Discuss Doctor Faustus as a morality play.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

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.

yscorse eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

smhaskovec | Student
Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe, can be classified as both a morality play AND a Renaissance play because it simultaneously employs literary characteristics from each genre. From the Renaissance it explores, up to the point of glorifying, Dr. Faustus's great spirit for human aspiration and quest for superhuman powers. In accordance with morality plays, Faustus is punished for refusing to repent and follow the "right/moral" path. Because the play's two main themes--glorifying the doctor's push to excel beyond human limits and his later grief and inevitable punishment--are dichotomous, Dr. Faustus is sometimes said to be the embodiment of Renaissance ambiguity.
shwetapanda | Student

First you will have to understand what is a morality play. Morality plays were commonly known as simply, moralities at that time. These plays were very famous during 15th and 16th century in Europe. Morality plays demonstrated allegorical representation or personifications of moral characters and virtues on the stage lively in front of the protagonist. These characters were meant to guide the protagonist to do good and to learn what is evil. Not only the protagonist but the dramatist's main objective remained to teach the audience, the difference between good and evil.

Now if we come to the play Doctor Faustus, we should keep in mind that, it is a play which is full of bad characters rather than good. Marlow, by employing the personification of immoral characters, gives us a view of what is bad instead of what is good. There was a parade of Seven Deadly Sins altogether. It makes me recall the parade of vices in the first book of Faerie Queene by Spenser. This play is certainly both a Renaissance play and a morality play. No doubt, it shows how Doctor Faustus got eternally damned due to his immoral activities at the end but in addition to that, it also shows what happens when humans fail to understand their limits and try to conquer what is impossible by achieving superhuman powers. At that time, many highly educated people like Dr Faustus ruined their lives in search of more power. May be Marlow was concerned about that. He was discouraging the masses from following their dreams blindly while still giving the message that we should dream great. The reference at the beginning regarding Icarus tells us that we should dream what is achievable for us. It gives us the message to remain moral and to repent and believe in the mercy of God before it is too late rather than just making us learn about the mercy of God and the biblical stories in early morality plays.

There are features which distinguishes this play from a morality play but we will not go into it right now, as the question needs evidences of this play being a morality and not the other way round. There is also a good angel and a bad angel which used to get a major role in early moralities as well. One more thing we can see here is that whether we like it or not, when we meet Mephistophilis, we sympathize for him. He discourages Faustus from proceeding further by telling him about his own terrible state in Hell. The play gives the audience a message regarding what it feels to be away from God and be eternally damned. 

The good angel always encourages Faustus that it is never too late to repent and that he shouls believe in the mercy of God but Faustus believes in the bad angel and never really repents and finally meets his end.

All these features and themes of this play, makes it a morality play. 

dssnmurthy | Student

Dr. Faustus by Marlowe is a morality play depicting the society or the people in his period. He has seen how the highly intelligent scholars are ruining their lives for the sake of power and  want to  hold  the world in their hands. Dr. faustus is a typically intelligent man where he feels the the world can be at his doorsteps by engaging himself with black magic to whom he surrounders his soul to the devil for the sake of his greedy power. He overthrows Gods moral values and inculcates the vices where finally it ruins his life. Through the play Marlowe wants to give a message to the world that all intelligent men in the world should follow the moral values and ethics which are coined by the society.  If we violate the moral vaules of the society like Dr. Faustus we will be ruining our lives and have no place in Heaven after death.