Dr. Faustus Renaissance Hero?

Dr. Faustus Renaissance Hero?
It won’t be a secret that the story of Doctor Faustus is one of the most well known Renaissance tales, which incorporates mystical and thrilling story with interesting and vivid plot structure. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe is based on the story of a real man, historical figure, who lived in the first half of the 16th century. It should be noted that there was not left a lot of information about Faust: according to one source he really was a doctor, according to the others – a master. Noticeable religious activists of this period mentioned Johan Faustus in their works, he is considered to visit Salzburg and his outstanding knowledge and talents could not be left without attention, especially his magic skills. All these facts were reflected in Faust’s image within a little chapbook named Historia von Dr. Iohann Fausten, dem weitbeschreiten Zauberer und Schwartzkünstler etc., and published in 1587 in Germany. The Renaissance epoch significantly impacted the creation of Dr. Faustus image within the literary creations. The scientific development of Europe was not very high and beliefs in magic and miracles were very strong and these facts could not avoid impacting the imagery within the literature describing Dr. Faustus story. Personally I consider that the image of Dr. Faustus in play by Christopher Marlowe is a typical image of Renaissance hero. This essay would examine this statement, providing the necessary investigation in order to prove this statement.
The Story of Doctor Faustus: the Birth and the Evolution of Faustus Imagery

Dr. Faustus’ parents were Christian and God-fearing people; hence their son was not such type of person. Faustus could hardly be called pious or meek person. Studying theology, Faustus did not avoid learning the witchcraft: he was described as quick and passionate learner, but the same time cantankerous and arrogant man. That is why it is not actually surprising that Faustus desired to know more than ordinary people did. He wanted to grasp all depth of the Earth and the Heaven. With the help of different magic tools and spells, Faustus decided to call out the devil in order to assist him to reach the impossible. His curiosity, freedom of thought (it rose significantly during the Renaissance time) and flippancy overcame the common sense and Faustus went to the woods, where he chanced to meet the devil. The nest day the devil came to the Faustus house, to learn what did this scientist, starving for extra knowledge, wanted from the evil spirit. Before the agreement Faustus set a number of terms and the main of them was that the devil should always be subjected to him and implemented any of his wishes and also revealed all the secrets of this world (and not only this but the other worlds too, including the paradise and the hell). The devil agreed to all the terms and they set an agreement lasting for 24 years. After the end of this term the body and soul of Dr. Faustus would belong to the devils servants.

The stories the devil told Faustus (he is called Mephistopheles in some books) about hell and the horrors of the underworld scare Faustus a lot. During some moments of his licentious life he sometimes feel regret for the agreement he made with the devil. But interesting adventures, power upon the human beings and outstanding success in Astrology made him forget of the horrible ending. The devil does not let Faustus to marry, as marriage is the lot of Christians’, but any women he desires is his. It is not surprising that Faustus is given to carnal pleasures. The devil gives Faustus an ability to fly and with the help of the magic spells realizes the long standing dream of the doctor – he calls for Helen of Troy from the Ancient past. She gave a birth to the son of Faustus. But when the time was coming up to the end of agreement Faustus started to grieve upon his sinner’s life. At the last day Faustus gathered the students and gave the last feast, saying the last farewell to them – in the morning the students found his tortured body. Since the time of its first edition the story of Faustus was changed several times, especially for the theatric performances. During the Enlightenment epoch before the Goethe Faustus, his image was interpreted as the image of scientist who seeks for the intellect perfection and intended to learn as much as possible. The morality of Doctor Faustus story in the first edition was actually lost and the 18th century the image of Faustus is more like the tempered Genius, which is close to the bearing Romanticism.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe: Renaissance Hero as a New Interpretation of Dr. Faustus Image
Dr Faustus as the main hero in the tragedy of outstanding English playwright Christopher Marlowe The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus became the first dramaturgy realization of the main hero described in the chapbook. It should be noted that Marlowe in his play, depicted Faustus that was very much alike the main hero of the chapbook, but should be noted that dramatist reveals and expresses the core problems of the main hero in pretty different way. This makes Dr. Faustus more corresponding to the image of the Renaissance hero. The three main problems: the problem of choice the good or the evil, the problem of honest and dishonest knowledge and the problem of the salvation; all these differ the play from the chapbook. Faustus is depicted as the scientist, who understand the lack of development in different science at the Renaissance period: In the very beginning the lay Faustus criticized “limited”, in his opinion, studies of Aristotle, medical sciences, law and religion:

FAUSTUS: Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin
To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess:
Having commenc'd, be a divine in show,
Yet level at the end of every art,
And live and die in Aristotle's works.
Sweet Analytics, 'tis thou hast ravish'd me!
Bene disserere est finis logices.
Is, to dispute well, logic's chiefest end?
Affords this art no greater miracle?
(Marlowe Christopher, 1616)

We see that Faustus has no respect to Aristotle and his studies. He seeks for the perfection of knowledge and did find the old theories ridiculous. The same situation with the medicine, he does not find it corresponding to the realities of contemporary needs:

Then read no more; thou hast attain'd that end:
A greater subject fitteth Faustus' wit:
Bid Economy farewell, and Galen come:
Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold,
And be eterniz'd for some wondrous cure:
Summum bonum medicinoe sanitas,
The end of physic is our body's health.
(Marlowe Christopher, 1616)

Such a situation is typical for the Renaissance times. The most outstanding minds of this period were seeking for the better knowledge and studies, being dissatisfied with the Church oppression and low development of such important sciences as medicine, law and theology. This is a perfect reflection of Faustus as a Renaissance hero: he is starving for new knowledge, seeking for the better solutions and was ready to sacrifice everything in order to reach the forbidden knowledge. As many scientists of that period, Faustus is depicted as the persons who seeks for personal omnipotence and powers. He turned to the books written by necromancers and sorcerers. Marlowe was intended to show the struggle of the good and the evil in the soul of the Doctor, revealing that typical Renaissance hero is very contradictory person and despite the reached success, inconstancies are typical for him. Marlowe intoroduced the Good Angel and the Evil Angel and every of them is trying to win over the others side in Faustus soul at the critical moments:

GOOD ANGEL. O, Faustus, lay that damned book aside,
And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul,
And heap God's heavy wrath upon thy head!
Read, read the Scriptures:—that is blasphemy.

EVIL ANGEL. Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art
Wherein all Nature's treasure is contain'd:
Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky,
Lord and commander of these 12 elements.
(Marlowe Christopher, 1616)

This perfectly illustrates the Faustus as a Renaissance hero, when the authority of the Bible and the Church was severely broken, but they were still strong. Being closely connected to the Devil Faustus understood that his death is inevitable he tried to turn to God and his tragic monologue at the end of the play, he tries to save his soul, even understanding this is impossible. As a typical Renaissance Hero Faustus reached the peak of perfect knowledge in different sciences and tasted the Helen’s of Troy love:

Faustus. Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?--
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--
''[kisses her]''
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!--
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 Helena.
(Marlowe Christopher, 1616)

He devotes the whole monologue to the beauty of Helen and the personal perfection he reached. Hence from the very beginning we know that Faustus is sentenced to the great fall, from the reached perfection. Being the wisest and the same time the most miserable man on the Earth, he sentenced himself to the never-ending tortures in Hell. Signing the agreement Faustus was perfectly aware about the day he should pay the bills and that is very typical for Renaissance Hero. Hence it would be a chance for him to avoid this miserable position of the victim in the end: from the very beginning he should listen to the voice of common sense (or the Good Angel as it is depicted in the play) but not the voice of passion and anxiety (or the Bad Angel of the play). Doctor Faustus wanted to be the perfect scientist, who knows more than anyone else. He wanted to be successful with women and undoubtedly he was. He was intended to learn the darkest secrets of the Earth, the Hell and the Heaven and he was the one who reached it, but in fact he was the toy of his destiny and finally his soul and bode was owned by the devil.


In the end it would be essential to note that the play has close connection to the development of science in the Renaissance Europe. It won’t be a secret that occultism was very popular not only among the scientists, but among the representatives of upper classes, who wanted to be successful. Marlowe masterfully reflected the spirit of Renaissance, which was so close to him


Marlowe Cristopher. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. 1616. Project Gutenberg Official web site. 20. 09.2010.
Frank Baron. Doctor Faustus, from History to Legend. Wilhelm Fink Verlag: 1978
The Historia von D. Johann Fausten, Johan Spies: 1587. Letters from the Dust Bowl web site. 20.09.2010.

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