Doctor Faustus (Marlowe)

Power and the Unknown in Dr. Faustus and The Tempest College

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Shakespeare’s The Tempest present similar definitions of “power” through the differing circumstances of their protagonists. Power, in these plays, can be thought of as “control of the unknown.” If one character has control of something another character has no understanding of, the first character can gain power over the second. While Faustus and Prospero are both presented as highly educated and powerful magicians, Prospero is generally able to exert power over all The Tempest’s characters because he is constantly aware of what is happening, while the play’s other characters are unaware of what is occurring. Faustus, on the other hand, fails not because he is overly ambitious or proud, but because he believes himself to be in control while he is actually under Mephostophilis’ power, kept unaware of what is being done to him. Looked at together, the plays seem to offer an argument for prudence and caution when faced with the opportunity to gain power, rather than arguing against ambition as might be assumed in the case of Faustus.

While the plays’ plots show it is not quite so simple, both protagonists equate knowledge with power, and so pursue learning on their quest to become more powerful....

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