Renaissance which literally means re-birth or re-awakening ,is the name of a Europe-wide movement which closed the trammels and conventions of the Mediaeval age, and makes for liberation in all aspects of life and culture. There was a shift from heavenly to earthly life. Wealth, knowledge and power of knowledge were the touchstones for the Renaissance man on which he judged and gauged each and everything. The main ingredients of this new spirit were individualism and worldliness. These two traits found manifestation in many forms such as:
1. Yearning for knowledge
2. Learning without fetters
3. Love of beauty
4. Hankering after sensual pleasures of life
5. Spirit of adventure
6. High ambition
7. Lust for power and pelf
Though the influence of the spirit of the Renaissance marks all the writers of the later half of the age of Elizabeth—- in poetry, drama and prose romances and novels, that influence can be seen working with particular force on Marlowe and his fellows who together are called the “University Wits”. Of them again, the writings of Marlowe are the most prominent embodiment of the spirit of the renaissance. Generally speaking, Marlowe himself is the spirit of the renaissance incarnate. In the conception of the central characters of his dramas, he is impelled by the renaissance spirit for unlimited powers, unlimited knowledge for the sake of power, unlimited wealth, again, for the sake of power. On the aesthetic side, love of physical beauty, unbounded desire of love for the pleasures of the senses, infinite longing for truth are the characteristics of the imaginative life which glittered before his eyes in that great age of daring adventures. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is the representative of the Renaissance and reflects the contemporary problems of life.
Doctor Faustus being the product of Renaissance and the mouthpiece of Marlowe is dissatisfied with the conventional sphere of knowledge. He has a towering ambition to become a deity. The knowledge of logic, medicine, law and divinity are insufficient for him as he says:
“Philosophy is odious and obscure,
Both law and physic are for petty wits,
Divinity is basest of the three.”
He wants to attain super human power, like Renaissance man, which can
only be gained by necromancy. For him “A sound magician is mighty God”.
So he declares his intention in these words: “Here, Faustus, tire thy brain to
gain a deity.”
There was, an intellectual curiosity during the Renaissance: The new discoveries in science and developments in technology went beyond mere material advances. I t was a youthful age to which nothing seems impossible. Before the European, this period opened a new world of imagination. All these things stirred men’s imagination and led them to believe that the infinite was attainable. I n Dr. Faustus, Marlowe has expressed such ideas, when Faustus says:
“All things that move between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command:”
In fact, Marlowe was profoundly influenced my Machiavelli (1469-1527), the famous I talian writer, who disregarded all the conventional, moral principles to achieve the ends by any fair or foul means. The ambition of Marlowe led him to rebel against God and religion and to defy the laws of society and man. His refusal is bound to bring mental conflict which results in deep despair and defeat both Marlowe and Faustus.
Dr. Faustus makes a bargain with the devil to achieve his goal. He is ready to pay any price for the attainment of his purpose. Although, his conscience pricks him and there are Good and Evil angels who warn him against the danger of damnation, yet he cannot resist the temptation as Evil angel says:
“Be thou on earth as Jove in the sky,
Lord and commander of these elements.”
And then, Dr. Faustus, as the true embodiment of Renaissance spirit, starts dreaming of gaining super-human powers and performing miraculous deeds with the help of the spirits raised by him,
“I’ll have them fly to I ndia for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
I ’ll have them read me strange philosophy,And tell the secrets of all foreign kings.”
All these proud assertions clearly show Faustus’ Renaissance spirit of adventure and supreme craze for knowledge and power without any limit. And finally, we find Faustus discarding God and defying all religious and moral principles, when he sells his soul to the devil to master all knowledge and to gain limitless powers. He says:
“Ay and Faustus will turn to God again: To, God? He loves thee not’
The God thou serv’st is thine own appetite.”
To Faustus, knowledge means power and its power that will enable him to gratify the sensual pleasure of life like the man of Renaissance; he is a worshipper of beauty. That is why just after making the agreement with the devil for twenty four years of worldly pleasures, and his first desire is that of the most beautiful woman. He asks Mephistophilis:
“Let me have a wife, The fairest maid in Germany.
For I am wanton and lascivious,
And can not live with-out a wife.”
Faustus’s keen longing to have Helen and to find Heaven in her lips reveal his supreme love of beauty and yearning for sensuous pleasures. The magnificent apostrophe to Helen in the most inspired and lyrical passage of the play wonderfully illustrates the Renaissance spirit of love and adoration for classical beauty as well as urge for romance and mighty adventures.
“Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss! — Her lips suck forth my soul; See where flies it! —
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again,
Here will I Dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all in dross that is not Helena.”
After completing the period of twenty four years, Faustus comes to his tragic end. I n the last moment, he learns that supernatural powers are reserved for the gods and the man who attempts to handle or deal in magical powers must face eternal damnation. He repents of his deeds but it is absolutely of no avail.
Some of the critics are of the opinion that Marlowe in his Dr. Faustus wanted to resist the old religious ideas along with the new ones. He emphasized upon the people that religion could not be completely ignored. Dr. Faustus tried to gain everything possible in his temporary world neglecting religion, but at last, he was damned forever and deprived of heaven. Another group of critics says that free play of man in this world is limited by God. I f a man tries to cross limits, he will be damned, and thrown into hell. Hence according to them God is jealous of man and does not want that man should stand equal to him. So Marlowe revolted against this injustice of God in the person of Dr. Faustus. But he had to end his play with this advice:
“Faustus is gone; regard this hellish fall, Whose fiendish fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly powers permits.”
M. Zammad Aslam