Discuss about the Tragedy of Faustus and Macbeth for Renaissance.
The French word “Renaissance” means re-birth, re-awakening or revival, which started in 1453 with the downfall of Constantinople by the Turks. As many Greek scholars escaped to Italy after the fall with manuscripts in their hand, the Italy became the centre of the ancient Greco-Roman culture. This happening in Italy influenced whole Europe eventually and helped to change completely the European view (Kirkpatrick 2014). Then, in the first time in history, Europe awoke from its Dark Age to the Renaissance.
The Renaissance is the intellectual movement, which is associated with the revival, rediscovery and imitation of classical Greco-Roman model in art, culture and literature and the re-awakening or re-birth of human thoughts from institutionalization, mainly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church (Southern 2016). The revival happened in that time resulted in an enlightened human. In the time of Renaissance the world became Theo centric that is individual human being is the centre and focus of whole universe (Huizinga 2014). The influence of Renaissance reached England in the latter half of the 15th century in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). The Renaissance and the impact of the Queen influenced together to make the Golden Age of English Literature while drama became major expressional mode (Alchin 2012). Both Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare was the foremost play writer of the Elizabethan era.
In Christopher Marlowe’s drama The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus that is generally referred to as Doctor Faustus, written probably in 1592 (Greenblatt and Christ 2012). The protagonist Doctor Faustus has human ambition of superior knowledge and power, thus, led by greed. He sold his soul to the god of the hell, Lucifer. In the play of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which possibly written in 1606, has portrayed the way in which the greed and destructive passion grew in the mind of the hero, which led him to kill King Duncan (Kastan 2013). The purpose of this essay is to analyze the process in which both the hero of the Renaissance Elizabethan era carried out the features of humanism but due to their humanistic default of high ambition, their fall became inevitable.
The Renaissance in the western world was a time when the emphasis was on individual human being’s journey. Rejecting the Medieval values, in which the study regarding the God and theology was only the focus of entire era, the Renaissance accepted the human being’s ability centering round its life. In other words, in the time of Renaissance, man became the principle controller of his own life and destiny (Belsey 2014). He got the right and responsibility to take his own life’s action and decision. He was considered as the one and only rational being of the universe, which has been gifted with reason and logic. Both the play, Doctor Faustus and Macbeth was the product of the Elizabethan era or the Renaissance in England. The protagonists in these dramas contained the qualities of the time, the Renaissance.
In the play by Christopher Marlowe, in prologue, the manner in which the chorus presented Faustus, the protagonist of the play, is important as it reflects the Renaissance value. The chorus stated that, this play did not centre on of the timeworn battles of Rome and Carthage, nor it is the tale of king and its court, or “pomp of proud audacious deeds” (prologue). In oppose to this, the reader will listen in this play, the life story of most ordinary man called Faustus who was born in a very simple family in Germany (Lowrance 2014). “Only this gentles-we must now perform/The form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad:’’(prologue). The story of Faustus’ destiny is the main concern of this play (Lawton 2012). Here, we can place the play writer’s intention in the context of the Renaissance. Within the then contemporary world of Renaissance, the story of an ordinary-born scholar is significant and has worth to write, replacing the story of God, kings and warriors, which was the tradition of writing in the medieval time.
In the play of Christopher Marlowe, the writer portrayed its protagonist with the ornamentation of the Renaissance persona. In that time, a great interest for classical learning of Greco-Roman arose. In another sense, people were eager to know more and started to show interest on various subjects. In Doctor Faustus, the chief focus of the drama was only on Doctor Faustus’s journey to gain knowledge and power through magic (Rutter 2012). He had already mastered on lots of different subjects and earned the Doctor degree from the University of Wittenburg. However, being dissatisfied with the existing source of knowledge systems like, logic, medicine, law and divinity, he accepted only the path of magic as the superior source of knowledge, which would create him at the end of the study “a mighty god” (scene 1) and he would become “as powerful as Jove in the sky’’ (scene 1).
In the play The Tragedy of Macbeth or simply Macbeth by Genius Play writer William Shakespeare, the protagonist Macbeth was also the representation of his time, that is Renaissance. It was a story of king and queen but gods or any supernatural power did not operate their actions occurred in their life. Macbeth’s life was decided by his own actions. There might be some influencing factors related to Macbeth’s act, like prophecies of three witches or Lady Macbeth’s persuasion to commit the murder (Howard and O'Connor 2013). However, it was Macbeth’s ambition and greed for power, which would make him as a tragic hero. Killing Duncan was solely Macbeth’s action for fulfilling his own aspiration and longing to be the king of the Scotland.
However, both the drama Doctor Faustus and Macbeth contained the idea of the Renaissance humanism in many ways that is portrayal of individualism by focusing the ability of man. Both the writers portrayed their protagonists as a tragic hero that is both of them had the characteristics of Hubris (Adade-Yeboah and Owusu 2013). Doctor Faustus and Macbeth both had great ambition, which is the mere reflection of excessive pride.
Doctor Faustus’ ambition led him to deny the course of the higher study, the study of existing religion (Christianity) and the revelation of the God and the way of the Spiritual life and theology, in one word the divinity (Macdonald 2014). He had quoted from the Jerome’s Bible that we are the human beings; we are born only because of the sin of Adam and Eve. We are bound to commit sins and the result of sin is death. Therefore, we must commit sins and eventually die. “The reward of sin is death: that’s hard…If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so consequently die” (Scene 1). This is the reason, which Doctor Faustus’ had shown to reject divinity. “Divinity, adieu!” (Scene 1). Though Doctor Faustus had missed reading the next line, which stated that if we confess our sins to God, the God is merciful and forgives our sins (Rebenich 2013). Doctor Faustus’ ambition led him to consider the doctrine of magic as heavenly, which would give him power. The power to conquer all the elements of the world, command all the rulers, kings and emperors of the universe and control the mind of man. With the help of highest power, he would gain supreme honor and divine right from the world. According to Doctor Faustus, a well-accounted magician had the prime power as the power of God. Magicians are like “demi-god” (Scene 1). Doctor Faustus wanted to have the supreme power and rule the world. “These metaphysics of magicians/And necromantic books are heavenly; /Lines, circles, letters, and characters:/Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. /O, what a world of profit and delight, / Of power, of honour, of omnipotence, /Is promis’d to the studious artisan! /All things that move between the quiet poles /Shall be at my command: emperors and kings /Are but obey’d in their several provinces. /Nor can they raise the wind or rend the clouds; /But his dominion that exceeds in this /Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man: /A sound magician is a demi-god; /Here tire, my brains, to get a deity!” (Scene 1).
Macbeth is also affected with the imagination of the future king of Scotland. His characteristics flaw or hubris is excessive ambition (Brown 2013). He is ambitious about power as that of doctor Faustus. In the first act of the play, he was shown as brave and faithful warrior. In the act one his wife Lady Macbeth commented on Macbeth’s loving nature. “It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness, /To catch the nearest way” (Act 1, Scene 5). When he had communicated with three witches, the reader realized that his physical valor and sweet nature had mixed up with profound ambition of becoming king and self-doubt about his deed. The prediction of the witches actually made him happy but it created an inner turmoil (Middleton 2014). In other word, the prediction had cast light on the intricate side of his ambitious nature and influenced him greatly to kill Duncan. The maestro William Shakespeare had shown Macbeth as the terrible reflection of ambition, which one had, lacked the strength of personality.
Macbeth and doctor Faustus both are responsible for their own deeds and ruins. Macbeth and doctor Faustus has great ambition to gain power, but their struggle for acquiring power somehow made them corrupted, which is the main cause of their fall (Bradley 2013). In both the plays, both Doctor Faustus and Macbeth reversed the human nature, led by the super ambitious nature of the protagonist. When the Renaissance humanism focused on the human being as the image of the God and accepted the divine hierarchy of the universe where each being has its own fixed place, the reversal of nature catered to break the chain. Therefore, the whole order of the universe is interrupted. Both the writer shown in their plays that the ambition in any form, be it for power in case of both Faustus and Macbeth, has led them to the exploitation of the human virtues and qualities. In a way their ambition became vaulting, they went through a series of occurrences where they were the controller of the happenings but they did these beastly, contradicting the basic human characteristics. The Macbeth lost his humanity by killing Duncan who would consider Macbeth as his son. Therefore, Macbeth’s sin was to kill her father for the throne. His greed for power led him to break the morality of the universe where he only considered achieving the superior position. In case of Faustus, for gaining ultimate power through magic, he rejected all the accepted way and surrendered to Lucifer, a Satan according to Christianity. Faustus’s ambition did not direct him to the ways of God; rather it tempted him to tie up with the rebel of God and he committed the ultimate sin. In the play, he got many opportunities for asking forgiveness to the God, but each time, he seeks knowledge to being loyal to the hell than heaven (Bradley 2013). At the final scene of Doctor Faustus, he repented for his deed but it was too late to ask. His ambition of power made him blind at the image of the enlightened human soul, which was the projection of the Renaissance, which expressed godly nature of the human.
The way Doctor Faustus’ ambition conducted him to his fall was shown beautifully in the prologue section with the help of the myth of Icarus, who flew so close to the sun that his wings made of bee wax, feathers had melted, and he fell to death. Faustus’ ambition of power encouraged him to evoke other demons like Mephistopheles and Lucifer and through Mephistopheles, he made a deal with Lucifer. The deal was to serve Lucifer and sell his soul to him for twenty-four years. In this time, he would be able to use magical power. In other words, to fulfill Faustus’ ambition, he used the power of magic and united with the evil ways (Willis 2017). This pact with the Lucifer was leading to the way to corruption, the reversal of human nature happened within Faustus for obtaining power. However, at the end of the deal, Faustus would grant his soul and body to the Lucifer as a return and he would be committed to spend rest of his life in hell.
After the end of the pact, Faustus realized that for fulfillment of his highest ambition, he might have acquired great power, but he did not do anything worthwhile. He used his power for some practical jokes in front of Nobility. Ultimately, he comprehended that he had given his soul absolutely for no good cause. He misused his power; his ambition had no value for the welfare of the human society. When he was giving a speech of how he was damned, he repented for what he did, which was the result of his enormous ambition. As his ambition did not assist him to the righteous way, it became ‘vaulting’, it ultimately led him to the fall and damnation, and he would die (Adade-Yeboah and Ahenkora 2016).
At the final scene of the play, Doctor Faustus told to himself that he might repent and save his soul. Nevertheless, he had already committed the sin and here is the time for coming Lucifer. “The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d. /O, I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?” (Scene 11).
In case of Macbeth, he seemed to know that it was his ambitious nature, which controlled his action. In the act one he had said it, he realized it that the ambition within himself is “vaulting” (Greenblatt and Cohen 2015). “I have no spur /To prick the sides of my intent, but only /Vaulting ambition” (Act 1, Scene 7). Even, in the act one scene three when he was planning to murder king Duncan, he was fighting with the wicked side within him. Actually, Macbeth’s sense of super ambition hided the moral conscience of himself and led him to make a murderous plot of how to be the king of Scotland.. As long as Macbeth heard prophesies of the witches that he would made thane of Cawdor and eventually the future king of Scotland, a stream of ambition conquered him and he was tempted planning to murder the present king of Scotland, King Duncan. His ambition could not leave him to commit one murder; however, he committed the sin of consecutive murder for securing his throne. He killed chamberlains, Banquo, Lady Macduff and their children. His action of murder for fulfilling his ambition affected him with a feeling of guilt, which constantly followed him (King 2013). He started hallucinating; he saw the ghost of Banquo and heard voices of unconscious as he murdered the sleeping Duncan. Even, he hallucinated the bloodshed dagger by which he had killed Duncan. The handle of the dagger pointed towards him.
Hearing the prophecies and before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth was quite uncertain about his action. However, Lady Macbeth’s desire for kingship persuaded Macbeth to kill Duncan. Eventually, Lady Macbeth started hallucinating of blood in her hand and sleepwalking. At the end of the play, Macbeth had to fight with his enemy, his fighting continued until Macduff beheaded him. The play was ended after completing a full circle. The play’s circle was started with the winning of battlefield by Macbeth and ended with the defeat of Macbeth in combat. In the middle of the circle in the play, it became tragical due to Macbeth’s greed for power and ambition (Prasad 2012). He had to die for whatever and how he wished.
Therefore, it can be concluded by saying that it is human being’s action and decision by which his life’s events would be placed. Shifting from the Dark ages, the Renaissance time embodied this motif focusing on man’s action. It was reflected to any art form available in that time. The re-awakening happened during the Elizabethan era in England produced masterpieces like Doctor Faustus and Macbeth. Both the plays are the product of the Renaissance.
In above-mentioned plays, the story thread has lied on the individual and its life journey. However, as the protagonists of the play are inflicted with high ambition, greed and power, they are corrupted. They are ready to break the natural order of the universe. Their moral sense is shattered and this leads to create a cause for their damnation.
Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare have created their protagonists as tragic hero and might caution their readers of the Renaissance that though the human exploration would reach on its highest peak, it is the individual’s decision not to fall into the trap of immorality. Hence, the natural order would be restored.
Adade-Yeboah, A. and Ahenkora, K., 2016. The tragic hero of the neo-classical revival.
Adade-Yeboah, A. and Owusu, E., 2013. The Tragic Hero of the Modern Period: The European Concept. Studies in Literature and Language, 6(3), p.33.
Alchin, L.K., 2012. Elizabethan Theatre. Elizabethan Era.
Belsey, C., 2014. The Subject of Tragedy (routledge Revivals): Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama. Routledge.
Bradley, A.C., 2013. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth (Vol. 1). Library of Alexandria.
Brown, J.R. ed., 2013. Focus on Macbeth (Vol. 5). Routledge.
Greenblatt, S. and Christ, C.T. eds., 2012. The Norton anthology of English literature. WW Norton & Company.
Greenblatt, S. and Cohen, W. eds., 2015. The Norton Shakespeare: Third International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company.
Howard, J.E. and O'Connor, M.F. eds., 2013. Shakespeare reproduced: the text in history and ideology. Routledge.
Huizinga, J., 2014. Men and ideas: History, the middle ages, the renaissance. Princeton University Press.
Kastan, D.S., 2013. Staging the Renaissance. Routledge.
King, W.C., 2013. Ambition, a history: from vice to virtue. Yale University Press.
Kirkpatrick, R., 2014. The European Renaissance 1400-1600. Routledge.
Lawton, D., 2012. Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus.
Lowrance, B., 2014. Marlowe’s Wit: Power, Language, and the Literary in Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus. Modern Philology, 111(4), pp.711-732.
Macdonald, J.R., 2014. Calvinist Theology and" Country Divinity" in Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Studies in Philology, 111(4), pp.821-844.
Middleton, T., 2014. The witch. A&C Black.
Prasad, P.C.L., 2012. Critical comment on Macbeth.
Rebenich, S., 2013. Jerome. Routledge.
Rutter, T., 2012. The Cambridge Introduction to Christopher Marlowe. Cambridge University Press.
Southern, R., 2016. The Penguin History of the Church: Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Penguin UK.
Willis, D., 2017. Magic and witchcraft. A New Companion to Renaissance Drama, p.170.