"Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is a striking illustration of the tragedy of Renaissance man's urge to overreach." Discuss with reference to the text.
There is a sense in which Doctor Faustus is a character who represents both what is best and what is worst about the Renaissance period. He is a character who has massive ambition and believes that through knowledge, science and learning man can gain immense power and incredible wisdom. This is expressed in various places in Act I scene 1, where Faustus talks about the power he hopes to gain and the wealth he will have. This introduces a clash of Renaissance values, which praised and extolled man's ability and reason, and medieval values, which placed emphasis on God's sovereignty and man's humble dependence on God. The bargain Faustus makes with Mephistophilis could be seen as an attempt to do away with God, and certainly Faustus spends the rest of the play trying to ignore God and his reality. It is only at the end of the play, near his damnation, that Faustus tries desperately to make amends for what he has done. Note what he says in the last two lines of the play:
Ugly hell gape not! Come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books—ah, Mephistophilis!
Critics have argued that the pledge he makes to burn his books represents the clash between Renaissance and medieval values. Renaissance values argued that the quest for limitless human knowledge was a worthy and noble goal to strive for, and saw learning as the chief way in which this goal could be accomplished. Medieval values, however, dictated that such a goal was a result of sinful human arrogance and pride. The words of Faustus seem to suggest his recognition of the dangers of overreaching oneself and gaining too much knowledge, and his desire to return to a world view that recognises the limitations of man rather than only focusing on his potential.