Explain the characteristics of Doctor Faustus in the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

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In Christopher Marlowe's play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, written around 1590, the protagonist, Doctor Faustus, suffers from what the ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights called hubris—excessive pride. The tragic flaw of hubris proved to be the downfall of many Greek tragic heroes, as it proves to be downfall of Faustus. Everything that Faustus does in the play flows from his excessive pride.

Faustus is a man who possesses extreme intelligence. Faustus has learned everything there is to know about logic, law, science, and theology, and finds the continued pursuit of each of these disciplines unfulfilling and a waste of his time. None of these disciplines sufficiently challenges his intelligence, and he believes that only the dark arts, necromancy and magic, can satisfy his overwhelming desire for knowledge, power, fame, and money.

Faustus engages the services of Valdes and Cornelius to teach him the dark arts, but their knowledge is far too limited to suit Faustus's needs. Faustus believes that he must go beyond earthly knowledge to learn what he wants to know, and he's willing to sell his soul to Lucifer to acquire the knowledge, fame, and fortune that his pride drives him to pursue.

Faustus arrogantly rejects any consequence of his actions, including selling his soul to Lucifer. Speaking of himself, Faustus declares, "This word, 'damnation,' terrifies not him."

Even near the end of the play, when Faustus can still save his soul simply by asking God for forgiveness, his pride won't allow him to save himself from eternal damnation.

Faustus isn't a particularly deep or complex character. Most tragic characters go on a journey of self-discovery, but Faustus simply goes on a journey of debauchery. Whatever noble, redeeming character traits that Faustus possessed when he made the pact with Lucifer simply deteriorate, while his cruelty and cowardice increase. He degrades himself and those around him, conjures up historical figures for his own amusement, and plays practical jokes on the Pope. Faustus travels the world and the cosmos supposedly to acquire knowledge that he can ultimately use for the good of mankind, but he does all of these things for no reason other than to assuage his own immense ego.

Faustus learns very little about himself, the world around him, or the universe in the twenty-four years of his life that he essentially wasted. His seeming regret and despair when he realizes that there is no escape from eternal damnation appears more like self-pity than true repentance or remorse. Faustus lack any sense of self-awareness, and finds it hard to believe or accept that he caused his own downfall.

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This format doesn't allow for a complete discussion of Doctor Faustus' character traits, but I can explain the two most important and competing ones, that of arrogance and that of despair. In the beginning of the tragedy, the Chorus makes it clear that Faustus is highly gifted, intelligent and talented. He excels in his studies and quickly earns his doctoral degree in theology. Not stopping there, he continues to study--and master--other fields like medicine and law and logic. In fact, there is nothing left for him to study and he is satiated with it all. As a result, in his growing arrogance and conceit at his own powers and accomplishments, he turns to the one unmastered and most enticing field--necromancy, or magic.

These metaphysics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heavenly;
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.

He arrogantly dreams of being the supreme magician, able to command even the wind and oceans. Thus he calls on the devil Mephistophilis. In his arrogance, he believes he can command Mephistophilis and have from him anything he wants. This is the first painful lesson his arrogance and conceit bring him to: Mephistophilis takes orders from Lucifer, and Lucifer won't tell everything he knows. For example, after asking for knowledge of the cosmos, Lucifer offers him an entertainment by the Seven Deadly Sins and a book about how to change his shape. This adequately sketches and explains Faustus' character trait of arrogance.

In meantime take this book; peruse it throughly,
And thou shalt turn thyself into what shape thou wilt.
Farewell, Faustus, and think on the devil.

The contrasting and competing trait of despair enters most strongly into Faustus' characterization in Act IV when his days are dwindling, although his despair begins to effect him after his revealing encounter with Lucifer. As Faustus feels his designated years coming to an end and the time when he will serve Mephistophilis in hell for eternity fast approaching, his yearnings for repentance and redemption begin to overwhelm him. He is visited by an Old Man who tries to teach him how to repent and accept redemption, then by his friends the Scholars who are aghast at Faustus' misfortune and importune with him to seek Christ's mercy and seek to have his soul yet saved.

Yet, Faustus, look up to heaven; remember God's
mercies are infinite.
Yet, Faustus, call on God.

It is this despair that Faustus feels--coupled with an ironic new-found awareness of ignorance--that prevents him from acting and seeking redemptive forgiveness. His despair, which competes with and overcomes his arrogance, leads him to his ultimate doom, doom stemming from the one point on which he is ignorant and doom hemmed in by crippling despair. This adequately sketches and explains Faustus' character trait of despair.

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn'd.
O, I'll leap up to my God!—Who pulls me down?—

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