How can Doctor Faustus be viewed as a tragedy based on the conflict between intention and methods?

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ecofan74 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus most certainly falls under the category of a tragedy. Aside from Doctor Faustus’s descent into hell at the end of the play, he suffers from a tragic flaw that brings about his downfall. In a larger sense, Faustus’s tragic flaw is his intellectual pride. He feels a sense of entitlement when it comes to the knowledge he seeks. He investigates the spectrum of “acceptable” knowledge, but he finds it insufficient to address the questions he wants answered. Since he has done the leg work, he feels he should be rewarded.

Doctor Faustus’s intention is simply to seek the knowledge which will confer the greatest power on him. After everything else has proven a disappointment to him, he turns to magic to achieve the power he seeks. Once he turns his attention to the pursuit of magical knowledge, he exhibits his other tragic flaw: blindness. His blindness results from his intellectual pride, as he does not/refuses to consider the consequences of the decisions he makes. As such, he will do anything – pursue any method – to fulfill his desire for power.

When examining whether it is his intention to gain the power of knowledge that is his tragic flaw, or if it is the means by which he attains to that knowledge that indicates his tragic flaw, the real question is which of two is the sufficient cause of his downfall. The pact he makes with Mephistopheles, and by extension the devil, does serve as the immediate cause of his downfall, but it is more the insatiable desire for knowledge – his feeling of entitlement to that knowledge – that brings him to the point of making the pact. Without the intention, there would be no need for his methods. From that, one can conclude that it is his intention to gain power through magical knowledge that is his true tragic flaw.

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