Drama and poetry are two distinct literary forms that, when combined, can create a powerful literary work in its own right.
Dramatists like Christopher Marlowe and his contemporary, William Shakespeare, who was greatly influenced by Marlowe, considered themselves poets by passion and playwrights by necessity. For both of them, playwriting was a source of income and a means of getting their poetry in front of the public.
Of the two, Shakespeare balanced the elements of poetry and drama in his plays. For the most part, Shakespeare's poetry serves the play, and is an integral part of the plot, character, and theme of his plays.
For Marlowe, however, the dramatic elements of his plays were secondary to his poetry. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus lacks dramatic structure. The play is poorly organized—based loosely on the structure of an ancient Greek tragedy—and it seems more like a haphazard jumble of scenes than a coherent dramatic work.
Some Marlowe scholars believe that this apparent disorganization might be due to the possibility that the frivolous and farcical scenes with the Pope (Sc. 7), the Emperor (Sc. 9), and the horse-seller (Sc. 10) were written by another playwright or playwrights and were added to the play at some time after Marlowe wrote it.
The scenes of dubious authorship notwithstanding, Marlowe's poetry rescues whatever is lacking in the structure and characterization of Doctor Faustus. Much of the poetry in Doctor Faustus can stand alone as pure poetry, and when infused into the play, the poetry heightens the dramatic effect of the play as a whole.
Near the end of the play and near the end of Faustus's life, Faustus conjures up Helen of Troy for the second time, this time remarking on her beauty in some of the best-known of Marlowe's poetry.
FAUSTUS. Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
... Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appeared to hapless Semele:
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azured arms:
And none but thou shalt be my paramour. (Sc. 12, 89-91, 102-108)
This poetry adds nothing to the plot of the play, but gives the audience clear insight into the sensual aspect of Faustus's character.
Faustus's last speech, in his last hour of life, shows Faustus in utter desperation but equally determined to overcome the pull of his soul into hell and return to God's graces.
FAUSTUS. Ah, Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually!
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of Heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
... You stars that reigned at my nativity,
Whose influence hath allotted death and hell,
Now draw up Faustus like a foggy mist
Into the entrails of yon labouring clouds,
That when they vomit forth into the air,
My limbs may issue from their smoky mouths,
So that my soul may but ascend to Heaven.
[The clock strikes twelve]
O, it strikes, it strikes! Now, body, turn to air,
Or Lucifer will bear thee quick to hell.
[Thunder and lightning]
O soul, be changed into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean ne'er be found.
My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!
Adders and serpents, let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not! Come not, Lucifer!
I'll burn my books!—Ah Mephistophilis! (Sc. 13, 65-73, 90-96, 116-123)
The poetry is mesmerizing, and the effect of the scene is as horrifying and heart-rending to modern audiences as it must have been to the Elizabethan audience who first viewed the play.