Sunday, December 19, 2010

Doctor Faustus – a great work, also a flawed one

Introduction: Critics and scholars are one in their opinions that Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is one of the masterpieces of British Drama.  It was Marlowe who brought the medieval concept of a magician, who sold his soul to the Devil and caused his destruction himself, into a magnificent and superb masterpiece. Even Goethe was inspired by its grandeur and he used the concept of Doctor Faustus in his play. Despite the excellence of the play, it falls short of meeting a regular established play like any one of those of Shakespeare. It looks more like a novel of detached scenes instead of a regular play.

Merits of the play: One of the most superb things about Doctor Faustus is the delineation of the tragic hero revealing the intense spiritual struggle and inner conflict in his soul. …short summary… Another chief quality of his play is the tragic conflict which dives deep into the depth of human heart. … short synopsis of conflict… Some of its outstanding scenes are of magnificent quality which reveals the genius of Marlowe: the summoning of Mephistopheles, the sighing of the contract and the second episode of Helen are the soul-stirring events of the play which rank Marlowe as a Dramatist next to Shakespeare. Doubtless, He was the greatest playwright before Shakespeare.  His surpassing poetry is another merit of the play. His ravishing descriptions, the emotional utterances from Faustus for Helen have eternal significance and will only die with the English language as complimented by Edward Thomas.
Structural Weaknesses: Despite his stupendous achievements in the realm of Dramatic Literature, Marlowe had some limitations and drawbacks. His first drawback being the one-man show. His character, Faustus has towered higher above the other characters rendering them pale into insignificance. The second drawback being: One of the greatest drawbacks is that the plot is not well-knit. It has only two parts: the first being the presence of Faustus and his desires to gain the deity and signing the contract with the Devil to attain his voluptuous desires. The second part being: his gradual travel onto the path of damnation and final doom. Goethe might have been impressed by the beginning and the end because the play has no middle. R.S. Knox has remarked: “The play is a series of scenes, some splendid, some petty, loosely related in a time-sequence; and rounded off by the foreseen catastrophe.” Anti-climax: the new world in which Faustus finds himself is nothing but a world of illusions and buffoonery. He forgets his aim and becomes a play-toy in the hands of his self-imposed doom. He is no more the same Faustus who was aspirant of knowledge; he falls into buffoonery and becomes a magic entertainer.  Comic scenes irrelevantly exist in the play. Though critics believe that they are later interpolations, however as long as they exist in the play, cause a drawback in the structure and plot of the play. Most of these scenes are crude and meaningless. There is hardly any female character in the play. The lack of female character is another drawback. Though we have a glimpse of the peerless dame of Greece, but she is nothing but a visual apparition and a dream seen with eyes wide open. The Duchess, too, falls short of being a female character. She doesn’t play any role.
Catastrophe: --- The last scene of catastrophe---
Conclusion: To conclude with the words of Ronald M., Frye: “The rejection of humanity which constituted the character of Faustus is complete and the plot closes, as it had opened, with this. It is in these terms that Marlowe achieves aesthetically powerful an understanding of the human condition which has never been more central to the plight of man than it is in our own time.” J.A. Symonds on Marlowe observes: “About him, there is nothing small or trivial. His verse is mighty, his passion is intense; the outlines of his plot are large, his characters are Titanic, his fancy is extravagant in richness, insolence and pomp.” 

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