Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus has been called Renaissance England’s “last avowedly religious drama.” While that assertion might be contested, it is certainly true that the play supplies the clearest and most emphatic representation of the psychomachia—the struggle between God and the devil for the fate of an individual human soul—that was available to English playgoers since the equally straightforward morality plays of the Middle Ages (with which Doctor Faustus bears many similarities.)
It is not that Faustus is unaware of this war between good and evil, between flesh and spirit, that is going on all around and within him. “Oh, I’ll leap up to my God!—Who pulls me down?” Faustus cries out at play’s end. What pulls him down is his obdurate pride, the habitual pattern of sins from which he cannot or will not release himself, and his condition of despair. Essentially, Faustus is convinced (wrongly, according to orthodox Christian thought) that his sins are so manifold and serious that they are beyond even God’s redress and forgiveness; accordingly, he cannot truly repent. To many Renaissance minds, such conscious embracing of despair constitutes the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” warned of in Scripture that alone resides outside the circumference of God’s mercy.
Faustus finally understands that he has long suspected on some level—namely, that “for the vain pleasure of four and twenty years,” he...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
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As might be expected, a play in which the main character makes a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for earthly power, raises many interrelated themes. These issues resonate with readers today, though they become more complex when they are situated within the Renaissance, a time in many ways different from contemporary life.
The status of the individual during the Renaissance is central enough to have its own name: "Renaissance Individualism." This comes about for a variety of reasons. Most importantly perhaps, during the Medieval Period, the largely church dominated society attended primarily to things of the next world. The Renaissance, though still spiritual, brought with it a new focus on seeking happiness and fulfillment in this world. Society's secularization and the invention of printing enhanced people's literacy and political and economic changes made entirely new ways of life possible.
The Renaissance applauded those people—explorers, courtiers, traders—who successfully took advantage of these opportunities. This was also the age of the ''Renaissance Man," a person who could succeed in a variety of seemingly unrelated projects. Think of men like Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh, who were warriors, diplomats, courtiers, and poets. Remember that even the king and queen pursued a variety of interests: Henry VIII wrote music, and Elizabeth wrote poetry.
Finally, the Renaissance was...
(The entire section is 1580 words.)