Doctor Faustus (Marlowe)
Ending in Renaissance Tragedy
Among the various definitions of tragedy, the one most commonly proffered is: a play that treats - at the most uncompromising level - human suffering, or pathos, with death being the usual conclusion. According to Aristotle's Poetics, the purpose of tragedy is to show how humans are at the mercy of fate, and to cleanse the audience by provoking extreme emotions of pity and terror. The tragic actions on the dramatic stage cause the audience to experience these extreme feelings that eventually causes a catharsis or release of these emotions, to reduce these passions to a healthy, balanced proportion.
However, the application of this definition to Renaissance tragedy is limited as it makes two over-reaching assumptions about the play, its protagonists and the audience. First, that the death of all protagonists contributing towards the drama is tragic to an equal degree, which prompts an equal level of catharsis in the audience. Does the self-purchased death of one simultaneously learned and overly ambitious Faustus solicit the same amount of catharsis and empathy as do the 'unnecessary' deaths of Cordelia, Gloucester, Lear, the Duke of Castile, Horatio, and Isabel among a host of other innocent characters whose corpses...
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