How does Marlowe's Doctor Faustus relate to Dante and Everyman?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus does relate to the concept of Everyman as seen in Dante's Divine Comedy because, at least in part, both have strong central thematic elements foregrounding God's salvation—even for ordinary humans in a sinful condition—attained through repentance and calling upon God's name, a dominant theme in Everyman (The Summoning of Everyman, 15th century), the play most connected with the Everyman character type. Both plays also examine the idea of the heroic nature of the ordinary, undistinguished Everyman.

Everyman characters are ordinary individuals with no distinguishing talents or abilities who find themselves in situations that require something heroic of them. Dante emerges from the nine celestial spheres into the light of Beatrice's love, his metaphoric salvation. Faustus fails to find a way to ask for salvation, even though signs and opportunities appear before him, and he is overcome by demons.

One presentation of the theme of salvation from sin is represented by Dante, who is saved, and its opposite is represented by Faustus, who is not saved. One representation of Dante's Everyman character is that his journey quest caused heroic traits to ultimately triumph, for himself and for Beatrice. The oppositional representation of a heroic Everyman character is Faustus, who scorns the ordinary, the commonplace, the undistinguished in his pursuit of privileged, elitist knowledge: Faustus feels himself removed from the realm of the uninspired, ordinary Everyman who rises above his circumstances in heroic ways.

mumicimo | Student

Doctor Faustus, a play by Christopher Marlowe, 1601, and The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (c1323) are both within the tradition of the morality play, which originated in the late Middle Ages to examine the quandaries of human choice. This is represented in the play generally known as Everyman from the late 15th century, and whose author is unknown. Marlowe's Faustus explored the moral problems of simple faith versus intellect and the extreme challenge it represents to human intelligence because of the difficulty of making a moral choice when selfish appetite threatens the balance of nature and the well-being of others. Humans naturally want to bend the rules and the order of nature to serve one’s self interest. In The Divine Comedy, Dante (the writer) poses similar conflicts and questions to the character named "Dante" as he is guided by the poet Virgil through the nine rungs of hell (The Inferno), which is the first part of the 3-part Divine Comedy. Marlowe's Faustus never makes reference to Dante or the Everyman, but he is clearly acting out the same dilemma of willful ambition versus the loss of purity of heart and the peril of the soul.

This tradition has been treated by various writers over the centuries, and may be more relevant now than ever before because of the dangerous tools that mankind has created. Morality plays explored the problem of redemption, and how every man must walk his own spiritual path. How we talk about these questions may have changed as our traditions are more secular, but the problems of "making a deal with the devil" for satisfaction here and now continues to be played out in human lives and literature.

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Doctor Faustus

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