Doctor Faustus – Plot and Subplot
Christopher Marlowe’s famous play Doctor Faustus is, by Aristotle’s definition, a tragedy (McManus, 2013). Along with the tragic main plot of the play there is a comic, less serious subplot as well. This essay will aid to show how the tragic main plot of Doctor Faustus interacts with the play’s humorous subplot, the relation between the two plots, and how the occurrence of this subplot makes the play even more tragic.
As a prologue, the Chorus tells us what type of play Doctor Faustus is. It isn’t about war and courtly love, but about Faustus, who was born of lower class parents. This can be seen as different from the medieval tradition; Faustus holds a lower status than Kings and Saints, but his story is still worth telling. It gives an introduction to his wisdom and abilities, most remarkably in academia, in which he excels so greatly that he is awarded a doctorate. During this opening, we also get our first clue to the source of Faustus’s downfall. Faustus’s tale is compared to the tale ofIcarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when the sun melted his waxen wings. This is certainly a hint to Faustus’s end as well as bringing to our attention the idea ofexcessive pride which is represented in the story of Icarus (Sanders, 2013).
In the play, Doctor Faustus reaches his downfall because he attempts to reach beyond what he is capable of achieving (WriteWork, 2013). In the opening of the play, Faustus comments that he has reached the end of every subject he has studied. He appreciatesLogicas being a tool for arguing;Medicineas being unvalued unless it allowed raising the dead and immortality;Lawas being upstanding and above him;Divinityas useless because he feels that all humans commit sin, and to have sins punishable by death complicates the logic of Divinity (Sanders, 2013). He dismisses it as “What doctrine call you this? Que sera, sera”, which Spanish for “What will be, shall be” (Marlowe, Scene I/p.4).
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- Merissa Bartlett (Author), 2013, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Plot and subplot, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/269656