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What is the language used in Doctor Faustus by Marlowe?

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Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, written sometime between 1589–92, is in early modern English. Early modern English began to be used about 1500 and was in use until about 1700, when it was replaced by modern English. This was not a sudden change, but a gradual evolution.

Early modern English is much easier to understand than Middle English, which, depending on the dialect, can almost seem to be a foreign language. Even an accessible author like Chaucer, who wrote in a version of Middle English not too different from modern English, can be very difficult to understand. (Often, students are given Chaucer in modern translation or with modern spellings.)

Early modern English can provide some challenges but is basically similar to modern English. It uses a form of the singular "you"—thee and thou—that has become archaic, and often adds a "th" or "eth" to third person singular verbs. Sounds which have been dropped in modern English, such as the k in front of knight, are still pronounced in early modern English, as are the "ls" in could and would. Of course, some common words have changed since that time, and Elizabethan slang can be difficult, as can slang for any other time period.

Nevertheless, Doctor Faustus is accessible to us. For example, we can very easily understand lines such as “make me immortal with a kiss," and “Hell is just a frame of mind.” Even more difficult passages, such as the following, can be easily worked out:

Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?

It is easy enough to understand that "think'st" means think, and we can easily remember that thou means you. The rest of the language is still in use today. And just as is done to today, Marlowe employs alliteration, or the repetition of the same vowel at the beginning of words, to create a sense of rhythm and emphasis. Here it is in the "t's:" "tasted," "tormented," and "ten thousand." This poetic use of language is part of what makes the play memorable.

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Christopher Marlowe was a Renaissance Elizabethan poet and playwright, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and he wrote blank verse in Elizabethan English, which is linguistically identified as Early Modern English and is a Germanic language built from a combination of Anglo, Saxon, Latin, Celtic and Norman influences that reflect the history of England. 

The composition of Marlowe's Dr. Faustus employs many literary devices including allusion, digression, simile and metaphor. Using Scene 1 as a handy example, there are many instances of allusion. Allusion is literary technique of referring to the name of an ancient classical character, author or legendary figure or work of writing that is so well defined and known that it represents a concept that is larger than the name itself/ For example, in Line 145 Cornelius makes a classical allusion.to "the Delphian Oracle." All educated people would know that The Delphian Oracle was the Priestess who delivered messages purporting to be the words of the Greek god Apollo. Delphi was one of the most frequented oracular sites in ancient Greece and the most highly trusted. Marlowe is using this allusion of three words to say that Faustus will have great renown for his magical arts and that multitudes of people will come to him to see what mysteries he knows and what miracles he performs.

Digression is a story or train of thought that is off the main topic of discourse in the story but that is used to make a point pertaining to the subject of the text. For instance, Faustus diverts into some short digressions in Scene 1 in Lines 83 through 97 when he gets side tracked from his logical considerations to imagine how he will manipulated the spirits of the magical world to do his bidding in extravagant tasks: "I'll have them fly to India for gold / ...I'll have them fill the public schools with silk, / ...." It is clear that this flights of fancy won't help him to make his decision of help him move on the first step once he has made his decision: it is a digression from the point.

Marlowe uses tropes to enhance his meaning with figurative language that gives added depth of understanding to his subject matter. A trope is a literary device that employs literary techniques of figurative language in metaphor, simile, personification, irony, metonymy, synecdoche and others, Figurative language is that which has meaning beyond its literal meaning. For example the metaphor "He is a rock" does not mean that someone is a chunk of granite but that he has strength that is compared to the strength of a chunk of granite. [Incidentally, metaphor is a comparison without the words "like" or "as." Simile is a comparison with the words "like" or "as": "He is strong like granite."]

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