Christopher Marlowe - Doctor Faustus Concluding Observations

What Have We Seen?

Doctor Faustus is considered to be Marlowe's best play but certainly not for the originality of the subject - it is almost entirely a theatrical rendition of the English Faust Book. We have moved through this play rather quickly - have we seen enough of it, seen into it enough, to understand that best play award? 

There certainly is a fascinating character development of Faustus. He, like Tamburlaine, arrests our attention, although Faustus is a man of much more human scale. Where Tamburlaine never entertains doubts or inspects his own motives, Faustus suffers from inner conflicts. Where Tamburlaine sees ahead to establishing a dynasty (although whether or not he achieves this is not settled in the play), Faustus is satisfied (up until the end) with magic and a woman who had been dead for two thousand years. Tamburlaine projects himself onto everything and conquers millions of people; Faustus toys with tricks and when it is far too late, realizes he has wasted his life on trivia. Tamburlaine sees the various deities in his life as grander than he, but not that much grander; Faustus realizes that he has abjured his Christian God and that there is no escape, not even through God's grace, from that. 

It seems to me that Marlowe has accomplished what he set out to do.* After a Tamburlaine who filled the theater with the strutting and poetics of a self-centered, confident warlord, Marlowe accomplished an equivalent task but with the charicature of a self-centered humanist scholar who loses his soul to the devil. Marlowe had more to say in Edward II and The Jew of Malta, in both of which he would demonstrate his command of spectacle, language, and irony. He not only asserted his excellence in crafting plays, he reminded everyone of how good a poet he was. As we have seen, Doctor Faustus is planted with striking images of hell and beauty. Faustus' long monologue at the end of 5,2 is a poetic tour de force and the Epilogue is another gem.

*What I mean is that I feel that Marlowe was in command of his medium, that he was insightful, expressful, and creative. I feel that did not wander off course or stray into diversion or obscurity. He held my attention and I think, treated me and himself with respect.


Updated 2014-03-20