Spiritual Combat: Tragedy is regarded as the highest aspect of the dramatic art as in it our emotions are more profoundly stirred than in comedy thereby rendering it more universal in it appeal. And conflict is the essence of or soul of tragedy. All previous dramas including Tamburlaine had dealt with single-minded individuals. If a struggle in the heart of the hero was introduced, it was like that of Morality plays.It was external as in the Jew of Malta because it was between the hero and his adversaries. Doctor Faustus attempted something different. It is a drama of spiritual combat within the soul of man. This struggle is certainly somewhat primitive in its expression but it is a foretaste of those inner characteristics towards which a drama in its development inevitably trends. Faustus in this respect is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in sixteenth century outside the work of Shakespeare. It is also a modern tragedy because Marlowe broke away from the old Aristotelian concept of tragic hero as being a royal figure of some very lofty stature. He introduced Faustus who is not a prince or a king but a common learned man whose parents are base of stock.
Tragic Flaw – cause of his tragedy According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must have some inherent weakness – a tragic flaw which he referred to as Hamartia. He should be neither totally vicious nor good. As per Doctor Faustus, he is puffed with pride and his wisdom. He has studied all branches of knowledge and wants to get infinite knowledge. The boundless mastery of all sciences. So, he acquires necromancy in order to gain the ultimate. He says,
A sound magician is a mighty god:
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.
Despite all his scholarly personality and his learning, we witness how he surrenders his soul to the Devil for a span of twenty four years and instead of gaining the deity and mastering and commandeering all the elements, he stands doomed and cursed.
Internal Tragic Conflict: Marlowe’s contribution to the English or Elizabethan drama was great and many fold. One of his contributions was the introduction of internal tragic conflict in the mind of the tragic hero. Nicoll has rightly observed: “All previous dramas including Tamburlaine had dealt with single-minded individuals. If a struggle in the heart of the hero was introduced, it was like that of Morality plays. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe attempted something new – the delineation of struggle in the mind of the hero. This struggle is certainly somewhat primitive in its expression but it is a foretaste of those inner characteristics towards which a drama in its development inevitably trends. Faustus in this respect is unquestionably the greatest tragic figure in sixteenth century outside the work of Shakespeare.”
So in Doctor Faustus, we find the conflict or the psychological struggle raging in the heart and soul of the hero. In fact, there’s hardly any external action. The delineation of a psychological struggle or spiritual conflict in the mind of the hero is the chief thing. Then why is this struggle and to what is it due? Generally, the inner conflict takes places when man is faced with two alternatives, one of which he must have to choose, but he finds himself pulled in opposite directions. Now Faustus is inspired by the spirit of the Renaissance, by dreams of gaining limitless knowledge and super-human powers. These he can attain only by resorting to necromancy, discarding religious dogmas and abjuring the Trinity and denouncing the established religious norms. Doctor Faustus may reject all these intellectually, but he is very much emotionally attached to them. He may be acting like an atheist, but his flesh and blood is saturated with Christianity. Here the conflict starts between will and conscience externalized by the Good and Bad Angel. We can follow this conflict in the play at three stages: The First Stage: we see how pride and ambition lead Faustus into the vicious bargain with the Devil. He convinces himself that: A sound magician is a mighty god. He also says with perfect faith in Mephistopheles, “Had I as many souls as there are stars, I would give them all for Mephistopheles, By him I will great emperor of the world” Nicholas Brooke says: Faustus wants to satisfy the demands of his nature as God has made him. He wants to be the Deity. For this, he must deny Christianity as did Lucifer, but Faustus’ attachment to religion is too deep to be rooted out. Throughout the play we find Faustus pricked by his conscience, we find him in tussle between will and conscience in the form of Good and Bad Angel. The Second Stage: At this stage, we see Faustus struggling hard to break away from the impeding doom and he turns to repentance.
When I behold the heavens, then I repent
And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,
Because thou hast depriv’d me of those joys
The two angles appear again. One advises him to return to repentance and the other tells him that he is a spirit and God will not help him now and that he will tear his body to pieces if he repents. He has to submit to the will of Lucifer and refresh his bond with him. The show of Seven Deadly Sins and the best of all the apparition of Helen temporarily soothe his damned soul.The Third and Final Scene: In the closing scene, we find the climax culminating into a horrible catastrophe. Faustus knows that he is eternally doomed; but his poignant soliloquy and appeal for redemption is pathetic and pitiable. His last minute frantic appeal, to the ever moving spheres of heaven to stand still or to the sun to rise again to make perpetual day, stirs the readers’ soul and refresh in him the spirit of religious faith. Later, his soul is taken away by the devils leaving a short visual scene repeating itself in the reader’s mind. The show of Seven Deadly Sins is presented to please Doctor Faustus and remove his internal conflict between the good and the bad. So the seven sins – Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery. Some critics are of the view that the show is meant for comic relief for the audience. But this is hardly to accept. In fact the show is not meant for a comic relief, but is really meant for bringing back Faustus to the path to hell when he was much irritated by Mephistopheles for not telling him the right answers. In fact, the sins already abide in Doctor Faustus’ soul; the show merely symbolizes or externalizes them.
Disintegration: Doctor Faustus is thus the tragedy of a man who in striving boundlessly, misdirects great gifts of mind and spirit and hence progressively loses his soul by disintegration. Progressive disintegration in Faustus brings low comedy into the tragedy. In the last act, Faustus repents, then despairs and is about to commit suicide. But his distressed soul is comforted by the Old Man. The feeling cannot exist, however, without the support of the Old Man’s presence; as soon as he goes Faustus exclaims: I do repent; and yet I do despair. Mephistophilis forces him to sign another bond to strengthen the contract.
Psychological tragedy: Thus we find that in Doctor Faustus, Marlowe reveals for the first time in English drama the full possibilities of psychological tragedy, the anguish of a mind at war with itself. The play depicts the tragedy of the human soul, and in the closing scene it achieves end with a strength and intensity as yet unknown in English drama. We conclude with the words of Una Ellis Fermor: In Marlowe’s great tragic fragment the conflict is not between man and man for the domination of one character over another or in the interaction of a group of characters. Thus and in such terms is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to the present.