Author(s)Enis, Eva Marie
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AbstractScholars have considered the protagonist of Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus from nearly every perspective, but, at the same time, they have been hesitant to recognize the humorous incidents, particularly the so-called clownish scenes, as having a legitimate place even though much comic incident appears in Marlowe's source. Though scholars have acknowledged Marlowe's play to be a morality, they have not viewed Faustus as a morality character whose comic mask is his reality. An examination of the morality tradition, with Marlowe's debt to the morality in mind, justifies the inclusion of much humorous matter in a play often assumed to be tragic. The original morality was a Psychomachia--an allegorical conflict of man's soul between good and evil--whose outcome was a triumph for good. Its dramatis personae--personifications of good and evil forces--show that the comic characters were always tied to evil effects. These comic-evil characters satirized the protagonist's sins through burlesque techniques. Thus exaggeration and distortion made his sins appear absurdly funny. After the Reformation, a new "hybrid" form--a homiletic tragedy--emerged. It provided for comic scenes that were longer and more vivid than the serious and, now emphasizing mankind's failings, reversed the usually triumphant ending. Also, a fusion of the good and the evil forces into one character created the "Vice," a protagonist with a dualistic personality comparable to mankind. When stage impersonations became a popular means for propaganda, the developed Vice--basically an abstraction--could be adapted by the playwright to variable situations when clothed with a proper name and matching costume. Marlowe's ingenuity enabled him to weave historical and philosophical ideas into the script of Doctor Faustus, whose protagonist of the same name was modelled in part on the Vice character. Marlowe disguised his protagonist as a scholar who rejected the traditional culture (i.e., white magic) and selected the counter-culture (i.e., black magic) in an attempt to overcome his existential dilemma. Marlowe made Faustus represent two aspects or humanity. First, dressed in the scholar's robe, Faustus represents the intellectual with his "cool tranquil idealism," who is good. Second, when he rejects all known knowledge and accepts the unknown, he discards the scholar's robe, ironically declares his own doom "Consummatum est," and unwittingly becomes a representation of the clown with "bestial impulses" in the "figure of a fool," who is evil. Realizing his mistake, Faustus seeks an anodyne for his fears while he vacillates between thoughts of good and evil. The insidious corruption or Faustus' mind creates his downfall; his clownishness is a frivolous aftermath of self-deception which creates his hell on earth and causes him to conclude his life as a coward, dismembered psychologically and literally. In the play, humorous elements work as an anodyne, as evocation of the hybrid "Vice," and as a means to convey Faustus' psychological state after his "fall." The rollicking rhythms of the clowns in the first part of the play and the low humor with matching antics of Faustus himself in the second part successfully lull the consciousness or the audience--up to a point--and it comes as a shock that Faustus is actually damned in a reversal of the simple morality. As Vice, whose reality is the comic mask, Faustus is only a metaphorical figure, a personification of an abstraction, hence an amoral non-being capable or performing exaggerated absurdities to please his audience while displaying through speech and actions the absurdity or mankind's aspirations, whether for "belly cheer" or infinite power and knowledge.