Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) is a well educated scholar and one of the University Wits who comes into the second or closing years of the 16th century. His plays are Tamburlaine the Great, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second and Parts of The Massacre of Paris and The Tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage. He is the most talented Pre- Shakespearian dramatist and the eminent and distinctive member of the group. His hero, Dr. Faustus is a true representative of Renaissance spirit.
First of all, we must know the movement, ‘Renaissance’ started in England from 1500 to 1600. This period in English literature is also called the Elizabethan period or the Age of Shakespeare. Renaissance means re-birth or re-awakening of learning. It was the reaction to the darkness of middle ages. It first came to Italy, later to France and than to England. The shine of Renaissance came very unhurriedly to the isolated island of England. Their chief characteristic is humanism that is further divided into individuality, desire for knowledge, power, beauty etc. Humanism means the concern of man with himself as a point of contemplation.
Dr. Faustus is a masterpiece work of Christopher Marlowe, and it comes into the realm of Morality plays. It shows the clash between the medieval world of tradition and the world of knowledge. As the drama opens, Dr. Faustus, the most learned German scholar is found unsatisfied by his gained scholarly knowledge of medicine and the vista of theology. He considers theology as a tedious subject because it talks about the doom of man and the limitation of power. His emotional inclination to the thirst of knowledge and power shows the spirit of Renaissance. Such thirst of knowledge and power compel him to give away his life and sign a bond of twenty four years with the agent of Satan, Mephistophilis. He makes such bond for filling the desire of power, pelf, name and fame because Mephistophilis will serve him twenty four years,and he will make him a mighty god. Indeed, it is the rejection of the medieval form and the resolution to quest a way to become powerful through magic.
The central element is thirst for knowledge and power, and for that the soul is sold. Dr. Faustus asks about astronomy, Mephistopheles willingly reveals to Faustus the secrets of astronomy, but when is asked about the creator of the world, Mephistopheles refuses to answer.Mephistophilies tells him about heaven, hell and the earth. Dr. Faustus finds the Limits of the power, and it dissatisfies him. His pact with Mephistophilis makes him away from God. Indeed, these were the questions of the age that Christopher Marlowe transfers to his hero for seeking answers from Mephistophilis. His bond with Mephistophilis for knowledge sake was not wrong because he got knowledge about whom he was ignorant.
The second element is power for that he sells his soul. Mephistophilis is his power, and he is with him. It is power that he flies and makes enquiry about cosmos etc.He has a great power of necromancy and uses it according to his own wishes, whether in voluptuous or trivial things. It is really the spirit of Renaissance. When he was signing the bond, the good Angel came and tried to divert him to God, but he denied and did as it was his wish. In Rome, he, along with Mephistophilis, makes fun of the Pope and the friars. He enters German court and shows his power to the Emperor Carlous by calling the ghost of Alexander the great. His trick with knight by placing a set of horns on his head, his selling a horse to a horse-courser on the condition that he will not take the horse into water and his conjuring up of Troy for some fellow show his absolute power.
Individualism is also a dominant spirit of Renaissance. It gave importance to individuality or individual ideas but not to society. He is individual in his decision of selling soul, and he does not pay any attention to the good Angel who forbids him to sell his soul. Mephistophilis comes into religious dress, but he forbids. He writes on his arm shows his own wish but not of Mephistophilis or Lucifer. Throughout the drama, his individuality is dominant. When Mephistophilis does not answer his questions about the creators of the earth, he turns his mind to God and thinks that it is too late to repent. The good Angel admits that it is never late; He then appeals to Christ for mercy.In it, we don’t find any force imposed on him by some body, but it is own decision proving his individuality. The Lucifer and other devils appear and tell him not to think about the God, and he is shown the masque of seven deadly sins-Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth, and finally Lechery. He is satisfied and wishes to visit Hell. Hence, the role of individuality is dominant.
The other important role of Renaissance was appreciation of beauty and art. When the absolute and desired power corrupts him, he stops seeking of knowledge, but shows his desire for pleasure. So, he hankers after a beautiful wife and selects Helen from Greek myths. He knows Helen, the most beautiful woman and for her the battle between Troy and Greece took place. Dr. Faustus returns to the ancient Greece that produced Helen and the scholars, thinkers and writers. So, it was the age of classical Greece, and Dr. Faustus desires to go to this age. It is also clear from drama that Dr. Faustus had good appreciation about beauty and art of ancient Greece.
In the drama, there is the conflict between religion and knowledge. It is fact that the Catholic Church was very powerful, despite it, in 12th, and 13th century, Renaissance movement started in Italy whose main focus was knowledge, again, discovering from the books of ancient Greece and Rome. This movement was to break the darkness of medieval Europe, and at last the scholars succeeded. The religion got a new spirit because the supremacy of Pope was challenged by the Protestants by bringing a new protest against Catholic idea of Christianity.
In Dr. Faustus, such challenge is issued to Christianity with the help of the evil. The good Angel and the bad Angel come to him. It shows the conflict between religion and knowledge because the bad Angel insists on him to follow necromancy that will make him powerful and will be the source of great knowledge. When he plays tricks with the Pope and the friars, it also shows the conflict between the medieval darkness and the renaissance. Such conflict goes on through out the play, and for such conflict, the old man comes to pursue him to return to God or religion. Indeed, he succeeds in his goal.
In this drama, something very strange is found, and it can be named anti-renaissance element. It is patent that for knowledge and power, he sells his soul to the devil, and the audience might have condemned him to be totally against the religion or the Christianity. His pranks with the Pope, the Friars, the knight and the horse courser show the misuse of power for small things.So, he slips, to some extent, from his goal. Apart from it, he seems to be very voracious for luxury and money.
In drama, it is very clear that for the knowledge sake, he turns away from religion and does not listen to the good Angel. When the time of death comes, he runs back to religion and Christianity. One must think that being a man of renaissance, he does not endure the scare of death, and he desires to hide himself into the sea or under the mountains. It shows that Dr. Faustus feels scare of his funny reaction to religion or Christianity. Christopher Marlowe turns his hero to Christianity in order to save himself from the anger of the audience. In drama, on one spot, the Pope and the Friars read the Bible to curse the invisible attacker, and Dr. Faustus as well as Mephistophilis becomes upset. The scare of death can not disturb the man of renaissance, and he is not against God, but he stands against those who misuse the religion according to their own wishes.So, he plays tricks with them. He returns to God but not to the contractors of the religion. He sold his soul is a great step for knowledge sake. Indeed, he broke the monotony or unlawful power imposed on the people by such contractors of religion. Besides, Christopher Marlowe might have suffered in his age, and through the drama, he warns them not to misuse the power; otherwise, the suffered will cross the limits. For that purpose, the hero stands against the religion or medieval thoughts of religion. It is an autobiographical element.
One can not deny from the fact that Dr. Faustus is really a man of Renaissance and he answers of all the Renaissance queries.Apart from it, one can not deny from the anti-renaissance element that ought to be used for above discussed purpose.