Dr Faustus revision

  • Created by: Becky
  • Created on: 11-04-13 16:27

Social Context

- Dr Faustus was written in approximately 1592

- At a time when power of the state was largely concentrated in the hands of the crown and influenced by an elite class of nobles.

-Highly religious society, Faustus untypically explored the role of Mephastophilis as an in depth character rather than just a symbol of evil.

- Social tensions explored through the inclusion of different classes, Faustus and his peers being of the academic class- largely controlled by the Church.

- Also inclusion of lower classes such as 'comic' antics of Rafe and Robin. Faustus himself is also reduced to performing conjuring tricks for his social betters.

- Marlowe reinforces the misogynistic idea of women being responsible for men's downfall, shown in representation of Lechery as a women and Helen of Troy.

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Dramatic Heritage

- Marlowe writing at the same time as Shakespeare, both writing in a time of growth and development in theatre (moving away from religious morality plays and gaining depth and dramatic impact)

- Audience would have been a mix of established wealthy viewers and lower class 'cheap seats', Marlowe's test was to cater to each individual class taste.

- This can be seen in the physical, slapstick humour such as Marlowe losing his leg and slicing his arm open which would have entertained the lower class. And the for the more discerning audience the shocking inversion of calling on Christ and the 'papal-bashing'.

- Faustus is based on Germanic legend 'Faust', much of the setting is the same such as Faustus being an academic at Uni of Wittenberg.

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Aspects of the Gothic 1/3


- Gothic lit characterised as being fascinated with the meaning of life (e.g. Frankenstein creates life, Macbeth reveals true human qualities).

- Dr Faustus explores limit of human knowledge

- BUT for all his experienced with Meph he fails to understand the human condition and is isolated from human and spiritual love.


- Tendency for Gothic texts to have an eponymous anti-hero in their name ( Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Faustus, Macbeth)

- Not v good analytical point but good throwaway point!

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Aspects of Gothic 2/3

Night-time Action:

- Much action occurs at night-time, Faustus summons Meph at night, gets taken to hell at midnight, comical run-ins occur at midnight.

- Links to Macbeth's murder of Duncan and fear he shall 'sleep no more'

Horror and Terror:

- Faustus never truly realises consequences until end, doesn't understand Meph's "why this is hell and nor am I out of it", this would have been a v real reality for audience.

- Physical horror in signing contract with blood, having leg pulled off and being dragged to hell.

- Terror would have had greater impact and fear of hell affecting audience more.

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Aspects of Gothic 3/3


- Necromancy, magic, demons and devils, Heaven and Hell, Good and Bad Angels.

- Contrasts with supernatural in Macbeth in which the Witches are faitly impotent.

Transgressive Females:

- Lechery portrayed as female and Helen of Troy all suggest msyoginistic view that female are men's downfall


- Play so cannot have multiplicity of narratives, although there are element of duality as Faustus struggles are echoed in experiences of Wagner- although comical.


- Links to horror element (Macbeth blood on hands) Faustus signs contract in blood

- Allusions to Christ, his blood is our salvation- Faustus is his damnation.

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Religious Context

- Written in England which was a highly Protestant country.

- Protestants believed that the control of the Church rested with royal power, they believed in papal fallibility (that no man could declare someones sins forgiven), that your soul could only be saved by God, and to some extent Predestination.

- Many elements of these conflicts are present in Faustus:

   - Faustus ultimate sin is selling is soul to devil, but his real downfall lies not in his bad deed but his denying of Christ's ability to save him.

- Ending of Faustus unconventional as Faustus is denied salvation. Provides opportunity for high drama but also for Marlow to criticise Christ: is his powers limited? Those who call on Christ wont necessarily get support? Or worse, there is no Christ in which to find salvation?

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- Controversial ending reflects Marlowe's beliefs- He was possibly either agnostic or atheist.

- A controversial playwright, probably homosexual which is suggestivly reflected in Dr Faustus in the character of Helen of Troy, given that the actor playing Helen would have had to have been a man (women were not allowed to act) Faustus' kiss with Helen could be an oblique reference to the dangers Marlowe felt by sating his lusts.

- Marlowe was a product of his generation, born into stability which had been unknown for the past decades, the state religion was established as Church of England.

- Developments such as the printing press meant that Marlowe was well educated.

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Useful Quotes

"Nothing so sweet as magic is to him, which he prefers before his chiefest bliss"

- Holds magic and necromancy before his own salvation. Gothic because of importance he attactches to supernatural.

"Necromantic books are heavenly"

- Ironic because necromantic books are blaphsemous, shows twisted potential of Faustus' character.

"Why this is hell, nor am I out of it"

- Marlowe creates a devil in which we can sympathise with, shocking for the time, but this developed character gives Faustus his first opportunity to repent and save his soul, ironic as Meph is the one who takes it. Also gothic for supernatural and terror.

"Offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes"

- Horrific imagery of this statement shows how far Faustus' has fallen/ is willing to go. Explains why he cannot be saved in the end.

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Quotes cont...

"with my proper blood/ assure my soul to be great Lucifer's"

- Inversion of Christ's sacrifice and the religious connotations of 'blood'. This is Faustus's world view now. Also Gothic for blood.

"Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss"

- Women presented as dangerous things. Gothic for transgressive femaleeee.

"O, spare me, Lucifer"

- Even in the end Faustus turns to the wrong power.

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- Faustus tends towards hyperbolic language, planning to plunder 'India for gold'. There is however a gulf between language and action which suggests Faustus a weaker character and that acadamia is limited.

- Faustus very much goes along with the mysoginistic view that women are dangerour his "is this the face which launched a thousand ships" speech is refletive of this and present Helen as very much to blame for the Trojan war.

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- Faustus hyperbolic language and sinful actions are undercut by the comical scenes in the play. This presents his own downfall from verse to prose and foreshadows his ultimate fate.

- Scene with the hourse-courses in which Faustus' leg is ripped off suggests the importance of Gothic dreams.

- First occasion in which Faustus calls on Christ and Lucifer appears would have shocked audiences.

- Time not fixed, 24 years elapse in very little stage time. This is similar in Macbeth which is also ambigious to how far he rules. These movements in time arguably add to the Gothic sense of disruption and disquiet.

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- Marlowe writing for a mixed audience, need to create a successful play is balanced against desire for worthy literature.

- Visual impact of seeing devils on stage, scenes of horror would have had an impact which is not achievable in other forms of lit.

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Perfect for exam revision!

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