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Faustus as a Tragic Hero

There are different views of Dr. Faustus.

There may be different or varying ways of looking at certain characters and revealing them as a certain type of character. In Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus, the main character, Doctor Faustus, could be described and revealed as a tragic hero, similarly to other tragic characters, such as Sophocles’ Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Hamlet may also be described as such. There are different features and characteristics, which would make these characters be considered as tragic heroes rather than another type of character.

One of the features that characterize a tragic hero is that this type of character “will mistakenly bring his own downfall”, (McManus) which is referred to as “hamartia”. In Marlowe’s play, the main character, Faustus, brings his own downfall by the end of the story. In his opening speech, in Act 1 Scene 1, Faustus tells and explains the audience and the readers that he has skilled himself in law, medicine and divinity, but he wants to know more than what he knows and also know more about other things. This aspect of Faustus, his curiosity to learn and know more, may be thought of as part of the human condition and human nature and isn’t something that is seen as wrong in our society.

However, this aspect also blinds Faustus from a sense of reason and right from wrong. This eventually leads the main character of Doctor Faustus to make an agreement with the devil, which results in Faustus’ downfall. This aspect of Faustus’ character and personality is similar to Oedipus, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Oedipus’ pride blinds him from seeing truth, reason, as well as the difference from right and wrong, which leads to and results in the character’s downfall and to the main character of Sophocles’ play, Oedipus, stabbing his eyes out.

This feature will lead to the characteristic and fact that, by doing these mistakes or “flaws”, the tragic heroes are doomed from the beginning and the audience and readers know the fate of these characters is sealed. And for the tragic hero be just that, a tragic hero or tragic character, this type of character has to be doomed from the beginning of the play, but doesn’t hold any responsibility for possessing his flaw or fault. This may be seen in Faustus. From the beginning of the play, from the time that he tells the audience and readers that he wants to acquire more knowledge and especially when he signs the, the audience and readers may that Faustus is doomed to have a less than perfect and happy ending. Much like Faustus, Oedipus’ fate is sealed when he refuses to see the truth, even when it’s standing right in front of him. Though these two tragic heroes may feel some sense of guilt about their actions, neither Faustus nor Oedipus seem feel some sense of guilt or responsibility of their flaw.

A third feature or characteristic that the tragic hero should have is that “[t]he protagonist should be renowned and prosperous”. (McManus) The audience and readers may witness and see this characteristic in the main character of Doctor Faustus. Early on in the play, the audience and readers knows that Faustus is well renowned and with some reputation. Over the course of the play, there are several people, mainly three scholars, talk about Faustus, his knowledge, and such aspects of this character. The audience and readers may see some signs of prosperity in Faustus. In Act 1 Scene 1, Faustus calls in his servant and student, which reveal not only that Faustus is prosperous, but also renown. The reason for this is that people at this time wanted to send their children study would to well known people.

It could also be said that Oedipus and Hamlet are also prosperous and renown. Oedipus is king of Thebes, which leads the readers and audience to assume that he is fairly prosperous. The readers and audience may also assume that he is renown, because the citizens of Thebes come to Oedipus, when the city is attacked with plague, in the prologue. Hamlet is a prince, which also may lead us to suggest that he is fairly prosperous and successful.

A fourth feature and aspect involving the tragic hero is that this character must support the plot of the story, which is similar to many other protagonists. This may be easily seen with Faustus, in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. It is Faustus’ actions, which seem to lead and direct the plot and the entire story of the play. This is the same situation with Oedipus and Hamlet, in Oedipus Rex and Hamlet. Both Oedipus and Hamlet are tragic heroes, who both lead and guide the story and its plot. This may be also part of and applied to the human life, as most of us make our own decisions and lead and drive our own lives, much like Faustus, Oedipus, and Hamlet guide the plays they are in.

A fifth feature, which is attributed to the tragic hero, is that the main character must be realistic or present some sense of realism. This may help the audience and readers relate to the character. This aspect of the tragic hero is meant for the audience to relate to or feel some form of connection with the characters and the story of the play. Faustus does have a certain sense of realism to him. For one, the main character of the play Doctor Faustus makes mistakes, which is part of the human condition and is something that every human being does. This also adds to a sense of realism to Faustus. This is the same for Oedipus and Hamlet, who also both make mistakes.

There is also the fact that Faustus wants to acquire more knowledge, which adds to the realism of the play. Acquire knowledge is another aspect that is part of the human condition. Learning and understanding more and more subjects and obtaining more knowledge is part of how we can grow and evolve as human beings, as individuals and as a society.

This sense of realism in the tragic hero may introduce pity. This is a crucial aspect to the tragedy genre. If the audience and the readers pity or sympathizes with the main character, this may lead to suggest that the audience and readers feel some form of connection with the hero of the play. In order for this to occur, the character must have some realistic features. This aspect of the tragic hero of Doctor Faustus in relation to the audience and readers may vary. There may be some who do pity Faustus, while other may feel no pity for this character. The same can be said of the characters Oedipus and Hamlet. Several people may feel sympathy for these two characters, while others won’t sympathize with these characters. This aspect and feature is part of the human condition and adds to the realism of the character and of the play. It is impossible to like or sympathize with everyone.

These aspects are a few attributes and features that characterize a tragic hero. Most of these attributes may be applied to Faustus, as well as other tragic heroes, such as Hamlet and Oedipus. But, like every human being and characters that exist, these three tragic heroes aren’t perfect and do make mistakes.

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