How are the characters of Dr. Faustus from Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth alike/different. How does each play fit into the concept of Aristotle's...

How are the characters of Dr. Faustus from Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth alike/different. How does each play fit into the concept of Aristotle's Poetics. Please give details and support with quotes from all texts.

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr Faustus, from Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, is the easily-recognizable archetype from legend who "sells" his soul to the devil for what he considers more worthy, definitive, concrete pleasures and a source of knowledge. He, much later, comes to appreciate what he has traded and the relative cost of his worldly gains. It is, however, too late for him and the figure of Helen of Troy, distracts the easily-led Faustus. Similarly, "vaulting" or unchecked ambition leads to ruin and damnation, unmistakable in Macbeth, in Macbeth's murderous deeds and his reliance on the three sisters' prophesies.    

Just as Banquo warns Macbeth that "the instruments of darkness tell us betray us in deepest consequence," so does Mephastophilis try to caution Faustus as he reminds him of the consequences of eternal damnation. Mephastophilis is "tormented with ten thousand hells / In being deprived of everlasting bliss." Both Macbeth and Faustus have misgivings and are almost convinced not to proceed but inevitably they do. Questioning their decisions, neither is strong enough to recant. Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost and lady Macbeth is unable to appease him. As he seeks courage from the witches, he is again refreshed in his quest and believes he is untouchable as "no one of woman born" can match him. Faustus thinks it is inevitable and therefore cannot fight it. The "Seven Deadly Sins" and Macbeth's visions compare in persuading Faustus and Macbeth as to the way forward.    

Faustus and Macbeth blame external forces without taking responsibility. By denying accountability, they feel that they are victims. Faustus is reminded to, "curse thyself, curse Lucifer/ That hath depriv'd thee of the joys of heaven." Both are prepared to die for the cause and so self-absorbed failing to recognize their own despicable nature, believing in their own immortality, despite the fact that, in both cases, this renders them damned to hell. 

Aristotle's Poetics confirms that fear and tragedy themselves can create a release. This will be discussed below. 

In recognizing the elements of Aristotle's Poetics in Macbeth and Doctor Faustus, the conflict felt by both characters is what drives them. They actually gain satisfaction from having to face their own contradictory natures. Macbeth is even shocked at his initial "earnest of success" (I.iii.142) but it does not take long to realize what he is most concerned about - as he struggles to live up to Lady Macbeth's expectations. She wants him to be "so much more the man."(I.vii.51) Macbeth's concept of strength and courage becomes confused. At first his delusions cause him great pain as he is unable to come to terms with what he has done but it is not long before he is planning his next, unnecessary murderous deed with Banquo his victim. Aristotle maintains that it is this conflict, this inner battle that ultimately creates the character; in this case, the tragic hero who is powerless against external forces of nature despite free will; the witches, ever conscious of his weakness and overriding ambition, conspire against him. For Faustus, his undoing is his ultimate rejection of what he knows to be right and he vows "never to look to heaven / Never to name God or to pray to Him." (II.ii.101-102) Faustus is doomed to "taste hell's pains perpetually" (V.ii.110) and his choice, like Macbeth's choice to ignore the approaching "Birnam Wood" seals his fate. 

The historical element in both Doctor Faustus and Macbeth is undeniable but, in support of Aristotle's vision, there is a completeness about both. Both come to a conclusion - and good triumphs over evil- making it an acceptable ending. The inevitability satisfies the Poetics. The fact that it it the plot, not the characters themselves, that suitably completes the tragedy, conforms to Aristotle's philosophy. Aristotle maintains that "The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place.” Faustus and Macbeth exercise their own free will but are led by others that they hold in high esteem; thus rendering their downfall as circumstantial. Had they been influenced differently, the outcome may have been quite distinctive.  

The intention should always be, as discussed in Poetics, "to express true facts under impossible combinations." In Macbeth and Doctor Faustus, this is supported as each does not rely on facts but on suppositions and feelings of their own grandeur and importance and their arrogant belief in their own ability to make a difference - whether it be for the good or not. Both Faustus and Macbeth are respected in their fields, academia and the military respectively, and both of which require highly disciplined types in these areas of expertise. Just as every person is tempted but rises above it so too does Aristotle warn others to heed warnings and take care when decisions are made. There is a harsh lesson to be learned from the actions of Macbeth and Faustus.