How do Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare portray the fall of the heroes in the plays Doctor Faustus and Macbeth?

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

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Marlowe and Shakespeare, in Doctor Faustus and Macbeth, have their heroes fall in very different ways and by very different means. There are some similarities, such as each Faustus and Macbeth has an enemy intricately involved in their fall. (1) Faustus falls at an appointed hour by a prearranged agreement. He falls while he is alone because he has sent all others away lest they suffer from his wrongs. Macbeth dies when a presaged message predicts that he will not die. (2) He is on a crowded battlefield, though he is in battle with only Macduff, by Macduff's sword when he comes to stop Macbeth's path of murderous betrayal. Faustus dies alone in his chambers by supernatural torture at the hand of Devils from Lucifer sent by Mephistophilis to claim Faustus's soul.

    I have no words:
    My voice is in my sword: thou bloodier villain
    Than terms can give thee out! (Macbeth, V, viii) 

FAUSTUS. Now, Faustus, curse thyself, curse Lucifer
     That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven.
          [The clock strikes twelve.]
     O, it strikes, it strikes!  Now, body, turn to air,
     Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell!
          [Thunder and lightning.]
     O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,
     And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!
          [Enter DEVILS.]
     My God, my god, look not so fierce on me!
     Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
     Ugly hell, gape not! come not, Lucifer!
     I'll burn my books!—Ah, Mephistophilis!
          [Exeunt DEVILS with FAUSTUS.] (Doctor Faustus, Quarto of 1604)

Each fall has something to do with something previously occurring by which he has regulated his actions. Each fall involves someone or something who has purposefully come for the hero. This someone or something, Macduff for Macbeth and Devils for Faustus, aims expressly to take the hero to their doom. (3) Macduff slays Macbeth and severs his head. The Devils enter and look at Faustus fiercely, then are followed by Mephistophilis to conduct Faustus from the realm of the living. (4) Faustus's last words are the plea for mercy that he will burn his magic books. Macbeth's last words are that he will fight to the end and not bow to Malcolm as the new King and not be taunted by the jeering crowds for his defeat.

I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.  


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