Do you think tragic irresolution is the strength of Doctor Faustus?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the play, it can be argued that the dramatic characterization of Faustus' tragic irresolution demonstrates an important, universal principle: for every action, there is a consequence. Thus, tragic irresolution is the basis for the dramatic strength of this morality play. Faustus' vacillation humanizes him and makes the play credible.

The play also brings into focus the foundations for Faustus' irresolution. It calls into question the church's authority to repress access to certain knowledge. The human spirit longs for freedom above all things, and when it is thus circumscribed, there is every indication that it will rebel. Faustus himself becomes enamored by the idea of new, esoteric knowledge that Mephistopheles can offer him. The academic has explored philosophy, law, and medicine, among other disciplines, and come to the conclusion that they fall short of satisfying his deepest desires.

The temptation that befalls Faustus is one that every human being must wrestle with. His vacillation is tragic in that it displays in full clarity the desperation of the human soul. In the play, the Good Angel begs Faustus to repent, but his efforts are always deflected by the Evil Angel. Faustus' irresolution clearly demonstrates how the desire for immortality wars with corporeal inclinations. Even as the devils clamor at his heels to claim his soul, Faustus proclaims:

O, if my soul must suffer for my sin, Impose some end to my incessant pain; Let Faustus live in hell a thousand years, A hundred thousand, and at last be sav’d!

So, tragic irresolution is the strength of the play in the sense that it adds to the credibility of the play and reinforces an important principle: for every action, there is a consequence.

swd337 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faustus' hesitancy is likely not a strength of his, per se, but it does reveal the inner turmoil that Faustus deals with when deciding which decision will ultimately bring him the most fulfillment. On one hand, he can join Lucifer by selling his soul, and be served for a 24 year period by Lucifer's top demon Mephistopheles. On the other hand, he can live a normal life void of magical powers and attempt to find satisfaction in divinity, which was his area of study beforehand. The point of the play, of course, is that Faustus, being human, is so enamored by the lure of great power that he gives in to Lucifer's temptation and ultimately seals his fate to fall eternally into hell. But Faustus' hesitation to make a decision is clearly one of the most tragic parts of the play. We watch him slowly slipping into the hands of the devil. At one point he says, "My heart is so hardened I cannot repent!" While Faustus is later given the chance to repent again, he doesn't take it. 

hwahidi | Student

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus demonstrates the inner turmoil that depicts struggles human beings go through at various points in their life time. The hesitation that Dr. Faustus displays when lured by demonic power/magic represents each human constant battle between the divine and the demonic. The hesitation then becomes a relative strength of Faustus as it is the point in the play, albeit one of the only parts of the play, we can say that he is working with his moral conscience. Although, by the time he figures out what he did was wrong it is too late. Further, at the end of the play, he has yet to accept his actions as wrong. It was his fear of being in Hell that led him to repent for his actions, not from purely clearing his conscience. Therefore, his hesitation in the end represents a beam of hope for humans, as all humans can err like Faustus, but just as easily, they can used that moment of debate and choose a wiser option and escape the fate that took poor Doctor Faustus.