Doctor Faustus as a Tragic Hero or Character Analysis of Dr. Faustus
Whatever may be the cavils of critics Doctor Faustus is truly a great tragic hero. His sky-high ambition to gain limitless knowledge and power, his Renaissance curiosity – “to practice more than heavenly power permits,” and his yearning for enjoying sensual pleasures of life endow him with the true qualities of a grand tragic hero. If according to Aristotle there must be some ‘tragic flaw’ in the character of the hero of a tragedy, then this inordinate ambition, this infinite curiosity is his “tragic flaw” that brings about his doom and damnation. It is his “tragic flaw” that led him to abjure God and Trinity, to surrender his soul to the Devil ‘to gain a deity’. This is why the overwhelming catastrophe in the final scene aroused a deep sense of pity and terror in our souls, which is the prime purpose of a tragedy.
Marlowe’s concept of tragedy, in fact, differs from the classical view of tragedy. He is the founder of English romantic tragedy and introduces a new class of heroic subjects which breathed the spirit of the Renaissance. His heroes are also not of the class that had formerly appeared in tragedy. Tamburlaine rises to the position of a mighty king from mere peasanthood and Barabas is only a money lender. Marlowes, tragedy is thus not related to the fortune of a king or a prince, but to the passionate struggle and pitiful defeat of a man of extraordinary caliber. And in Dr. Faustus like all Marlovian heroes, Faustus is an ordinary man of German parents ‘based of stock’.He possesses rich imaginative faculty and is a poet by birth. Although he has mastered Physics, Philosophy, law, and Divinity, yet he is disappointed to find all these branches of knowledge inadequate for his purpose. “Yet art thou still, but Faustus, and a man”, Faustus, with his yearning for knowledge and with a craze for superhuman powers and supreme sensuous pleasures proceeds to study necromancy and sells his soul 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:”
So, herein is the greatest tragic flaw in his character: he 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 cursed necromancy, in spite of all his skepticism. The Good Angel, his voice of conscience, urges him to shun ‘that damned book’ and to read the scriptures. But the Evil Angel, the voice of passion, scores a victory by luring away Faustus with the assurance that by mastering the black art of magic Faustus will be:
“Lord and commander of the elements”.
Turning a deaf ear to the earnest appeal of the Good Angel, Faustus signs the bond with the devil with his own blood 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 he expected from Magic, and the growing sense of loss and of the wages of “damnation” begins to sting him like a scorpion: But he does not die suddenly and before dying, Faustus reaches the point of horror from where he would like to retrace his steps and repent of his surrender to the Devil. But Lucifer and Mephistopheles appear and demand the fulfillment of the condition of the bond which Faustus had signed with his blood finding no other way, Faustus beg the forgiveness of the devils and vows never to mention God or pray to him or look to Heaven. But his conscience is not absolutely dead and on hearing the Old Man’s exhortation, Faustus immediately becomes aware of his predicament and says to himself.
“Where art thou, Faustus? Wretch, What hast thou done?
Damned art thou, Faustus, damned; despair and die.”
Faustus’s inner conflict reappears in a more acute and agonizing form and feels that hell is calling him with ‘a roaring voice’. When Mephistopheles offers a dagger for him to commit suicide the old man comes and tells him not to do so and that he might yet receive the mercy of God, Faustus, therefore, tries to repent. But he is not allowed by the Devils. For all this Faustus blames Mephistophilis though it is he himself who is to blame and not Mephistophilis:
“When I behold the heaven, then I repent,
And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,
Because thou hast deprived me of those joys”
Although Faustus at the beginning of the play was a bold, defiant and adventurous spirit of Renaissance in the final hour of his doom, the fact of redemption becomes apparent to him and he reaffirms his faith in Christ and God:
“See, see, where Christ’s bloodstreams in the firmament,
One drop would save my soul, half a drop…….?
Faustus realizes that the pact with the Devil has got him nothing and he had sought to control the stars once but they
” Move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come and Faustus must be damned……..”
Faustus acquires spiritual greatness which, in the finest moments of the play, wins him our sympathy, and this death arouses that pity, and fear and terror which great tragedy demands.
However, the much-emphasized element of sensuality in the character of Faustus has led some critics to regard him as an incarnation of lust and as such. Unfitted to support tragedy His creator, according to the critics, inspire him with his own Bohemian joy in mere pleasure, his own thirst for fresh sensations, his own Vehement disregard of restraint – a disregard which brought Marlowe to a tragic and unworthy end. But what the critics fail to observe is that Marlowe in the character of Faustus presents not a man but a man for Everyman. The grim tragedy that befalls Faustus is not a personal tragedy, but a tragedy that overtakes all those who dare “practice more than heavenly power permits.” The terrible conflict that goes on in his mind is not particular to him alone, but common to all who waver between opposites. In the character of Faustus “there are no details, no personality traits, no eccentricities or habits, nothing that is intimate or individual. In fact, the doubts and fears which rock the mind of Faustus are not of one character alone: these doubts and fears about hell, heaven, God, Salvation and damnation have been experienced by all inquisitive men in all ages.
In fact, as O.P. Brockbent says, “Faustus passion for knowledge and power is in itself a virtue, but diverted from the service of God it threatens to become totally negative and self-destroying”. Faustus discovers that the intellectual pride and insolence of man are responsible for dragging him away from God and true religion.