Faustus is the sort of personage of whom Aristotle would have approved as the hero of a tragedy. Aristotle’s conception of a tragic hero was that of a man essentially human and noble but led astray by some excusable vice or error. Marlowe’s public would see in Faustus a man and a Christian like themselves, carried too far by ambition and the love of pleasure. He is no radical unbeliever, no natural mate for the devil; he is not conscienceless, nor is he a heathen. On the contrary, he is a good Protestant and holds manfully to all those parts of the creed which express his spontaneous affections. A good angel is often overheard whispering in his ear, and if the evil angel finally prevails, it is in spite of continual remorse and hesitation on Faustus’ s part. This excellent Faustus is damned by accident or by predestination; he is brow-beaten by the devil and forbidden to repent when he has really repented. The terror of the conclusion is thereby heightened; we see an essentially good man driven against his will to despair and damnation because, in a moment of infatuation, he had signed his soul away.
Faustus is an individual even though he may be regarded as representing a class or type. As a representative of a class or type, he is the young extremist, eager and buoyant, with a brilliantly energetic and enquiring mind, intoxicated by his enthusiasm, rash in his dislikes, and fundamentally superficial in both. But the character develops. After the scene at the Pope’s court, the boyish quality disappears, and there is a sense of aging. The keynote of the weak Vanholt scene is its courtesy. In this scene, and the later scene with the scholars we admire a quieter and more mature Faustus. As in the beginning, he was placed in a relationship of youth with age by the “sage conference’ of Valdes and Cornelius, so in the last Act, he is felt to be a senior man in the company of the Scholars. His sheer energy has declined. He wishes to calm his passions with a quiet sleep, and his sights in the last scene with the scholars clearly show a weakening of his vitality. But in all these things he is still, partly, representative. In other respects, he is a very unusual man indeed.
Faustus is a chaos of will-power and impotence. His proud and aspiring nature is expressed in the lines in which he talks about his dominion stretching “as far as doth the mind of man”. The mind of man is the nearest thing in creation to infinity. But it is checked by Nature. Man is limited not by his own nature, but by the nature of the world that encloses him. Man’s pride in his potentialities quickly changes to despair at his limitations: “Yet art thou still but Faustus, and a man.” There are extreme swings of the pendulum in Faustus between contemptuous pride and incredulous despair. There is a fundamental instability in him. He sees the will as the ultimate power within man, but he also morbidly suspects the will to be illusory and governed by something outside itself.
Faustus is not the victim of a straightforward temptation: he is in danger of persecution at the beginning from nothing but his own sense of frustration. It can be argued that this is only a subtle form of temptation. But that would be a sophisticated way of arguing. If a person yields to a temptation, it would mean a failure of his will-power. Faustus’s self-damnation is due, not to a failure of his will-power. but to an assertion of his will-power. And he accuses Mephistophilis of being feeble (when Mephistophilis dwells upon the tortures which he has to undergo as a result of his fall from heaven). Faustus voluntarıly chooses hell instead of heaven, with full knowledge of all that it means. It would thus seem that Marlowe has, in this play, inverted the Morality structure. ln a Morality play, an innocent man is tempted by evil. But in this play, Faustus damns himself by his own choice. If he faces any temptation, it is a temptation of the opposite kind, namely the temptation to
repent. Faustus’s hell is not at first a place of torture. It is hell only in that it is the absence of heaven. It is an extreme of anti-God. The foundation of Marlowe’s philosophical position is that man has certain over-riding desires whose realısation is denied by any form of servitude, and that the scheme of things as laid down by God demands servitude.