In the Elizabethan tragedy The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) relates the damnation of the protagonist in a play structured like a novel with the poetic overtones of an emotional poem. With a distinct beginning, middle, and end, the fourteen scenes of this play connect through a distinct sense of rising action, crisis, climax, falling action, and denouement as Marlowe traces the lead character’s journey from the “aspiring pride” that leads to the loss of his soul to his condemnation to hell. To accomplish his goal, the author uses many literary devices including blank verse, imagery, and meter to convey the meaning of the play to his audience:
Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir'd his overthrow;
For, falling to a devilish exercise.
Poetry is an art form that uses language for its aesthetic elements to evoke emotion. Blank verse is essentially a poem without rhyme, but with a regular meter, usually iambic pentameter. Early blank verse was rigid and monotonous. Marlowe was the first to change the traditional use of blank verse style by infusing strong imagery into his work and varying the meter in his lines to instill a sense of emotion.
Marlowe uses figures of speech, primarily metaphors, similes, and ironies to carry the underlying themes of Doctor Faustus so his audience might better appreciate their meanings. For example, likening the protagonist’s ambitions to those of mythical gods, the Evil Angel tells him:
Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art
Wherein all Nature's treasure is contain'd:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.
In another example, Faustus foretells his own damnation by metaphorically setting the scene:
Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth,
Longing to view Orion's drizzling look,
Leaps from th' antartic world unto the sky,
And dims the welkin with her pitchy breath,
Faustus, begin thine incantations,
And try if devils will obey thy hest,
Seeing thou hast pray'd and sacrific'd to them.
Throughout the play, the author makes ironic use of religious language to describe the protagonist’s unholy alliance with the Devil. For example, citing the Latin phrase translating to “It is finished” when he signs his pact with Mephistopheles, Faustus uses the final words of Christ dying on the cross to seal his evil deal by exclaiming:
Consummatum est; this bill is ended,
And Faustus hath bequeath'd his soul to Lucifer.
Through his use of language and literary devices, Marlowe effectively makes it easier for his audience to absorb the deeper meaning of his play.