To which greek mythological character is faustus compared in the prologue?

To which greek mythological character is faustus compared in the prologue?
Posted on 08-07-2023

To which greek mythological character is faustus compared in the prologue?

In the prologue of Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus," the eponymous protagonist is compared to several mythological and historical figures. However, one character with whom Faustus is often associated in the prologue is Icarus, the famous figure from Greek mythology. This comparison serves to highlight the hubris and ambition of Faustus, paralleling the tragic fate of Icarus who defied the gods and paid a heavy price for his audacity.

To delve into this comparison, we must first examine the character of Faustus and his aspirations. Doctor Faustus is a highly intelligent and ambitious scholar who seeks to gain unlimited power and knowledge through the practice of black magic. Dissatisfied with the limitations of human knowledge, Faustus yearns for a deeper understanding of the universe and craves the ability to transcend his mortal limitations. This insatiable desire for knowledge and power is what leads him to dabble in necromancy and eventually sell his soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of unlimited power.

The myth of Icarus, on the other hand, tells the story of a young man who, along with his father Daedalus, attempts to escape from the island of Crete by fashioning wings made of feathers and wax. Icarus, overcome by the thrill of flying, ignores his father's warning not to fly too close to the sun. As a result, the heat of the sun melts the wax holding his wings together, causing Icarus to fall into the sea and drown. The myth of Icarus is often interpreted as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition and hubris, warning against the dangers of defying the natural order and challenging the gods.

In the prologue of "Doctor Faustus," the Chorus introduces Faustus's story and draws parallels between him and the mythical figure of Icarus. The Chorus describes Faustus as a man who is "swollen with cunning, of a self-conceit" (l.20), highlighting his inflated sense of self-importance and his belief that he can outsmart the forces of nature and the divine. This mirrors Icarus's hubris, as both characters believe they can surpass the boundaries set by the gods and achieve greatness beyond the reach of mortal beings.

The Chorus further emphasizes this comparison by stating, "Till, swollen with cunning, of a self-conceit, / His waxen wings did mount above his reach" (ll.20-21). Here, the Chorus alludes to the image of Icarus's waxen wings, suggesting that Faustus's aspirations and ambitions will ultimately lead to his downfall, just as Icarus's flight ended in tragedy. The mention of "waxen wings" serves as a metaphor for Faustus's own metaphorical wings, his ambitions and desires, which will prove to be fragile and susceptible to destruction.

Additionally, the Chorus warns the audience of the dire consequences that await Faustus, stating, "For falling to a devilish exercise / And glutted now with learning's golden gifts, / He surfeits upon cursed necromancy" (ll.27-29). This warning echoes the fate of Icarus, who, driven by his own desires, deviated from his father's guidance and fell into the sea. Similarly, Faustus's insatiable thirst for knowledge and power drives him to engage in demonic practices that will ultimately lead to his damnation.

Furthermore, the Chorus suggests that Faustus's actions are blasphemous, comparing him to the biblical character of Adam, who was tempted by the serpent and fell from grace. The Chorus states, "Till, like a scurvy politician, / Seeming devout, but inwardly to die" (ll.31-32), highlighting Faustus's hypocrisy and his ultimate fate of damnation. This comparison aligns with the consequences faced by Icarus, as both characters are punished for their audacity and defiance of divine authority.

In conclusion, the prologue of "Doctor Faustus" draws a parallel between the ambitious protagonist and the mythological character of Icarus. Through this comparison, Marlowe emphasizes the themes of hubris and excessive ambition, warning against the dangers of defying the natural order and challenging the gods. Like Icarus, Faustus's aspirations and desires prove to be his downfall, leading him to damnation. By invoking the myth of Icarus, Marlowe foreshadows the tragic fate that awaits Faustus, setting the stage for the moral and philosophical exploration of the play.

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