Tag Archives: Tragedy

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overly Ambitious Fool?

Scholarly Origins

Faustus is a scholar who debates between following good and evil but ultimately is won over by greed. Both a good angel and a bad angel influence him. They give him the same amount of advice. However, in heaven Faustus finds nothing of interests. In hell he finds riches and most of all knowledge. I believe that it is Faustus’s thirst for knowledge that truly drives him to seek out the dark arts.

Faustus’s Thirst for Knowledge

Faustus has been brought up as a scholar. He has excelled in his studies and has earned the name of Doctor. Faustus is skilled in many languages and is competent in many subjects such as physics and mathematics. However, he is dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge available to him.  I think that Faustus definitely equates knowledge with power. He wants to become a more powerful man and therefore thirsts for the next thing to boost his worth. The good angel implies that Faustus was once involved in theology. However, even then he scorns divinity and turns to magic to solve his problems. He wants riches, but even more he wants to be able to control spirits.

Link to Genesis

When Faustus is turned towards the dark arts, he appears to be mirroring the events inGenesis that led Adam to taste of the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mephistopheles and the serpent appear to be the same force of temptation. They are both sneaky and cleaver and have the ability to influence others. While both Adam and Faustus learn great knowledge after turning their backs to god, they regret it in the end. Also, they are both punished severely. All of these links between Genesis and Dr. Faustus appear to have been made intentionally by Marlowe.

Faustus’s Tragic Flaw

Faustus shares many qualities with the heroes of Greek tragic. First off, he is grand. He sells his soul to Lucifer which an act that rivals Oedipus gouging his eyes or Heracles killing his family. Also, he has a tragic flaw, which is his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Like Prometheus, he doesn’t think ahead to way the consequences of his actions with the immediate benefit of the act. For example, he sells his soul to Lucifer in order to gain immediate power for twenty-four years and yet he once the term is over he will regret making this grim deal.

Evil’s Appeal

Faustus believes that he has nothing to gain from attempting to gain entry into heaven. Although he listens to both the angel of good and the angel of evil he is more persuaded by the evil angel. This is because the evil angel tells him what he wants to hear. He lures him in with stories of knowledge and power. Faustus is not made of strong moral fiber. Others easily persuade him.  Also, Lucifer acts almost comical when he comes to visit Faustus. He puts on a show and definitely appears as an entertainer. His theatrical personality also serves to lure in Faustus.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overambitious Fool

Especially in an academic setting, it is difficult to blame Faustus when his only crime is to want to have more knowledge. He has basically read all the books and is eager to
transcend the boundary of current human knowledge. Understandably, some may view him as a hero for pursuing his passion despite the cost. However, I believe that in the end Faustus is an extremely flawed character. He is unable to feel content with what he has. He has a high position in society, and because of his doctorate he should also be well of financially. Perhaps Faustus serves as a metaphor for something that is overambitious to the point of being greedy and gluttonous.  Depending, on your personal perspective, you may choose to see him as a hero or a fool or something else entirely.

How would you describe Faustus?

Othello: Venetian Hero?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term hero is another way of saying submarine sandwich, but more importantly for this blog post, a hero is “a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities… the chief male character in a book, play or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.” While Othello may not end in the happiest of ways, upon evaluating his life’s work (as Othello does himself in act 5.2), it can be said that Othello was a virtuous man of strong moral conviction, and while it led to his demise, many who were surrounded by Othello over the course of the play admired him.


Othello states that he had “done the state some service (5.2 line 338),” as we must assume due to his position as a general of the Venetian army from the onset of the play. From Iago’s complaints at the beginning of the play, we can figure that politics are behind all choices regarding the military. Despite the fact that “three great ones in personal suit” tried to convince Othello to pick Iago to become the next first lieutenant, Othello chooses otherwise, much to Iago’s dismay: “But [Othello]—As loving his own pride and purposes—evades [my advocates] with a bombast circumstance, horrible stuffed with epithets of war, and in conclusion non-suits my mediators (1.1 line 7).” All of this, including the fact that the person who beats Iago out for the job has “never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster [meaning: an old woman without children who has never married].” Looking past the anger of Iago’s words, readers can observe that he still makes valid points that attest to the fact that decisions of this nature have more to do with personal connections rather than the level of an individual’s experience. It is then all the more admirable that Othello manages to reach such a high post in the Venetian military in the face of all of the racism he deals with. Seeing how blatantly disrespectful the Venetian people are towards him long after he has achieved this high post, one can only imagine the racism he dealt with before his many promotions. So let’s check a few things from our hero qualifications list: Othello is a man who was almost certainly admired or idealized for his courage and/or outstanding achievements in war, and his noble qualities may be what got him to the position of general in the first place.

But why should we, the readers, be sympathizing with him? Because, similar to another one of our favorite heroes, he unknowingly commits crime and fulfills the low predictions people hold for his existence. It was said outright to Oedipus in Oedipus the King that he would kill his father and marry his mother, compared to the discreet jabs taken by characters at Othello throughout the play: “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe if he can carry’t thus?(1.1, line 66)” And how could we forget about Brabantio’s refusal to believe that Othello managed to court his daughter Desdemona in a sober state of mind? He would rather attribute Othello’s marriage to Desdemona to her being bound “in chains of magic (1.2, line 63).” Getting back to the point, though, after Othello does lose the composure that we come to know him by, he kills Desdemona after being falsely led to believe that she has cheated on him. Not too long after killing her on their marriage bed, Othello discovers that Iago lied to him the entire time. No longer justified by revenge for Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello finds himself guilty of murder. And so Oedipus and Othello’s paths converge, in their harsh self-imposed punishments: Oedipus gouges out his own eyes, and Othello stabs himself fatally. Many in our preceptorial class have sympathized with Oedipus, due to the fact that his crimes were committed unknowingly. It is not so cut and dry in Othello, because he still did kill a woman, regardless of whether or not Desdemona cheated on him. A definition for hero that we pondered with in class was that a hero was somebody capable of showing unique traits or powers. Having the poise to kill oneself on one’s own accord and choice (unlike Oedipus who essentially had no choice) is a trait that not many possess.

Going back to our Oxford definition (the non food related one)… it states that readers are expected to sympathize with the hero in question, but we certainly don’t have to. Regardless, Othello’s legend lives on for what is believed to be over 400 years later. The fact that we as readers can still evaluate and discuss Othello’s life all of these years later is proof enough that he belongs in the same discussion as Oedipus, Prometheus and countless other literary heroes.

What are your thoughts? Is Othello a hero in your mind?


Othello the Moor: the “race” for “sex”

Prepare for run-on sentences guys.

Staying true to Shakespearean writing, I find Othello being of no exception, to be extremely allegorical. Even throughout the first 3 Acts there are hints towards issues and underlying themes of racism, sexism, and social class. Initially we learn that Iago is upset (to put it lightly) at Othello. Regardless of suspicion that Othello may or may not have slept with Emilia, his anger is fueled by the fact that Othello has given Michael Cassio the promotion that he felt he deserved. hmmmm? We notice Cassio being described as a Florentine, a foreigner, a mathematician, but of course no soldier like Iago. (anything yet?) Might this have been a contributing factor to why he was given the job over Iago? Not convinced yet..? fair enough! Upon Desdemona and Emilia’s arrival to Cyprus, Cassio greets them warmly with kisses and tells Iago that “tis my breeding that gives this bold show of courtesy”. The idea that it it’s his upbringing, his CLASS that propels him to act in this uppity way. I feel as though these differences are those which distinguish a Florentine smooth-talker like Cassio from a more soldierly Iago, therefore placing Cassio a step above Iago on the social ladder. Of course both men are considered “the elite” or the uperclass in this case but I feel as though this is definitely intentional. Another, more subtle example occurs when Iago goes on his rant about women, in essence, being good for nothing. (sexist right?) I find it quite interesting that although Emilia does not respond, Desdemona does. We know that Desdemona comes from a wealthy family, and so might be considered of higher class than both Iago and Emilia. Therefore not only would she not at all feel obligated to submissively listen to Iago’s opinion, but is also confident enough to retort and engage in conversation even though her husband is absent. Perhaps this exchange would not at all be possible is Desdemona were not of a certain status, keeping in mind she is the Boss’s wife of course. (its levels to this….)

Moving  on past Iago’s Chauvinism and Cassio’s possible class related promotion, there is the more obvious race thing. Race is real, just as it is today, it was than. We are confronted with these initial slight ( sometimes not so slight) instances of racism in both the diction used as well the ideology present within a couple characters. Apart from the examples we mentioned in class like Othello being refereed to as the Black ram tuppling Brabantio’s white ewe, did anyone notice that Othello is not even referred to by name until they get to the duke.(a man fair and who respects Othello). Here is this successful war hero, seems to be pretty well known and even financially well-off, yet those that mention him can’t even muster up enough respect to say his name. I feel as though this is a much more ideological racism being that it is not so much as stated as it is an assumed norm. Also when Brabantio learns that his beloved Desdemona has run off with a black man, he immediately assumes foul play, that which craft or some other mind-altering tool must have been used because no way his white pure, wholesome, christian daughter would fall for the black, moor.

Proposed in class what was the question of whether or not the antisemitic nature of this Shakespearean work affirms the beliefs and ideals of Shakespeare or do they acquit him of this rather sickening way of thinking. Although, I do believe that we must read Othello in totality and I personally must read more Shakespearean literature to accurately answer this question….. for the sake of a good time… I’ll give it a shot. (hopefully you guys follow up)                                                                                      Regardless of weather or not Shakespeare himself agrees with the ideals of his characters, the fact that he implemented these themes in his art shows that he is most definitely aware of these issues and therefore has an opinion. Perhaps in ‘publicizing” the nature of racism and sexism in a bit of discreet way, Shakespeare is speaking out against it. Regardless of, by no means would I deem this to “acquit”  him.

Oedipus the King and Self-Knowledge

In all of the texts we’ve discussed so far, we’ve seen that knowledge often comes at a price. This is certainly also the case with Oedipus in Oedipus the King. Oedipus’ struggle to plumb the depths of his own history reveals for him a terrible secret, though ironically, it’s a “secret” he knew all along. The play is a meditation on a type of knowledge that we haven’t seen much of yet—self-knowledge—and this raises a number of questions.

How much do we really know about ourselves? How much do we want to know? Can we, like Oedipus, often be blind to our own inadequacies? These problems take on a contemporary flair if we consider the ways in which science and technology have made it possible to know things about ourselves that we could never know before. Genetic testing, for instance, can now give us insights into our susceptibilities to certain diseases. How should we react once or if we know our likelihood of dying from a particular malady? Can we change our lives to lower our risks, or is such behavior, like Oedipus’ attempts to change his fate, ultimately futile? If you could find out whether something terrible awaited you in the future, would you want to know?

Part of what Oedipus shows us is that this sense of control that we feel over our lives and ourselves is illusory, and this is a scary message indeed. Despite having the best of intentions, Oedipus could not escape his destiny.  This lesson applies to us too: even if we solve all of the riddles and get to the bottom of all of all of our questions, this does not necessarily grant us the power to change what it is that we actually find. And, what’s more, once we have made the discovery, we must still decide how to react …and live with the consequences.

Jocasta gives the following advice to Oedipus as he barrels down the pathway of discovering his true identity: “[it is] best to live lightly as one can, unthinkingly” (978). While this is certainly one way to react—to tamp down our thirst for knowledge entirely—to live a blissful life of ignorance—Oedipus himself also provides a model for how to seek out knowledge: once he finds the truth, he faces it and bears its consequences with a sense of dignity and personal responsibility.  Oedipus suffers dreadfully, but perhaps some amount of suffering is the price we must pay for knowing ourselves.


On a lighter note, do please enjoy this re-enactment of the Oedipus story with vegetables as actors: http://vimeo.com/19152100