In order to help you work on your question about how Doctor Faustus exemplifies Renaissance ideas, let us begin with a review of some of the main characteristics of this era. The Renaissance came about, at least in part, as a reaction to the Medieval period, during which time the...
In order to help you work on your question about how Doctor Faustus exemplifies Renaissance ideas, let us begin with a review of some of the main characteristics of this era. The Renaissance came about, at least in part, as a reaction to the Medieval period, during which time the Roman Catholic Church provided a primary influence on the outlook and artistic expression of Western Europeans.
In contrast, the Renaissance vision brought back the classical ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans (especially philosophy) and emphasized the value of the individual. Humanism, a way of thinking that emphasizes rational thinking rather than unquestioned reliance on religious dogma or unsubstantiated folk superstitions, is another important characteristic of the Renaissance.
How do these ideas relate to Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus? To begin with, we may find a similarity between the revived ancient classics and this play. In Greek mythology, hubris, or excessive pride, leads to the downfall of many a hero or even an ordinary person. For example, the weaver Arachne boasts that she can out-do even the goddess Athena in her tapestry-making skills. For her hubris, the goddess punishes her by turning her into a spider (this tale provides the derivation of the scientific name for the class to which spiders belong—arachnids).
There are many more examples of punishment for hubris in Greek mythology. The character of Doctor Faustus also suffers from excessive pride, and his arrogant and unrealistic belief in his own abilities leads to his downfall. Another character from Greek mythology with whom Doctor Faustus shares a tragic flaw is Icharus, who ignores the wisdom of the older and much more knowledgeable Daedalus and flies too close to the sun. This causes his dramatic fall from the sky and his death.
Faustus rebels against the socially imposed-limitations to the quest for knowledge (part of Medieval thinking) but, ironically, goes too far and is punished. In some important ways, this play presents an interesting evaluation of both Medieval and Renaissance ideas. The interweaving of both suggests to me that the author may have, on some level, wanted to create a cautionary tale warning that even an emerging positive Renaissance idea could be misused.