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Analysis of key elements in "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" by Christopher Marlowe

Summary:

Key elements in "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" include the themes of ambition and the quest for knowledge, which lead Faustus to make a pact with the devil. The play explores the consequences of overreaching ambition and the conflict between good and evil, represented by the characters of Mephistopheles and the Good Angel. The tragic flaw of Faustus is his hubris.

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What is the climax in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe?

In Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, the first step is to identify the climax. This is sometimes a tricky business, for some readers perceive the climax to be in one place while others see it somewhere else.

For me, the climax of the play comes toward the end when there still seems to be some question as to whether or not Faustus will repent and save his soul or not. There certainly seems to have been some concern on the part of Mephisopheles and the "powers of darkness," while the Good Angel and the scholars tried to convince Faustus that all is not lost—that there is still time to save his soul. All along Mesphistopheles and those with him have done all they can to distract Faustus when an opening to get out of the contract with the Devil has presented itself.

In Act Four, scene four, Faustus contemplates redemption: he remembers the thief on the side of Jesus at the crucifixion, and recalls that he was saved, but the thief repented of his sins, which Faustus does not do—instead he falls asleep. This is the first inkling that a reckoning is close at hand for the "magician." Perhaps Faustus just does not care enough. When he has the power and opportunity to reverse his fate with a few words and a "right heart," he falls asleep.

In Act V, scene one, an Old Man appears and encourages Faustus to repent.

This would seem to me to be the climax: when all hangs in the balance, when it seems as if the Devil could ultimately lose Faustus' soul after all this. In learning the error of his ways, Faustus might still be able to go on with his life while looking forward to eternity with his sins forgiven. This is not, however, the case.

Even at the Old Man's urging, Faustus believes that there is no hope for him—that he cannot turn back because the Devil already owns his soul. By asking Helen of Troy to make him immortal, he gives away his last chance at redemption because he has not asked God instead.

The rest of the play is the "falling action" that moves toward the resolution of the plot. At the start of Act Five, scene two, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mephistopheles arrive to take "possession" of Faustus' soul. Faustus does not repent.

The Good Angel appears again—this time to tell Faustus that he has missed his chance to redeem himself and his soul, and the Bad Angel also appears—to gloat. Still Faustus ignores the chance to plead for God's forgiveness.

Between 11:00 and 12 midnight, Faustus expresses his regrets. However, while he believes there is no hope, he does not even try—on the off chance—to repent. An ever-loving God might still hear his cry for help. He says nothig, and at the stroke of twelve, Mephistopheles takes Faustus with him, collecting Faustus' debt to the Devil.

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What is the climax in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe?

The clock strikes and Faustus is damned, "the jaws of hell are open to receive thee."His final hour is actually condensed to a few hours of stage time as Faustus is given the most passionate of speeches to contemplate his fate. He is desperate to escape his fate as he realises that there is no end to the eternity of suffering he faces. At the climax he wishes that his soul will be changed into little droplets of water and fall into an ocean never to be found, it is the desire for total annihilation. He may promise to burn his books and gabble to God and the devils for time, but it is to no avail. Mephostophilis gets his desire, what he has waited twenty four years for, the soul of Faustus. Faustus is taken to hell. There is no redemption possible, no apology accepted. In many respects it fulfils the criteria of the older medieval morality plays and gives vent for Marlowe to explore the imagery of blood to express the human suffering of Faustus: "Gush forth blood instead of tears." The last we hear about Faustus is that he has been torn limb from limb as a sort of sacrificial victim. We can see this dismembering of the bodyas a Dionysian conclusion within a Christian morality tragedy.
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How does Christopher Marlowe create suspense in The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus?

Two ways Marlowe uses suspense in Doctor Faustus are to build fear and to build pity, which coincides precisely with Aristotle's definition of tragedy as drama with "incidents arousing pity and fear" (Poetics, Aristotle). One instance of fear-building suspense comes early on when Faustus challenges Mephistophilis by calling on the name of Christ, an act that instigates the appearance of Lucifer himself.

FAUSTUS. Think, Faustus, upon God that made the world.
[...]
Ah, Christ, my Saviour,
Seek to save104 distressed Faustus' soul!
Enter LUCIFER, BELZEBUB, and MEPHISTOPHILIS.

Lucifer's presence on stage has so terrified audiences that it is said they felt the place had been visited by Lucifer himself. This suspense was certainly calculated to increase audience fear.

In what some texts designate as Act V, Faustus' encounter with the Old Man and the Scholars, who try to encourage him to repent and express great sympathy and compassion for him, develops a high level of pity for Faustus as Marlowe uses the suspense in these encounters to show Faustus as repentant, frightened, alone, and ignorant--the one thing he is ignorant of--ignorant of knowing how to ask forgiveness and claim repentance, the ultimate ignorance that dooms him.

FAUSTUS. I do repent; and yet I do despair:
Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast:
What shall I do to shun the snares of death?
[...]
See, see, where Christ's blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop:  ah, my Christ!—
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ!
Yet will I call on him: ...
Where is it now? 'tis gone:

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Discuss the style of Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus".

Christopher Marlowe's play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is written in five acts and recounts the decision of the primary character, Doctor Faustus, to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for twenty-four years of service by Mephistopheles, Lucifer's servant. There are several elements of style that Marlowe incorporated into this play.

The play makes use of the Chorus, an individual or group who provides important information to drive the plot along. (It is the Chorus, for example, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that lets the audience know before the play begins the fate of the "star-crossed lovers.") The use of the Chorus is a long-standing part of ancient Greek dramas, and is made up of a...

"group of performers...who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action."

The Chorus presents the play's "theme" and provides narration where necessary.

The next element of style is the use of allegory in the plot, in which...

...characters represent abstract ideas and are used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons.

During the medieval period, church-based messages most often sermons, were infused with elements of drama were added to appeal to an audience that could not read. They were represented as miracle (and mystery) plays (which were often entertaining), and morality plays, often more serious. (These "dramas" were the precursors to the dramatic movement that would become so popular during the English or Elizaethan Renaissance.) The morality play was still popular during the Tudor period (which would have been the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I).

The main theme of the morality play is this: Man begins in innocence, Man falls into temptation, Man repents and is saved.

It is important to note, however, that in Marlowe's play of Doctor Faustus (which is a morality play), Faustus cannot—or will not—be saved.

An "antithesis" is also present. An antithesis deals with opposites: Lucifer is the antithesis of God. In this play, the Good Angel and the Bad Angels are the antithesis of each other, each trying his best to "win" Faustus' soul. Another element present is the "hamartia" which...

In a tragedy, the event or act that causes the hero's or heroine's downfall.

The cause of Faustus' downfall is the agreement he enters into with the Devil. Other elements are "tragedy" and "suspense," as well as comic relief. The final element is "catharsis." In terms of the morality play, this piece offers the audience a release based upon its witness of the experiences of the main character, found in pity for the protagonist or fear in his fate—for a similar fate might await each member of the audience depending upon how he (or she) lived his life. This acted as a "cautionary tale."

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