Doctor Faustus as a Morality Play | Christopher Marlowe

Morality Plays

Christopher Marlowe

The morality play is a fusion of the medieval allegory and the religious drama of the miracle plays. It developed at the end of the fourteenth century and gained much popularity in the fifteenth century. In these plays the characters were generally personified abstractions of vice or virtues such as Good Deeds, Faith, Mercy, Anger etc. The general theme of the Moralities was theological and the main one was the struggle between good and evil powers for capturing man’s soul and the journey of life with its choice of eternal destination and the aim is to teach ethics and doctrines of Christianity.

Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus may be called a morality play to a very great extent.

By selling his soul to the Devil, Faustus lives a very blasphemous life full of vain and sensual pleasures just for twenty four years. He does not shirk from insulting and even assaulting the Pope with the Holy Fathers at Rome. Of course, there is a fierce struggle in his soul between his over-weening ambition and conscience, between the Good Angel and the Evil Angel that externalize this internal conflict. But Faustus ultimately surrenders to the allurements of Evil Angel, thereby paving the way for eternal damnation.

When final hour approaches, Faustus, to his utmost pain and horror, realizes that his sins are unpardonable and nothing can save him from eternal damnation. And before the devils snatch away his soul to burning hell, the excreting pangs of a deeply agonized soul finds the most poignant expression in Faustus’ final soliloquy.

My God, my God, look not so fierce on me!
Alders and serpents let me breathe a while!
Ugly hell, gape not: come not Lucifer:
I’ll burn my books: Ah Mephistophilis!

Moral Sermon Or Didactic Aim

The chief aim of a morality play was didactic— it was a dramatized guide to Christian living and Christian dying. Whoever discards the path of virtue and abjures faith in God and Christ is destined to despair and eternal damnation— this is also the message of Marlow’s Doctor Faustus. And it has found the most touching expression in the mournful monody of the chorus in the closing lines.

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 practice more than heavenly power permits.

Personified Abstractions

In morality plays the characters were personified abstractions of vice or virtues. So in Doctor Faustus also we find the Good Angel and Evil Angel, the former stands for the path of virtue and the latter for sin and damnation. Then we have the Old Man, symbolizing the forces of righteousness and morality.

The comic scenes of Doctor Faustus also belong to the tradition of old Miracle and Morality plays, especially the scene I of the third act where Faustus is found playing vile tricks on the Pope and the scene IV of act IV where the horse-courser is totally outwitted and befooled by Faustus.

These are the characteristics, which are taken to prove that Doctor Faustus is a morality play with its vindication of humility, faith and obedience to the law of God.