Dr. Faustus as a tragic hero

Dr. Faustus is the protagonist and tragic hero of Christopher Marlow’s play Dr. Faustus, which is also called The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. Christopher Marlowe is one of the most famous playwrights of the Renaissance period. This period is also called the ‘Elizabeth Age’. Dr. Faustus is one of his famous plays. It was probably written in 1592, a year before he died, and published in 1604.


Tragic Hero:

Aristotle defined a tragic hero in his Poetics as "a tragic hero must have noble character (spoudaios), he should have a tragic flaw (hamartia), which brings his downfall, and the audiences should feel pity and fear (katharsis) with his downfall."


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Let us discuss and analyze Dr. Faustus as a tragic hero:

Spoudaios (Noble Character): A tragic hero should have a noble character or higher status. He should be morally determined, not socially. In the play, Faustus does not belong to a noble family, but he has the ability in his character to be a tragic hero. He goes to Wittenberg to pursue his higher studies. There, he achieves master's degrees in law, philosophy, medicine, and theology. Due to his knowledge, he is honored and respected by his friends and the people. Although he does not belong to a higher social class, because of his knowledge and abilities, he is to be called a tragic hero.

Hamartia (tragic flaw): Hamartia, or tragic flaw, means ‘to err, to mistake, or to fail’. The protagonist in a tragedy must make a moral error or mistake, and for this, he receives his punishment. In the play, Faustus is an intelligent and knowledgeable person. He has mastered many subjects, but he is not satisfied with them. He says,

"Philosophy is odious and obscure;

Both law and physics are petty and witless."

He wants more power and knowledge. Therefore, he decides to study the black art of necromancy (black magic). He sells his soul to the devil in return for superpowers for a period of twenty-four years. Once the period is completed, the devil comes to him and snatches his soul from his body, which causes his fearful death. Here, we see that Faustus dies in a destructive way because of his mistaken judgment and misuse of his knowledge. It is another reason to call Faustus a tragic hero.

Katharsis (Pity and Fear/Terror): Pity and fear are aroused by the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy. In the last moment of the play, the audience and the readers feel pity and fear over the death of Faustus. If we see and read cautiously, we really feel a sense of pity and fear for him. It is certainly pitiful and merciful that a great philosopher dies destructively because of a simple mistake.

In conclusion, we can say that Faustus almost has the ability to be called a tragic hero. We have learned many morals from Faustus. The most important moral we can learn is that having high pride and excessive desirableness is horrible and destructive. But it does not mean that one should not thirst for knowledge.



1. Dr. K.N. Khandelwal, Doctor Faustus, Lakshmi Narain Agarwal, India.

2. M.S. Nagarajan (2006), English Literary Criticism and Theory: An Introductory History, Orient BlackSwan, India.

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