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Discuss Dr. Faustus as a tragedy.

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swatidasani | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 23, 2009 at 2:44 AM via web

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Discuss Dr. Faustus as a tragedy.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted December 23, 2009 at 4:17 AM (Answer #1)

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In his play 'Dr Faustus' Christopher Marlowe presents his main character as a tragic 'hero' right from the start - the full title of the play is 'The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus. So we have the idea of 'tragedy' and of a history (story) at the beginning - his audiences knew what they were getting - a tragedy or fall from grace or from some lofty status. Marlowe's audiences would have been familiar with this idea of tragedy from the old morality plays that were in performance round that time. Marlowe re-used an old legend called Faust to tell the story of a man,who like all of us at some time in greater or lesser degree, lets himself down. He loses credibilty, reputation, his standing in the eyes of God and Man and risks his immortal soul. It is in identifying with his human frailty and weakness that we see him as a tragic figure. He sells his priceless soul to the devil for the sake of intellectual superiority and finds it a shallow recompense.

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Payal Khullar | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted November 3, 2012 at 7:14 PM (Answer #1)

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Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is perhaps one of the best known tragedies. It definitely differs from a traditional Greek tragedy, as Faustus doesn't have a high birth status (like a king, prince etc.). Moreover, as we know, in a Greek tragedy, though the hero suffers, but everything is brought into restoration by the end. As long as the person is alive, there is an option of repentance and forgiveness of his sins by the God. But Doctor Faustus shows some deviations.

Doctor Faustus can be called as an Elizabethan form of tragedy with elements of Christianity and Renaissance. It drew inspiration but was significantly different from the Aristotelian form of tragedy. In fact, the tragedy plays by the famous playwright William Shakespeare are believed to be an advancement of Marlowe’s genius.

Now, though we understand that Faustus doesn't have a high birth status, he still enjoys respect in the society because of his unmatchable education and intelligence. 

Doctor Faustus represents the modern man who is divided between the Christian faith and the Renaissance spirit. Faustus, similar to the heroes of Greek tragedies (Greeks were pioneers of tragedy plays) has one fatal error or tragic flaw (known as Hamartia) that leads to his damnation. It is his hubris or extreme pride (this is considered as the most severe of all seven deadly sins as it gives rise to the other sins). He is guilty of being too proud over his intelligence and achievements. Because of his he commits a series of other mistakes one after the other.

We see that Faustus too finally realizes his mistakes (all tragic heroes meet revelation of their faults) and begs for repentance. But it’s too late by then and he meets damnation. Through his tragic end, he gains the audience’s sympathy and provokes Catharsis. Catharis is atypical of any tragedy. In fact, the most obvious and logical conclusions of the Elizabethan (or, later famously called as the Shakespearean tragedy) is the hero’s death.

Doctor Faustus can be, hence, called as a tragedy play.



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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 23, 2009 at 2:59 AM (Answer #2)

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One way that Dr. Faustus can be seen as a tragedy lies in the main character himself.  The fundamental story of a man, Faustus, trying to appropriate the world in accordance to his own subjectivity can lead to the tragic conclusion that each step towards creation is inevitably a step towards destruction.  Faustus is a man of science, of boundless optimism, who genuinely believes that through his pact with the devil, he will be able to externalize his own subjective beliefs.  In this setting, the real world is to mirror the mind.  It is in this condition where the tragic condition of Faustus is present, as he believes that he can overtake and control the world based on what is in his mind, his own subjectivity.  The realization that his desire to do so inevitably leads to his own destruction reflects the tragic condition that immerses human beings.

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nitu03 | College Teacher | eNoter

Posted August 19, 2010 at 6:09 AM (Answer #3)

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Dr.Faustus is a tragedy of soul.

In a tragedy, the hero dies at the end but here its not only that hero is dead at the end but also we see the death of his soul itself . He tries to challenge God and the rules of nature. His excessive pride brings his to a point where at towards the end of the play he wants to pray God and forgive him but he is not able to do so.This is because his deeds and pride reaches to a level where we can say that his soul is completely dead and he could not distinguish between the right and the wrong.Hence its a tragedy and a tragedy of soul.

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