Understanding the structure of Faustus

Understanding the structure of Faustus
Essential questions
1. How far might you consider Faustus to be a morality play influenced and shaped by
Renaissance ideas?
2. What is the relation of the main plot to the scenes of ‘low comedy’?
3. How is tension built and sustained in the play?
Elements of morality plays
Popular from the early 1400s to the 1580s.
Morality plays were about the fate of a single individual’s soul.
The main character represented all men and often had a name such as Mankind or
Everyman to demonstrate their allegorical function.
They include vice and temptation characters attempt to corrupt the Everyman figure.
Allegorical characters also represent virtues. The ‘Everyman’ character listens to them
and takes note of warnings, often returning briefly to his ‘good’ lifestyle.
A reform/relapse pattern is repeated several times.
Through a series of blunders and moral lessons the hero is gradually educated into an
understanding of the difference between right and wrong and the nature of god.
At the end, the main character settles his accounts with God and either lives or dies
forgiven and Christian. He is wiser and better at the end of the play.
A chorus, such as the Messenger and Doctor characters in Everyman, is used to
comment on and explain the action for the audience.
Read the elements above and discuss and make notes on the following questions.
a) Which of these elements can be found in Faustus? Create a chart showing the
similarities and differences.
b) Can the play be understood entirely or in part as an allegorical moral lesson?
c) If so, how does this affect your appreciation of it as a reader/audience member?
d) Read the information on Renaissance plays and discuss what this contributes to
your understanding.
© www.teachit.co.uk 2009
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Understanding the structure of Faustus
Elements of Renaissance plays
Contain soliloquies in which a highly distinct self reflects upon his own desires and
Celebrate the scope of human powers while acknowledging their boundaries; there is a
duality at work which praises man’s creative powers (by implication also those of the
poet, or author) but concedes that man is not God and that ultimately all his powers
derive from God.
They begin to refer to the new countries and things being discovered by explorers,
mentioning exotic settings and transporting their audiences around the world.
Renaissance ideas
The body and soul are separate and linked with different elements and humours.
Catholicism was banned in England and the Pope was considered the antichrist by
Renaissance scholars studied classical literature, including Roman and Greek
philosophy. Discussion of what it meant to be human centred on reason, balance and
dignity - much more individualistic than medieval scholastic thinking.
The humanist attitude to the world was anthropocentric: instead of regarding humanity
as fallen and corrupt, their idea of truth and excellence was based on human values and
experience; people openly questioned religious theology and teaching.
The world was dynamic, changing and exciting. Plays explored the many contrasts
between how people should behave and how they actually do, and the questions and
contradictions thrown up by a changing world.
1. Create a map of the play. Transform the list of scenes into a visual record which:
highlights the difference between comic and serious scenes; identifies the plot
structure; and records the level of tension in each scene. Leave space to add more
2. Consider one comic scene in your group. What does the scene illuminate about
Faustus’s character and bargain? What does it repeat or foreshadow? What
function does it serve? Share your ideas with the class and note them on your plot
3. Identify the moment when Faustus begins to be part of the comic subplot scenes.
What is the effect of this?
4. Show the passage of time in the play.
© www.teachit.co.uk 2009
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