Discuss Dr. Faustus as a tragic character


A tragic character is one who is decorated with hamartia or tragic fault and rises pity and fear within the audience. Dr. Faustus who is the protagonist of Christopher Marlowe’s (1564-93) tragedy “Doctor Faustus” is an emblem of modern concept of tragic figure.

Level of nature and birth

Level of nature means how the tragic character should be. Aristotle recommends that a tragic character must be a person of average class. He must not be so good or bad. Dr. Faustus is not so good and so bad. He stays at the middle term. Personified Good Angel and Bad Angel is symbol of his middle term heart. The matter of fact is that Dr. Faustus does not belong to high class. Rather, he belongs to middle class family. But he is a perfect paradigm of tragic character since rest of the fundamental features are well matched with him.

More Notes: Dr. Faustus

Tragic fault

The tragic fault causes the downfall of the hero. It indicates the three facts such as ignorance of circumstances, error of judgement and voluntary commitment for error. Dr. Faustus has a tragic flaw that is his high ambition. Thus, Marlowe is influential on Shakespeare in respect of creating tragic figure since Macbeth is akin to Faustus though the background is different.

Excessive pride and disrespect for natural order

At the outset, Faustus is shown as a man of excessive pride. He has gained knowledge on sundry branches such as philosophy, theology, medicine etc. He takes pride in his expertise and laments that his knowledge has brought nothing for him. He violates the natural order of his life and determines to practice necromancy or black magic so that he can dominate the world according to his intention.

Reversal of fate

Peripeteia or reversal of fate is one of the key features of tragic hero. In the tragedy, Marlowe has represented Faustus’ life cycle from misery to happiness to complete damnation. This life cycle is the perfect paradigm of reversal of fate. As a versatile scholar, Faustus is a very prestigious man of Germany but he himself is not satisfied at all. He wants power, money and fame that is why he decides to practice black magic. With the help of his two German friends Valdes and Cornelius, he gets his expertise on black magic and summons the servant of Lucifer namely Mephistopheles.

I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command,

Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere,

Or the ocean to overwhelm the world.

Mephistophilis eventually becomes his servant for twenty-four years but the condition is provided by him to Faustus that Faustus must sell his soul to Lucifer permanently. In return, he will get supreme power. This allures Faustus utmost, but he forgets the final damnation.

I charge thee wait upon me whilst I live,

To do whatever Faustus shall command,

Be it to make the moon drop from her sphere,

Or the ocean to overwhelm the world.”

Punishment and suffering

A tragic character suffers a lot because of hamartia and hubris. Dr. Faustus is no exception. He gets his reward of evil practice by the end of the play. Before his complete ruin, he is to suffer a lot. His sufferings are proven by his fear of hell. To get rid of his anguish, he finally makes mistake and orders his servant to bring Helen.

Sweet Helen makes me immortal with a kiss!

Her lips suck forth my soul see where it flies!

Pity and fear

Faustus damnation is really heart touching. A scholar who has versatile wisdoms collapses completely. He can be the asset of the world, but his road of life diversifies him from the perfect level of life to heinous one. He receives a terrible death because, after his death, his body has been chopped into pieces. It is believed that audience leave theatre with tears since they thought that Faustus’ damnation is purified because he was influenced by his ill-natured friends to start his journey of life in the path of evil.


From the light of the above discussion, it is vivid and transparent that Dr. Faustus is tragic character like Oedipus, Agamemnon, Hamlet, Othello and certainly Macbeth although he lacks high birth or noble blood. And Marlowe is the pioneer of modern concept of tragic character.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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