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What was Marlowe's debt to Moralities in Doctor Faustus?

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msfuryal | Student, Graduate | eNoter

Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:52 AM via web

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What was Marlowe's debt to Moralities in Doctor Faustus?

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

Posted April 2, 2012 at 2:42 AM (Answer #1)

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Morality plays, or Moralities, followed Mystery plays and were probably the outgrowth of a desire to teach Christian principles without adhering strictly to the narratives told in the Old and New Testaments and the saints' lives. Morality plays were in vogue in England at the end of the fifteenth century (1400s), yet they did continue to have an influence that can be readily seen in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

Moralities were intended to teach Christian principles of how to live and how not to live: One lives by virtues and avoids vices. Moralities were allegories in which abstract concepts were allegorized as personified characters such as Evil and Greed and Beauty and Mercy. Doctor Faustus certainly instructs on how and how not to live and has characters who are allegorized personifications of abstract concepts, along with supernatural characters like Lucifer. When Lucifer comes to Faustus to chastise him for thinking of God and calling on His name, he brings a pageant of the Seven Deadly Sins with him. These allegorical characters perform a dance for Faustus and teach him how to adhere to each representative vice.

LUCIFER. Do so, and we will highly gratify thee.  Faustus, we are
     come from hell to shew thee some pastime:  sit down, and thou
     shalt see all the Seven Deadly Sins appear in their proper shapes.
[...]
Talk not of Paradise nor creation; but mark this show:
     talk of the devil, and nothing else.
 [Enter the SEVEN DEADLY SINS.]

Moralities show the supernatural struggle between Vice and Virtue, Good and Evil, as the opposing forces of Good and Evil contend for the hero's eternal soul. This is certainly present in Doctor Faustus as illustrated by Mephistophilis's presence and role and as confirmed by Lucifer's intrusion. One difference is that in the end of a Morality play, Repentance saves the hero through the help of Perseverance so that ultimately the hero is forgiven, redeemed, and saved. Not so for Faustus whose end is a grizzly one in which he is hopelessly brought face-to-face with the Devils that come to escort him to the waiting Mephistophilis.

FAUSTUS. Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again, and make
     Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
     A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
     That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
     ...
     The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
     The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
     O, I'll leap up to my God!—Who pulls me down?—   

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