Compare Dr. Faustus and Macbeth as tragic heroes, noting similarities and differences.

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In comparing Dr. Faustus and Macbeth it becomes possible to see that they are tragic heroes as traditionally defined. Essentially good men of high birth brought low by hubris, Faustus and Macbeth display all the hallmarks of tragic heroism.

Macbeth, a brave solider, kills his king out of driving ambition. Eventually, this leads to his death. Dr. Faustus, a brilliant scholar and man of learning, sells his soul to the Devil to obtain more power. This leads to his damnation.

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Tragic heroes, as traditionally defined, always have far to fall. That is to say they must be high up the social scale and have lots to lose, whether it's wealth, power, or social prestige. Macbeth is about as high up the ladder as it's possible to get in the kingdom of Scotland. But not quite. Though showered with honors by a grateful king, there's one title that Macbeth has not yet attained. That's the kingship itself.

Inspired by the three witches's prophecies, and egged on by his super-ambitious wife, Macbeth develops an overriding ambition to be king. His ambition can only be achieved by having the existing king, Duncan, murdered. This is a prime example of what the ancient Greeks called hubris, an excessive pride or overweening ambition.

In Ancient Greek theater, it was hubris that most frequently led the high-born to disaster, as in the case of Oedipus in Oedipus Rex. And it's the same with Macbeth. Although he ascends to the throne of Scotland after killing Duncan, his subsequent descent into blood-thirsty barbarism culminates in his own death. Macbeth overreached, and in doing so, brought about his own dramatic downfall.

Much the same could be said of Dr. Faustus. Like Macbeth, he appeared to have it all, but also like Macbeth, it wasn't enough for him. Despite his reputation as a great scholar and man of letters Dr. Faustus is profoundly dissatisfied with life. He wants power, the kind of power that only the Devil can provide. So he summons the Devil's acolyte Mephistopheles and offers to surrender his soul in exchange for twenty-four years of power.

As with Macbeth, Faustus's hubris leads directly to his downfall. Having made such a Devil's bargain, it's inevitable that his soul is in mortal danger. Though Faustus is constantly aware that one day his soul will go to hell, he doesn't ask for God's forgiveness. Instead, as the hour of doom approaches, he throws himself at the mercy of the Devil. Like Macbeth, Faustus hasn't really learned his lesson. The consequences are disastrous.

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Compare and contrast the presentation of Shakespere's Macbeth and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as tragic heroes.

It seems very clear that the character of Macbeth is imbued with more dignity and heroism by Shakespeare than the character of Doctor Faustus is by Marlowe. Although both are clearly evil characters who do evil things in order to satisfy their ambition, at the same time, as Macbeth nears his end, he is given eloquent lines that speak of his suffering and loss and his recognition of his own mortality. Note, for example, how he responds to his wife's death in Act V:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death...

Macbeth here clearly acknowledges that he has no future now, but what is so inspiring about him as a character is the way that even after he learns Macduff is the fulfilment of the final prophecy, he does not give in, and determines to fight to the very end, even when he knows that end is certain. By contrast, Faustus is a man who, when he has the power he has sacrificed so much for, squanders it in rather silly and petty ways, only realising the true extent of what he has done at the end of his life before he is claimed. There is nothing heroic about him and the way that he meets his end, whereas it is fitting and proper to view Macbeth as a tragic hero because of his bravery in the face of certain defeat and death.

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