Would you define the title character of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as a Renaissance man?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The title character of Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus has often been called a "Renaissance man," and the designation seems appropriate in number of different ways.  Those ways include the following:

  • He is, quite literally, a man living during the historical period commonly thought of as "the Renaissance" (that is, the sixteenth century, at least in England).
  • He exemplifes the strong interest in classical literature and culture that was typical of that period.
  • At the same time, he shows the influence of Christian ideas, which were also extremely important during that era.
  • He exemplifies the greater social mobility common during that period. His parents were "base of stock" (Prologue, 10), but their son nevertheless rose to great social prominence and power.
  • He exemplifies the growing importance of formal education and especially university training that was common during this time. He has been to a university and is extremely well educated (which makes his later foolish choices all the more difficult to understand).
  • He is interested in, and even expert in, many different areas of learning -- a sense in which we still use the phrase "Renaissance man" today.
  • He has the kind of high-flying aspirations that were typical of many people during the Renaissance -- a period (for instance) of enormous geographical exploration.
  • He is a "Faustian man" in Oswald Spengler's sense: a man always striving for another achievement, never content with what he already has (although the achievements in this case seem ultimately trivial).
  • His chief focus seems to be earthly rather than heavenly, although the main purpose of the play seems to be to check and warn against precisely the kinds of materialistic impulses that motivate Faustus.
  • He is an "over-reacher," as was true of many people in the Renaissance. Therefore, almost the final words of the play warn us to

. . . Regard his hellish fall,

Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise

Only to wonder at [that is, merely regard with wonder, not actually perform] unlawful things.  (Epilogue, 4-6)

 

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