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.

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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.

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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.

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While the Renaissance period play Doctor 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 tragedy intended 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.

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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.

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