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What is the significance of the chorus in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus?

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The chorus in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus provides essential information, background, and commentary, similar to its role in ancient Greek and other Elizabethan plays. It introduces Faustus, updates the audience on his actions and fame, and, at the end, mourns his death while delivering the play's moral lesson. This helps bridge gaps in time and off-stage events for the audience.

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The Chorus in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History Of Doctor Faustus performs many of the same functions as the Chorus in ancient Greek plays, as well as in other Elizabethan plays, such as the plays of William Shakespeare.

The primary function of the Chorus is to provide information to the audience that will help them to understand the play.

At the very beginning of Doctor Faustus, the Chorus provides information about Faustus himself—where he was born, where he went to school, how he excelled in theology, and his interest in the forbidden study of magic and "cursed necromancy"—and sets the scene for the play.

The Chorus serves essentially the same purpose in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Pericles.

As a side note, in some versions of Doctor Faustus, Faustus's comic servant, Wagner, is assigned the Chorus's lines. It's likely that at some time in the performance history of Doctor Faustus the actor who played Wagner also played the part of the Chorus, and this doubling of characters made its way into printed versions of the play.

As the play continues, the Chorus advises the audience about changes of location, brings the audience up to date on Faustus's increasing fame and fortune, and describes any events involving Faustus that the audience didn't see for themselves. This occurs between scenes 6 and 7, and between scenes 9 and 10 .

CHORUS. Learned Faustus,
To know the secrets of astronomy,
...Did mount himself to scale Olympus' top,
...He now is gone to prove cosmography,
And, as I guess, will first arrive at Rome,
To see the Pope and manner of his court... (Chorus 2)

CHORUS. When Faustus had with pleasure ta'en the view
Of rarest things, and royal courts of kings,
He stayed his course, and so returned home;...
Now is his fame spread forth in every land;
Amongst the rest the Emperor is one,
Carolus the Fifth, at whose palace now
Faustus is feasted 'mongst his noblemen. (Chorus 3)

At the end of the play, the Chorus mourns the death of Faustus, and tells the audience the moral of the play.

CHORUS. Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits. (Epilogue)

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Though Doctor Faustus is an Elizabethan play, it uses an element from Greek theater known as the chorus. In Greek plays, the chorus consisted of many players who spoke together in unison. The role of the chorus was to be separate from the action of a play, offering a commentary on the actions of the characters, be it positive or negative. The chorus also may have offered expository information for action not seen on stage.

In Doctor Faustus, it is mostly up to the chorus to fill in the audience on large chunks of expository information. This is due to the fact that long periods of time elapse between the various acts of the play. In the end of the play, however, the chorus does return to offer us a lamentation for the titular character as well as a possible moral lesson of the play.

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The use of the chorus by Marlowe is one of a number of classical elements in the play. In Greek drama, the role of the chorus was to provide a commentary on the events of a play, upon the characters and their behavior. The chorus provided a way in for the audience, as it were, and a way to forge a deeper, more intimate connection between the audience and what was happening on stage.

Marlowe uses a chorus in Doctor Faustus to alert the audience to a new approach to tragedy, a radical departure in terms of characterization and thematic content. Traditionally, tragedies dealt with the fall of noble characters such as kings, warriors, and demigods. Doctor Faustus, however, is a commoner, a man of humble birth, and the chorus prepares the Elizabethan audience for what must have been quite a new experience for them, sugaring the pill slightly by filling in background details about Faustus's life.

As well as providing prologue and exposition, the chorus also bridges the gap between acts 2 and 3. A lot of time elapses between the two acts, so the chorus helpfully fills in some missing details regarding Faustus's exploits. For instance, we're duly informed that Faustus has ordered Mephistophilis to carry him to the skies so that he can discover the secrets of the stars and the planets.

The chorus returns at the beginning of act 4. Once again, there's been a time lapse in the action and so the chorus keeps the audience up to speed on what's been happening in the meantime. Faustus has achieved great fame, feted by friends and scholars, kings and commoners alike. There is something portentous about this latest appearance by the chorus; as this is a tragedy, it can only be downhill from now on for Doctor Faustus.

And so it proves. Right at the very end of the play, the chorus makes its final appearance. In keeping with the tradition of morality plays, they provide us with the moral of the tragic tale we've just witnessed:

Faustus is gone! Regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things:
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits. (Epilogue)

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What is the function of the chorus in Doctor Faustus?

The Chorus in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, the inspiration for Goethe's Faust Parts I & II, serves two purposes. First, it is transitional and, second, it is expository. The first purpose of the Chorus is to provide transitions into and/or out of elements of the play, reminiscent of Greek Choruses.

The second purpose is to provide enlightenment into Dr. Faustus's behavior and character in addition to giving the audience information that Faustus himself doesn't have, thus serving in a prescient and foretelling capacity. The objective of the Chorus's function is to increase suspense as the audience moves through the saga with Dr. Faustus.

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