Irresoluteness in Hamlet and Dr. Faustus
Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe are masterpieces of English Literature from Elizabethan age. Both these plays are catastrophes in the true sense of Aristotelian tragedy.
I have picked these two plays for my compare and contrast essay. Both Hamlet and Faustus share particular similarities of character, personality and the scenario in which they are placed. Beside these commonalities, they have differences also. The primary of the commonalties, is their bigger than life characterization and their terrible defects.
Hamlet is a character of bigger than life character. He is a character of amazing complexity and depth. Like other terrible heroes of Shakespeare he is also endowed with remarkable qualities like royal birth, graceful and charming character amongst his own fellow citizens. He has a high intellectual quality as Ophelia observes:
O what a noble mind is here toppled!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
Th’ span and increased of the reasonable state,
The glass of fashion, and the mould of kind,
Th’ observed of all observers. [Act III, Scene I]
Dr. Faustus is likewise a bigger than life character. He is an embodiment of the rebellious, non-conformist and non-conventional spirit and thought of the romantic period. His eloquence and intelligence is matchless. In addition he is an egotistic, superior, and commanding character, having strong decision and personality who might rebel versus the recognized standards and laws of society.
He had the capability to manipulate the situation in his favor by making use of the great strength of knowledge as compared to strength and power of standard hero. His higher psychological power and knowledge led him to think that ‘mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a Heav ‘n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.’ (Milton) His chief goal stays experimentation with the ideals rather than conventionalities.
So above pointed out arguments and proofs reveal that both Hamlet and Faustus are bigger than life characters. And both of them suffer due to his individualistic way of believing and acting. They are disinclined to surrender their egotism and liberty according to the recognized standards and wills of others. Their grand persona lead them to their destruction i.e. Hamlet to death and Faustus to ultimate and everlasting damnation.
Additionally some fundamental flaws in their characters lead them to their supreme decrease. The tragic flaw in the character of Hamlet is that he thinks too much and feels excessive. He is often disturbed by his own nature of ‘self analyses’. What is required of Hamlet is prompt action, whereas he broods over the ethical idealism which causes his hold-up in action.
When he gets an opportunity to kill Claudius, he puts aside the thought since he can not strike an enemy while he is at prayer. Several causes account for his inaction. By nature he is vulnerable to believe instead of to act. He is a male of morals and his moral idealism gets a shock when his mother remarries Claudius after his dad’s death.
Opportunity too plays a vital part in shaping his character. Chance positions him in such a position in which he is incapable of doing anything. His irresoluteness is clearly displayed in these lines;
How all celebrations do inform versus me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his primary excellent and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. (Act4, Scene 4, Lines: 32-35)
Faustus is also persistently unresolved about his repentance. He is not able to decide whether he should be penitent and go back to God or need to go along the method of Lucifer. His inner struggle dominates throughout the play. This not only shows his irresoluteness however his duality of nature like hamlet.
His ambivalence is that on one side he wishes to serve God and wishes to follow his course but he more prospective and stronger side hankers after powers that Mephistopheles promises. Marlowe has perfectly shown this uncertainty by illustrating the great angel and the evil angel, both of whom appear at Faustus’ should.
A crucial contrast between these two plays is their adherence or non-adherence to the principle of renaissance humanism. Renaissance humanism is referred to as:
… Renaissance humanists tended to stress the values attainable by human beings in this world, and to decrease the earlier Christian emphasis on innate corruption and on the suitables of asceticism and of withdrawal from this world in a preoccupation with the world hereafter. (p. 83)
Shakespeare does not follow the renaissance humanism and to the prevailing Christian thought and customs. He says in this regard; ‘what a piece of work is man/ How worthy in factor, how boundless in faculty’ (Act II, scene II)
Whereas Marlowe likewise follows the exact same course and does not stick to this type of humanism. Discussing the Faustian anti-humanism notions, John Larson states:
Christopher Marlowe was not a Humanist, as evidenced by how plainly the tragedy that was Dr. Faustus exemplified the failure of a humanist and strengthened styles which conflicted with the standard tenets provided by Renaissance Humanism.
If this reading is to be believed, the man was in reality violently and smartly opposed to it. It is challenging to picture a more effective and extensive attack on the mentality and methodology of the humanist than Dr. Faustus.
Both plays take into account the tragic decrease of these bigger than life characters. Additionally these plays manifest that awful heroes of these plays are owner of some awful defects e.g. their irresoluteness due to some inherent flaw in their character or some habitual formations.
H. Abram’s A Glossary of Literary Terms