Significant Allusions

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Greek Mythology: Like other English Renaissance authors, Christopher Marlowe makes numerous allusions to significant figures in Greek mythology. These allusions add depth to Faustus’s narrative and pay homage to the Greek tragedies that so influenced Marlowe and his fellow Elizabethan playwrights.

  • Doctor Faustus as Icarus: At the beginning of the play, the chorus describes Faustus’s “waxen wings” that “did mount above his reach” and the “melting heavens [that] conspired his overthrow.” The chorus is alluding to Icarus, son of the famous craftsman Daedalus. Daedalus and Icarus are imprisoned in Crete by King Minos, who wants to keep Daedelus’s latest creation—the Minoan Labyrinth—a secret. To facilitate their escape, Daedalus fashions two sets of wings out of wax and feathers. As they fly to freedom, Icarus soars so high that the sun melts his wings, and he falls and drowns. By comparing Doctor Faustus to Icarus, the chorus suggests that Doctor Faustus exhibits a similar hubris that leads to his own downfall. 
  • Helen of Troy: In scene 13, Doctor Faustus nearly repents of his sins but is threatened into reaffirming his loyalty to Lucifer by Mephistophilis. Seeking to distract himself from his feelings of despair, Faustus asks Mephistophilis to make the beautiful Helen of Troy his lover. Helen of Troy was a daughter of Zeus and the most beautiful woman in Greece. She married the Spartan king Menelaus, but Prince Paris of Troy abducted her after she was promised to him by Aphrodite. The Greeks invaded Troy to reclaim her, initiating the Trojan War. Faustus turns to Helen instead of turning to God, asking her to “give me my soul again . . . for Heaven be in these lips.” Faustus’s desire for Helen represents his ongoing lust for knowledge and power and underscores his dismissal of religion. As his final hour approaches, Faustus distracts himself from the prospect of eternal damnation by indulging in earthly pleasures.

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