Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus


Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus


Dr. Faustus as a Renaissance Play



Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

The term ‘Renaissance’ is a French word that means ‘rebirth’, ‘revival, or ‘reawakening’. Literally, it refers to the revival or reawakening of the classical Greek (Hellenic) and partially Latin literature, arts and culture along with the classical Greek outlook towards life in the late 15th century after a long sleep in the Middle Ages. The main tenets or features of the classical Greek literature that revived and fell their influences on the writers, thinkers and artists of the 15th and 16th centuries emphasized on intellectual freedom (freedom of thought), thirst for more knowledge, craving for power and wealth, love of beauty, sensuality, comforts, luxury and music and above all the emphasis on the superiority of man (humanism). Virtually Renaissance was a revolt against absolute ecclesiastical supremacy over human affairs in favour of intellectual freedom.

Christopher Marlowe’s (1564-1593) ‘Doctor Faustus’ is a Renaissance tragedy though there are some visible native ingredients of the conventional Christian morality play. Let us bring out the Renaissance elements in the play below:

The first feature of the Renaissance spirit is that it advocates intellectual freedom (free thought) and we see that the hero of the play Doctor Faustus is endowed with this spirit. He comes out breaking away from the traditional ecclesiastical boundary of thought as the stagnant stock of traditional knowledge bothers him and hence he takes to the study of necromancy (magic) in order to quench his thirst for infinite knowledge. Faustus cries out:

”What will be shall be? Divinity adieu!

These metaphysics of magicians

And necromantic books are heaven” (Act I, Scene ii)

The second tenet advocated by Renaissance learning was greed for power. Marlowe’s hero Doctor Faustus is not an exception. He desires that he would bring the devil under his control and by means of his help; he would be the Emperor of the World. Faustus utters:

”By him I’ll be great emperor of the world

And make a bridge through the moving air

To pass the ocean with a band of men 

I’ll join the hills that bind the African shore.” (Act I, Scene iii)

The third feature of the Renaissance of ancient Greek learning is the desire for wealth. Marlowe’s hero Doctor Faustus is also rich in this desire. He cries out:

”I’ll have them fly to India for gold

Ransack the ocean for ancient pearl.”

The fourth element of the Renaissance is love for beauty and lust (sensuality) which is also present in Doctor Faustus. He craves for a beautiful maid as his wife to satisfy his carnal desire. He commands his servant Mephistophelis as below:

”…………………..let me have a wife

The fairest maid that is in Germany.”

Again Faustus, though he knows that he is on the verge of imminent death yet he desires for carnal pleasure and kisses the spirit of Helen and utters:

”Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss

Come, Helen, come give me my soul again

Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips

And all is dross that is not Helen.”

The fifth element of the Renaissance lent to the Christian world was the craving for delicates, luxury and entertainment which our hero Dr. Faustus had grasped tightly. He searches the oceans of the world for delicious food and fruits. He says:

”And search all corners of the new-found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates.”

The sixth but strongest influence that the Renaissance fell on man was the sense of superiority of man (dignity of man). The Evil Angel who is the counterpart of modern man with modern outlooks encourages Dr. Faustus to assume his dignity as a man. He instigates Faustus, as:

”Be thou on earth as Jove is on the sky

Lord and commander of the universe.”

The superiority of man over all things of the universe is expressed again in the speech of Mephistophelis who incites Dr. Faustus to go forward with his study of necromancy. He utters:

”Why Faustus,

Thinkst thou heaven is such a glorious thing 

I tell thee, it is not half so fair as thou

Or any man that breathes on earth.”

In addition to all these elements of the Renaissance, the playwright Christopher Marlowe was influenced by the stylistic features of classical Greek literature also. Marlowe, breaking away from the native tradition of dramatic structure, boldly adopted the Greek device such as- he introduced the Chorus, he divided the play into five acts and again the acts into several scenes. Besides this, his craving for Greek and Latin languages is also reflected in the play also. He makes ample use of Greek and Latin phrases such as- “cosummatum est” (that is finished),” “che, sera, sera” (what is to happen must happen), “Veni, veni, Mephistopheles (come, come Mephistopheles).  In addition to all these, the dramatist Marlowe has made ample allusions and references from Greek and Roman mythologies such as – Diana, Helen, Amphion, Apollo etc.

Christopher Marlowe, though, was most influenced by the thought and ideal of the Renaissance, yet he could not come out from the trammel of his traditional native elements for which some ingredients of the conventional morality play are apparently visible in Doctor Faustus such as – Christian theme, comic interludes, moral ending and some personified abstract ideas as dramatic characters such as – Good Angel, Evil Angel, Wrath, Pride, Gluttony etc.

To conclude it would be reasonable to say that Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is a good Renaissance tragedy though there is some native flavour of the morality play. 0 0 0

Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus, Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

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Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

N. B. This article entitled ‘Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus’ originally belongs to the book ‘World Drama Criticism‘ by Menonim Menonimus. Renaissance Elements in Doctor Faustus

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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