Dr Faustus Vs Hamlet
Good v.s. Evil or Medieval v.s. Renaissance
These were the times of confusion and change for many. The plays and art were built around the shift of medieval to renaissance. Many were trying to absorb the differences and trying to find themselves in the times. The medieval era was focused on religion, primarily Christianity, sin, and redemption. The renaissance era focused on the humanities and dealing with the interpretation of human personalities and views. Christopher Marlowe, who wrote Dr. Faustus, as well as William Shakespeare, who wrote Hamlet, did an excellent job creating what many people of those days were struggling with. In both of these plays, the authors focus on the social issues of human existence that are important to every generation… the balance between, some would say, good versus evil.
In Dr. Faustus, the protagonist has the world at his fingertips due to going from the light to the dark side. He sells his soul to Lucifer. Many times he looks back for redemption but just can’t make himself ask God for help. He has a good angel and evil angel that try to guide him. He also has peers that try to help him come back to the “good side” but Lucifer’s right hand man, Mephistopheles, convinces him it is too late for redemption. In the last hours, of the twenty-four years, he almost asks God for forgiveness. The author twists the story by saying it is too late. This story is classic for the moral issues that the people were facing at the time. They wanted to ask questions of humans and the world but were worried about upsetting the religious leaders. Dr. Faustus struggles with wanting everything he could ask for and answer all of God’s marvels of the world, however, when he had the chance all he could do was play pranks. Initially, this shows great strength on his part but in the end he lacked inner strength to finish his mission almost going crazy. He was always on the edge in fear of his decision. Many people, as well as myself, have a connection to this character because we all have felt like this at one point or another. This is why Dr. Faustus is a classic.
Hamlet had a choice of good versus evil when it came to dealing with his father’s death. When the ghost came and told him who killed his father, he didn’t know if it was a sign from God or from the devil himself. He struggled not knowing what to do with his new stepfather, king, and Uncle Claudius. He felt a pull between his Christianity and sweet revenge. When Hamlet had an opportunity to kill his beloved Uncle in prayer the good spirit came over him and he chose not to take his life. He then became very paranoid not sure who to trust even his closest friends. Hamlet became so crazy that he even doubted himself at times. The process of dealing with his father’s death, knowing the killer and choosing to let God handle it instead of taking matters into his own hands almost put him over the edge. Unfortunately, paranoia set in for both Claudius and Hamlet and they both died but Hamlet was held as a solider in the end.
The first comparative point is that of the metaphysical one. Faustus, who falls in the trap of witchcraft, is interested in controlling the world. It is known that Faustus has two angels, one on each shoulder, pulling him from good to evil. Evil prevails allowing Lucifer to capture Dr. Faustus soul. The deal consisted of Mephistopheles being Faustus servant for twenty-four years before giving himself to the devil. During this time, Mephistopheles describes hell to Faustus. He only believes it is a fable; however, has a hard time understanding his new powers if this is in fact true.
“Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one self-paced; for where we are is hell, And where hell is, there must we ever be. All places shall be hell that is not heaven.” (Marlowe, 2004, 5.120-122)
Beyond his master’s dismay, Mephistopheles a long with the good angel tries to convince Faustus not to accept Lucifer’s proposal. After he accepts, the only thing to do now is to educate Faustus on reality of hell. The metaphysical beings in this play often play an important role in Faustus decisions. This is odd because he thinks more about what they think than actual humans.
Hamlet also has an encounter with a metaphysical being. In the beginning of the play, guards as well as Hamlet, see a ghost that tells him who killed his father. Extremely upset, Hamlet tries to keep his cool and trick his Uncle into admitting his sin. The reason is that Hamlet didn’t know whether or not the ghost was good or evil. He states,
“The spirit that I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power t’assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me.” (Shakespeare, 1992, 2.2.605-10)
Both Faustus and Hamlet have choices to make by what the metaphysical beings have let them know. Good versus evil is the choice. It is not clear to either, which one would be the best for them. They both have alternative motives. Faustus wants to rule the world, while Hamlet is trying to seek emotional satisfaction due to his father’s death.
The second comparative point is the point of Christianity. It is brought up several times, and is the focus of the medieval times. Both struggle with the decision to continue against redemption.
Faustus has a hard time dealing with his eternal decision to accept Lucifer in his life. He tries several times to pray for redemption. In his last hours, he almost makes the choice and wants to ask for forgiveness but he states,
“On God, whom Faustus hath abjured! On God, whom Faustus hath blasphemed! O my God, I would weep! But the devil draws in my tears. Gush forth blood, instead of tears! Yea, life and soul! O, he stays my tongue! I would life up my hands; but see, they hold’em they hold ‘em?” (Marlowe, 2004, 5.2 249-250)
Hamlet could easily have killed Claudius but his conviction for Christianity reigned over him. The ghost tells Hamlet, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,” but for Gertrude, he says “Leave her to Heaven.” (Shakespeare, 1992, 1.5.25, 86)
No wonder Hamlet let Claudius go when he had a chance to kill him during prayer. He was worried about his eternal life.
The third comparative point to both plays has to do with the sanity of the protagonists. They both let themselves go “crazy” in a sense because of their situations.
Instead of Dr. Faustus changing the world, he settles for playing tricks on kings and nobleman. It is said because with God all is lost. Faustus travels and finds that his trickery is quite entertaining. He puts horns on Benvolio and has the Emperor to request to remove them.
“Then, good Master Doctor, Let me entreat you to remove his horns; He has done penance now sufficiently.” (Marlowe, 2004, 4.2 169-171)
Hamlet also went crazy to a certain extent. He claims,
“Bring me to the test, And I the matter will reword, which madness would gambol at.” (Shakespeare, 1992, 3.4.143-4)
Hamlet denied that his was melancholy at the time but then started to convince himself later in the play.
“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, foregone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with me that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestically roof, fretted with golden fire, why it appeared nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors” (Shakespeare, 1992, 2.2.303-311)
Hamlet struggled with patience of God judging Claudius and the sweet blood revenge. It eventually sent him over the edge.
In conclusion, both characters in the plays struggled with the eternal choices they had to make here on Earth. They both had a metaphysical being drive them to look at their Christianity in a different light and eventually drove them insane. These plays created back in the early 1500’s are still classics today because people to this day struggle with the same issues. That is what makes both of these plays classics.
Marlowe, C. (2004). Dr. Faustus. United States: Neeland Media, LLC.
Shakespeare, W. (1992). Hamlet. New York: Washington Square Press.