Renaissance elements in Dr. Faustus
Dr. Faustus as a Renaissance man
The word ‘Renaissance’ itself means ‘rebirth’. “The idea of rebirth originated in the belief that Europeans had discovered the superiority of Greek and Roman culture after many centuries of what they considered intellectual and culture decline.” Thus the question what was the renaissance about is answered as the widespread cultural revival marking the division between the so called ‘dark ages’ and the modern world. The Renaissance was a period of fundamental change in human outlook once dominated by religious dogma and Christian theology. The age was marked by a great yearning for unlimited knowledge; by love for worldliness – supreme power, sensual pleasures of life; by love for beauty; respect for classicism; by skepticism, individualism and Machiavellian influence.
Christopher Marlowe was a product of the Renaissance. Therefore it was usual for him that his play Doctor Faustus would contain Renaissance spirit. We see in Dr. Faustus a wonderful expression of renaissance elements and the character Dr. Faustus as a renaissance man.
The most important thing in the Renaissance is craving for ‘knowledge infinite’. This characteristic has been injected in Faustus properly. He has achieved knowledge of all branches. Yet he feels unfulfilled. So he wants to practice black art and with this he would be able to know all things –
“I will have them read me strange philosophy.”
After selling his soul, he, at the very first, questions Mephistopheles to know the mystery of the universe, about the position of hell.
“First, will I question with thee about hell,
Tell me where is the place that men call hell?”
Faustus’s longing for material prosperity, for money and wealth, which is also a Renaissance element, has been expressed in the following lines where he desires to gain the lordship of Embden a great commercial city-
Why, the signiority of Embden shall be mine.”
He further wants to enjoy a splendid life full of worldly pleasures. He says,
“I will have them fly to India for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all the corners of the new found world.
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates.”
Here we see another inherent thing characterized by Renaissance in Faustus i.e. love for adventure.
Faustus’s eagerness to get the most beautiful German maid to be his wife and Helen to be his paramour and to find heaven in her lips proves his love of beauty along with love for sensual pleasure which is also a Renaissance element. He says to Mephistophilis,
“For I am wanton and lascivious
And cannot live without a wife.”
Dominance of classical literature, art and culture is a prominent feature of the Renaissance. And it is frequently expressed by Faustus in his allusions, examples, references. One of such examples can be noticed in the following couple of lines where Faustus says,
“Have I not made blind Homer sing to me
Of Alexander’s love and Oenon’s death?”
“The Renaissance was marked by an intense interest in the visible world and in the knowledge derived from concrete sensory experience.” “It turned away from the abstract speculations and interest in life after death that characterized the middle Ages.” Faustus raises question and gives answer to that question in the following lines-
“That, after this life, there is any pain?
Thus, these are trifles and mere old wives tales.”
Thus Renaissance allows Scepticism and secularism.
In the Renaissance, “the unique talents and potential of the individual became significant. The concept of personal fame was much more highly developed than during Middle Ages.” Actually Faustus is an individualistic tragic hero. His tragedy is his own creation. He does not think like traditional heroes or men. He crosses his limit while common people do not generally cross that.
Renaissance movement is greatly influenced by Niccolo Machiavelli, his The Prince and his ideal “ends justify the means.” Similarly Faustus also wants to reach his goal by any means, even by selling his soul to Devil –“Faustus gives to thee his soul.” Furthermore, Faustus earns money by selling a false horse to a Horse-course deceitfully.
The Renaissance has made Faustus fascinated by supreme power. Faustus says-
“A sound magician is a mighty God
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”
Finally we must say that Faustus is a faithful embodiment of the Renaissance. He bears all the characteristics of the age. Actually Marlowe has pictured Faustus with great care and interest of the age. George Satayana justly says in this regard –
“Marlowe is a martyr to everything, power, curious knowledge, enterprise, wealth and beauty.”