?Christopher Marlowe was an older contemporary of William Shakespeare. “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is his best known work. Christopher Marlowe based his play Doctor Faustus on stories about a scholar and magician, Johann Faust, who allegedly sold his soul to the devil to gain magical powers. Born in 1488, the original Faust wandered through his German homeland until his death in 1541. In 1587, the first story about his life appeared in Germany. What Marlowe creates out of the story is a Medieval morality- play with a late Renaissance temper. In Doctor Faustus, Marlowe has made good use of a conventional Christian doctrine.
Faustus strives against human limitation to the point of selling his soul. He is not only a seeker for power but also a knower and a desirer to know. The play begins with Dr. Faustus shown in his study, where he is deciding upon which field to specialise in- Analytics or Logic. Dissatisfied with his human status, he would like to have magical powers of making men live eternally and bringing back the dead to life. He rejects divine learning also, because it is based on a recognition of man’s morality and fallibility. For most of the play, the chorus sets the motion of the drama.
The first Act establishes the unscholarly attitude of Faustus and also the base for his tragedy- a poor bargain eventually made with the devil that will leave him devastated in the end. The subplot of Wagner, the scholars and the clown dramatises Faustus’ predicament in very crude terms and have certain comical elements in it. Act 2 outlines the tragedy with greater depth. Faustus’s rebellion against human nature is quite desperate, because it loses more than it gains. But Faustus is “resolved” and shall “never repent”. He finally signs the pact with the devil, giving away his soul in return for the services of limitless knowledge.
Acts 3 and 4 are basically about the kind of life Faustus is now leading with the help of Mephistophilis and other minions of the devil. Faustus seeks and Mephistophilis plans, rather a series of comic indulgences mainly to distract the former’s mind from the tormenting religious awareness. The final Act brings a climatic end of Faustus. The 24 years of the agreement comes to an end and with that, the sad realisation that all knowledge, wealth and power of the world were futile in comparison to having an everlasting place in heaven.
The keynote of the final monologue of Faustus, before the devil takes him, is a feeling of pity and terror which all great tragedies are expected to arouse. Marlowe had a twofold aim in the play. He would write a morality play and hence the substantial stasis can be highlighted along with the comedy and the undramaticality of the play associated with the morality tradition. J. P. Brockbank observes, that the play serves a purpose for the audience- “In fear we acquiesce in the littleness and powerlessness of man, and in pity we share his sufferings and endorse his protest. ”