Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlow: Feb Literary Movement Challenge

literary-movement-reading-challenge-buttonThe first book I read for February was Christopher Marlow: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.

Although I have known this story since forever I have never actually read the play. Mainly because I have always had an aversion to reading plays. I have to admit that after having read Faustus I still have this aversion to reading them

However I do not need to enjoy the form, it is after all quite a short work. The brief is to place it in a literary time, and it does fit well. Written soon after the demise of the Roman Catholic Church and in the dawn of Protestantism, it follows, or maybe echoes would be a better description, the early medieval morality plays, but Marlow writing from the Renaissance period is representing the newer modern man. Highly educated Faustus thinks he knows it all – and it is said a well-educated person of that time could know a little about almost anything!

Faustus wants more .He is dissatisfied, arrogant, greedy, proud and to my mind a throughly unpleasant fellow. Just my opinion:) but then I never like Heathcliff either.

Faustus believes if he masters the realm of necromancy he will have mastery over everything. He manages to summon Mephistopheles and feels he has great powers, the thought that Satan maybe designed this meeting never seems to cross Faustus’s mind. In exchange for 24 years of a great life he sells his soul to the devil. It has always seemed a pretty poor bargain myself, but there you go.

Faustus rejects many chances to repent and be saved, he appears to believe that after his first act of betrayal he was damned anyway , there could be no forgiveness. So he clowns, philosophizes, struts and begs his way into eternal damnation.

There was, at the time of the writing of Dr Faustus, a controversy in the Church between the Calvinistic doctrine of absolute predestination, in other words God has decided at birth who will be saved and who wont be. No one has control over his or her fate, and the  anti Calvinists who  rejected the notion that man lacked the free will to come to God, and argued it caused the ordinary man to  be more likely to despair and fall into sin because – why bother?.

It was a clash of great importance and had reached its peak by the time Marlow penned Faustus. Since then there has been endless debate as to which side Marlow was on. Was Faustus damned because God had already decided he was never to be saved. Or was he damned because he willfully, of his own free will, chose not to come to God.

It is also the time of an explosion of learning, knowledge. Science and logic were on the ascendancy. Thinkers of the day, Marlow included were feeling the dissatisfaction and impossibility of being able to decipher all, and this included religion, into this new way of viewing the world in the short lifespan they had.

It is a pity Marlow had such a short life as I think he would be remembered as well as Shakespeare. His writing is powerful and his themes adventurous. I am also extremely pleased I have read Faustus at last.


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