Liturgical Drama in the beginning had three forms, Mystery, Miracle and Morality. The morality playis really a fusion of allegory and the religious drama of the miracle plays (Which presents themiracles of saints and the subjects depend upon Bible). It flourished in the middle ages, was at itsheight in the first half of the 15 century, disappeared after the second half, but reappeared inElizabethan drama. In this play the characters were personified abstractions of vice or virtues suchas Good deeds, Faith, Mercy, Anger, Truth, Pride etc.
The general theme of the moralities wastheological and the main one was the struggle between the good and evil powers for capturing theman’s soul and good always won. The story of whole morality play centres round the singletowering figure. The seven deadly sins were found engaged in physical and verbal battle withcardinal virtues. The antics of vices and devils etc offered a considerable opportunity for lowcomedy or buffoonery.
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The morality play often ended with a solemn moral. Faustus is in some ways an everyman figure.
We are able to relate to him, as he has internal struggles and traits that we can see in ourselves. He was also ‘poor of stock’, making him even easier to relate to. Characters in morality plays were personifications of good and evil, usually involved in a struggle for a mans soul. This is true of Doctor Faustus, it uses angels and devils, and shows them as real, rather than fiction, and Marlowe uses these characters to show the struggles Faustus encounters with regards to his soul. Morality plays used allegory to dramatise the struggles between good and evil.
In the light of these points we may call Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” a belated morality play in spite of its tragic ending. It has been mentioned that in morality plays the characters were personifiedabstractions of vice or virtues. In “Dr. Faustus” also we find the Good and Evil angels, the former stand for the path of virtue and the latter for sin and damnation, one for conscience and the other for desires. Then we have the old man appearing, telling Faustus that he is there “To guide’ thysteps unto the way of life”. He symbolizes the forces of righteousness and morality.
The sevendeadly sins are also there in a grand spectacle to cheer up the despairing soul of Faustus. If the, general theme of morality plays was theological dealing with the struggle of forces of goodand evil for man’s soul, then “Dr. Faustus” may be called a religious or morality play to a very greatextent. We find Marlowe’s hero, Faustus, abjuring the scriptures, the Trinity and Christ. Hesurrenders his soul to the Devil out of his inordinate ambition to gain. By selling his soul to the Devil he lives a blasphemous life full of vain and sensual pleasures justfor only twenty-four years.
There is struggle between his overwhelming ambition and consciencewhich are externalized by good angel and evil angel. But Faustus has already accepted the opinionof Evil Angel, who says: “Be thou on earth as Jove in the sky. ” Faustus is also fascinated by thethought. When the final hours approaches, Faustus find himself at the edge of eternal damnation and crieswith deep sorrow: “My God, my God, look not so fierce to me! ”Through this story Marlowe gives the lesson that the man, who desires to be God, is doomed toeternal damnation. The chief aim of morality play was didactic.
It was a dramatized guide to Christian living andChristian dying. Whosoever discards the path of virtue and faith in God and Christ is destined todespair and eternal damnation— this is also the message of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. And it hasfound the most touching expression in the closing lines of the play. The tradition of chorus is also maintained. We find the chorus introducing the story just before thebeginning of the first scene and subsequently filling in the gaps in the narrative and announcingthe end of the play with a very solemn moral. The appearance of seven deadly sins shows thatMarlowe in “Dr.
Faustus” adopted some of the conventions of the old Morality plays. The seven Deadly sins- pride, Covetousness, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and Lechery of good old Moralityplays are also very much here in this play in a grand spectacle to cheer up the dejected soul of Faustus. And the old favourite and familiar figure of the devil is also not missing. Mephistophilis, anassistant to Lucifer, appears as a servile slave of Faustus in many scenes. The comic scenes of “Dr. Faustus” also belong to the tradition of old Morality plays. The comic scenes were not integralpart of those plays but were introduced to entertain.
In “Dr. Faustus” many comic scenes aredepicted especially his pranks on the Pope, the planting of a pair of horns on the head of a knightand the cheating of a greedy horse-dealer. They throw light on the nature of the tragedy of Dr. Faustus. The comic episodes underline the fact that Faustus has sunk to the low level of a sordidfun-loving sorcerer. In “Dr. Faustus” there is only one towering figure all the action and incidentscentre round him. Then just like the earlier Morality plays, it also suffers from looseness of construction especially in the middle part of the play. Though to a great extent, “Dr.
Faustus” is a morality play yet there are also some other elementswhich make it different from morality play. The difference is that in morality plays, all characters areabstractions, not concrete. But in “Dr. Faustus” the main character, Faustus is not an abstractionbut as person with desires and high ambitions He is a living person like other human beings. Thenthe element of conflict is the fountain head of the entire action in the play and the movement of theaction defines the plot of the play. Faustus heart and soul is the greatest battle field for the internalor spiritual conflict.
Though Faustus has abjured God and has made his pact with the devil, yetthere is a conflict in his mind between good and evil, he feels the pricks of conscience. The growingsense of loss and of the wages of “damnation” begins to sting him like a scorpion. This inner conflict in Faustus is the element of tragedy not of morality, on the basis of which wesome times think that it is not a morality play. In a morality play, the moral is always positive andgoodness always triumphs over evil, truth over lie and virtue over vice . Virtue is always rewarded. But in “Dr.
Faustus” we find evil spreading its powerful hands over goodness and then laying itdown. Faustus follows the path told by evil angel and ultimately is ruined. He cannot repent and devil issuccessful in getting hold of his soul. This moral is negative which is not in accordance withmorality plays. Moreover, in this play, Faustus plays pranks with pope and knight and makes fun of them. Unlike morality plays the butt of this low comedy is Pope instead of devil. Faustus is a character ideal to be the hero of a tragedy where man alone is the maker of his fate,good or bad.
He falls not by the fickleness of fortune or the decree of fate, or because he has beencorrupted by Mephistophilis, the agent of Lucifer; the devil, but because of his own will. Faustus,being a tragic hero was dominated by some uncontrollable passion or inordinate ambition. There isa conflict in his mind between good and evil. He falls from high to low and this degradation is clear in his soliloquy, when he says: “O soul, be changed into little water drops, And fall into ocean, never to be found! ” Such a tragic hero cannot be the hero of a morality play.
Thus we see that in spite of its entire linkswith medieval miracle plays or moralities, Dr. Faustus can never be treated wholly as a moralityplay. It is the greatest heroic tragedy before Shakespeare with its enormous stress oncharacterization and inner conflict in the soul of a towering personality. We may call this play thelast of the Morality plays and the beginning of tragedy that was developed by Shakespeare. We mayconclude in the words of a critic: “Dr. Faustus is both the consummation of the English Morality,tradition and the last and the finest of Marlowe’s heroic plays. ”