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Discuss Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a tragedy relevant to all times.Discuss...

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misbahfarheen | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 4, 2010 at 12:22 AM via web

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Discuss Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a tragedy relevant to all times.

Discuss Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a tragedy relevant to all times.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 11, 2010 at 5:57 AM (Answer #2)

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There are several reasons for why Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is relevant to all times. Some have to do with its nature and stature as a work of art. Others have to do with its content. Yet another has to do with the nature of the central character, Doctor Faustus. From the perspective of great art, it is a drama that is still entertaining due to the great suspense that builds within it and is sustained right till the end. This suspense keeps the audience wondering if Faustus will repent and, if so, whether God will accept his repentance. Further, it was an innovative and definitive play even if not exemplary of perfect craftsmanship.

One way it was innovative is that it was the first play to successfully use blank verse, a form of verse that later became Shakespeare’s trademark. It was further innovative because it introduced the variation on Aristotelian tragic form that became identified as Elizabethan tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy. The most significant difference from Aristotelian tragedy is that the hero errs so severely that the only true Aristotelian catharsis (which was geared at a logical and reasonable conclusion to the tragedy) can be the hero’s death, whereas in Aristotelian theory, it is acceptable for the hero to be suitably punished and/or exiled. The play is considered to be less than exemplary because the middle segment doesn’t adequately develop Dr. Faustus’ character so the audience sees that he learns something and ultimately recognizes the error of his flawed ways.

From the perspective of moral lesson, people in the world today still uphold moral principles and religious precepts, two things that are primary thematic concerns of the play. In addition, these concerns comprise and drive the plot. In Marlowe's play the antagonist demon Mephistopheles orders the personifications of the seven deadly sins, such as Envy, Lechery, and--Faustus' favorite--Pride to occupy Faustus' time and attention. The end of the play shows the consequences of consorting with the deadly sins. Therefore the theme is as relevant to moral and religious people today and brings an Elizabethan catharsis to the audience through fear for their own potential fate. (Elizabethan catharsis as innovated by Marlowe differs from Aristotelian catharsis in that the innovative former is audience related while the classical latter is play related.)

From the perspective of character, the central character is relevant to all time because Dr. Faustus is guilty of hubris (i.e., extreme pride), and this tragical flaw leads him to commit the hamartia (i.e., fatal deed). It is well known that pride and fatal deeds are as rampant today as they were when Marlowe wrote in 1594 and when the original Dr. Johann Faustus lived and died in Germany from 1488 to 1541. So Doctor Faustus remains relevant to all ages in part because it remains entertaining; it remains the bedrock of Elizabethan tragedy; it remains a source of moral and religious instruction; and it remains an apt picture of those consumed with pride who commit deeds that lead to their undoing. One can’t help but think of the Enron catastrophe of 2006 and the banking failures of 2008. [Answer reflects information in eNotes Study Guides available at the attached links.]

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