argued that when he shouts, "Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer!/ I'll burn my books!" (93) this is his late realisation of his tragic flaw.

To conclude, throughout Doctor Faustus Christopher Marlowe is able to communicate the themes of conflict, religion, power and knowledge, temptation, redemption and damnation in a range of ways. As the play was performed to a Protestant audience, contextual references and links enabled Marlowe to communicate many of these themes in an entertaining style that would engage his audience with concerns of the period, such as renaissance rationale vs. religious teachings. He also draws upon many medieval morality play traditions such as: psychomachy, virtuous characters and the seven deadly sins which would have made Doctor Faustus more dynamic as an onstage performance, as well as contributing to the above themes on a symbolic level. Although we separately identify these themes within the play, they are all linked by its overall theme of tragedy; this is effectively achieved through Marlowe's use of repetition, allegory, allusion and other literary techniques throughout the play.

Word count: 2083

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