The Impact of Gothic Literature on Christopher Malowe´s "Doctor Faustus"

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2017

21 Pages, Grade: A


Table of contents


Table of contents

1.1. Background of Study
1.2. Definition of Terms
1.3. Organization of Study

2.1. Marlowe’s life
2.2. Critics on Marlowe
2.3 “Doctor Faustus” as a morality play

3. Elements of Gothic and Doctor Faustus
3.1. The origin of Faustus legend and damnable life
3.2. Elements of Gothic Literature
3.3. Elements of Gothic Literature represented on Doctor Faustus
3.4. Themes, motifs and symbols

4.1. Faustus commits himself to evil
4.2. Faustus exploits his power
4.3. The damnation of Faustus




Gothic literature is a literary genre that combines fiction, horror, death, and even in some cases romance. Even though Gothic Literature was introduced around the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century in England, the Gothic term itself has its beginnings in the 3rd to 4th century, presenting a German barbarian tribe who invaded Rome, to continue later with other countries. Given the topics that this kind of literature deals with, we can say that it is not sufficiently familiar or widespread. Horace Walpole is thought to be the first author of this genera with his book The Castle of Otranto, followed by many other authors such as Mary Shelly with Frankenstein, Bram Stoker with Dracula and Christopher Marlowe with Doctor Faustus. The purpose of this research is to identify and analyze the elements of Gothic literature precisely in the work of Christopher Marlowe. This analysis is also based on other studies as well as on the original copy of the book. Initially, we will summarize Marlowe's life and his career as a writer. Rather, we will focus on a deeper analysis based on the elements of Gothic literature and its periods. Finally we will take a look in some other information about the work."

Keywords : Gothic literature, fiction, horror, death, elements of Gothic literature, Horace Walpole, Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, Christopher Marlowe, "Doctor Faustus"



1.1. Background of Study

Mystery is something that has intrigued human being since the beginning. Caused by curiosity, they have been at all times in search of something to discover, from the secrets of nature, human behavior, unexplained events that occur mainly during the night and fears of the unknown. The Middle Ages has been one of the periods, characterized by more mysterious elements such as disgusting crimes, devotion and religious barbarism, doing of witches, scientific innovations and macabre. One of the areas that people used to store and transmit events about intriguing mysteries from the past was literature. Topics which are mentioned above have pushed people to write and create a special kind of literature which later became known around the 1700s, as Gothic literature. It depicts the shadows of the distant past under the sound of the night thus creating the stories of the terror with which it is characterized. Interestingly enough, for the first time in the history of literature, women played an important role in writing, editing and translating Gothic works.

In the second half of the 19th century, the motifs of Gothic literature passed beyond the terrifying and sad scenarios of the 1790s and were added with more humanistic themes. The authors abandon medieval atrocities to reflect violence, forced marriage, bigamies, incest and abuse. In the late 1800s, the Gothic literature began to reflect on the ghosts that came from the American West and the stories of civil warfare. Gothic literature of the 20th century focused more on moral challenges and human deprivation. In the second half of the last century, Gothic literature has presented escapist fiction readers as well as the challenge of mind and heart. The most famous Gothic works of the new millennium are mainly those of Dan Brown such as "Illuminati" or "The Code of Da Vinci".

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus belongs to the middle ages. The play is filled with mysterious and supernatural elements, religious beliefs, black magic, and so on. The structure of this play can be divided into three parts. The first part deals with the assumption of supernatural power, the second part with its use, and the third part with the last moments of Faust's life. All three of these parts, as well as the whole play, are filled with Gothic elements of the middle ages.

1.2. Definition of Terms

Damnation – Eternal punishment in hell.

Necromantic books – Books that explain black magic and its practices.

Renaissance – The revival of European literature and art in the 14th century 16.

1.3. Organization of Study

In addition to the Introduction, this research is structured in three chapters. Chapter Two of this paper will give a brief review of Marlowe’s life and critical response to his work. Considering first that Doctor Faustus is a morality play, the rest of the second chapter will explain such terms as Gothicism, terror, and horror. Chapter three will investigate the origin of the Faustus legend and his damnable life, elements of Gothic Literature, the appearance of these elements in the play, and finally the Gothic themes, motifs and symbols in the play. Chapter four of this paper will address some other interesting and important elements of this play, such as the introduction of Helen of Troy, the Myth of Icarus, and the use of the Greek Chorus from the Classical drama.



2.1. Marlowe’s life

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564, just two months before William Shakespeare. He was the son of a shoemaker. The fact that he came from a low-income family, did not stop him from getting a good education. In 1580 he started studying at Corpus Christi Cambridge, with the claim to become a priest. Although he continued his studies for six years, he never intended to take holy orders. Even in his book The Overreacher, Henry Levin (Levin, 1952) identifies Marlowe as a man who emerged from Christian values ​​and doctrines. During this period he also traveled to France where he was thought to have attended a Catholic College which caused a problem at Cambridge and was denied the right to graduate.

During his stay in France, he reported to the British Crown on the situation there. This entry into the world of espionage would cost him much in the future. By order of the government he was granted the right to graduate from the universitysince it was determined that he had done something good for his homeland. Marlowe's subsequent murder appears to be due to political reasons, though the circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery. Though he had developed strong relationships with the royal court, no one helped him later when he was charged with atheism and treason. In early June 1593 a lawsuit was filed against Marlowe based on report submitted by Richard Baines (Steane, 1964). This government informant charged that Marlowe made the following blasphemous assertions:

Indians and many authors of antiquity have assuredly

Written by over sixteen thousand years ago while Adam is

Proved to have lived within six thousand years.

He affirms that Moses was but a juggler.

That Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest.

That those who love tobacco and boys were fools.

It is believed that the end of his life was not a simple cause or problem of atheism or sexual tendencies, all of these acts condemned at the time he lived, but as a result of an order coming from within the royal court.

2.2. Critics on Marlowe

In the first part of Judith O'Neill’s Critics on Marlowe, (O'Neill,1970), she offers a summary of the criticisms on Marlowe's work. She notes his special and unusual imagination. William Hazlitt, a renowned Elizabethan scholar, regarding to Marlowe said that he was “hungry” and “thirsty” about the unrighteousness and that he has a really vivid imagination caused by his inexhaustible imagination. (Ribner, 1964).While Una Ellis Fermor believed that he was a master in his deep and inner world, and could express them perfectly. (Ellis-Fermor, 1927).According to Harry Levin in his The Overreacher: a Study of Christopher Marlowe (Levin, 1952), while the other authors write about magistrates darkly reflected the falls of princes, Marlowe creates simple characters with ambitions and goals that place them on their morals and opportunities. Levin also says that in most cases, they are people who have achieved their own goals disregarding the canons of good and evil. (Levin, 1952).

All Marlowe's works are dominated by the conflict between virtue and destiny, between the possibilities of the characters and the circumstances in which they place themselves, in some cases without regard to the ending which in some cases has been fatal, such as sudden death, horrible and in some cases even agitation. Levin continues to say that hard work has made him successful (Levin, 1952). His characters are often in search of unlimited knowledge, power, and greed for money. A religious reader, such as British people in the Elizabethan period, can see it as a challenge to the God, while a common man can see these desires as ambitions for which every man thinks at least once in life to achieve. But really all of us, every day we almost face this kind of war. What is wonderful about this work is the fact that people today are doing everything to achieve their goals, so it can be interpreted as current even in the 21st century.

2.3 “Doctor Faustus” as a morality play

Moral plays dates in the 15th to 16th Centuries from the church services to make people reflect by pointing to the conflict between good and evil or right and wrong. This kind of play has also come down to virtue and vice. Virtues are the ones that represent salvation while the vices are what draw in the wrong direction. To be honest, human nature is so much driven by ambition and the desire for power is pulled out of vices by not being responsive to the way they are. To better portray this as we have just mentioned, we will give some examples from Marlowe's work.

Initially, he faced the two angels, the good and bad angel, which really is the voice of Faustus’s consciousness. In one side, a good angel who directs him in the right way, peace and kindness, providing a quiet and free life, even a happy past. On the other side, the bad angel, who is still pushing for sin more and more by making him a slave to the moment's pleasures by sinking it into the place of eternal suffering. But human nature unfortunately chooses the one that seems easier and even when with a complete conscience they know what is wrong.

Another moment of reflection is the introduction of seven deadly sins. To understand the difference clearly, we shall put seven heavenly virtues opposite to them .Lust and chastity, gluttony and temperance, greed and charity, sloth and diligence, wrath and forgiveness, envy and kindness, pride and humility. What if he had not been so ambitious to seek infinite knowledge would have needed to study necromantic books and black magic? It is here that his sins begin. He did not forsake his purpose and when the devil himself appeared to him, while he could have shared the knowledge he had with his students. Yet again, the Lord was there to send the old man to persuade him to return to the right path, despite the sins. Everything he did was pulling on his anger. How can a man envy God and to seek his knowledge and powers? He is there just to be adored. But as we all know, the proud Faustus chose the shortest path leading to total destruction.

2.4 Gothicism

Although Gothic literature has its beginnings very late in the 18th and 19th centuries, the meaning of the word itself has an older history. It dates back to the 3thand 4th centuries. Goths were a German barbarian tribe who invaded and destroyed Rome and a good part of Europe. It was precisely the terror that created this tribe, for why this type of literature got the name. In England exactly in the 18th century this word became synonymous with the middle ages. In fact, this is a term that involves more than one field and therefore requires a broader explanation. Gothic is based on art, lifestyle, architecture, music, and so on. It, describes a strange, mysterious story or perhaps an occurrence that happens in an obscure or lonely place. So in Gothic literature itself refers to a model of fiction literature, with supernatural and horrific elements, but not only. This genre refers to an atmosphere and a feeling created that is difficult to describe but perceived differently by each individual.

The first work from which the Gothic Literature initiated was Horace Walpole’s The Castel of Otranto (1765), literature which became very soon known and began to be practiced by many other authors. But how does the departure of Gothic literature is featured in David Blair’s book Gothic short stories (2002)?Began as part of an attempt to liberate and validate types of narrative folkloristic, mythic, supernatural that 'progress' and 'modernity' in their eighteenth century versions had tended to exclude. What separates the Gothic from any other genre is the emotional effect that is passed on to every person. It creates the effect of fear, terror, adrenaline with possibly unrealistic and frightening characters and settings, but which are enjoyable by readers.

2.5 Terror and Horror

Before making a presentation and analysis of Gothic elements in the literature, we will make a comparison between terror and horror and how it is conceived by some scholars.

According to Terry Heller, The delights of terror: an aesthetics of the tale of terror (1987), terror is the feeling of fear that something bad is about to come. He keep saying that according to him, we percept horror as an emotion that we feel when we think that something bad is going to happen to the ones we care (Heller, 1987).G. Richard Thompson, The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Romanticism (1974), expresses that terror gives us a physical and mental fear of pain, dismemberment, or death. Horror is perceived as something evil or morally repellent (Thompson, 1974). Now it is perhaps easier to analyze the feeling that transmits the elements of Gothic literature into the reader.


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The Impact of Gothic Literature on Christopher Malowe´s "Doctor Faustus"
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chrstopher, doctor, faustus, gothic, impact, literature, malowe´s
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Romina Dimo (Author), 2017, The Impact of Gothic Literature on Christopher Malowe´s "Doctor Faustus", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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