Does Faustus start out with heroic dignity in Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus? Does he lose this dignity with his tragic error of making a terrible deal with the Devil?

I came across an exam question along the lines of “does Faustus lose his heroic dignity when he makes the bargain with Devil early on in the play” and wondered if Faustus even had heroic dignity in the first place.

From his very first appearance on stage, Faustus comes across as a bit of a pompous fool. In his first soliloquy where he is searching for a suitable new discipline for himself, he draws some conspicuously erroneous conclusions from his selective reading of the Bible. This might be read as more disingenuous than foolish - especially coming from a man so eager to denounce God. But it certainly casts doubt on his reputation as a proficient logician.

Faustus’ contractual twenty-four years of “voluptuousness” are also filled almost entirely with silly pursuits.

Only in the final scene does Faustus have some semblance of dignity and evoke the audience’s pity, in my opinion.

I know that the play is a tragedy and Faustus its obligatory tragic hero, but is Faustus really a hero in the traditional sense, like Hamlet or Othello? Did Elizabethan audiences, who must have long been familiar with the Faust legend, walk into the play thinking of Faustus as having any sort of heroic dignity? Is Faustus’ academic achievement enough to confer dignity on him? Despite the folly he displays from start to finish?

  • 3
    "I know that the play is a tragedy and Faustus its obligatory tragic hero ..." Don't let inductive reasoning interfere with your own judgement when reading literature.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 13, 2022 at 15:34
  • Hey, Tsundoku! Thank you for your comment. If I understood you correctly, I shouldn't think of Faustus as a tragic hero just because he's the protagonist of a tragedy and if I don't really see him as heroic?
    – user392289
    Jul 13, 2022 at 17:40
  • 2
    Elizabethan and Jacobean tragedy was freer with the rules than some forms (it ignored the tragic unities, for instance, and the virtue of characters varied, with a good story more important). Some of F's petty actions throughout the play reflect the growing corruption of F, so they don't contradict his initial status. Yet his initial heroic status is to a degree told us by the chorus, and established with casting and dramatic staging, rather than through action.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 14, 2022 at 11:48


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