Discuss Doctor Faustus as a morality play.

Doctor Faustus is considered a morality play because it communicates a message about sin and salvation to its audience. Morality plays were often comic in their depiction of vices, and Doctor Faustus employs this element when Faustus uses his power of invisibility on the Pope. Faustus ends up being blinded by his pride and becomes vulnerable to the influence of the devil.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Morality plays were Christian plays first performed by traveling troupes during the Middle Ages to communicate a moral message about sin and salvation. They kept audiences entertained with vivid depictions of sinful behavior, the devil, and evil.

While the characters in Faustus are far more developed than in a morality play—where the principal parts were usually simply types named for vices and virtues, such as Envy or Charity—Faustus maintains vestiges of its medieval antecedents in its characters, especially in the role of Lucifer and in Faustus being so identified with pride.

Morality plays were often comedic, too, in their depictions of vices, and Marlowe maintains that aspect as well, such as in the comedy of Faustus using his power of invisibility to plague the pope.

The play, like a typical morality play, also centrally communicates a serious theme about salvation. Faustus is so blinded by his own pride—one of the seven deadly sins—that he falls prey to the devil. Lucifer actually lacks the power to own Faustus's soul, but Faustus is so sure he knows he is damned that he can't see how false that assumption is. All he needs to do, up to the end of his life, is to repent and ask for God's forgiveness, and he will be granted mercy and salvation. Yet, because of his pride, he never can. The play communicates quite unequivocally to anyone in the audience that no matter how much they have sinned, they can obtain divine mercy through humility and surrender to God's grace.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Doctor Faustus, written by Christopher Marlowe and performed between 1588 and 1593, is a strong example of the morality play genre. Morality plays grew out of the religious mystery plays of the Middle Ages. The main purpose of the morality play was didactic—to dramatize the theological struggle between good and evil and teach ethics and doctrines of Christianity.

Morality plays typically featured characters personifying vice versus virtue. In Doctor Faustus, the Good Angel and the Evil Angel serve this role. Similarly, the Old Man represents human righteousness and morality. Faustus makes a pact with Lucifer and, by selling his soul to the devil, lives a blasphemous life of vain pleasures. He even insults and assaults the Pope. The Good Angel tries to convince Faustus to repent, but these warnings go unheeded, and Faustus surrenders to the temptations of the Evil Angel. Faustus’s final soliloquy reveals his agony over the hellish damnation that awaits him, but he cannot escape his fate.

This morality play’s powerful effect on audiences is evident in legends that grew around it. For example, it was rumored that real devils actually appeared on stage during a performance of the play. The drama also sparked controversy regarding the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Calvinists would conclude that Faustus’s damnation was inevitable, preordained by God. Anti-Calvinists would interpret the play as an illustration of a man’s exercise of free will in choosing his own salvation or damnation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While the Renaissance...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

period playDoctor Faustus has some characteristics of a Medieval period Morality Play, it has some striking and significant differences that remove it from the genre of morality play. Marlowe constructed Faustus as an Aristotelian tragedyintended to inspire fear and pity. Audiences feel fear of the situation and pity for Faustus, whom Marlowe characterizes as a complex sympathetic character who develops and does not remain static. This points out two important differences between this and a morality play. A morality play (1) is intended to teach the difference between virtue and sin; between good and evil. A morality play (2) has allegorical characters who are named for what they allegorically represent (e.g., Everyman, Pride, Angel, Fear) and who are therefore static having no character development.

One similar characteristic between Faustus and a morality play is the themes of sin and redemption, though Faustus does not personify Sin and Redemption as a morality play would do. Another similarity is the presence of a Good Angel and an Evil Angel and various Devils, yet these are specific characters with specific relationships or functions in Faustus' struggles; they are not allegorical personifications. Another similar characteristic is the presence of the Seven Deadly Sins, who appear as devils dancing for Faustus (Marlowe changed to this from the devil's pageant in the original 1592 English translation Faust Chapbook), and the presence of the Devil as Mephistophilis against whom Faustus struggles even while collaborating with him. Yet both of these are related to the plot and plot development instead of to the morality message as in a morality play.

[Exeunt the SEVEN DEADLY SINS.]LUCIFER. Now, Faustus, how dost thou like this? FAUSTUS. O, this feeds my soul! LUCIFER. Tut, Faustus, in hell is all manner of delight. FAUSTUS. O, might I see hell, and return again, How happy were I then! LUCIFER. Thou shalt; I will send for thee at midnight.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

You need to think about whether Dr Faustus is designed to educate its theatre-going audiences about spiritual issues, for example whether those are the moral dangers of too much knowledge, information or learning or whether they could be the wordly drive towards ambitious goals or material success or wealth. This sixteenth century play by Christopher Marlowe was first 'advertised' as a tragedy in 1604 - of couse it is also a 'history' as in 'hi-story.' In those days a history could mean 'someone's story.' It's also a tragic tale. A tragedy should evoke the feelings of fear and of pity. Consider whether Dr Faustus combines  both genres. Certainly the play has the strong and sober story line of the tragedy. it also has one noteworthy chief character, ordinary in terms of his humanity to begin with, but who progresses through a series of human errors and mis-judgements to a Fall involving sorrow and often humiliation, poverty and loss of reputation. Of course, as audiences, we can immediately identify with a guy like this - he is each one of us. That is what makes us feel pity and danger for him - and for ourselves. Consider whether these feelings are more likely to make us take on the 'moral tale' or message of the story also.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Doctor Faustus a morality play or a tragedy?

The play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe can be considered both a morality play and a tragedy. The protagonist, Doctor Faustus, chooses to practice sorcery and invokes the help of demons to live a lavish life. While his greed overtakes him, he does use his soul contract with the Devil to help those around him and give them joy. It seems Faustus is not wholly bad, as he wants to ensure his community is cared for. It also seems he doesn't fully understand the consequence of making a blood pact with Satan.

While he is not technically a hero with regards to the canon definition, his human flaws overtake his rational sensibilities, and in turn, lead him down a path straight to the Devil. Because of the ending and his ultimate journey throughout the narrative, the play can be considered a tragedy.

However, Doctor Faustus is also a morality play, in that it contains clear lessons about making morally good choices and the negative consequences of straying from God. Even though Faustus does repent several times, in the end, the Devil has both blood contracts Faustus signed and takes him to Hell to live out the rest of eternity. The ending leaves the reader with a clear message about staying away from sorcery and the dangers of greed.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Doctor Faustus as a Renaissance play.

This play cannot be viewed as solely being about the Renaissance age. Rather, Marlow presents the clash of Renaissance values and medieval values in this play and through the person of Doctor Faustus. The Renaissance was a movement that began roughly in the 15th century and replaced the medieval worldview with its insistence of God being at the centre of world and mankind and nature being dependent on God. Instead, the Renaissance worldview celebrated the individual and what could be achieved through science and learning.

Faustus is definitely shown to be a man who captures the spirit of the Renaissance in his self-aggrandising and arrogant speech in Act I scene 1. In turn Faustus dismisses the various examples of tradition and authority, eventually declaring his determination to accept no limits on his learning and the power he hopes to gain through his magic:

O, what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honour, and omnipotence,

Is promis'd to the studious artizan!

Note the way Faustus sees study and rational inquiry as the way to gaining "profit and delight" and "omnipotence." God is displaced as mankind's hunger for power and ambition takes centre stage. Ultimately, however, as Act V clearly demonstrates, Faustus has to acknolwedge the ultimate supremacy of God and that he has overreached himself, representing the failure of the Renaissance age in terms of its inability to realise that it went too far in placing the emphasis on the potential inherent in humans. The play therefore does present the audience with an epitome of the Renaissance ideal in the character of Doctor Faustus, but it does this as part of a wider conflict between Renaissance and medieval values that ultimately shows the dangers of the Renaissance worldview.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a morality play.

It is important first to understand the purpose of a morality play:

This type of play essentially depicted a battle between the forces of good and evil in the human soul.

A dramatic descendant of mystery and miracle plays of the medieval period, a morality play's purpose was to allegorically point out good and evil, and the dangers mankind faced in participating in sinful behaviors, and to highlight the cost of pursuing such immoral actions.

In Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, Faustus (a great scholar) grows bored with life, believing he has learned all he can of this world. So he summons Mephistopheles to make a deal with Lucifer to sell his soul to the devil for twenty-four years of service from Lucifer's demon. He tells Mephistopheles:

I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command... (I.i.38-39)

Even in the face of Mephistopheles' warnings of his experiences of hell...

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it:

Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God,

And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,

Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,

In being deprived of everlasting bliss? (81-84)

...and Faustus' own misgivings, he goes ahead and makes his deal with Lucifer. In this one section, several thing are highlighted: mankind's inherent temptations, its natural goodness and wisdom that try to guard against committing grave sins, and mankind's persistence to have what it wants rather than pursue the more difficult path to fight that which it knows to be dangerous and/or wrong. Another concept comes from Mephistopheles: that hell is being absent from the presence of God and the glories of Heaven.

The story continues to describe Faustus' pursuits. He learns (as does the audience) of the "seven deadly sins," or sins that were seen by the Catholic Church as wrongdoings that could lead to eternal damnation, including: wrath, greed, sloth (laziness), pride, lust, envy and gluttony.

By the story's end, Faustus' time (the twenty-four years) have come to an end. Still there seems to be opportunity for Faustus to repent—and he has no doubt what lies ahead if he does not. However, he is so far removed from a state of grace (good-standing with God) that he says there is no hope for him, and he doesn't even bother to try:

But Faustus' offences can never be pardoned: the

serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus. (V.ii.15-16)

The Third Scholar (as do others) tells Faustus to "call on God." But Faustus replies:

On God, whom Faustus hath abjured! on God,

whom Faustus hath blasphemed! Ah, my God, I would

weep, but the Devil draws in my tears. (29-31)

The scholars learn of Faustus' deal with Lucifer and ask him why he did not ask them to pray for him. He notes that Lucifer threatened "to tear me to pieces if I named God," but certainly his fate when Lucifer takes him will not be any better: it seems just another excuse—which is yet another human character flaw in Faustus. He does not assume responsibility for his actions; he lacks faith; and, he does not believe in the power of God over evil.

Faustus rejects theology because of a misunderstanding of the relationship between divine justice and Christian mercy.

This is a morality play in that it uses Faustus' story and his fate to warn others of what will happen if they follow his immoral behaviors, and commit sins against God.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Doctor Faustus a morality play?

Morality plays were common in medieval Europe. They tended to focus on how the individual is tempted by sin, sustained by virtue, and saved through religious faith in the Roman Catholic Church. Sins and virtues were anthropomorphized as onstage figures such as the Vice character.

While such plays were out of vogue by the time Christopher Marlowe was making a name for himself in the theater, Doctor Faustus certainly takes a great deal of inspiration from medieval morality plays in its structure and themes. It concerns itself with the damnation of a man who makes a deal with the devil, spurning salvation at every turn as he indulges himself. Mephistophilis is much like the traditional Vice figure, representing the allure of evil and tempting the main character. However, the protagonist in Marlowe's play is far more psychologically developed than the everyman characters of traditional morality plays.

Faustus has an inner conflict throughout the play, wondering if his supernaturally-endowed power and pleasure are worth the high price. His speech to the image of Helen of Troy emphasizes a desire for transcendence, only he is trying to attain it through earthly routes rather than through religion. Even at the very end, when Faustus has one last chance to repent, his pride prevents him from doing so, sealing his fate.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To what extent can Doctor Faustus be seen as a morality play?

Doctor Faustus is a morality play in that it warns us against the dangers of behaving in a certain way. To be more specific, it warns us again playing God. To that extent, it is didactic; it has a teaching function beyond merely providing entertainment.

Marlowe wrote his masterpiece at a time when increased scientific knowledge opened up more and more of a world that had previously seemed so mysterious. For many, it seemed that there were no limits to how much man could know about the world around him. What had been mysterious could now be unlocked using the magic key of science.

With growing confidence in man's capacity for knowledge inevitably went a certain arrogance, and it's precisely such an attitude that's displayed by the eponymous Doctor Faustus and which Marlowe subjects to a withering critique. Faustus is profoundly dissatisfied with the relatively limited knowledge he's gained through his studies. He wants to know more, and with the extra knowledge he hopes to gain, he also wants more power. That's why he enters into a shabby bargain in which he sells his soul to the Devil. In doing so, Faustus is openly defying God, which in those days was considered the ultimate sin.

Whatever power, prestige, and knowledge Faustus has gained from this devil's bargain, it's come with a very high price tag: he's lost his mortal soul and will spend the rest of eternity in hell. The moral of the story is clear: no matter how important we think we are, we're never more important than God and should not try to act like him.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In what ways does Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe resemble a morality play?

Although Christopher Marlowe’s play titled Doctor Faustus is not a “morality play” in the strict sense of the term, it obviously resembles a morality play in various ways.  Here are some of those resemblances:

  • Both Faustus and morality plays are explicitly concerned with moral, ethical issues – with matters of right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and evil.
  • Both Faustus and morality plays are clearly rooted in Christian morality specifically.
  • Both Fautus and morality plays announce their moral meanings quite openly. Audiences are not left guessing what lessons the plays are designed to teach.
  • Both Faustus and morality plays emphasize man’s dependence on God for answers and guidance.
  • Both Faustus and morality plays assume that some form of existence continues beyond physical death and that the purpose of human life is to share that eternal future existence with God, not with Satan.
  • Both Faustus and morality plays are designed to teach moral, religious lessons not only to their audiences but often to their main characters.
  • The main characters in both Faustus and morality plays tend to be infected by pride, the root from which all other sins grow.
  • Both Faustus and morality plays often contain figures who are obviously allegorical or symbolic.  In Faustus, for instance, the following figures appear: Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery.
  • Faustus shares with some morality plays elements of comedy which help highlight, through contrast, the serious issues with which the plays deal.
  • Faustus shares with at least one morality play (Everyman) a final scene in which the main character literally descends into death before our eyes. In Faustus, however, the title character is led off to hell by devils:

[Enter DEVILS]

FAUSTUS: Adders and serpents, let me breathe awhile!

Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer!  [13.111-12]

In contrast, in Everyman, the title character descends into the grave accompanied by his Good Deeds and is welcomed by an angel who says, “Come, excellent elect spouse to Jesu!” (893).

  • Both Faustus and Everyman end with speeches addressed to the audience in which the moral meanings of both plays are spelled out quite explicitly.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on