Allegory and Symbolism—Their Meaning
In Greek, ‘Allegoria’ means to imply something else. Allegory is just a form of art presenting a second meaning beneath the surface meaning. It may be taken as an extended metaphor in which the characters, action or ideas stand for some others. The meaning is always implied not expressively stated. Hence, the reader of an allegory is expected to get not only the apparent or surface meaning of the story but also the second meaning or the hidden truth lurking behind it.

Very often allegories are simple stories conveying metaphorically some spiritual or ethical ideas with a didactic purpose. All Morality plays in English literature are more or less allegorical. We also get allegories in the form of prose, poetry or drama. Spenser’s Fairie Queene, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Swift’s Tale of a Tub are outstanding works in this form of art.

Symbolism in general means the presentation of objects, moods and ideas through the medium of emblems or symbols. It is a conscious and deliberate technique of the use of symbols in art and literature. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word ‘symbol’ means “thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought.” Thus lion symbolises courage, the moon symbolises a lovely face and the cross symbolises Christanity. So symbols are words that mean much more than their simple literal meaning.
Moral Allegory in the Play
A close and critical study of Doctor Faustus enables us to go deeper and get the hidden truth or moral allegory of the play that relates “the form of Faustus’s fortunes good or bad.”
This engrossing tale of a proud and an inordinately ambitious medieval magician who sold his soul to the Devil is undoubtedly allegorical. It has a moral allegory of universal significance. In spite of Marlowe’s agnosticism and atheistical inclinations his “Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” turns out to be a religious, rather Christian, moral sermon, and the sermon is that whoever shuns the path of virtue, denounces God and His laws, and aligns himself with the forces of the evil to gain limitless power and position is doomed to despair and eternal damnation. So Hudson has rightly said: “No finer sermon than Marlowe’s Faustus even came from the pulpit. What more fearsome exposure was ever offered of the punishment man brings upon himself by giving way to temptations of his grosser appetites?” And the mournful monody of the Chorus makes the moral allegory of the play crystal clear:
“Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.”
Then the introduction of the stock devices of the Miracle and Morality plays, such as the Good and Bad Angels, the Devils, the Old Man, The Seven Deadly Sins etc., clearly points out the moral and allegorical aspect of the play. All the above characters or apparitions deserve symbolical or allegorical interpretation. We may take them up one after another for such interpretation.
(i) Significance of the Good and the Evil Angel
Two Angels and Tragic Conflict
It should be noted that there is hardly any external action in the play. We find that the real action presented in the play is the spiritual conflict within the soul of the hero—a conflict, we may be sure, between law and desire, religion and scepticism, or between curiosity and conscience. Hence, Ellis Fermor rightly remarks that “the scene is set in no spot upon the physical earth but in the limitless regions of the mind and the battle is fought, not for kingdoms or crowns, but upon the question of man’s ultimate fate. Before him lies the possibility of escape to spiritual freedom or a doom of slavery to demoniac powers. Thus, and in such terms is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to present.” And in the light of this remark Faustus may stand as the symbol of man in general with the strange admixture of virtue and vice in his soul. And then the Good and Evil Angels also appear in the play with their own symbolic significance personifying the two aspects of Faustus’s character. The former stands for order, virtue or goodness and the latter represents the baser spirit of Faustus, his indomitable passions and desires. One stands for his conscience and the other, his curiosity for ‘unlawful things.’ Hence, Harold Osborne has rightly observed: “The Good and Evil Angels are really externalisations of the two aspects of Faustus’s own character on the one hand, conscience, and on the other, that aspiration to the novel and romantic that led to his downfall.” It may be noted that Marlowe is quite original in the use of his angels and they differ a lot from those abstract figures in the Morality plays.
(ii) Significance of Helen and the Old Man
As Faustus’s fascination for Helen, the ‘only paragon of excellence’ reveals the Renaissance characteristic of love and adoration of classical art and beauty, Helen epitomises the charms of classical art, learning and beauty. And her shade or apparition may also be the symbol of sensual pleasures of life which are but transitory, and lead to despair and damnation. If it is so, the Old Man represents Christian faith with its obedience to laws of God and its need for prayer and penitence that can assure eternal joy and bliss. The Old Man also represents another moral aspect; that is one who has firm faith in God can boldly face the temptations and tortures presented by the forces of Evil and ‘can ascend to heaven while the fiends sink back into hell.’
(iii) Significance of the Show of the Seven Deadly Sins
We have this pageant of Seven Deadly Sins in the sixth scene or second scene of Act II. This spectacle also shows that Marlowe in his Doctor Faustus adopted some of the conventions of the old Miracle and Morality plays. So the Seven Deadly Sins—Pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery—of good old Morality plays are also very much here in this play in a grand spectacle to cheer up the wavering and dejected soul of Doctor Faustus. But Marlowe is quite original in his treatment of the scene. In the ‘Faustbuch’, or ‘Faust Book’ it is a masque of the seven animal forms representing the seven principal Devils. We get this pageant of Seven Deadly Sins also in Spenser’s Faerie Queene and this also might have been a source for Marlowe.
Some critics are of the view that the show is meant for comic relief for the audience. But this is hard to accept. In fact the show is not meant for any comic relief but is really meant for bringing back Faustus to the path of hell when he was much irritated by Mephistophilis for not giving right answers to some of his questions related to the creation of this universe. And we find Lucifer, Belzebub alongwith Mephistophilis appearing on the stage, the moment, Faustus, to a great extent disillusioned, utters the name of Christ with a fervent appeal to save his soul:
“Ah, Christ, my saviour,
Seek to save distressed Faustus’ Soul!”
They put up the show to cheer up his drooping mind and lure him back to the path of hell; and they succeed mightily when Faustus in rapture expresses his delight after the show:
“Oh, this feeds my soul!”
Symbolically it means Faustus’s abject surrender to these deadly sins who lead to the path of hell. In fact the sins are already there in his soul and the show of the sins simply symbolises or externalises them. Another point to note is that Pride leads the procession. In fact Pride deserves this, as Pride is the worst vice that brings about the downfall. And our Faustus was puffed up with pride to fly too near the Sun with ‘waxen wings’ to bring about his own ultimate doom and damnation.
(iv) Significance of The Character of Mephistophilis
If in Doctor Faustus there is any other character other than Faustus that deserves some consideration, it is Mephistophilis. He is with Faustus from the very beginning of his proud career till his tragic downfall. He is considered to be one of the seven spirits of second rank. He is also called Lucifer’s vice-regent. But the Mephistophilis of Doctor Faustus with his ‘signs of remorse and passion’ is Marlowe’s unique creation.
Of course we may treat Mephistophilis as the villain of the play as it is he who seems to lure away Faustus to the path of hell. But a closer study reveals that Faustus himself with his extreme pride and inordinate ambition is the root cause of his own damnation. The point is made clear when Mephistophilis in the very third scene of the Act I tells Faustus in response to his query:
“For, when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scriptures and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his soul;
Nor will we come, unless he uses such means
Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d.”
So it was Faustus who first racked the name of God and abjured ‘the scripture and his Saviour Christ’ and only then Mephistophilis, the Devil, flew ‘in hope to get his soul.’ And this leads to the symbolic significance of the character of Mephistophilis. The evil is actually in his own soul and Mephistophilis is the symbolic representation of it. He is nothing but a projection of the self of Faustus. We may also say with a critic that ‘he symbolises power without conscience, the danger of which is the motif of the play.’ And this power without conscience ultimately brings about the downfall and eternal damnation of Doctor Faustus. If Mephistophilis sometimes warns him against the evils of practising the black art of magic, that is, the brighter aspect of Faustus’s mind, an acute struggle between the good and the evil rages in his soul. So Mephistophilis may also be said to be externalising the split conscience of Doctor Faustus.
Then again, we may also treat Mephistophilis as the symbol of dramatic irony in the play. Having bitter experiences of hell as a fallen angel, Mephistophilis warns Faustus of the evils of necromancy and the suffering in hell. But Faustus with his pride and ambition turns a deaf ear to all this, shuns the path of virtue and dreams of becoming ‘as great as Lucifer’ or to be as powerful ‘as Jove in the sky’ and ‘Lord and Commander of these elements.’ And thus Mephistophilis is made the symbol of dramatic irony that intensifies the tragic appeal of this great drama.


Introduction: Influence of Marlowe
There is hardly anyone who will dispute Shakespeare’s great indebtedness of Marlowe, ‘the Morning Star of English drama.’ It was Marlowe, more than any other, who performed the great task of drawing English drama from the old rut of Morality and rambling Interlude. And it was also Marlowe who broke new ground and paved the way for Elizabethan dramatists and the genius of Shakespeare.

Marlowe’s work and achievement guided and inspired Shakespeare. And J.A. Symonds justly remarks: “What Shakespeare would have been without Marlowe, cannot even be surmised. What alone is obvious to every student is that Shakespeare designed from the first to tread in Marlowe’s footsteps, that Shakespeare at the last completed and developed to the utmost that national embryo of art which Marlowe drew forth from the womb of darkness, anarchy and incoherence.”

It is quite evident that in the beginning of his career Marlowe’s influence on Shakespeare was quite considerable. Shakespeare’s Richard II, Richard III and Merchant of Venice reveal notable similarity to Marlowe’s Edward II and the Jew of Malta. Shakespeare must have remembered Barabas of the Jew of Malta while creating the unforgettable character of Shylock the Jew. He also must have remembered Marlowe’s Hero and Leander as he quoted that famous line: “Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?” in his As You Like It. And it was really a great tribute from Shakespeare to Marlowe when he addressed him as ‘Dead Shepherd.’ As regards Shakespeare’s Richard II it can be proved from internal evidence that the above play is modelled on Edward II or Marlowe.
Blank Verse
One of the greatest contributions of Marlowe to Elizabethan drama was his blank verse. At one stroke Marlowe’s genius freed the blank verse of his predecessors from the fetters of formalism, regularity and conventional restrictions and thus paved the way for Shakespeare. So it was Marlowe who first gave British drama a powerful medium of expression through the ‘Mighty line’ of his flexible blank verse and left it for Shakespeare’s inimitable genius to purify, to perfect and ‘to play upon its hundred stops.’
Difference in Personality and Genius
The comparison and their influence upon each other may not be taken too far, as both Marlowe and Shakespeare differ greatly from each other in their personality, mental make-up as well as in their genius. Marlowe was one of the great University Wits with his wide scholarship and classical learning. He was greatly influenced by the Renaissance spirit and the ideas of Machiavelli. In personal life he was Bohemian and boisterous. On the contrary, Shakespeare was ‘self-schooled, self-sensed, self-secured.’ He was very little affected by the current ideals and philosophic ideas of the time. So it was his personal observation and experience that helped him to understand human nature and the objective world of reality. Shakespeare’s vision was never coloured like that of Marlowe. Keeping all these in view we may now take up the different aspects of their drama and make an attempt to compare Marlowe and Shakespeare as the writers of tragedy.
Tragic Hero and Characterisation
After a close and critical study of Marlowe’s dramas we are convinced that his true conception of tragic hero alongwith his art of characterisation was of greatest significance for the development of drama on right lines. It was he who was the first playwright in England to realise that tragic action must issue from and be reflected in character. In fact, before Marlowe there was no hero in the conventional sense in the pre-Elizabethan days. The first similarity that strikes us is that both Marlowe and Shakespeare created their tragic heroes mainly following the Aristotelian conception of a tragic hero. Thus, we find that Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, like those of Marlovian heroes have some inherent tragic flaw in their character—the flaw that ultimately brings about their fall. Like Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Faustus, Barabas and Edward II, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear also have their inherent defects that brings about their fall, and the fall also produces mingled feelings of pity and fear. But there is some basic difference also. Shakespeare by introducing the device of the supernatural deepens the sense of mystery, e.g. the witches in Macbeth or the ghosts in Hamlet. But in the case of Marlowe’s tragedies there are no such mysteries and one can easily follow the course of events and foresee the tragic doom without any difficulty. Another point of difference is that unlike Shakespeare’s heroes, Marlowe’s heroes are the reflection of his personality. Marlowe projected himself into his titanic heroes. But Shakespeare’s art was the art of self-effacement.
As regards characterisation Marlowe exercised very little influence on Shakespeare. But the depiction of internal or spiritual conflict in the mind of the hero, as we find in the case of Doctor Faustus, profoundly influenced Elizabethan drama. In the art of characterisation, Shakespeare was much more superior to Marlowe. His Hamlet and Macbeth are far more well-delineated characters than those of Marlowe. And then there is almost a complete dearth of secondary characters like Horatio, Banquo or Kent to stand as a foil to the central figure of the drama. And Allardyce Nicoll is quite just in his remark, when he says: “All his heroes by their greatness stand alone.” Then excepting a few sketchy or shadowy figures we hardly come across real female characters in Marlowe’s tragedies. But from Shakespeare we get a galaxy of great women—Cleopatra, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth and others. The genius of Shakespeare could create a variety of characters representing all walks of life, even a porter or an interesting grave digger.
Structure and Element of Humour
As far as plot construction is concerned all Marlowe’s great plays, with the exception of Edward II to some extent, suffer from great technical defects. In his plays the heroes tower so much above the minor characters that they pale into insignificance. And then there are no sub-plots in Marlovian dramas to intensify or enrich the meaning of the main plot by way of sharp contrast or close affinity. In three of his great tragedies we find a single track of development of the plot and hence there is no scope for revealing life in its different shades, in its motley colours. Nicoll has rightly remarked: “In structure, we see that all Marlowe’s plays are faulty… Tamburlaine has no unity except such as lies in the presence of the hero; Doctor Faustus is largely a collection of heterogeneous scenes, loosely pinned together, The Jew of Malta opens well, but sinks into mediocrity toward the middle and the close.”
Comic Scenes
Then, in general comic scenes in Marlowe’s tragedies, specially in Doctor Faustus, have very little warmth or genuine humour; they never form a part of the organic whole. Such scenes of Marlowe hardly bring any comic relief in his tense and very serious tragedies. Such scenes are generally very low and cheap, often full of puerile pranks and coarse buffoonery. Hence, some of the eminent critics opine that they are interpolations and not from the pen of a genius like Marlowe. Any way it seems Marlowe badly lacked in the divine gift of humour. Shakespeare possessed this gift of humour. Hence, from his pen we get wonderful examples of comic relief in the porter scene in Macbeth or the grave-digger scene in Hamlet.
F.S. Boas has given us a very illuminating passage comparing Shakespeare and his great predecessors as writers of tragedy and we may conclude by quoting his famous lines:
“Christopher Marlowe is one of the most fascinating figures in our own, or indeed, in any literature. In the temple of poetic fame the highest places are sacred to genius that has mounted securely to its meridian splendour, to Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. But seats only lower than these, and hallowed with perhaps richer offerings of human sympathy and love, are granted to genius dead ere its time, cut down in the freshness of its morning radiance. It is here that Marlowe is to be sought, side by side with Collins and Shelley and Keats. What the world has lost by the untimely close of his career we cannot know; but we do know that, even had he lived, he could never have been ‘another Shakespeare.’ For nature so lavish to him in other ways, had entirely withheld from him the priceless gift of humour, and the faculty of interpreting commonplace human experience. He never learnt the secrets of woman’s heart, and he knew of no love lifted above the level of sense. Between him and his mighty successor there is, and there must always have been, an impassable gulf. Marlowe is the rapturous lyricist of limitless desire, Shakespeare the majestic spokesman of inexpressible moral law.”


A study of Marlowe’s great tragedies cannot but convince us that Marlowe possessed the power in its fullest degree of projecting himself into his chief characters. In fact one of the most remarkable elements in all his dramatic works is this subjective or autobiographical note. Herein also lies the great difference between Shakespeare and Marlowe as dramatists. There is a complete effacement of Shakespeare’s personality in his plays.

We can never assert that this play or that passage of Shakespeare reveals his mind or personality. But Marlowe could not but project his personality into the chief characters of his plays, especially in his four great tragedies: Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II.

Marlowe’s Life and the Spirit of Renaissance
Before taking up this note of subjectivity in Marlowe’s dramatic works we should have a fair idea of Marlowe’s life, career, the influence of the spirit of Renaissance on him and his ambitions and aspirations. Marlowe came of ‘parents base of stock’—he was the son of shoe-maker. But he was fortunate enough to have school education, had a chance to go to Cambridge to specialise in theology and got Doctorate in Divinity. As an Archbishop Parker’s scholar he was intended for a Church career. But he abandoned the holy order and joined the theatrical companies in London to become a dramatist. In Cambridge, he also studied classics and various other subjects and became an erudite scholar. But here also he had the bitter experience of finding his young companions belonging to a wealthier class with much better status and a greater scope for enjoying pleasures of life, although they were much inferior to him in other respects. Probably, in his later life this was the main cause of his rebellion against the established order. He also imbibed his sceptical attitude to the established religion and religious authority and was reputed as an atheist by rejecting Christian dogma. Marlowe also developed a dual personality—especially during his life in London. He was a poet, a dramatist as well as an agent of secret service. In London he freely mixed with many a reputed nobleman as well as shady characters of the under-world. He was to a great extent violent in temperament and Bohemian in character.
Then we are to remember that Marlowe was a man of the Renaissance and an embodiment of the spirit of his age. He was saturated with the spirit of Renaissance with its great yearning for knowledge and learning, with its hankering after sensual pleasure of life and with its inordinate ambition and supreme lust for power and pelf. He was also profoundly influenced by Machiavelli, the famous Italian social and political writer, who disregarded all conventional moral principles to achieve the end by any means, noble or ignoble, fair or foul.
Reflection of Marlowe’s Personality in His Tragic Heroes
A close and critical study of works of Marlowe convinces us that all his tragic heroes clearly reveal the chief characteristics and temperament of the great dramatist. His great tragic heroes, Tamburlaine, Faustus, Jew of Malta, and Edward II—all are absolutely dominated by some uncontrollable passion for gaining some ideal or finding the fulfilment of some inordinate ambition. To achieve their end they throw overboard all established moral scruples or religious sanctions and never scruple to adopt even the most cruel and horrible means. His cruel, tyrannic Tamburlaine with his craze for limitless power defies all authorities on earth as well as in heaven. His stone-hearted Barabas is dominated by a senseless craze for gold and does not shirk from committing the worst type of crimes to achieve his end. He seems to be an embodiment of Machiavellianism. To gain super human powers through knowledge, his Doctor Faustus, with his over-weening ambition takes to the study of the black art of necromancy and even sells his soul to the Devil to gain his end. And Edward II and Mortimer pay the heaviest price—the former for his passion for is base minions and the latter for his craze for power. Influenced by the spirit of Renaissance, Marlowe developed a deep sense of egotism. All his great creations are also deeply egotistical having the highest regard for their own power and personality. Hence, we find his Tamburlaine speaking thus:
“I hold the Fates bound fast in iron chains.
And with my hand turns fortune’s wheel about.”
His heroes have also scant regard for religion or godliness. His spirit of the atheist is clearly revealed in the following line from the “Prologue to the Jew of Malta”:
“I count religion but a childish toy”
Another relevant point to note is that just like Marlowe all his great tragic heroes, excepting Edward II, are born of ‘parents base of stock’ with a great sense of superiority. Thus, proclaims Tamburlaine:
“I am a lord, for so my deeds will prove,
And yet a shephered by my Parentage.”
And Baldock, the clerk, in Edward II proudly asserts:
“My name is Baldock, and my gentry
I fetch from
Oxford, not from Heraldry.”
Another significant point is that almost all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are poets and convey their feelings and emotions to the audience in the superb poetical language. And Marlowe himself was a great poet of passion. Hence, this lyrical quality of his great heroes reveal their creator’s moods and passions.
Marlowe and Doctor Faustus—Striking Parallelism
Of all Marlowe’s tragic heroes Doctor Faustus bears out the most striking reflection of Marlowe’s own self. After a close study of the play we are struck by the close similarity between the life and career of Marlowe and that of Doctor Faustus. We know that Marlowe was the second child of a Canterbury shoe-maker and in the very beginning of the play Doctor Faustus, the Chorus tells us of Faustus’s parentage:
“Now is he born, his parents base of stock.”
Harold Osborne has briefly pointed it out thus:
“Marlowe himself, like Faustus, came of parents of ‘base stock’ and was destined for the church but turned elsewhere; he was undoubtedly keenly interested in secular knowledge; was reputed as scoffer of religion and incurred the charge of blasphemy.”
We should not press the analogies too far. But we cannot ignore them as the parallelism is so very obvious.
Personal Tragedy: Spiritual Suffering
Doctor Faustus expresses very powerfully Marlowe’s innermost thoughts and authentic experiences. So it can be regarded as the spiritual history of Marlowe himself. Marlowe’s inordinate ambition led him to revolt against religion and society, to defy the laws of man and laws of God. And such defiance is bound to bring about acute mental conflict resulting in deep despair and certain defeat. So, both Marlowe and his creation Doctor Faustus experience terrible mental pangs and agonies. Osborne has rightly said:
“The descriptions of Faustus’s repentance, despair and mental anguish are among the most vivid and poignant parts of the play. It is, of course, possible to suppose that Marlowe had passed through a stage of youthful scepticism in religion and that with a sounder and deeper faith he had come to the knowledge of repentance. Nor indeed is he ever the pure scoffer. It is certain that the author of “Faustus” must himself have walked some way along the path of religious doubts and gropings and must have known the sufferings attendant upon that journey.” Hence, in Doctor Faustus we get a faithful portrait of an agonised condition of mind wavering between its ‘Good and Evil Angels, between God and the Devil.’ And it very much seems that Faustus is for Marlowe when he gives vent to his deep anguish of his soul before his scholar friends: “But Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned: the serpent that tempted Eve may be saved, but not Faustus….O, Would I have never seen Wittenberg, never read book and what wonders I have done, all Germany can witness, yea, all the world; for which Faustus hath lost both Germany and the world, yea, heaven itself………..”
The end of the play reveals the influence of Reformation on Marlowe. It seems in spite of all his great achievements, Marlowe, like Faustus, ultimately realised that they did not in any way helped to fortify his soul but to lose it as it was cut off from the rich natural resources of inspiration and faith.
Hankering after Power, Knowledge and Sensuality
As regards passion for knowledge and craving for sensual pleasure of the world there is remarkable affinity between Faustus and Marlowe. It is true that Marlowe lived a Bohemian, profligate and boisterous life. Marlowe who was to go for the Holy Orders gave up divinity for the career of a poet and a playwright. Faustus seeks knowledge just for the power it gives and to have opportunities for the gratification of sensual pleasures. If Ellis is correct regarding the circumstances of Marlowe’s tragic death, then Faustus’s doting over the lips of Helen shortly before his death bears a very close resemblance with those of Marlowe’s death over ‘bought kisses.’
Poetic Spirit
All the tragic heroes of Marlowe are undoubtedly poets. But of all of them his Faustus is poet par-excellence just like Marlowe himself. The superb oft-quoted apostrophe to Helen beginning with the lines:—
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of
reveals his wonderful poetic temperament. Wynne is perfectly correct in saying: “This passage has probably never been surpassed in its magic idealisation of that which is essentially base and carnal.”
Even in their short span of life and in their tragic death there is real affinity between Marlowe and his creation, Doctor Faustus. After living twenty-four years a life of sensual pleasures and superhuman achievements, Faustus had to surrender his soul to the Devil for eternal damnation. Marlowe’s boisterous and Bohemain life also came to a tragic and premature end in a tavern brawl at the hands of a shady character of the London underworld at the age of twenty-nine. And there is really something occult in the mournful melody of the Chorus in the closing line of this tragedy:
“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,
That sometimes grew within this learned man.”
It is given only to Shakespeare to write dozens of plays without projecting his personality into them in any detectable manner. He has so lost himself in his works and yet so skilfully kept himself away from them that it is almost impossible to say with any stress of certainty that a particular play or even isolated passage reveals his mind and personality. Marlowe does not share this unique privilege of Shakespeare. He is there in every play of his, and especially in his four great tragedies—Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II. These plays give us not a shadowy idea but an intimate glimpse of the quivering personality of Marlowe and the intense thoughts that were his at the time of writing them. It is therefore neither desirable nor possible to separate Marlowe the poet and dramatist from Marlowe the man. His subjectivity, however, is not as obvious and insistent as that of Shelley, for instance. It is the subjectivity of the type that Milton gives us in his Comus, Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes.
Doctor Faustus is strewn with unmistakable autobiographical suggestions. Reading the play we cannot refrain from concluding that it is the spontaneous expression of its writer’s innermost thoughts and authentic experiences. The storm of doubt and despair, of suffering and sin, that sweeps through the serious scenes of the play, does not seem to be the work of a mere imaginative artist who conjures it forth from the confines of his own mind, but of one who must have stood up to the chin in such experience. There is no doubt that the writer of Doctor Faustus appears to be one who has experienced a great spiritual tragedy, one whose sense of harmony between his mind and the universal forces around him is shaken, one who is heavy with a feeling of loss. What his sufferings and losses are, the dramatist does not make clear. Caught in a chaotic maze of conflicting emotions, he is busy searching for the meaning of the calamity that has overtaken him. Part of it he seems to discover in blind servitude to barren learning. Marlowe, like Faustus, seems to have realised that all he had learnt and known, all he had attempted and achieved with the help of his intellectual equipment, helped not to strengthen his soul but to lose it, by being cut off from the rich natural resources of inspiration and of faith.


Tragedy Before Marlowe
We may begin by quoting Swinburne’s very just and relevant remarks regarding Marlowe: “Before him there was neither genuine blank verse nor a genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.”

Gone were the great days of Miracle and Mystery plays. After the Reformation of Movement Mysteries and Moralities lost all their influence on the audience; they were rather disliked by the people because of their link and association with old Church. In response to public demand came the Interlude with its fun and frolics and the masques and Pageants with their costume displays gorgeous colours. Hence, comedy captured the mind of the English people. But everything was in a chaotic and formless state before the advent of University Wits the greatest among whom was Marlowe.

It was in the fifteenth century that tragedy came to English dramatic field. And this was due to the influence of the Revival of Learning and the translation of great Italian tragedies of Seneca. In fact Italian Renaissance had a tremendous influence upon the development of the English drama. And the first English tragedy was Gorboduc (1562) by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. In style and treatment of theme Seneca was very much their model. Although this tragedy showed some innovation, yet most of the Senecan characteristics—long sententious speeches, lack of action, talkative ghosts and horrible scenes of gruesome murders, were very much there. Tragedies that followed Gorboduc had the same Senecan characteristics. It required the mighty efforts of a great genius to free the Elizabethan drama from the worst features of the Senecan tragedy. And it was Christopher Marlowe who is credited with this outstanding achievement in the realm of England’s dramatic literature. He threw the gauntlet when he penned these forceful lines in the Prologue to his first drama Tamburlaine:
“From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits.
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine,
Threatening the world with high astounging terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.”
We may now discuss about the various characteristics of Marlovian tragedy to point out how he formulated the English drama, specially the tragedy which was improved upon and perfected by a genius like Shakespeare.
Marlowe’s Tragic Hero
The first great thing done by Marlowe was to break away from the medieval conception of tragedy, as in medieval drama, tragedy was a thing of the princes only. It dealt with the rise and fall of kings or royal personalities. But it was left to Marlowe to evolve and create the real tragic hero. Almost all the heroes of Marlowe—Tamburlaine, Faustus or Jew of Malta—are of humble parentage, but they are endowed with great heroic qualities and they are really great men. His tragedy is, in fact, the tragedy of one man-the rise, fall and death of the hero. All other characters of a Marlovian drama pale into insignificance beside the towering personality and the glory and grandeur of the tragic hero. Even various incidents of the drama revolve round the hero. His heroes are men fired with indomitable passion and inordinate ambition—his Tamburlaine is in full-flooded pursuit of military and political power, his Faustus sells his soul to the Devil to attain ultimate power through knowledge, and his Jew of Malta absolutely discards all sense of human values with his blind and inordinate aspiration towards wealth as an ultimate end. But what Marlowe really depicts and dramatises with thoroughness is that all his mighty heroes with all their sky-kicking aspirations find that the flush of their temporary success leads to ultimate failure bringing about their tragic and terrible end. Herein lies the greatness of Marlowe.
Working of a Passion
We have just seen that Marlowe’s heroes are dominated by some inordinate ambition or passion-may be a supreme lust for power, wealth or knowledge. And kindling such passion in their souls Marlowe imparted great vehemence and force in his drama. But in this we may trace the distinct influence of Machiavelli on Marlowe. Marlowe must have read his far-famed book The Prince and derived this idea of ambition from him. In his book Machiavelli praised ambition as the only desirable virtue in a prince and denied all morality except that morality which operated for the good of the individual. Thus, we find all his heroes dominated by inordinate ambition discarding all moral codes and plunging headlong to achieve their end. Such intense passion and pitiless struggle with super-human energy, to achieve their end makes Marlowe’s tragic heroes great indeed and adds glory and grandeur to their personality. Thus, Marlowe discarded the old conception of tragedy as descent from greatness to misery and supplanted it by the greatness of individual worth. His heroes believing that the ecstasy of earthly gain and glory is its own reward also proclaimed the true Renaissance outlook.
Inner Conflict
Another great achievement of Marlowe was to introduce the element of conflict, specially inner struggle in two of his great tragedies—“Doctor Faustus” and “Edward II.” Conflict may be on physical as well as on spiritual plane. The spiritual or moral conflict takes place in the heart of man and this is of much greater-significance and much more poignant than the former. And a great tragedy most powerfully reveals the emotional conflict or moral agony of the mighty hero. In this respect, in the realm of England’s dramatic literature Doctor Faustus may be reckoned as the first great spiritual tragedy or tragedy of the soul. In this epoch-making drama the deep moral agony and the painful spiritual conflict has been superbly laid bare before us by Marlowe. And this inner conflict reveals the real significance of character as the main-stay of a great tragedy. Like the heroes of ancient tragedy, Marlowe’s heroes are not helpless puppets in the hands of blind fate. The tragic flaw was in their character and the tragic action also issued out of their characters. This was really Marlowe’s greatest contribution to English tragedy.
Blank Verse
Another great achievement of Marlowe was to introduce a new type of blank verse in his tragedies. A new spirit of poetry was breathed into the artificial and monotonous verse of old plays. In fact, the whole of the Renaissance drama was enlivened by a new poetic grandeur.
Moral Conception
It was Marlowe who first discarded the medieval conception of tragedy as it was distinctly a moral one. In those dramas the aim was always to inculcate some moral lesson by showing the fall of hero into adversity. There is no such intrusive morality in Marlowe’s plays. The main interest in Marlovian drama centres on the towering personality of the heroes -with their tremendous rise and tragic fall.
Some Other Features
Another notable characteristic of Marlowe’s tragedies is its high seriousness and hence there is complete lack of humour. According to many a critic, the scenes of clownishness in Doctors Faustus are nothing but later interpolations. The women characters are also conspicuous by their absence. Zenocrate in Tambulaine, the Duchess and Helen in Doctor Faustus and Abigail in the Jew of Malta are either figureheads or spirits or shadows. As regards plot-structure, Marlowe followed the old chronicle tradition of separate episodes just loosely knit together in his Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus. Only in the Jew of Malta and specially in Edward II he first attempted a regular plot and succeeded to some extent in the former and to a greater extent in the latter. Most of the above features may also be treated as Marlowe’s drawbacks as a dramatist; and probably due to these limitations Marlowe could not succeed in reaching the loftiest summits of the tragic art. But we must remember he was pioneer and a path-finder; and what he did was really magnificent and he is justly regarded as the father of English tragedy, as the ‘morning star of Elizabethan drama.’ He was really ‘the Columbus of the new literary world.’ We may conclude by the illuminating remarks of Schelling: “Marlowe gave the drama passion and poetry; and poetry was his most precious gift. Shakespeare would not have been Shakespeare had Marlowe never written or lived. He might not have been altogether the Shakespeare we know.”


Marlowe and the Spirit of Renaissance
At the very outset we should note that Marlowe belonged to the age of Renaissance and he was to a very great extent the product of Renaissance—Renaissance with its spirit of revolt, with its supreme lust for wealth and power without any regard for moral limits, with its great yearning for limitless knowledge and craving for worldly and sensual pleasures. And all the tragic heroes of Marlowe are embodiment of the Renaissance spirit.

Faustus—An Embodiment of the Epoch
Doctor Faustus is also an embodiment of the epoch. His mind and soul is afire with an inordinate desire for attaining supreme power through knowledge by any means, fair or foul. With the revival of learning, people began to believe that knowledge enabled man to become all powerful. So Faustus even after getting his degree of Doctorate and studying all the important branches of learning like Philosophy, Physic, Law and Divinity realises that he is ‘still but Faustus and a man.’ All are inadequate and none of these subjects can help him to become as powerful ‘on earth, as Jove in the Sky.’ Faustus’s dream is to gain super-human power so that:
“All things that move between the quiet poles,
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings,
Are obey’d in their sev’ral provinces,
Nor can they raise the wind, or rend the clouds,
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretched as far as doth the mind of man.”
Decision to Become a Magician
This inordinate desire to attain super-human powers is absolutely in keeping with the adventurous spirit of the age of Renaissance. And to attain this Faustus makes the supreme but tragic decision of his life:
“A sound magician is a mighty god;
Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.”
But immediately after Faustus feels the prick of conscience as he is going to do something against the will of God. But the Evil Angel or the over-riding desire carries the day, as Faustus dreams of becoming as powerful:
“….as Jove is in the sky.
Lord and commander of the elements.”
To Attain Super-Human Power at Any Cost
And he would attain this power at any cost even by selling his soul to the Devil. Knowledge is no doubt power; but Faustus, who is the embodiment of the dreams and desires of the rising bourgeois of his age forgets in his fit of passion that there is a limit to man’s powers and possibilities and that knowledge may also become a source of ruin and destruction if it is abused. Puffed up with his vast knowledge and learning he ignores the fact that to make an attempt to fly too near the sun with waxen wings means certain doom and destruction. Thus to Faustus:
“Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss.”
Hence, in the end just like other tragic heroes of Marlowe, Faustus, also with his limitless lust for power and pelf, ultimately finds with horror how the flush and glory of his temporary success brings about his doom and eternal damnation. This is the theme of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.
Theme Revolving Round Faustus—Surrenders His Soul to Devil
We find the theme entirely revolving round Faustus, a great German scholar with a degree of Doctor of Divinity. Even with his great achievements in different branches of learning he took to the study of unholy necromancy to gain super-human power on this earth. He discarded the advice of the Good Angel, rather turned a deaf ear to the voice of his conscience, and conjured up Mephistophilis, a deputy of great Lucifer the Prince of the Devils. Faustus was prepared to surrender his soul to the Devil after enjoying for twenty-four years; a life full of voluptuous pleasure and after acquiring mastery over the black art of Magic to enable him to display miraculous feats. Mephistophilis was also to become his slave for the whole period and carry out all his commands whatever they might be. Even he wrote a deed of gift to this effect with his own blood.
Conflict Between Conscience and Passion
But then very often doubts and diffidence arise in his soul. He thought of saving his soul by means of prayer and repentance. The Good and Evil Angels had their share in trying to exert influence over him in their own ways. A bitter conflict raged in his soul between his conscience and passion. But threatened by the Devil, he submitted to him once more without any reserve and renewed the deed with his blood again. With his mastery over the black art and with the help of Mephistophilis, his constant slave, he gained immense super-human power and moved across the earth and sky to well known cities, had the spirit of Helen, the matchless beauty as his paramour and demonstrated miraculous feats before kings and courtiers.
Tragic and Terrible End
But the sands of time were running out. Ultimately the final hour approached when Faustus was to surrender his soul to the Devil. The fervent appeal of his scholar friends at the last moment to ‘look up to Heaven’ was of no avail. He realised that ‘Faustus’s offence can never be pardoned.’ Finally, he was left pitifully alone in his room to face his inevitable doom and damnation. Horror of the impending doom made him tragic and his terror-stricken soul fervently wished that movement of time might stop or the final hour might be lengthened so that he could have a last chance to repent and pray for God’s mercy. But nothing is of any avail. The Devils appear and carry away the soul of Faustus for eternal damnation. And thus:
“Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel-bough,
That sometime grew in this learned man.”
Doctrine of Medieval Christianity
Thus, by depicting the terrible end of Faustus, Marlowe has also presented in this drama the most awe-inspiring doctrine of the medieval Christianity that tells us that ‘to practise more than heavenly power’ means ‘eternal damnation.’
In the end we may quote a few words from J.A. Symonds to elucidate in brief the theme of this great drama: “Marlowe concentrated his energies on the delineation of proud life and terrible death of a man in revolt against the eternal laws of his own nature and the world, defiant and desperate, plagued with remorse, alternating between the gratification of his appetites and the dread of God whom he rejects without denying.”


There cannot be any denying of the fact that the most glaring weakness of Doctor Faustus lies in the lack of well knit or an organic plot. A careful study of the play reveals that it has no regular plot in the conventional sense of the term. In fact it was the stringing together of just fourteen important scenes in its original form. We find this regular division into acts and scenes only in the early eighteenth century edition. In this respect it is very much linked with the old Miracle and Morality plays.

And that is why Schelling has sternly remarked: “As we have it ‘Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’ by Marlowe, is little more than a succession of scenes void of continuity or cohesion, except for the unity of the main figure and the unrelenting progress of the whole towards the overwhelming catastrophe. Moreover, the fragment—for the play is little more—disfigured and disgraced by the interpolation of scenes or clownage and ribaldry.”

Natural Division or Movements
Even if the play with its loose structures may not be divided into Acts, in keeping with the rules of conventional or classical drama, some critics have pointed out that there is some well-marked natural divisions or movement in the play. So R.V. Hunt mentions about five natural divisions and he writes: “For convenience of reference there being no standard division observed, I divided the play naturally, and found that there happened to be five convenient sections. These are not acts of the sort imposed upon Shakespeare’s play, for the first section is almost as long as the four others combined, but each section gives a sight of Faustus at a different stage in the twenty-four years. There is no attempt at the chronological development of character, but five separate movements in the period of the pact are chosen. They are related to each other only by being presentation of events in the history of Doctor Faustus and have no such relation as the Acts of classical drama.”
Hunt and Ellis-Fermor’s Division
This is how Hunt has divided the drama into five movements in his remarkable edition of Doctor Faustus:
Movement I—The striking of the bargain: it is from the beginning of the play to the end of the scene in which Robin, confounds Ralph, with his pretended knowledge of magic.
Movement II—Faustus at Rome: it begins with the Chorus narrating how Faustus went about to know the secrets of astronomy and ends with Robin-Ralph-Vintner interlude.
Movement III—Faustus at the Emperor’s court: it begins with the speech of the Chorus and ends in the episode in which Benvolio, Frederick and Martino have their heads and faces besmeared with blood, mud and dirt.
Movement IV—Demonstrations magical: it consists of the Horse—Courser scenes and the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt scene.
Movement V—Climax and Death: it begins with the scene in which Wagner guesses his master’s intention to die, and ends with Faustus’s death and the scholar’s comment upon it.
Una Ellis Fermor—has also analysed the whole action on an interesting way and she writes: “We can trace six main episodes in the play, roughly equivalent to six acts, followed by a catastrophe.”
Main Drawbacks
Even after accepting the justification of the above learned critics to some extent, the fact that the play is structurally very weak cannot be overlooked. It is mainly a one-man show as it is the hero who completely dominates the stage. Let us take up Aristotle’s five distinct divisions of an ideal plot of a tragedy and apply them to the plot-construction of Doctor Faustus. We have first the initial incident or ‘Paritass’ giving birth to the conflict and there is the rising action or ‘Epitass’ to intensify the conflict; thirdly we get the climax, the turning point or ‘Peripetora’ and fourthly there is denouement, the falling action or ‘Calabasm’; and finally we have the Catastrophe or conclusion in which the conflict is brought to its inevitable end. Now a critical study of the play in the light of the above division will clearly reveal the drawbacks of the plot-construction of Doctor Faustus. In the first few scenes we get the initial incident of the plot. This is well-planned. When we find Faustus discarding all other branches of knowledge to accept only the art of necromancy as sole subject of his study the birth of conflict takes place. Then in the scenes in which Faustus raises the spirit of Mephistophilis and ultimately sells his soul to the Devil by writing a deed of gift in blood, we have the rising action and climax of the drama developed to a great extent on the right lines. But then comes the scenes—specially the comic scenes—which serve very little purpose in the development of the plot to reveal the denouement, or the falling action leading to the catastrophe. From the stand point of plot-construction this middle portion of the play is the weakest. These scenes may be treated as separate episodes without any organic unity with the structure of the drama. But just like the beginning, the end is also nobly executed. The final action of the play has been executed in the most sublime and poignant manner. The last scene in which the conflict is brought to its natural tragic end is probably unsurpassed in English dramatic literature with its most poignant monologue of a horror-struck soul facing eternal damnation. Levin’s comment on the structural weakness of the play is just and quite relevant: “Examined more technically the play has a strong beginning and even a stronger end but its middle section, whether we abridge it or bombast it out, is unquestionably weak.”
Three Plots
There are some modern critics who ascribe three plots to Doctor Faustus: the main plot, the under plot and the over-plot. The first one deals with Faustus’s inordinate ambition to acquire super-human power by mastering the art of unholy necromancy bringing about his ultimate doom and damnation. The under-plot with its fun and frolics is more or less, a foil to the main plot. The main plot and the under plot represent the two main facts of life—pleasant and painful or comic and tragic. The over plot according to them is the philosophical plot that reveals the conflict or struggle between the forces of good and evil in the external world as well as in the soul of man. And it is this philosophical plot that adds real greatness and grandeur to this tragic play. The arguments regarding the significance of the main plot and the over-plot undoubtedly carries weight, but the points put forward in favour of the comic scenes do not seem to impress. Almost all the critics are unanimous that the comic scenes with its frivolity and buffoonery dilutes the tragic effects and are discordant with its general tone.
Goethe’s Remark
After all these critical discussions about the weakness of structure and design of the play, Goethe’s remark—“How greatly it is all planned?”—may seem to be very confusing. But this also must be noted to a great extent the structural unity has been given to this play by the towering figure of the hero. The hero is the unifying force and Marlowe was solely concerned with the acute conflict between the Good Angel and Evil Angel, between conscience and passion in the soul of the hero leading to his doom and damnation. And every critic admits that the play is nobly planned and it ‘has a strong beginning and even a stronger end.’
Whatever may be the drawbacks and deficiencies, Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is a great and magnificent tragedy—the greatest of tragedies outside Shakespeare. Marlowe was a genius—and geniuses like alchemists can transform base metal into gold. So Marlowe produced a great work of art from the crude Faustus legend. And the greatness of the drama lies in its absorbing inner conflict. And Ellis Fermor rightly observes: “But as in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the protagonist is man and his spiritual powers that surrounds him, the scene is set upon on the physical earth, but in the limitless region of the mind, and the battle is fought, not for kingdoms and crowns, but upon the questions of man’s ultimate fate. Before him lies the possibility of escape to spiritual freedom or a doom of slavery to demoniac powers. Thus, in such terms, is staged the greatest conflict that drama has ever undertaken to present.”


Introduction: Tragic Hero and Minor Characters
Marlowe’s tragic heroes are all titanic figures towering over all the minor characters so much so that they all fade into insignificance in his one-man plays. Hence in Marlowe’s hands, the minor characters have very little individuality or independent existence of their own. They seem to be so many sketches with very little delineation and their main purpose is to bring out the individuality of the towering heroes.

That is why Ronald M. Frye has justly remarked regarding Doctor Faustus; “Indeed, in Faustus there is no plot apart from character, no plot apart from what Faustus himself says, thinks, feels and does. Here character and plot are so completely integrated that neither is possible without the other, and the two so interconnected as to explain, justify, and complete each other.”

Mephistophilis: Original Treatment
Among the minor characters of Marlowe his Mephistophilis may, to a fairly good extent, be considered as an exception, as Marlowe is definitely original in its creation. Mephistophilis is no doubt a devil, but it is no longer a devil of the Moralities and Miracles with his funny and comic pictures just to cater to the taste of the groundlings of that age. In Doctor Faustus, Mephistophilis is rather a symbolic figure with considerable dramatic significance. From the very beginning of Faustus’s meteoric rise and anti-Christian career, till the terrible tragic end, Mephistophilis is his constant companion and he is the source of Faustus’s rise as well as his downfall.
Character: Symbolic Aspect
Mephistophilis has been introduced in the play as a deputy of Lucifer, the Prince of Hell. He is also a fallen angel who associated himself with Satan’s revolt against God. Unlike the Devils of Miracle and Moralities, Mephistophilis is not just a villain but is endowed with some redeeming features. In fact he confesses to Faustus that he is keenly and sadly conscious of his sufferings in hell and that the loss of Heaven and God’s blessings are a constant source of deep mental anguish for him. He is no doubt the evil genius of Faustus, but he has not been shown as the real cause of his degradation and downfall. It is Faustus who first abjured God and the Trinity of his own accord. And it is Faustus who first calls it the spirit of Mephistophilis from the underworld. Thus we find that when Faustus asks Mephistophilis if he has not been raised by his conjuring speeches, Mephistophilis replies:
“That was the cause, but yet per accidents:
For when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scripture and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;
Nor will we come, unless he uses such means
Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d.”
And Faustus boldly confirms it:
“So Faustus hath
Already done; and holds this principle,
There is no chief but Belzebub;”
Hence it is obvious that the evil is really within Faustus himself and so we conclude that Mephistophilis is nothing but the symbolic representation of the evil in Faustus’s soul. According to an eminent critic: “Mephistophilis symbolises power without conscience, the danger of which is the motif of the play.”
Mephistophilis may also be treated as a symbol of dramatic irony. In the very same scene as above (Act I Sc. III) we find Mephistophilis warning Faustus about the inevitable doom awaiting one who deviates from the right path and denounces God and the Saviour. Even Lucifer, an angel ‘most dearly lov’d of God’, fell due to pride and insolence. But Faustus, the victim of his own pride and inordinate ambition ‘to gain unlimited knowledge and power turns a deaf ear to his timely warning and very audaciously asserts:
“Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine
That, after this life, there is any pain:
Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.”
Faustus dreams that he will be as ‘great as Lucifer’ and fondly believes:
“A sound magician is a mighty god.”
and so he will tire his brains ‘to gain a deity.’ Thus, Mephistophilis has been made the symbol of a deep and touching dramatic irony.
Dramatic Significance
Unlike most of the minor characters of Marlowe, Mephistophilis really plays a significant role in Doctor Faustus. It is a fact that it was not Mephistophilis who lured Faustus away from the path of virtue; that was his own decision. But undoubtedly it was Mephistophilis who paved the way for his tragic doom and eternal damnation. It is he who is the most important minor character in the drama, who makes the greatest contribution to the development of the character of Faustus. That is why, we find him to be the constant companion of Dr. Faustus till the tragic end.
Significance of Contract
Faustus has made up his mind to surrender his soul to the Devil to gain limitless power and knowledge, to live a life of luxury and voluptuousness for twenty-four years. And Mephistophilis is there to get the contract properly executed and informs him with all seriousness:
“But, Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
And write a deed of gift with thine own blood;
For that security craves great Lucifer.
If thou deny it I will back to hell.
And when the blood congeals, there is Mephistophilis ready with his ‘chafer of coals’ to make the blood flow and thus to smoothen the path to hell for Faustus. And from now, begins the very close relationship between Faustus and Mephistophilis.
Cunning and Artful Mephistophilis
We find the artful Mephistophilis playing rather a double role in his relationship with Faustus. When Faustus is normal and sticks to the conditions of his contract with the Devil, Mephistophilis is his most obliging slave. It is Mephistophilis who tries to satisfy his thirst for knowledge by answering all his questions to the best of his ability. But he refuses to reply like a stern guardian, when Faustus requests:
“Tell me who made the world.” And then again when Faustus expresses his keen desire
“……….to see the monuments
And situation of bright-splendent
Mephistophilis helps him to make his journey through air—
“Being seated in a chariot burning bright,
Drawn by the strength of yoky dragon’s necks.”
Then again, when Faustus wants to marry the most beautiful maiden of Germany, he very cleverly dissuades him from marrying like a true Christian; but to satisfy his carnal desire and thirst for youth and beauty he conjures up Helen, “whose heavenly beauty passeth all compass.” But when Faustus’s soul is wavering between heaven and hell and he is thinking of prayer, and repentance to gain God’s mercy, Mephistophilis is there like a cruel master to threaten him thus:
“Thou traitor, Faustus, I arrest thy soul
For disobedience to my sovereign lord:
Revolt, or I’ll piece-meal tear thy flesh,”
Strangely and very ironically, Mephistophilis also appears along-with other devils in the final scene to snatch away Faustus’s soul to hell for eternal damnation and the last word wrung out from the depth of his terror-stricken soul is ‘Mephistophilis,’
We may interpret the character of Mephistophilis symbolically as the projection of Faustus’s own evil self or we may accept him, just as a powerful deputy of the Prince of Hell. It must have to be admitted “that it is Mephistophilis and only Mephistophilis who plays the most significant role as a minor character to develop as well as to bring out all the important traits in the character of the mighty hero; we may rather conclude by saying, that, had there been no Mephistophilis, there would have been no Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s magnificent tragic drama.
Of the subordinate characters, Mephistophilis alone has a certain individuality and importance. Mephistophilis is the right-hand spirit of Lucifer. He describes himself modestly as ‘a servant to Great Lucifer.’ Part of his work seems to be to ‘win souls for hell by the allurements of despair, playing with open cards and hiding no iota of the dreadfulness of damnation.’ At any rate, that is what he does with Faustus. He makes Faustus sign a bond with his own blood, and reminds him of it at the end; nay, makes Faustus keep his word and submit himself to the Devils finally. True to his promise, Mephistophilis remains loyal to Faustus, follows him in his aerial flight from place to place, and does his bidding obediently. It is he, again, that explains to Faustus the secrets of the elements, the spheres and other allied details. Thus, Marlowe’s Mephistophilis is a commonplace drudge of the internal powers. The first time when Mephistophilis appears in the play, (Scene three), he impresses us by his quiet dignity. ‘He speaks as one who has come not over-willingly and with no desire to inveigle. His replies to Faustus’s eager questioning are almost wearily abrupt.’ All the same, he cannot help to restrain his tragic passion and burst fort:
For when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the scriptures and his Saviour Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;
Signs of Mephistophilis’s remorse and passion are also evident in the lines:
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells:
In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.