Doctor Faustus is a significant and masterful play written by Christopher
Marlow. It is a unique play that it written during the beginnings of the
renaissance period and therefore neither solely Renaissance nor Medieval in
style. It is instead a great story of a man torn between the differences of the
outgoing Medieval Period and the incoming Renaissance told in a brilliant style
composed of the two distinct schools of thought. The brilliance of this play is
that it can be viewed from both a Medieval and Renaissance perspective. If Dr.
Faustus is interpreted from a Medieval perspective, it goes along with the same
principals and morals that the majority of medieval literature tried to instill;
that is, the righteousness of God and the Roman Catholic Church. In order to
make this story more effective, Marlow chooses to have Faustus deal with the
essence of evil, Lucifer, the banished angel who betrayed God. In a classic
satirical form the play shows Faustus’ downfall after straying from God’s plan
and enlisting the help of the devil to become greater than what God had planned
for him. Faustus also seems to want to not only stray from God and dominate
mankind, but also, supercede and overrule God’s wishes to an even further
extent. In Scene 3, Lines 110-111 we read: The emperor shall not live but by my
leave, Nor any potentate of Germany. In these lines Faustus expresses his desire
to hold control over all. Even the likes of the Holy Roman Emperor shall fall to
the power of his “black magic.” Although the use of magic and the
character of the devil seems more of a parable-like story to modern day readers,
to the people of the time this was a very plausible story of a man who shunned
godliness and let greed and evil get the best of him. The existence of
supernatural entities, namely devil-influenced beings such as witches and
sorcerers, was very possible if not probable. Without the answers of science the
unexplained was often chalked up to the powers of the supernatural. From a
renaissance point of view, Dr. Faustus is a heroic tragedy. The renaissance
movement emphasized the power of the individual and the fulfillment of life. It
brought forth a desire for conquest, achievement and surmounting all obstacles.
In the play, Faustus, is not satisfied with his abilities, or as he saw them
limitations, as a human being. He did what he had to do to further advance his
accomplishments, striving to achieve his goals by any means necessary. In Scene
1, Lines 49-54 we read: These metaphysics of magicians, And necromantic books
are heavenly! Lines, circles, schemes, letters and characters! Ay, these are
those that Faustus most desires. O what a world of profit and delight, Of power,
of honor, of omnipotence. In this passage Faustus reveals his desire for the
powers that will bring him knowledge, but most importantly, fortune and fame.
This further illustrates the renaissance belief in taking control of your own
life and determining your own destiny. The tragedy of this story occurs when
despite Faustus’ attempts to gain knowledge and power beyond his reach, he
fails. He fails because his illusions of grandeur clouded the choices he makes.
Dr. Faustus is a man caught between traditions. He is trapped between the
religious Middle Ages and the man-centered Renaissance. This internal conflict
is transformed to external by the use of the Good and Evil Angels. The Good
Angel is Representative of the God-fearing Medieval Period that believes in
doing as God wishes, while the Evil Angel presents the views of a changing
society where the potential of self is explored, in this case, at whatever cost.
This is the type of conflict and transition that took place during this time.
Although the major literary periods are usually denoted with dates, it is
impossible for one period to abruptly end and the other begin. Instead it is a
gradual change that takes place as a result, or inspite of literary works such
as this one.