Sunday, October 3, 2010

INFLUENCE OF RENAISSANCE ON “DOCTOR FAUSTUS”

Introduction: The Renaissance
The word ‘Renaissance’ itself means in general any rebirth or re­awakening. The term is specifically applied to the widespread cultural revival which marks the division between the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ and the modern world. In fact it began in the fourteenth century in Italy. And we find the new wave gradually spreading over western Europe and England in the following two centuries.
The revival of learning, new geographical discoveries and more significantly the rebellion against the medieval pattern of living and thinking dominated by religious dogmas and Christian theology were the main sources of stimulation. Another great contributory factor for the growth of this movement was the revival of interest in the classical antiquity or the Greco-Roman culture. The main ingredients of this new spirit were individualism and worldliness; and these two traits found manifestation in many forms such as its great yearning for knowledge and learning without fetters, its love of beauty and hankering after sensual pleasures of life, its brave spirit of adventure and its sky-high ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf in this world. Then the epoch making work, The Prince by Machiavelli, the famous social and political writer of Italy, profoundly influenced the spirit of the Renaissance. It was Machiavelli’s forceful writings that encouraged the men of that age to disregard all ethical and conventional moral principles to achieve the end by any means, fair or foul.
Marlowe and the Renaissance
In fact Christopher Marlowe himself was the product of the Renaissance. He was saturated with the spirit of the Renaissance with its great yearning for limitless knowledge, with its hankering after sensual pleasures of life, with its intemperate ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf and finally with its spirit of revolt against the medieval pattern of living, its orthodox religion and conventional morality and ethical principles. We may unhesitatingly call Marlowe the first champion of the Renaissance, as he was more than any-body else greatly influenced by Italian Renaissance. Hence it was but natural that his great works should reveal the main characteristics of the Renaissance. And then, unlike Shakespeare, Marlowe could not but project his personality into the great and mighty characters of his plays, specially in his four great tragedies: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II.
Marlowe’s Tragic Heroes
Thus we find that not only Doctor Faustus but all the titanic heroes of Marlowe’s great tragedies reveal some of the most important characteristics of the Renaissance and Machiavellian doctrine of complete freedom to gain one’s end by any means, fair or foul. With their spirit of individualism they all are dominated by some uncontrollable passion for gaining some ideal or finding the fulfilment of some intemperate ambition. They all seem to be inspired by Machiavellian ideals of human conduct and human desires, and hence the common moral conventions and the established religious sanctions can never thwart them from striving to gain their end. His Tamburlaine, the most cruel despot, with his craze for limitless power defies all authorities on earth as well as heaven. In his Jew of Malta, the stone-hearted Barabas dominated by a senseless lust for gold throws to the wind all common moral conventions and does not shirk from committing the most cruel type of crimes to achieve his heinous end. And his Edward II and Mortimer pay the most terrible price, the former for his passion for his base minions and the latter for his intemperate lust for power.
Doctor Faustus: Spirit of Revolt
Of all Marlowe’s heroes, Doctor Faustus seems to be the veritable incarnation of the genius and spirit of the Renaissance, as his character reveals a great yearning for limitless knowledge, power and pelf, a craving for sensual pleasures of life, a defying spirit of atheism or scepticism and also a spirit of revolt against conventional religious doctrines, and Christian theology. One of the most significant characteristics of the Renaissance was individualism that led to the spirit of revolt to free the human mind from the shackles and dogmas of the Church and feudalism. And Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with all his erudition and scholarship, with his abnormal pride and presumption discusses in his very first monologue, in the first scene, the merits and demerits of all the important branches of study and has the great audacity to take his own decision, right or wrong, and to declare without the least hesitation:
“Philosophy is odious and obscure,
Both law and physic are for petty wits;
Divinity is basest of the three,
Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible and vile;
‘Tis magic, magic, that hath ravished me.
Thus Faustus boldly asserts his individualism and raises the standard of revolt against the medieval restrictions on the mind of man.
Craving For Knowledge and Power
Faustus’s craving for ‘knowledge infinite’, his insatiable curiosity and supreme lust for power and pelf very clearly reflect the spirit of the Renaissance. And the black art of magic fascinates him only because he will be able to gain limitless knowledge and through knowledge superhuman powers that are beyond the scope of other subjects of study that have been mastered by him till then. The necromantic books thus become heavenly to him. Hence he turns a deaf ear to the earnest appeals of the Good Angel ‘to lay that damned book aside’ and does not make any delay to make up his mind when the Evil Angel whispers to him:
“Be thou on earth as Jove in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements
And then Doctor Faustus as the true embodiment of Renaissance spirit starts dreaming of gaining super-human powers and of performing miraculous deeds with the help of spirits raised by him:
“I’ll have them read me strange philosophy,
And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;
……………………..
I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,
And chase the prince of
Parma from our land,
And reign sole king of all the provinces:”
All these proud assertions clearly reveal Faustus’s Renaissance spirit of adventure and supreme craze for knowledge and power without any limits. And finally as a true follower of Machiavelli, we find Faustus discarding God and defying all religious and moral principles, when he sells his soul to the Devil to master all knowledge and to gain super-human powers.
Sensual Pleasures and Love of Beauty
To Faustus knowledge means power and it is power that will enable him to gratify the sensual pleasures of life. Faustus’s request to Mephistophilis to get the most beautiful German maid as his wife gives us a chance to understand the working in his mind. And then Faustus’s keen longing to have Helen, ‘that peerless dame of Greece’ to be his paramour and to find heaven in her lips reveal his supreme love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasures. The magnificent apostrophe to Helen in the most inspired and lyrical passage of the play wonderfully illustrates the Renaissance spirit of love and adoration for classical beauty as well as urge for romance and mighty adventures.
Conclusion
All the towering heroes of Marlowe’s great tragedies, Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, Barabas and Edward II are really the embodiments of the spirit of the Renaissance. Marlowe himself was a child of the Renaissance and he invariably projected his personality into the mighty characters of his towering heroes. And of all his heroes, it is Doctor Faustus who may be taken as the very ‘incarnation of the genius of Renaissance’ with his great yearning for ‘knowledge infinite’, with his craving for limitless power and pelf, with his hankering after sensual pleasure of life and finally with his deliberate revolt against the conventional moral ideas and religious ideals and superstitions.

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