Doctor Faustus as a morality play
Both Mysteries and Miracle Plays deals primarily with the teachings of the church, theological and devotional and Morality Play tried to bring home to the men’s mind this ethical doctrine. Though the Morality Plays began in the reign of Edward (about 1340) the old extant form of these plays is from the reign of Henry VI (1422-1471) Such as the “Castle of Constancy, Humanity, Spirit, Will, and Understanding. But the best known and in many ways the most appealing of surviving fifteenth-century morality plays is Everyman. The Morality Play was a dramatized allegory in which the characters were the Virtues and Vices and allegorical personages such as Riches, Good Deeds, Confession, Death, the world, the flesh, Mankind, Mercy, Justice, Peace, the Seven Deadly Sins, Good and Bad Angels, Old Age and any other human condition or quality needed for the play. These plays did not follow the prescribed lines of any story and these characters were brought together roughly in a story at the end of which Virtue triumphed, or some moral principle was established.
Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is by and large a Morality Play. It has several elements typical of morality drama. But before we proceed to discuss the features of Morality Play in Doctor Faustus let us first review its story.
In Doctor Faustus, we have the chorus both at the beginning and at the end expounding the crime and punishment of Dr. Faustus. Faustus, with his yearning for ‘knowledge infinite’ and with a craze for superhuman powers and supreme sensuous pleasures proceeds to study necromancy and sells his sent to the Devil. He does not believe in ‘damnation or pains after death and utters these memorable lines:
These metaphysics of magicians
And necromantic books are heavenly”.
“A Sound magician is a mighty God:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brain to gain a deity”.
Faustus wants ‘to gain a deity’ by abjuring God and the Trinity. Then, we find the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, the symbol of virtue and vice in his soul making their first appearance just after Faustus’s final decision in favor of black art, in spite of all his skepticism Turning a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel who urges him to shun ‘that damned book’ and to read the scriptures, Faustus signs the bond with the devil to become ‘the Lord and commander of the elements’ and says:
“Had I as many souls as there be stars
I’d give them all for Mephistophilis
By him, I’ll be great emperor of the world.”
But as the time rolls on, he becomes more and more disillusioned about the profits of her expected from the magic, and the growing sense of loss and of the wages of ‘damnation’ begins to sting him like a scorpion. He wants to repent but he is not allowed to do so by the Devil. When Mephistophilis offers a dagger for him to commit suicide the old man comes and tells him no to do so and that he might yet receive the mercy of God. For all this Faustus blames Mephistophilis though it he himself who is actually to blame,
“When I behold the heaven, then I repent,
And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,
Become thou hast deprived me of these joys.
Finally, at the end of the play, the devil comes, and tears Faustus apart, and takes his soul along with him to hell. Thus the play Dr. Faustus contains all the elements of Morality play – the virtue and vice, Good and Bad Angel, the Devil, 7 deadly sins, the old man, and the moral tag. Faustus has died a painful and premature death because he abjured the scriptures and gave away his mind to necromancy As Hudson says, that “No other finer sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus ever come from the pulpit what more fearsome exposure was ever offered of the punishment man brings upon himself by giving way to the temptation of his grosser appetites. Then there are other features of Morality Play present in Faustus”.
The comic element: The comic element in Dr. Faustus fulfills the requirement of the Morality Play. The clown scenes which Marlowe presents were the regular stock in trade of the theatrical companies staging Morality Plays, The purpose of the five comic scenes of Dr. Faustus was also to amuse and entertain the groundings. staging Morality Player. But in a tragedy like Faustus, they could certainly be avoided if Marlowe had not conceived his play lines of the Morality Play.
The Loose Plot: Like a Morality Play, Doctor Faustus, lacks a well-knit plot. There is no interplay between them it is a patchwork of detached scenes rather than a regular play. It shows many traces of the primitive elements from which the Elizabethan drama was evolved. Its form, in fact, is a connecting link between the Old Miracle Plays and drama in proper. Still, it contains many passages of great power and beauty, especially the famous address to Helen of Troy and the despairing agony of Faustus’s last night on earth.
Characterization: As in a Morality Play, Dr. Faustus shows signs of poor characterization. Only Faustus is a towering Central figure and all other characters are trivials. It suffers from looseness of construction – especially in the middle part of the play. Modlen says that Marlowe’s Mephistophilis is not the cynical spirit of evil drawn by the genius of Goethe, but a more commonplace drudge of infernal powers, though not without ‘signs of remorse and passion’. Moreover, the character of Faustus lacks individuality. It is not of a man, but of the man himself, Everyman.
Conclusion: In spite of all its lines with medieval Miracles or Moralities, Doctor Faustus can never be treated wholly as a Morality play. It is, in fact, the greatest heroic tragedy before Shakespeare. To conclude according to a critic Doctor Faustus is both the consummation of the English Morality tradition and the last and the finest of Marlowe’s heroic plays. As a Morality, it vindicates humility, faith, and obedience to the law of God; as a heroic play, it celebrates power, beauty, riches, and Knowledge, and seems a sequel to the plays of ‘Tamburlaine the great’.