A morality play is a form of medieval drama that emerged in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. These plays were designed to teach moral lessons and explore the battle between good and evil. One famous example of a morality play is “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe, written in the late 16th century. This play follows the journey of its protagonist, Dr. Faustus, and serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of succumbing to temptation and making immoral choices.
In “Doctor Faustus,” the central theme revolves around the character of Faustus, a highly educated scholar who becomes dissatisfied with his earthly knowledge and turns to the supernatural for power and pleasure. The play is structured around the traditional morality play elements, with Faustus representing the everyman who faces moral dilemmas and choices.
The play opens with a Chorus that sets the moral tone, emphasizing the consequences of Faustus’ actions. The Chorus warns the audience about the tragic fate that awaits Faustus, foreshadowing the moral lesson to be learned. The Chorus serves as a guide throughout the play, underlining the didactic nature of the work.
Faustus, driven by his ambition and desire for knowledge beyond the conventional limits, makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles. The pact involves Faustus exchanging his soul for 24 years of unlimited magical powers. This choice embodies the moral conflict at the heart of the play, as Faustus willingly chooses the path of damnation in pursuit of worldly pleasures.
The Seven Deadly Sins, a common motif in morality plays, make an appearance in “Doctor Faustus.” Faustus conjures them to entertain him, showcasing the consequences of indulging in sins such as pride, greed, and wrath. This episode serves as a didactic interlude, reinforcing the play’s moral message by illustrating the vices that lead to damnation.
As Faustus nears the end of his pact, he experiences a deep sense of regret and fear about his impending damnation. This reflects the moral structure of the morality play, where the protagonist faces a moment of realization and repentance before the inevitable consequences of their actions unfold. Faustus’ soliloquies, such as the famous one in Act V, Scene 2, express his internal conflict and the moral dilemma he grapples with:
“See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament! One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!”
This poignant moment encapsulates Faustus’ realization of the gravity of his choices and his desperate plea for salvation.
The play concludes with Faustus facing the consequences of his actions as the devils come to claim his soul. The final scene serves as a moral resolution, reinforcing the idea that choices have lasting repercussions. Faustus’ tragic end serves as a warning to the audience, emphasizing the moral lesson that succumbing to temptation and forsaking moral values can lead to eternal damnation.
In conclusion, “Doctor Faustus” aligns with the conventions of a morality play by presenting a didactic narrative that explores the consequences of moral choices. Through the character of Faustus, the play illustrates the perennial struggle between good and evil and highlights the dangers of yielding to sinful temptations. The Chorus, the Seven Deadly Sins, and Faustus’ ultimate fate all contribute to the play’s moral framework, making it a quintessential example of the morality play genre.