Faustus and Renaissance Anxiety: Marlowe's Approach to the Humanity/Divinity Debate

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For modern scholars, the Renaissance is an era marked by the rebirth of classical ideas, the first step out of the dark ages. It was not an era devoid of shadows, however. The Renaissance was also a period marred by an obsession with death. This morbid preoccupation with death is self evident in many famous works of art and literature dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries. It was also an era deeply imbued with the debate between the Humanity and Divinity. It is within this context that Christopher Marlowe wrote the Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, a play that brilliantly showcases his Marlovian ambiguity. By examining Marlowe's Faustus and contrasting with his source material, we will see how social anxiety and ideological debates are represented within his tragedy. In the article "Death and the Devil" Lynn White, Jr. describes the Renaissance as "the most psychically disturbed era in European history," insisting that European societies during this time displayed an irrationality that "was symptomatic of abnormal anxiety," an anxiety that "arose from an ever increasing velocity of cultural change" (26). This cultural change was spurned by the secular shift from faith to reason, the abrupt acquisition of classical knowledge, and religious reformation. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, illustrates one man's personal struggle with these anxieties. As Charles G. Masinton notes, Christopher Marlowe creates "a man typical of the Renaissance . . . because his tragedy occurs as a consequence of possessing too much knowledge" (115). "Philosophy is odious and obscure" During the middle ages, there was but one church, the Roman Catholic Church, and any form of doctrinal disagreement was labeled as atheism. This hard-line approach did not allow gradual evolution from within, forcing a drastic reformation by those who would be excommunicated. The new

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