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Faustus as a Tragic Character

1. FAUSTUS AS A TRAGIC CHARACTER
            Faustus is one of the renowned and popular characters like Shylock, Barabas, Oedipus Rex and Hamlet, etc in English Literature. As Marlowe was the product and “Morning Star” of Renaissance, Faustus is also saturated with the same spirit as had Marlowe. All the Marlovian heroes are the central figures of his dramas. Faustus is also a dominating figure around whom the whole story moves. He is a Titanic figure of super human size rising head and shoulder above all the other minor characters. He is so dominating in the story that all the other characters seem to be tiny Lilliputians moving around towering Gulliver. It means, we can say that Marlowe’s tragedy is different from the classical tragedies. In classical tragedies, the audience believes that hero is not merely an individual in the pangs of misery and desperation, but a symbol of the whole fate of kingdom. On the other hand, Marlowe’s tragedy is in fact “The tragedy of one man.” So, the fate of protagonist affects only one man, not the whole nation. A critic remarks: “Marlowe for the first time gave life-like characters who are not mere puppets but who live their own lives.” Faustus can be considered a tragic hero like all the other heroes such as Oedipus and Hamlet, etc but first of all, we must keep in mind the conditions of a tragic hero mentioned by Aristotle because whenever a true tragic hero is analyzed, it is Aristotle’s measurement which is preferred to confirm a tragic hero. According to Aristotle, the first major quality of a hero is: “A tragic hero should be a high-minded, renowned and prosperous person i.e. a king, a prince or a monarch, etc. At the same time, he should neither be too good nor too bad.” Faustus is not a king or a monarch on whom the fate of a nation depends but as an individual, he has great reputation and reverence in his society. His reputation as a scholar has been mentioned both in the beginning and at the end of the play. “Yet for he was a scholar once admired.  It is one of the clues to accept Faustus as a tragic hero. In so far as his qualities are concerned, he is neither thoroughly good nor bad. Actually, the desire for learning is a part of human nature and it can never be condemned rather it should be appreciated. As a man of Renaissance, he has the lust for power, knowledge, pelf and wealth. He is bent on achieving his end by any means, fair or unfair. He is ready to violate any accepted moral code. Like Tamburlaine, the atheist, and Barabas as the representative of Machiavelli spirit, he has astounding passions and inordinate ambition that urges him to violate all the moral and ethical laws. Marlowe has endowed him with great vigour and vehemence with passion to struggle against tremendous odds. As a Marlovian hero, he culls a wrong path to fulfill his dreams. He weaves the threads of his tragedy with his own hands and signs his death warrant. He is a scholar of great reputation but still he is unsatisfied with what he is. He even after getting the degree of doctorate and studying all the branches of bearing like philosophy, physics, law and divinity feels that he is “Still but Faustus and a man.” He realizes that he is unable to “raise the dead to life again.” He thinks that none of these subjects can help him become “as powerful on the earth, as Jove in the sky.” That’s why, now he wants to go beyond the moral limits and says, “Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me.” Magic captures his imagination because it can bring him power, profit, delight and honour; and he says, “A sound magician is a mighty god.” He knows what result he will have to face as a result of his choice but he cares for nothing and exchanges his soul to Lucifer and ruins his life. Here is a point worth mentioning that this the point where most of the critics do not accept Faustus a true tragic hero because they believe that Faustus is totally aware of his repentance. This fact also goes against the conditions of a tragic hero laid by Aristotle. But some critics like Michael believe: “Facing one’s doomed end or death is more tragic and agonizing than suddenly facing an inescapable situation.
            Another main feature of a tragic hero is: “A tragic hero undergoes sufferings and reversal of fortune, not from some vice and depravity in his character, but from ‘Hamartia’ or tragic flaw.
Faustus also meets this requirement fully because he suffers in the end. As the final hour approaches, he is horrified to think of the impending doom. He yearns to make a last minute effort to save his soul by sincere repentance and fervent prayer. He sees the blood of Christ flowing in the sky. He thinks that one drop of Christ’s blood can save him and then he yearns for even half drop to save himself. He says: “One drop of blood would save my soul, half a drop: Ah my Christ–.” And when in the end, clock strikes twelve the devils enter and carry away his soul to hell for unending damnation. The craving, prays and repentance of Faustus all are in vain.
                                    Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight
                                    And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough
                                    That sometimes grew within this learned man.”   
            Another feature of a tragic hero determined by Aristotle is: “The end of a tragic hero should arouse feeling and pity in the audience.” Faustus also meets this requirement fully. The craving, prays, repentance and finally the demise of Faustus in the last scene move the audience and the feel pity for Faustus. The coming of the devils creates fear. We can say that is also one of the clues to accept Faustus a tragic character because the last scene has the quality to arouse pity and fear in the audience. In the closing lines, the scholars put emphasis on this aspect more than anything else when they lament about the death of their professor.
                                    Yet for he was a scholar once admired
                                    For wondrous knowledge in our German schools
                                    We’ll give his mangled limbs due burial
                                    And all the students, clothed in mourning black
                                    Shall wait upon his heavy funeral.”
            To sum up, we can declare Faustus a true tragic hero. Definitely there are still some critics who believe that it is not so but I think they have confined their thoughts to the classical Greek tragedies and the conditions applied by Aristotle. But the modern tragedy is different in most of the respects. It is the tragedy of an individual facing inner conflicts and having the choice of free will. It is the tragedy of an extraordinary human being who with some inordinate ambitions struggles passionately to achieve his end by fair or foul means and faces a defeat which brings pity and fear. We can say without any hesitation and fear of contradiction that Faustus is a true tragic hero.  He is truly made of the stuff of which heroes are made. He has passion for knowledge that is unbridled and similarly he has a a limitless desire for the unattainable, a spirit of reckless adventure and a tremendous confidence in his own will and spirit. We fully agree with the remarks of a critic who observes: “Tragedy has become not the presentation of history, myths, or events of any sort, but the presentation of passionate struggle and pitiful defeat of an extraordinary human being.”                                                 (Words: 1278)