The term “Renaissance” denotes “rebirth”. From ‘Renaissance Man’, we think of an individual who expanded an extensive breadth of learning across various fields. Generally a renaissance man desired to absorb every branch of knowledge such as science, art, religion etc. Francis Bacon and Da Vinci are perhaps the best examples of Renaissance man. Before the Renaissance, Christian theology and religious beliefs were dominating a lot in the Middle Ages.
But in the Renaissance, there was a major shift in human perspective. This period was noticeable for characteristics such as yearning for knowledge and extreme power, renewed enthusiasm for classicism, the birth of individualism, passion for beauty, etc. Since Marlowe was also a dramatist of the Renaissance period, it is apparent that his play “Doctor Faustus” would also include Renaissance tendencies.
Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” has often been understood as portraying conflict between the principles of the medieval world and the growing enthusiasm of the 16th century Renaissance. In the Medieval world, religion and religious beliefs were placed at the heart of scholarly life, and scientific analysis declined. If we talk about medieval art and literature then the focus was on the lives of holy men and God, in place of those of common people. But as the Renaissance spirit started to flourish in the 16th century, importance was also given to free will and scientific inquiries. With his denial of God’s ascendancy and his desire for knowledge, Faustus personifies the nonreligious and nonspiritual spirit of the Renaissance.
Marlowe’s tragic heroes:
We can see renaissance spirit in not only Doctor Faustus but also in other characters of Marlowe. Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine”, who aspired to have a lot of power, not only rejected all the authorities of this earth but also that of heaven. The protagonist of Marlowe’s “Jew of Malta“, Barabas was governed by a ridiculous desire for gold, and Marlowe’s “Edward II” and Mortimer suffer a great deal, Edward II for his love for his base minions and Mortimer for his excessive desire for power.
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Passion for materialist pleasures and wealth:
The aspiration for materialistic pleasures and wealth is one of the main characteristics of a renaissance man. After Faustus signs a contract with the devil, Faustus would have spirits who would act in accordance with his instructions. Faustus would command them to bring the most valuable things in the world such as gold, pearls and delicacies. Accordingly, Faustus would have enough strength and wealth so that he can experience all the materialistic pleasures. As a man of the renaissance, Faustus also desired to explore the globe. Thereby, with the support of Mephistophilis, he traveled across the world.
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Faustus’s desire for knowledge:
Faustus’s extreme desire for knowledge, his never-ending curiosity, and his yearning for power make Faustus a typical renaissance man. For Faustus, logic, medicine, metaphysics etc. do not hold any importance because they can offer us only learning, not power. So Faustus chooses to master magic and starts to study necromantic books. So with necromantic books and with the knowledge of magic, Faustus wishes to obtain ‘knowledge infinite’.
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As a Renaissance man, Faustus wishes to gain unlimited knowledge but as we all know man by its nature is limited. A man cannot know everything and that is why Faustus will without exception be restricted in his capabilities. The one thing Faustus wanted was unlimited power and knowledge and he was willing to do anything for it. He even went so far as to sell his soul to the devil for twenty four years of power.
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Individualism is another important aspect of the Renaissance. Individualism creates a sense of rebellion in the mind so that it can liberate man from the fetters and customs of Church and Feudalism. Faustus questioned Christianity with his knowledge of magic and embraced evil. Faustus not only showed his rejection by signing a twenty-four-year contract with the devil, but Faustus also ridiculed Pope and the monk. As a renaissance man, Faustus is also an individualistic and domineering kind of protagonist. Faustus does not pay much attention to what others are saying but does what he likes. He is very determined in his decision on the deal of the soul to evil, as Faustus turns a deaf ear to the sincere pleading of the Good Angel.
Renaissance spirit of Love for Beauty:
Apart from strength, knowledge, and materialistic gratification, love for beauty is also one of the important characteristics of a renaissance man. As a renaissance man, Faustus admires the beauty of Helen. Faustus feels that with a kiss from Helen, he will get to heaven. The Renaissance was noticeable by a great attentiveness in the perceptible world and in the knowledge that originates from senses. Thus, like a renaissance man, Doctor Faustus is also alight with sensory pleasure when he states these lines:
“Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium ?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.” (Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe)
In the end, we can say that the character of Faustus is a perfect example of the renaissance man because of his desire for knowledge and power, passion for materialist pleasure and wealth, his love for beauty, and lastly his conscious rebel against the moral and religious ideals.
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